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Phantom mailer burns Merritt with false claims in last days of Tacoma mayor’s race

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Oct. 30, 2009 at 6:27 pm with 22 Comments »
October 31, 2009 2:57 pm

Jim Merritt’s campaign is fuming over an apparently illegal direct-mail political advertisement that showed up in the mailboxes of Northeast Tacoma homes today.Merritt

“This is one of the rottenest hit pieces I’ve ever seen,” said Merritt campaign manager Ronnie Bush.

I just got off the phone with Marilyn Strickland, who said she knew nothing about the ad and that it didn’t come from her campaign.


The mailer claims that because Merritt has already publicly stated his position against a controversial housing development planned for the North Shore golf course, he won’t be able to cast a vote on the issue if he’s elected.

“If Jim Merritt is Mayor, the developer will challenge his `objectivity’ and Mr. Merritt will be removed from the hearing,” the mailer states. “He’ll lose his voice, and his vote.

“Why? Because Mr. Merritt keeps stating his opinion, and so he’ll be considered `prejudiced’ when the Council hears the case.”

The ad cites the “appearance of fairness doctrine” as the governing law on the issue. The law precludes members of decision-making bodies from publicly staking a position on land use decisions before such issues are officially considered.

The development, which has been challenged by a citizens’ group representing hundreds or Northeast Tacoma residents, is now before a city hearing examiner. Ultimately, the hearing examiner’s decision will go before the city council.

Bush claims that she’s checked with an attorney, who has told her that the mailer’s claims are false — Merritt could vote on the issue. A relevant part of state law appears to back up her claim (as does Strickland herself).

“It’s totally untrue,” Bush said. “Jim Merritt has gone to bat for these residents, and to undercut what he’s done on the Friday before an election is despicable.”

I’ve got a call out to an attorney just to be sure, but according to the Revised Code of Washington, the mailer appears to be wrong.  While members already on a council may be barred from staking a public opinion, the same doesn’t appear to hold true for candidates campaigning for office.

Specifially, the relevant part of the RCW states:

while campaigning for public office … no public discussion or expression of an opinion by a person subsequently elected to a public office, on any pending or proposed quasi-judicial actions, shall be a violation of the appearance of fairness doctrine.

In addition, although the mailer notes in fine print that it is an independent expenditure not endorsed by any candidate, it does not identify what person or organization is responsible for distributing it.

And that’s illegal, said Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

“First of all, it’s supposed to say who paid for it,” Anderson said. “It’s not sufficient just to have that disclaimer.”

Anderson added that such independent expenditures must be reported on a specific report to the PDC within 24 hours from when such an ad appears. So far, no such report claiming responsibility for the ad has been filed, the PDC’s website shows. In this case, because the ad came out on a Friday, the group or person responsible for it has until Monday to file the proper report, Anderson said.

“If you don’t see anyone’s name and address claiming to be a sponsor, then it’s not in compliance with our political advertising laws,” said Anderson.

She added if no one actually files a report about the ad, the PDC won’t know who’s responsible for it, and likely wouldn’t be able to take any action.

In a phone call with Strickland a few minutes ago, she said she absolutely wasn’t responsible for the ad and doesn’t know who was.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” she said. “It didn’t come from my campaign. That’s absolutely the truth.”

Strickland added “in many ways, I don’t appreciate things that are sent out without (the campaign) being told first.”

Strickland said she knows that Merritt is not subject to the “appearance of fairness doctrine” because he does not currently hold office.

“I know for a fact that he’s a candidate, so he’s not bound by the same law that I am now,” she said.

The North Shore development has become a hotly contested campaign issue in the waning days before Election Day. Strickland has not given a position on where she stands on the matter, appropriately citing the `appearance of fairness doctrine’ in her role as a current council member. Merritt, meanwhile, has publicly opposed the development, saying it would be a “travesty” to build over the last big pieces of open space in the Northeast.

In a recent profile I wrote of the candidates, Merritt claimed he believes he lost an endorsement from the Master Builders Association to Strickland because he publicly opposed the project.

But members of the citizens’ group opposing the development have subsequently supported Merritt, I wrote, which created a flap among Strickland’s campaign. A Strickland fundraiser prompted an attorney for the opposition group to write a letter to the TNT clarifying that the group doesn’t officially endorse any candidate, which I wrote about here.

The sponsor-less mailer that came out today goes on to ask recipients, `Why muzzle our voice,’ and urges them to “Vote for Strickland to protect Northeast.”

In the return address of the simple black-and-white mailer on glossy stock, appears only the words “Don’t Muzzle the Mayor.”

It’s unclear how many homes received the mailer.

Copy of mailer
Copy of mailer
Leave a comment Comments → 22
  1. norse1943 says:

    This is type of thing that people who back Strickland have been known for over the years. Somethings never change.

  2. A typical Olympia attack by the Ebersoles and the Thompsons (Tim & Terry) of life. Watch out voters! These things just don’t happen.

