Will the state's Attorney General investigate the Southfield hate leaflet?

Aug 25, 2015 at 4:21 pm

As we blogged yesterday, FOX2 reported that an overtly racist political flyer reading “Let’s get the blacks out of Southfield in November” and “Let’s take back our city” was apparently distributed in Southfield mailboxes over the weekend.

By now it seems clear that all the candidates mentioned on the racist flyer did not seek the dubious “endorsement.” Mayoral hopeful Kenson Siver called the leaflet “scurrilous” and “a desperate attempt to smear my name.”

If there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that whoever was behind this ugly broadside put it out there in August, when plenty of time remains to clear the air and investigate the incident, as well as to prepare for any further dirty tricks.

As for whether the incident is being investigated, we don’t know. We didn't even know if it was something the Department of State could investigate. So we got in touch with Rich Robinson at the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. We noted that the flyer advocates votes for official candidates, and no sponsoring agency appears to have been identified on it. At what threshold do electioneering rules apply?

Robinson tried to break it down for us. He says, “If someone spends more than $100 independently for ‘express advocacy’ on a local election, they are required by law to report their activity to their county clerk — and all communications are supposed to have a disclaimer identifying the sponsor of the message.”

Now, those leaflets don’t look like they cost much at all to design. Depending on how many were distributed, it might be possible to figure out how many reams of paper were used. After that, all sorts of questions enter into the picture: How much it cost to print each two-sided copy? Was anybody was paid to distribute them? If that last question were true, it would seem that the cost might be more than $100.

If somebody out there were intimately familiar with how many fliers were released, and to make a compelling case for $100 having been spent, could a complaint be made?

Robinson says, “All complaints for alleged violations of the Campaign Finance Act go to the Department of State.” Robinson explains that Michigan’s Department of State can then make a referral to the appropriate bureau, which can then recommend that the state’s Attorney General conduct an investigation.

Robinson tells us: “Someone has to file an official complaint to get things rolling. Presumably the alleged violator would be ‘Anonymous,’ which would complicate the situation considerably. Still, it should be interesting to find out the state’s response to overt racism.”

Well, there it is, kids. Any enterprising person who thinks they can make a case of it can see whether the state will go after this anonymous miscreant. The last time we were aware of a similar situation was the release 10 years ago of the infamous “lynching” ad, which called four media commentators (including our own Jack Lessenberry) a media lynch mob. It’s believed the ad helped put Kilpatrick over the top when it came out. The Department of State’s response was to argue that, since the ad did not argue explicitly that voters should cast their ballots for one candidate or another, the ad didn’t merit an investigation.

In this case, denying the people an investigation might be political dynamite. But will anybody light the fuse?

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