Coupons for Constituents

Click to see the entire mailer
Click to see the entire mailer
Political mailers say something about a candidate…and their campaign.

Aside from the intended message, there’s an unspoken message in the targeting, the imagery, and the words that are used…as well as the words that aren’t used.

These silent cues tell people things they may not immediately recognize. They paint a picture of a candidate, and create an emotional association…outside of the rational determination from reading the message.

Honestly, most political mail ends up in the trash…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t seen…and that those cues don’t enter voter’s minds on some level.

So it was with a good deal of surprise that I received the flyer to the right on Tuesday…mixed in with the grocery store flyers and coupons.

I nearly threw it away, except that I actually go through the grocery store mailers because that sometimes influences what I buy and where I buy it (but not often).

What was even more surprising, was the presence of coupons on the mailer…something this is discussed in this article at the Commercial Appeal.

I can honestly say, I’ve never received a political mailer with coupons. I’m not going to go into the legality of including coupons on a political mailer, because I’m not clear from discussions with folks who know more than me on the subject, as to whether or not they are legal. What I do know is there is an implicit conflict in their inclusion, that should give voters pause.

Your Everyday Discount Candidate

Politicians aren’t exactly loved in our society. They are viewed, it seems, as a necessary evil. People who are willing to do something most people don’t want to do…or even know about…all while those same people complain about what it is exactly those politicians are doing.

So it seems counterintuitive for any person seeking elective office to do anything that might call their ethics into question. Which is what makes this whole thing so curious to me.

In the CA article Election Commission Chair Robert Meyers asked if it is, “…somehow a way of buying votes?”.

That’s another question I asked myself as I looked through the flyer.

Jones says the inclusion of the coupons on the flyer was to show support for businesses in District 10, and not outside the bounds of ethics because the mail was not sent to individuals…but sent to residents regardless of whether they are registered voters or not.

I’m not willing to argue that one way or another…but I am willing to say that, for me, it didn’t give me a good impression.

Any publicity is good publicity?

There’s another thought that came to me this morning after I saw the article in the CA. That’s the idea that one can get free media exposure through creating some kind of controversy.

Looking at the financial disclosures for the Candidates in District 10, Reginald Milton has the clear advantage…having raised over $20,000 since the campaign began (aside from loans to the campaign). Jones on the other hand only reports $1500. Brown doesn’t have a report online…though the deadline was April 10th.

Considering how little cash Jones has on hand, one could argue that the inclusion of the coupons was a calculated move to get some free media.

If that was the plan, it worked…and his opponent in the primary played right into it.

From a risk/reward standpoint, the reward is much greater than the risk. Worst case, you get fined. In doing so, you get a ton of free (though negative) media, that you can use to highlight your campaign.

The reality is, local campaigns like this are a name recognition game…and exposure, good or bad can work to your advantage the further down the ballot the race is.

But that kind of 3 dimensional chess move doesn’t really happen in the real world…especially in local races.

Ed. Note on Disclosures: It should be noted, the large presence of signs by the Brown campaign leads one to believe he should have filed…however, the absence of a disclosure online doesn’t mean he hasn’t filed. It just means it hasn’t been posted yet. The Election Commission offices are closed today, so efforts to gain information on the filing will have to wait until Monday.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there’s no way to tell what Jones’ intentions were in this mail piece. Its probably best to assume the least Machiavellian option and say it was an honest, though concerning at best, and fishy at worst, ethical lapse.

With Early Voting just underway, it definitely gave Jones some needed exposure considering the fundraising disadvantage he has. But the bad press is mounting in the wake of reports of a $12,000 combined overdue tax bill, and at some point, voters will have to weigh these negatives, against the other candidates…if they haven’t already made up their mind.

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