Apr 28 2014

The Shakedown

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, SCDP


Pretenders seek to prop up the legitimacy of their product
by using a variation of the Democratic Party name

Not a Democratic Party Sign

Not a Democratic Party Sign

On Friday, Shelby County Democratic Party Chair Bryan Carson sent out a press release warning people about “Rogue Ballots”.

The issue: a group, using a name similar to the name of the local Democratic Party, issuing advertisements endorsing a candidate, or slate of candidates…to give the appearance that the party itself supports these individuals.

The Shelby County Democratic Party does not, and cannot endorse people in a primary election. The primary is there to determine the Democratic nominee…not place one candidate seeking that nomination over another.

I call this activity “The Shakedown”. I experienced it first hand. Its high pressure sales tactics married with no way to verify what you’re buying. At best its false advertising, at worst its snake oil.

There are many groups in Shelby County that do this under different monikers. It is right for Chairman Carson to take these folks on…and it isn’t the first time its happened.

History

Not a Democratic Party Ballot

Not a Democratic Party Ballot

In 2010 the County Party sued Charlotte Draper and Latroy Williams as well as others for using the name of the party inappropriately.

A quick search of business records shows the Shelby County Democratic Club incorporated after the filing, and sought to take names similar to other clubs in the area. I can’t vouch for the legitimacy of these other clubs either…I’m just saying, that’s what appears to have happened.

The docket report shows that an injunction was initially obtained against the Shelby County Democratic Club, but eventually the two settled out of court.

Some would believe that would have been the end of it… but it isn’t. Chairman Carson should go back and look at that settlement to ensure the agreement hasn’t been violated. If it has, the offending individuals should be sued…again.

Personal Experiences

Not a Democratic Party ballot

Not a Democratic Party ballot

In 2012 I ran for County Commission. I was running as a Democrat in a very Republican district. Before I even filed to run I had a campaign plan that included the normal methods…Direct mail, phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, visually appealing signs and trying to get some earned media.

Less than two days after I filed, I was contacted by someone claiming to be from one of these groups. The individual wanted me to pay an undetermined sum to be included on a ballot for the Primary election (I had no opponent in the primary).

When I asked how the ballots would be distributed, I was told it would happen at the polls. When I asked which polling locations would be covered, I was told “All of them”. With 236 (at the time) polling locations out there, I was immediately skeptical.

I never agreed to participate, and never paid a dime to have my face on any ballot, but sure enough, my face graced the “ballot” nonetheless.

In the time between the 2012 February primary and the August general election I was called repeatedly…in some cases, incessantly by several groups claiming to “help” my campaign if I would only give them money to be on their ballot. None of these individuals could produce anything that would verify what exactly I was paying for, or how many people in my district would receive the ballots.

Some said they would be delivered at the polls. Some said they would be mailed out. But none were willing to give me any verification as to what exactly it was I was buying…other than them not supporting my opponent.

I didn’t budge.

I don’t buy imaginary unicorns, wooden nickels or advertising space on something that’s unverifiable. Furthermore, I was aware of the previous lawsuit. I didn’t want to participate in diluting the party name by engaging in, what can only be described as intentional voter confusion for fun and profit.

Its unfortunate that other candidates don’t feel that way.

Ed. Note: Not all candidates on the ballot paid for space…just as I didn’t. I’ll be checking through disclosures for evidence of payment for these “endorsements” in the coming days.

Protecting the Party Brand

Not a Democratic Party Ballot

Not a Democratic Party Ballot

One of the reasons these groups have been able to operate in this fashion is that the party hasn’t traditionally protected its brand.

That started to change with the 2010 lawsuit…but the work isn’t over.

Protecting the party brand has to be an ongoing effort. The party should act swiftly and succinctly against any group or individual that seeks to misrepresent themselves as any way associated with the party.

It doesn’t matter if the offender is supporting candidates that certain members of the SCDP Executive Committee prefer or are supporting. This is about not yielding power to individuals who seek to profit from erroneously representing themselves as the Shelby County Democratic Party.

Protecting the party brand also means building it. To do that, you have to reach beyond the usual suspects and work to engage and involve more people.

Since I began my involvement with the party in the 2005 re-organization, there hasn’t been a consistent effort to reach outside the 500ish people (.6% of Democratic votes in the Aug. 2010 election) who participate in the biannual convention. I think that has started to change some since the 2010 election…but the efforts need to be accelerated.

Building the party into a vibrant and active structure…that reaches far beyond the members of the Executive Committee is the way to both build brand awareness and reduce the effectiveness of those who would seek to use the party name for personal profit.

Involving a group of people outside the representative structure of the Executive Committee isn’t just the job of the Chair…its the job of every Executive Committee member…all of whom were elected to represent people in their district.

It doesn’t take the direction of the Chair, or anyone else. It takes the will of the Executive Committee members, as individuals, to be evangelists for the party, and to get people in their neighborhoods, precincts, and districts involved.

By doing this, the profile of the party will be lifted and the public will be better able to differentiate between the actual party and the pretenders.

This is something I’ve been advocating for since I started this blog in 2006. I’m not saying anything new, and I’m not calling anyone out or criticizing the party. I’m simply saying it needs to be an “all the time” priority, not just an “election time” activity.

Conclusion

Not a Democratic Party Ballot

Not a Democratic Party Ballot

I hope Chairman Carson and the Executive Committee will act swiftly to research the 2010 settlement agreement, and seek to enjoin those who would misrepresent themselves as the Party.

I also hope Democratic candidates in the future will not engage in financially propping up these pretenders. You’re not helping yourself (you’d be better off burning the money) or the party.

I hope the Party itself will commit to the hard work of reaching beyond itself to involve more people. That’s the best way to stop this foolishness…and keep it from happening in the future.

And I want the people who produce these ballots to know, I don’t have a problem with you offering your services to candidates. I have a problem with you doing it while masquerading as a Democratic organization when you’re really just a business that doesn’t file financial disclosures (I could find none of these supposed organizations in the state or county financial disclosure listings). If you want to offer these services to people, do it under your own name, like a legitimate business instead of misleading voters by using a brand you have no authority to use to bolster the credibility of your product.