Anonymous Negative Political Mailers: They're Legal

5:44 PM, Sep 9, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - If you're a registered voter, chances are you've received a bunch of political mailers over the past few weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary.

Some of the glossy mailers, like those from Byron Brown's mayoral campaign, clearly state a return address, in this case the "Brown for Buffalo" campaign.

But other mailers, which attack a candidate, are sent anonymously, like one which calls Erie County legislator Tim Hogues a Republican. Hogues is in fact a Democrat.

When you look to see who's behind the anti-Hogues mailer, there's no return address.

That was also the case for the mailer which last week attacked developer Mark Hamister concerning his proposed $25 million dollar hotel development in Niagara Falls.

Erie County Board of Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward says unlike federal law, which requires candidates to actually say they approve of the message in their commercials, under state law it's perfectly legal to send attack mail anonymously. Those behind the mailings aren't required to identity themselves until after election day.

Scott Brown: "Given that these can be sent anonymously, doesn't it lend itself to making baseless charges against somebody else?"

Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward: "Let's put it this way, it certainly allows it, whether it lends to it would depend on the individual but sure, you could make any charge at all and then there's apparently no consequences for it until after election day and by then I guess people just sort of forget about it, so I guess that is a problem yes."

2 On Your Side political analyst Mike Haselswerdt says the anonymous attack mailers are the equivalent of a political dirty trick.

Mike Haselswerdt: "It's just like any other mailer it can affect the way people are thinking about a particular race. If they haven't been paying attention and this is what they get, it matters."

So the next time you get one of these anonymous negative mailers, take what it's saying with a grain of salt  - there's probably a pretty good reason why those behind it don't want to attach their names to it.

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