In Rare Retraction, GOP Repudiates Flyers

Posted by Jay Root - Texas Tribune on

The Republican Party of Texas, admitting it got the facts wrong in recent attack ads, has issued a rare retraction of two flyers targeting a Democrat in a competitive state House district in North Texas.

In the party’s retraction mailer, Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri apologized to the Democrat, Susan Motley, who is running against former state Rep. Rodney Anderson, the Republican candidate in Dallas-area District 105

Munisteri said the party had “believed in good faith” that an official complaint had been filed against Motley for allegedly violating the federal Hatch Act because of supposed conflicts between her day job and her bid to serve in the Legislature. 

But Munisteri said the party decided its glossy flyers attacking Motley were inaccurate afterThe Dallas Morning News reported that no complaint had been filed at the time the pieces were mailed out. The story also cast serious doubt about the merits of the allegations, and last week a federal agency dismissed them entirely.

In an “Advisory Clarification” addressed generically to “Dear HD 105 Voter” — and costing the party thousands of dollars — Munisteri asked recipients to disregard the inaccurate mail ads. 

“She was not in violation of federal law by running for political office, making the statements in the mail piece erroneous,” Munisteri said in the retraction mail piece. “Consequently the RPT has decided in the best interest of fairness and accuracy to mail you and everyone who received the prior mailings this clarification.”

“We apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding this may have caused you and we apologize to Ms. Motley for any erroneous information that was disseminated,” Munisteri wrote.

Tom Schwarz, Motley's campaign manager, said he was pleased the Republican Party had "taken responsibility for the false and misleading campaign materials they've been sending to voters and that they are attempting to set the record straight on this matter."

"Unfortunately, we're yet to hear anything from Rodney Anderson, and we're troubled by his complete lack of respect for the voters of Irving and Grand Prairie," Schwarz added. "It's clear that Rodney Anderson will say and do anything to get elected and voters are now questioning his honesty and integrity."

According to the Motley campaign, the controversy started about two weeks ago when Anderson’s chief strategist, Austin-based consultant Corbin Casteel, blasted out an email claiming a complaint had been filed against Motley for allegedly violating the Hatch Act, designed to restrict political activity by federal bureaucrats. 

The email, a copy of which was provided by the Motley campaign, never mentioned that it was the Anderson campaign doing the complaining. Then a few days later, the Dallas paper reported that the agency supposedly in receipt of the complaint, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, had no record of receiving one.

Motley is a lawyer at the nonprofit Disability Rights Texas, which gets some federal money, and Anderson’s campaign claimed that made her ineligible to run for public office under the Hatch Act.

But Nick Schwellenbach, a spokesman for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, said in a statement that only a tiny group of nonprofit employees are impacted by the law.

“A nonprofit employee is only subject to candidate restrictions under the Hatch Act if their salary is fully funded by Head Start or Community Service Block Grants,” Schwellenbach said.

Motley’s campaign said her employer did not receive funding from either of those sources.

Casteel, the Anderson campaign strategist, declined comment.

According to Munisteri, Motley’s campaign complained to the party last week, persuaded him that the GOP had based its allegations on erroneous facts and asked him to correct the record with a new mailer.

“We said, you know what, that’s a fair request and we’ll do it,” Munisteri said.

He said the retraction cost the party was mailed to 35,600 households — the same ones that had gotten the erroneous attack pieces. Munisteri expected the apologetic flyer to arrive on Friday and Saturday in the hotly contested swing district, which is currently held by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, whom Anderson defeated in the spring primary.

"It's already in the mail," Munisteri said. 

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