Posted: July 23, 2018

By: Amanda Kelton

Last week a voter showed me a mailer they had received promoting my campaign – a mailer that my campaign did not send out. I am including a copy of this mailer for those who have not seen it. The mailer consists mainly of material taken from my website and other public statements. It is positive, entirely factual, and is something that my campaign might have put out ourselves if we had had the funds. Since my campaign had never received outside support like this before, I was very surprised.

The mailer states that it was paid for by the “Great America Coalition”. At first, I was confused and concerned when an internet search for that organization returned results for “Great America PAC”, “Great America Alliance”, and “Great America Committee” – all of which have strong ties to the GOP and various right-wing organizations. We kept digging however, and found a non-profit listed on opencorporates.com with the name “Great America Coalition”. We found little else about this organization other than the person listed as its director is likely also involved with the “Coalition for American Veterans PAC” and several other Tennessee specific political organizations. Based on this, we felt reassured that this was a legitimate case of an organization independently promoting a candidate they favored and got back to working hard during early voting. Eventually, the Chairman of the Maury County Democratic Party, Seth Campbell, inquired about the mailer and we told him everything we had discovered. We also encouraged him to let us know if he uncovered any new information.

Seth Campbell resigned his position as Chairman in December of last year after he was arrested for an incident of domestic violence against his girlfriend. The charges were dropped, and after some infighting, the Maury County Democratic Party reinstated him as Chairman in April. At that point, I had been actively campaigning for over three months, and despite my being the most progressive and only non-republican candidate in the race, Seth Campbell showed little interest in my candidacy. With the exception of allowing me to introduce myself and speak at Democratic Party Meetings (a courtesy extended to all candidates), he has made no effort to get to know me or my positions. Rather, he has shown great favor to the republican incumbent, citing the republican mayor’s fair treatment of the Democratic Party during his tenure. Even though I believed this to be a misguided strategy for the Democratic Party, I accepted it as being the Chairman’s prerogative and made no public grievance of it.

At one point during the campaign, I found out through a third party that Seth Campbell thought I might be a “secret republican”. He reportedly asked others to befriend me on Facebook so that they could review my personal history and uncover “proof”. Of course, I am not, and they found nothing to suggest that I might be (not that there is anything wrong with being a republican, it’s just that I’ve never been a member of any political party). I immediately confronted Seth Campbell about it and provided him with a copy of the email I had sent to the Republican Party wherein I requested the opportunity to introduce myself as an independent candidate and clearly stated that I was not seeking the republican nomination (because I am not a republican). I felt that this matter was settled until Seth Campbell contacted me a second time about the mailers.

On July 21st, out of the blue, Seth Campbell sent me a private message via Facebook giving me a “heads up” that he thought the mailers were likely part of a sinister plot by the GOP to get the republican nominee elected by driving votes to me and away from the two republicans running as independents. He told me he was considering making a statement to that effect on the Maury County Democratic Party’s official Facebook page. I immediately asked what evidence he had to support this theory, and he told me that he had googled the name of the director of the organization and found several internet articles that linked someone with that name to a few high-profile members of the republican party. I cautioned him against making knowingly false public statements that would be damaging to my reputation or my campaign – and informed him that doing so could possibly be grounds for a libel lawsuit. Suddenly, and without further private discussion, Seth Campbell began putting out a series of vague and misleading public statements which lead people to false conclusions about the mailer. He even went so far as to explicitly declare, without proof, that the organization that sent out the mailer was a “GOP PAC” and furthermore alleged that the republican nominee’s campaign had somehow coordinated the release of this mailer, essentially accusing them of breaking the law. While defending myself I repeatedly asked Seth Campbell to provide proof supporting his accusations, and he provided none. Eventually, he made a post reasserting his original baseless charges and disabled comments on the thread so that I could not refute them.

Frankly I am stunned by the behavior of the Maury County Democratic Party Chairman. I understand and share his dislike of anonymous outside spending in elections. I believe that the Citizens United decision is one of the biggest mistakes the Supreme Court has ever made. Over the course of this campaign I have only taken donations from individuals, and I have done nothing to encourage outside spending on my behalf. I had nothing to do with the release of these mailers, but I had no way to prevent them either. I can, and do, condemn anonymous outside spending – including these mailers – but I do not condemn the message they contain or the people who sent them out if they did so in an honest (and legal) attempt to help my campaign. Should anyone come up with definite proof that their purpose was nefarious, I will condemn that act of bad faith as well. But once again, these messages were positive and truthful endorsements of me and my campaign. I encourage everyone to read through the Facebook thread in question and come to their own conclusions. I think it’s obvious Seth Campbell’s intention was to use these mailers as a political weapon against my campaign in an attempt to bolster his preferred candidate, the republican incumbent. I would also encourage everyone to review the body of my campaign statements and realize just how much I dislike this sort of political hackery. It’s gross and it’s shameful.

As a completely independent candidate with no big money donors, my campaign has suffered from a lack of advertising funds. During the runup to early voting, my opponents have been putting up a crazy number of signs, they have been running radio and print ads non-stop. Our relatively small, grass roots campaign has had to rely on word of mouth and the endless hard work of dedicated volunteers to get out the message one voter at a time. Seth Campbell would like you to believe that this mailer gives me some sort of unfair advantage. But if anything, it only serves to level the playing field a little – making money a little less of a factor in this campaign. Isn’t that a good thing? If seeing a simple mailer that says positive and factual things about me sways someone’s vote, then good! The real problem Seth Campbell has with the mailer is not one of fairness or justice, it is purely political. He made a strategic decision that relied on my lack of funding, and that decision is being upset by some unexpected last-minute advertising. I am glad that my message is getting out to more people. It is a good message. I am a good candidate, and people should vote for me because I will do the best job as County Mayor, and I will never – ever – be a party to the sort of political game playing that Seth Campbell is engaging in.

When you boil it down, the Chairman of the Maury County Democratic Party is unfairly attacking the only woman, the only veteran, and most progressive candidate in the race in order to help re-elect a republican who has shown him favor in the past. I assume that he is doing so in order to prevent the more right-wing candidate from winning (using a “lesser of two evils” sort of logic) but this sort of twisted political calculus is detrimental to the democratic cause. It is one of the reasons why things are not getting better. We need bold leaders who are willing to stand up for what they believe in and will not compromise their values for the sake of political expediency. Seth Campbell should have actively praised me for my commitment of democratic ideals and for my positions where they aligned with the Democratic Platform. He should have sought to educate voters about the candidates, especially when he realized that they were intentionally downplaying their past associations with groups and policies antithetic to the Democratic Cause. Seth Campbell’s drama and inaction during this campaign has done more to get the right-wing candidate elected than any truthful mailer could.

Seth Campbell offered to meet privately with me, and I informed him that until he corrected his statement to make clear that he has no actual proof for his claims, and until he encouraged people to vote for whomever they felt would best represent them rather than “wargame” the vote, I would have nothing further to do with him. He responded with a thumbs-up emoji.

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