Honest Mistake Defense In Campaign Mailer Gaff

BERLIN – With the Worcester County State’s Attorney race nearing the finish line, a flap this week over campaign mailers sent out to voters all over the county including pictures and names of prominent local citizens has added a late chapter to what has already been a heated battle.

Voters across Worcester this week received campaign literature in their mailboxes from State’s Attorney Joel Todd, who is being challenged again by Republican Beau Oglesby, including the candidate pictured with several prominent citizens including elected officials, police chiefs and other well-known locals under the heading “community leaders support Joel Todd.” Four separate mailers were sent out to different areas of the county, each including prominent citizens from the various regions.

However, after the mailers hit mailboxes across the county, it came to light some of those pictured were included on the campaign literature without their knowledge or permission. In a few confirmed examples, some people were included even after they expressed a desire not to have their pictures or names used on the campaign mailers.

On Wednesday, the Worcester County Republican Central Committee (WCRCC) called an impromptu press conference to call Todd out on the apparent campaign literature gaff. WCRCC Chairman Lee McClaflin said he called the press conference with some trepidation because he has known Todd for decades, but felt compelled to bring the situation to light.

“It’s unfortunate because I’ve been an acquaintance of Joel’s for over 30 years, but my job as chairman of the Central Committee is to bring out the truth,” he said. “I am here to address the unethical and unauthorized use of the names and pictures of community leaders and private citizens in political mailers. Mr. Todd, the current Worcester County State’s Attorney, has sent out four deceptive and misleading political mailers with pictures of community leaders and citizens on each. Most of the people pictured with Mr. Todd were unaware that their pictures and names were being used and they did not give permission.”

Yesterday, Todd’s campaign manager and wife, Anita Todd, said she prepared and sent out the mailers and that her husband had neither seen nor approved the mailers. Anita Todd said she alone prepared the mailers using recent pictures of her husband with various friends and community leaders.

“It was an honest mistake and I take full responsibility for it,” she said. “There was never any intent to mislead or deceive anybody with these mailers.”

In the course of shuffling the various pictures around to direct them to the specific areas they were to be mailed, some pictures were included erroneously, according to Todd, a former newspaper reporter and current public relations director for a local charity.

“I made the classic mistake of editing myself,” she said. “I know from experience, and I should have known in this case, that you have to get another set of eyes on something. Mistakes happen when you don’t, and that’s what happened in this case. It’s a big screw up and I’m not trying to make excuses because I do know better, but I needed an editor.”

However, the WCRCC and others in the community were not readily willing to accept the “honest mistake”, particularly because some of those pictured are running for office or currently hold office in the county. In some cases, Republican candidates are shown allegedly supporting the Democratic incumbent.

“Mr. Todd showed no regard for other candidates running for public office pictured in his mailers and how this could compromise their election bid,” said McClaflin. “I ask that all voters please disregard the phrase ‘community leaders support Joel Todd’ and the implied support in these mailers as none of the candidates pictured were aware Mr. Todd was going to use their picture and name.”

One person included on the mailer sent out to the northern part of the county is County Commissioner Bud Church, a Republican running unopposed on Tuesday. Church said this week his phone lit up when the mailers hit the streets this week.

“I think Joel Todd made a major blunder, a mistake I’m sure he wished he hadn’t made,” said Church. “I’m disappointed it happened and now we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

How it plays out remains to be seen, but Anita Todd said yesterday she hoped the voters would see past the campaign mailer blunder.

“I believe the voters of Worcester County are a smart group and I hope they’re not going to make their choice in this election based on a big mistake on some campaign materials,” she said. “I hope they go with who is the most experienced and most qualified.”

McClaflin said the Republican Central Committee had verified that seven people on the Ocean City mailer, five on the Ocean Pines-Berlin mailer, four on the Snow Hill mailer and one on the Pocomoke mailer had been included without their permission. For her part, Todd said she thought there were four total that had been included erroneously.

It’s important to point out those included on the mailers without their permission don’t necessarily not support Todd, nor does their consternation over being included on the campaign materials suggest they support Oglesby. The issue at hand is their inclusion on campaign literature without their permission, implied or otherwise. McClaflin said as much during the press conference on Wednesday.

“We are not saying because they didn’t want to be on campaign materials, that they do not support Todd, nor are we saying that means they endorse Beau Oglesby,” he said. “All we’re saying is that is was unethical to use names and pictures in a political mailer without their permission. The ethics of our chief elected law enforcement officer should not be compromised or manipulated for political gain.”

One specific casualty in the campaign mailer gaff was the loss of Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing as a chief election judge at the polls on Tuesday. Because the Todd campaign erroneously included Downing’s picture on the mailer sent to the Berlin area, after he told Todd he couldn’t and shouldn’t be included, nor could he endorse any candidate, the Berlin police chief was dismissed this week as an elections judge.

“I can verify Chief Downing of Berlin has been excused from serving as a Chief Poll Judge by the Board of Elections because Mr. Todd ignored both him and the Board of Elections and published his picture on the mailer,” said McClaflin.

Worcester County Board of Elections Supervisor Patti Jackson said yesterday there was some discussion about Downing’s situation after it came to light he was included on a mailer, but his dismissal was made formal after a complaint by the Republican challenger Oglesby.

“We didn’t really consider that until Beau called us and pointed it out,” she said. “It really is the right thing to do, the only thing to do, but it’s unfortunate because it’s no fault of Chief Downing. We’re really going to miss him at the polls.”

Jackson said there would likely be no repercussions from Board of Elections.

“We checked with the state board and since there was an authority line and everything else was in order, there isn’t really anything for us to do about it,” she said. “We’re not getting involved. Any further action would have to be between the parties involved.”