Joint Democratic/Republican Statement About Illegal Campaign Mailing

This is being released to the press today:

Jim White, Chair of the Orange County Democratic Party and Bill Knight, Chair of the Orange County Republican Party issued the following joint statement today:

Last week a mailing was sent to residents of Chapel Hill that was supposedly from an organization calling itself “CHC PAC.” There is apparently no such political action committee registered with the Orange County Board of Elections and no contact information or mailing address on the postcard. The postcard is designed to look like a mailer supporting mayoral candidate Mark Kleinschmidt, and contains attacks on mayoral candidate Matt Czajkowski.

Frankly, this does not read like a mailing that was intended to benefit either candidate, neither candidate has time to respond to it, and we are greatly disturbed that this was sent in Orange County in the few days before an election. This appears to be an unfortunate and illegal attempt by an unknown individual or group to influence the election for Chapel Hill Mayor. We do not care whether the responsible parties are Democrats, Republicans, or unaffiliated; this is not the way campaigns are conducted in Orange County, and we strongly condemn the person or persons behind this mailing. This improper electioneering communication may violate both the North Carolina General Statutes and federal mail fraud statutes and we call on the Orange County District Attorney, the Orange County Board of Elections, and the North Carolina Board of Elections to investigate this matter vigorously and punish those behind this mailing to the full extent of the law.

We both implore the voters of Chapel Hill to ignore this spurious attempt to influence the election and ask that it not influence their choice either way. Judge the candidates on their positions, not some unwelcome attempt by a third party to sway the outcome.



I'm glad to see this response from both parties. Bravo.

This should definitely be bumped up to a front page post.

A lot of huffing & puffing, but the points made in the flyer appear quite valid. Also, is this really illegal?  Someone posted somewhere - can't recall exactly - that a PAC has 10 days to register? Any body know about this?

A PAC does have 10 days to register, which this group may or may not do. If it does not, or if it raised money more than 10 days ago, or if it raised or spent more than $10,000 it is in violation. In any case, an organizational report was due by Oct 26 no matter what -- and this group was clearly organized by then or it would not have been able to send this mailer.

This mailer was intended to hurt both candidates -- I would argue that a negative attack designed to look like it came from the Kleinschmidt camp might even hurt him more. And the attacks certainly do not help Matt Czajkowski .

If this is not illegal it is unethical. If someone legitimately wants to get this message out, then let them have the guts to say who they are and not engage in a last minute smear campaign that ends up harming both candidates. I think the fact that Bill Knight was willing to join me in this is an important, almost unprecidented, drawing of a line in the sand regarding this kind of negative campaigning -- this is not the way things should be done anywhere regardless of the message.

I didn't realize I wasn't logged in.

I know our delicate sensitivities have been challenged by the existence of this flyer, but the flyer doesn't claim that anybody beats their pets or belongs to the KKK or secretly supports Duke basketball. The statements seem fairly straight-up & accurate. Is anyone disputing the accuracy of the rather matter-of-fact statements or is the satisfaction of righteous indignation too powerful to move beyond?

Mark, it makes no difference WHAT the content of the mailer was. It's very clearly trying to influence the outcome of the election and therefore should follow the same rules as everyone else. I'm pretty pissed at whoever sent this, they had to know it would reflect poorly on Mark K.  I've only seen a few people jump to the conclusion that it was done by an ally of Mark's, I wouldn't be so sure. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Well done, OCDP & OCGOP!

And while we're talking about ethically- and legally-challenged campaigning, it seems that the Chamber of Commerce may have stepped over the line. Kevin Foy reported (actually tweeted) this morning that he got a pesonal endorsement letter from Chamber Director Aaron Nelson that not only used Aaron's work e-mail address but also used the Chamber's mailing list! I'm pretty sure they're a 501(c)3 so using resources for electioneering is a big no-no for the Chamber.

I thought this was done every year.

I don't have a Twitter account. If what is available online to the general public is up to date, then I don't see a tweet from the Chamber endorsing anyone. I do see tweets from Aaron personally endorsing candidates.

You don't need to be a Twitter user to read Kevin's message at the link above. He said "just got endorsement email from Aaron Nelson using Chamber contact list and Chamber email account."Since the Chamber is a 501(c)3 they are not permitted to use any resources for expressing advocating for or against candidates. That's why they generally do an only-slightly-vaguer "candidate guide."I'm still waiting to hear from Aaron whether this was an oversight on his part or what.  (Not that that makes it OK.)

Just saw this tweet from Aaron Nelson: "My email to biz and com leaders was from me. As a 501(c)6 the Chamber can endorse but has kept endorsements to school bonds ad the like."

Again, it may have just been an oversight that he used his Chamber e-mail account for his personal endorsments, but I'd still like to hear whether he used the Chamber's mailing list as that's a valuable campaign resource.

What is the ethical issue?  Chamber President and CEO Aaron Nelson sent out an email to a whole bunch of people, members and others who are not.  He expressed his take on the election.  I think his Board and membership are the right ones to determine the policy on his email account.BTW, congrats to our Chamber for the Washington Post identifying them as a national sustainability leader!

