"Truth is Nonpartisan" Says Fair Campaign Practices Committee

26 Year Old Group Provides Resources to Promote Honest Campaigns in Westchester County

Wants Candidates to Run Fair Campaigns and Citizens to Get Involved

HARTSDALE, NY (July 10, 2017) - The Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee recently unveiled its new website, faircampaignpractices.org, which provides candidates with information on what constitutes a fair campaign practice, and citizens with tools to identify and respond to dishonest and defamatory allegations. “The increased use of social media to spread unsupported allegations threatens the public’s ability to make informed decisions at the voting booth,” says Chair Susan Pace Guma, “So we are asking citizens- whatever their political affiliation- to get involved and share factual information. The truth is nonpartisan.”

For more than 26 years, the Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee has been hearing complaints from political candidates in Westchester who believe that their opponents have employed unfair practices, such as making misleading, false or unsubstantiated election statements in campaign material. Findings of fair or unfair campaign practices are issued by the Committee, which then informs the candidates and news outlets. The Committee has heard more than 120 complaints since 2006; approximately half from Republican candidates and half from Democrats. The number of unfair findings are about equal for both parties.

The Committee has no power of enforcement. Rather, it trusts that dissemination of its findings by the media and the reading of those findings by the voting public will influence candidates not to resort to unfair practices. “Our local media has always been a strong partner in our efforts to inform the public of unfair campaign practices,” states Guma. “Now that more and more misleading and defamatory claims are being propagated on Facebook and twitter, it’s vital that the public also get involved and spread the truth on these platforms.”

The Citizen Info section of the new FCPC website includes an International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) infographic with eight steps (based on FactCheck.org’s 2016 article How to Spot Fake News) to determine the verifiability of a news piece:

  • Consider the source- check the site, mission, and contact information
  • Check if the author is a real, credible person
  • Check the date – reposted old news is not necessarily relevant
  • Check your biases – people often believe falsehoods if they confirm one’s beliefs
  • Read beyond the headline
  • Click links to supporting sources
  • Make sure it is not a joke
  • Ask librarians, fact checkers, or other experts

The section also provides guidance on fighting falsehoods with facts, without further defaming the victim. It references a Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society article entitled, “How to Refute a Lie,” that recommends we

  • State the truth in the headline (or tweet), instead of repeating the falsehood.
  • Use vivid graphics that depict reality.
  • If the key point is that someone is lying — say that. Then state the truth in the content. Don’t restate the lie in the headline.

“The Candidate Toolkit section of our new website provides guidance to candidates, especially newcomers, who may not understand whether or not a practice is unfair,” states long time board member Victor J. Goldberg. “We encourage them to make use of this section or contact us with a question before making a mistake, rather than to appear before us for a hearing afterwards.”

The Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee’s purpose is to promote a climate in which candidates conduct honest and fair campaigns. For additional information please visit our new website at faircampaignpractices.org.