  3. TTownOwl says:

    Does anyone know who Marilyn Strickland’s campaign manager is? I don’t. But I sure know who Merritt’s is because she seems to be the only one who ever says anything on the record. He apparently cannot talk for himself–Ronnie Bush always does it for him. The fact that he picked Bush as his manager says so much about him, and it’s far from a good statement. She alienates people just like he has alienated his former partners and others who have worked for or with him.

    Marilyn speaks for herself, and I believe she is honorable. She has not claimed accolades for herself that do not belong to her or that should be shared with others. She gives credit where credit is due, which is why people will work with her.

    Merritt is another story. He claims he saved Union Station, but he was not a member of the Save Our Station organization, which was really responsible for saving the courthouse. Merritt was a latecomer to that game, but he claims the glory and his lackey, the News Tribune, continues to let him make these claims when just a little fact checking would reveal the truth behind his lies. Another lie: that he cared about the Luzon. Where was he when the County let it rot without a paint job or a roof? Where was he six months ago when it was clear the building was in jeopardy? Oh yeah, he was telling his employees and those he knew to steer clear of the building because it was going to fall. He only cared about the Luzon at the 11th hour and then only because it could be used as a campaign issue.

    For Jim Merritt (and Ronnie Bush), it’s all about Merritt. It’s NOT about Tacoma.

  4. zenpaul3 says:

    Unfortunately, I would have a hard time believing Mr Merrit’s Campaign Manager, Ronnie Bush, about this issue at all, one way or the other.

    While this flyer is a mystery to me, I can say that she specifically misquoted the Fairness Doctrine to me, to benefit HER candidate, at the Meeker Middle School Candidate Forum.

    At that forum she said that her candidate was against the development (which is his right under the Fairness doctrine and as an un-elected official and candidate), BUT then went on to say two untruths…

    1) That Marilyn Strickland could speak out (not true due to the Fairness Doctrine) but chose not to because she didn’t want to help NE Tacoma and

    2) That Save NE Tacoma supported her candidate.

    Since I am a member of Save NE Tacoma, and knew the legal issues surrounding this whole fisaco, I knew at that time that she was prevaricating and that was when I decided to support Candidate Strickland.

    If Mr Merritt supports those tactics of his Campaign manager, than I am happy to walk the other way.

    Jean Paul Tousignant

  5. Gosh., a flyer that says vote for Strickland and we are to believe it is not from the Strickland campaign? A vote here for Strickland is a vote for the master builders who endoresed her and gave her money. Putting two and two together, Strickland will have no choice but to vote for the development of 800 homes in NE Tacoma.

    Then if she is elected mayor just who do you think she would be pushing for the open council seat? Would it be another era of the Ebersole’s? With Brian Ebersole’s backing and money I would believe it would be Drew Ebersole, Brian’s nephew who somehow is involved in all the questionable things Brian is. aka marin luther king housing mess up.

  6. johnesherman says:

    So just-a-question TNT; it follows, what is the “quasi-judicial action then pending before the local legislative body…” (RCW42.36.020) right now?

    This Northshore letter failed to cite the pending ‘quasi-judicial’ action pending right-now.

    TNT, let us know what the Northshore letter writer want with their pending ‘quasi-judicial’ pending stuff?

  7. kenrabbitmiller says:

    hate to interrupt the drama with facts, but…

    first, nothing illegal has taken place. as the PDC official points out, the people who did the mailing have until the close of business Monday to file a report.

    second, while the attorney cited by Ms Bush [could this be her husband, the same attorney used for the "Save the Luzon" escapade?] has an opinion, appearance of fairness is a judicial doctrine, not just a paragraph in the Revised Code of Washington. how a court rules on Mr Merritt’s expressed opinions will be driven by the spirit of the doctrine, not just the Code.

    this is why candidates for judicial election and appointment don’t state their views on issues which may come before them. think Senate hearings. this doctrine is well established in American jurisprudence.

    the News Tribune may want to consult with the Attorney General rather than the Bush legal team before opining on the doctrine.

    and third, in our special bonus section, the “dirtiest hit piece” in recent memory was actually sent by Ronnie Bush when she created a fictional character and used his quote to attack Dick Dorsett on the eve of the County Council election. she was running the campaign of Dorsett’s opponent, TIm Farrell.

  8. kenrabbitmiller says:

    to Mr Sherman, regarding quasi-judicial action: when the city’s land use administrator rules on a disputed issue, the parties may appeal the decision to the city council.

    when the city council hears the appeal, it’s said to be acting as a “quasi-judicial body” – that is, as if it’s part of the court system.

    in this case, the Northshore golf course development could become an appealed matter before the council,

  9. That was pretty low, but what we now expect in politics.

    Mail a flier with misinformation a few days before the election that makes it difficult to respond to by mail.

    Time the mailing so no one knows who the sponsor is until the day before the election.