An ingenious program to fill that gap has sprung up in North Carolina's Research Triangle area, a region rich with academic talent. Interested faculties at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill have teamed up with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce to create, with local philanthropies, what they're calling their "Green Plus" program.Local firms are offered a Green Plus How-To Guide. But more than that, they're connected to mentor companies and get free counsel on sustainability initiatives. There's even an initiation: Candidate firms must stipulate where they stand on three areas -- performance (written strategic plan and accounting practices), planet (energy use and conservation) and people (compassion for employees and awareness of community needs).

Riiight. So are you saying it's the Chamber's policy now to endorse candidates? When did this change? How did they make the choice to support the Czajkowski slate, did the Board decide? If they are making endorsements, why is this not mentioned anywhere on their web site, including the Elections section?

endorsed.  The Chamber has the ability to endorse but lately has only done the bonds.  Again, Aaron endorsed. 

Chamber President and CEO Aaron Nelson sent out an email to a whole
bunch of people, members and others who are not.  He expressed his take
on the election.  I think his Board and membership are the right ones to determine the policy on his email account.

Aaron, of course, has every right as an individual to express his opinion about the election.  But I think it would have been prudent for him to be clear whether he is doing so as an individual or on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce with the blessing of their Board of Directors.  I'm also still curious as to whether this was sent to the entire Chamber email list.  Fred, you've made such a big deal about the resources of the OCDP being difficult to account for; in fairness, the same should be said of the Chamber.

you told me there was no issue with this, so how is an endorsement from Aaron like what we were talking about?  When did the Chamber endorse?

I don't think anyone is questioning that it's okay for Aaron to endorse candidates.  I have no problem with that.My question is whether or not Chamber resources are being used to promote the endorsement.  If they are, I think it would be fair for us to know.  It sounds like he used his Chamber email address; did he also use the Chamber mailing list?

I received the e-mail this morning.  By this fact, you can make the judgment that Aaron sent it to his personal address book, not to a "Chamber mailing list" (I am not the representative for my company with the Chamber).For those that actually received, and took the time to read, the e-mail, the endorsements CLEARLY come from Aaron (in fact, he reiterates it several times), and NOT from the Chamber.  At the end, he also includes his personal e-mail address for feedback.  His error was in sending on the chamber e-mail.

is the Chamber supporting?

you know the answer --- the Chamber didn't endorse any candidates.  As for their ASSESSMENT of candidates, you can read what they said on their website.

I think there is a fine line between a Chamber endorsement and an email from the Chamber CEO.   I read that email as a de facto Chamber endorsement.   I endose those candidates myself--and add Ed Harrisonn to the list--- but don't think the Chamber handled this well. 

There is a lot of misinformation being spread about this, whether out of ignorance or subterfuge.  Following is an excerpt of an e-mail from Aaron to Chamber's Board. It indicates that the Chamber knew what he was doing and that Aaron intentionally used Chamber resources to advocate for specific candidates. I'm really surprised and disappointed.

"Second, the heads up.  Though the Chamber of Commerce does not endorse candidates, today, after lots of consideration and conversation, I will be writing the membership expressing my personal support for Czajkowski, Pease, Pohlman and DeHart.  For the first time in as long as anyone can remember there are several strong, electable candidates running on pro-business platforms.  After talking with Bill Bunch and seeking advice from several board members and staff, I will be going public with my support.  I did call Mark Kelinschmidt yesterday at home to let him know of my decision and my appreciation of our 14 year friendship which I told him I hoped would continue.  When you get my endorsement email, I hope you will forward it on to others."

(The e-mail was sent to me by Mayor Foy (because I asked about this). I don't know how he got it, but it's public record now since it came from his official address.)

I don't see any practical difference between the Chamber promoting candidates, and the Director of the Chamber promoting candidates with Chamber resources. 

Mayor Foy is on the Chamber Board. Aaron's title is President & CEO, not Director.

The Chgamber can hold "green" workshops until the cows come home but, until they start supporting candidates that actually understand the depth and breadth of sustainability & environmental issues, this is just more PR hot air.

in being totally SHOCKED!

Kind of makes the "Dirty Tricks" line on Matt Cz. look a little silly. This is disturbing, if it's true.Guess in politics it doesn't matter your values as long as you win? 

I don't know about "disturbing," but it's certainly disappointing, for me anyway. If he files with the Board of Elections tomorrow, Cam will have followed the letter, if not the spirit, of the law.  I think the mailer would have been more effective if he had gotten more "members" of his PAC, and announced its existence prior or simultaneous to the mailing.As it is, it has the appearance of sour grapes over Cam's narrow loss in 2007, which is too bad because he has some excellent points about Matt.  Unfortunately, the medium is the message, and Cam's made himself the story instead of his criticisms of Matt.

