In an effort to discourage the shenanigans that are occurring in the current Mayor and Council election, I’ve filed an official complaint with the City’s Board of Supervisors of Elections (BOSE) this week. Last weekend, a couple people were distributing a flyer door-to-door in the King Farm neighborhood that called for the election of Bridget Newton, Don Hadley, and Claire Marcuccio Whitaker to the Rockville Mayor and Council for various reasons. That’s not a problem except it was anonymous, a tactic I find cowardly because the source is secret and isn’t accountable for their statements, but in Rockville, it’s also illegal. The City Code states that, “Every person who publishes or distributes or causes to be published or distributed any pamphlet, circular, card … relating to or concerning any candidate … shall include the name and address of the person, treasurer, or campaign committee responsible for the literature.” That’s why you always see the “by authority of” line on election signs and campaign literature.
But this may not be an isolated event because the other side of the flyer focused exclusively on the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), a heated issue for specific constituencies in Rockville that was the subject of another similar effort. A month ago, an anonymous postcard focused exclusively on the APFO was mailed from a PO Box to specific neighborhoods in Rockville. It’s rumored that a few years ago another anonymous but similarly designed postcard was distributed about the proposed Bealls Grant II project. That suggests that the same people might be behind all these efforts and that they’ve formed a secret campaign committee that’s collecting and spending money to affect city decisions and elections. Again, that’s both unethical and illegal. According to our City’s election code, “every campaign committee…shall appoint and constantly maintain a chairperson and a treasurer, whose names and residences shall be filed with the City Clerk.” The threshold for creating a campaign committee is very low–it is, “any combination of two (2) or more persons appointed by a candidate, or candidates, or any other person or formed in any other manner which has as a principal purpose to assist or attempt to assist in any manner the promotion of the success or defeat of any candidate, candidates, principle or proposition.”
Why the fuss? The United States distinguishes itself among the nations as the oldest democracy in the world. Yup, just a couple centuries and you’ve established a world record as a democracy–this isn’t a pursuit for sissies. Maintaining our freedom and liberty is partially the result of ensuring that decisions made about our lives are done in the open (not in secret, like in China) and as a community (not by one person, like a king). I’ll admit it’s not the most efficient process. Making decisions in the open and as a community is messy, slow, and unpredictable, but the process is as important (perhaps even more important) than the product. What we’re experiencing in Rockville in this series of anonymous flyers prepared by a small group of people working in secret to undermine the democratic process. They don’t want to have a discussion, they don’t want to be identified, and they prefer to make decisions in secret. This tactic, however, can be effective and swing undecided voters or cause people to storm City Hall (we witnessed that on September 30). Unfortunately, its corrosive nature can quickly be adopted by other groups who also prefer to work in secret to affect elections. Our history is littered with them, but I don’t want to welcome them to Rockville so I’ve filed this official complaint. Can you imagine what Rockville elections would be like if every candidate was financed, organized, and promoted in secret? I could easily distribute lies about my opponents and cheat to win an election without being held responsible.
Yesterday, the Board of Supervisors of Elections held a regular meeting and discussed my complaint. They’ve decided to start by contacting each of the candidates and their treasurers about their knowledge of the flyer and postcard. This may seem tame, but if people intentionally lie to or mislead a city board during their fact-finding, it can be grounds for perjury. The three candidates who are attorneys–Tom Moore, Don Hadley, and Claire Whitaker–have even more at stake because as “officers of the court”, they can jeopardize their legal careers and be disbarred. The King Farm Assembly and Twinbrook Citizens Association are named in the King Farm flyer, but they’ve denied any association or knowledge of it.
I doubt this fact-finding mission will be concluded in time for the election in two weeks but the BOSE has assured me that they will continue to follow-up afterwards to prevent similar acts in the future. You can help preserve fair and democratic elections in Rockville by helping the Board of Supervisors of Elections in their investigation. If you know who created, paid for, or distributed the flyer or postcard, or know someone who does, please contact:
- Lois Neuman, Chair of the Board of Supervisors of Elections, at (240) 314-8280
- Doug Barber, Rockville City Clerk, at (240) 314-8280 or firstname.lastname@example.org