    Dirty politics as usual.

  10. What a joke. Ms. Strickland’s campain must be feeling the pressure to stoop to this low. Ms. Strickland might not have known about this mailer, but for sure someone close to her did. A little late though because most of the mail in ballots are gone.

  11. bluegirl39 says:

    We have a lot of speculation and little fact.

    If Merritt is mayor and if Northshore comes to the Council and if the builder challenges Merritt’s objectivity, we still don’t know what will happen.

    Why? Because there doesn’t appear to be any case law regarding a candidate who subsequently sits in judgment.

    We’ll have a conflict between two forces: the RCW language exempting candidates; and the principle of fairness. We don’t know how that conflict will resolve itself.

    The safer course would be for Merritt to stop commenting on Northshore. Otherwise he continues to run a risk of disqualification. A risk, not a certainty, but a risk nonetheless.

  12. there is no confusion here at all. It is written in the RCW laws. Just read them. Mr. Merritt is not an elected official right now, and will not have to sit out when it comes to vote on North East Tacoma. Standing up for something he believes in is not wrong, it is what we need more of. There is no slippery slope here at all. When elected he will still have his vote.

  13. This is just a distraction. I don’t like either candidate because of different reasons. I wish, for ONCE that we would get a candidate that wasn’t wrapped around a special-interest group like the Master Builders. How about a candidate with some experience on the council longer than 2 years? Then again, it’s hard to be with the council longer than 2 years without becoming entwined with those guys.

  14. Drek2305 says:

    Nothing like fighting dirty – there is no honor in politics.

  15. I’m not at all surprised to see this type activity from the Strickland campaign.

    To see her supporters claim to be victims and then attacking her opponent’s campaign manager is beyond funny. It’s ludicrous.

  16. Isn’t Strickland on her 2nd campaign manager?

  17. jcathall says:

    I know Merritt and Strickland as well as many very good people who support each of them. I cannot imagine either of them willingly permitting such a thing to be sent.

    The implication made by the Merritt campaign that Strickland is complicit is more offensive than the piece itself. At the same time every time a candidate’s team sees a sign go down they initially assume it’s their opponent – even though most often it is something else entirely – kids, wind etc….. This puts both campaigns under a cloud t that neither deserve to be in – in my humble opinion, and I feel that both campaigns may suffer for it, and that is a shame.

    I also believe that the citizens of NE Tacoma are intelligent enough to see that an unnamed mail piece could have as easily originated from a Merritt supporter as a Strickland supporter, as we all know that negatives in the 27th backfire tremendously. Word to the wise – if you receive a hit piece from any source assume nothing, and disregard its contents. Someone on one side or the other is meaning to help one of them, and they have failed.

    Me, I still have not voted. But I will. And I will support the Mayoral Candidate who has personally shown me the most integrity and the greatest understanding of the issues important to me, inclusive of housing, schools, economic development, and of course – pot holes that the weekly’s pig would drown in.

  18. Strickland sold her soul a long time ago. The people who guide her now know they don’t need her approval she will just go with the flow.

  19. franktheliberal says:

    I am ALWAYS suspect of “un-named sources” or mailers sent by fuzzy organizations. This piece doesn’t even meet the low standard of fuzzy organization. Whoever actually sent this thing must think the race is so close that NE Tacoma will determine who wins. This is a pretty risky mailer. The blowback could ALSO sway voters who are on the fence.No matter who wins this election, there will be one BIG loser, and that’s politics itself. There’s a LOT of people who think like DREK, ” There is no honor in politics”. Shame on whoever sent this thing. It stains the process. Neither Democrats OR Republicans are the majority party. The majority is the APATHETIC party. And this mailer perpetuates it.

  20. TheSlag says:

    Tacoma politics are as corrupt as many third world country. This mailer is just a symbol. The city council has no problem to the public podium to tell people how to vote. And that includes Strickland. No matter where you stand on issues, it is so wrong for the city council to hold a council vote on how citizens should vote on referendums. The fairness doctrine obviously has not been applied to Anderson as she loudly declared the ST Dome district transit design was a done deal before the details where voted on by the city council. And the developer for Pacific Plaza (a project half funded by the city) told the city to tear down the Luzon. And the city did just that against advice from engineers firms who did not profit from fat city contracts. Corrupt all around, and Strickland is in the midst of it.

  21. ClownPosse says:

    Lacking last minute funding and exposure, perhaps this was something Ronnie did all on her own ?

  22. THewitt says:

    It is just the same old Ronnie Bush and Jim Merritt that we have known all along. They talk out of both sides of their mouth and as many of you have said, Jim doesn’t speak for himself at all. Just like with Jim’s fight against the Sound Transit design, neither of them decided to disclose that Jim had been under a $400,000 contract with Sound Transit in the past and it was terminated. Any FOIA request could tell you that. What many Merritt supporters see as Jim fighting for them is really just personal vendettas.

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