Sorry, but this goes back to a tactics argument.This is disturbing. Debating words seems to ignore the fact that so much of this campaign talked about "Chapel Hill Values."Does this act reflect those values?

Can you imagine if a Matt supporter did such a thing? This forum would light up like a Christmas tree. 

A Matt C supporter just did exactly such a thing! Aaron Nelson sent a last-minute candidate endorsement using the resources of the Chamber of Commerce - a community institution - without following any kind of organizational process and without formal approval of the Board of Directors. That was also technically legal, but not playing very nice. I think Aaron's message left just as many ill feelings and burnt bridges in its wake as Cam's.You'll notice that the Chamber 's unprecedented endorsement didn't muster much more than a yawn from OP readers (besides me, obvs). In fact, no-one even started a new thread on the subject.

I, like you, have significant experience with non-profits, sales and fund raising. A man like Aaron is going to have one heck of a personal address list. I managed Right Wing Watch (over 100,000 names at one point - Go Linux). It would be fair to say that many people on that list were on the personal lists of others.So, not knowing the facts, I can't comment specifically. But it would not be uncommon for someone at his level to have one heck of a personal list.I think an e-mail list does get less attention than an actual mailing to the town. That said. It is fair to say that the timing of both pieces was questionable.

Steve,Thank you for an objective and fair appraisal. I think many of us would agree with you.

I already posted the facts above. He used the Chamber's mailing list to send his endorsements, without going through any organizational endorsment procedure. Here is the message where he informs his Board that he would send the endorsements.  An excerpt:

Though the Chamber of Commerce does not endorse candidates, today, after lots of consideration and conversation, I will be writing the membership expressing my personal support for Czajkowski, Pease, Pohlman and DeHart. 


I am not being a jerk about this one. I just don't know that saying that I am writing the membership expressing my personal support necessarily implies that he used the same list. It's a very well-written sentence and as someone who has written my share of computer use policies, I am not sure that I could prove he used the exact list or his own based off that. I had a few instances of that in the past and it was a mess to sort out.I am not a lawyer, but it says the Membership, but doesn't specify the list. So I think we have another "letter, not spirit" problem. Our Board Members would write to lists all of the time for many purposes, so I don't know the Chambers use policy on that.But agree or not, doesn't change the fact that the timing of each mailer or e-mail was not appropriate.

I'm not asking you to take my word for it. Kevin Foy, who is a member of the Board according to Fred, said "just got endorsement email from Aaron Nelson using Chamber contact list and Chamber email account."

You haven't heard any outcry from me because Aaron sent out a positive endorsement using his own name rather than an anonymous attack on the other candidate. I see a huge difference between those two scenarios. I also don't see any difference between this and what the Orange County Dem chair did in this back door attack on Matt/support for Mark--and I didn't hear anyone else raising a fuss over that one.

Back in September I wrote:

Personally, I think it is a mistake for any one candidate for  mayor to claim that they represent town "values."  Not only does it come across as arrogant, but it could very well backfire with voters who just don't see the world as the candidate does.  We are a diverse community and many may be progressive, but to claim that one's party label makes them a better candidate in this non-partisan race than those from other parties or those who declare themselves unaffiliated ignores how many in the community feel about these things and are similarly registered - I am unaffiliated for a reason and I dislike those who try to turn this election into a party battle.

Seems like there is a conflict with what some people mean by "progressive values" and belief in adhering to our rules.  It also shows the holes in VOE, as does the inability of the BOE to manage pre-election reports.See what we have become?  What "values" are we championing?

 why the CHC PAC flyer is any different from the annual newspaper ad that P.H. Craig buys in which he describes his favorite candidates and encourages people to vote for them?  What are the limits?  Could I buy a thousand dollar newspaper ad to promote my preferred candidates?  My question is not philosophical; it's legal and practical.  The heads of the two parties are falling all over themselves telling us how shocked they are about the Cam Hill/CHC flyer.

It was not initially clear who was behind the CHC PAC while P.H. Criag was up front with his identity. Secondly, P.H. Craig paid to tell the world his opinion. There was no negative campaigning involved. If the negative pamphlet was not endorsed by Mark (and of course it was not), then it should have said that too. To do otherwise was a disservice to Mark. Transparency is huge in this and other recent issues in my opinion.

I hear a lot of people on OP bemoan the fact that some people post under aliases. In fact, Cam Hill complained of this recently in reference to a post by jcb. The thing that bothers me most about the mailer are not the legal issues because I know that others will sort those things out. It's that he hid his identity. The act had no honor. Aaron Nelson, for all you want to debate what he should or should not have done, he didn't hide. He told the truth to his board and he signed his name to his email endorsement. Because he told the truth, Kevin Foy forwarded an email to Ruby who alerted everyone on OP. In point of fact, I don't think the flier swayed the electorate one way or the other. I think all candidates ran a good race and I wish the winners well. I believe the political landscape will be changed by virtue of everyone's efforts. But this is exactly the sort of behavior that I would like to see removed from Chapel Hill politics forever. 

The word "camhill" should become a verb in local politics.


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