Campaign Ad Sparks Controversy for League
The normally sedate League of Women Voters has found itself embroiled in a political controversy the nonpartisan organization usually shuns.
A letter from the League sent three years ago has turned up in national re-election campaign advertising on behalf of President Obama. The national League did not authorize the use of the letter in partisan campaigning, and local Leagues are reacting with consternation.
"We are not partisan," said Jo Nicholas, president of both the Moore County and North Carolina Leagues. "We do not endorse candidates."
Nicholas has called an emergency meeting of the Moore County League board on Tuesday to discuss how the issue should be handled.
The letter was a routine communication dispatched at the end of Obama's first 100 days in office and its intent was innocuous enough, containing a commendation for transparency in government. Nicholas said neither the content nor the intent of the letter was to promote the president's political agenda, certainly not a re-election campaign. She said the letter has been quoted out of context and twists the initial message of the letter.
Nicholas said the sponsors of the ad were not legally required to secure the League's permission to quote the letter because it is now public record. Such permission was not sought and was not secured.
"I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill with this, but it really should have been corrected," Nicholas said.
However, Nicholas said she wishes the national League office had taken immediate action to repudiate the inference that the League is endorsing Obama's re-election campaign.
"The national League should have issued a statement immediately after learning about the ad," Nicholas said. "They're still playing the ad on television."
Jeanne Casinella, a member of the Moore County league, is one of the more outspoken critics of the inaction by the national League since the ad was first aired about two weeks ago.
"It questions our integrity," Casinella said.
Casinella said she has talked to state and local political and government leaders about the issue and is continuing efforts to get the matter corrected. The issue was first raised at a League committee meeting she attended.
"We were all appalled and disgusted," Casinella said.
Casinella was referring to the email response to the ad from Elisabeth McNamara, president of the national League, who did not dispatch a message on the subject until Jan. 24.
In the email, McNamara said the national League is working on "a response that sets the record straight, but does so without sounding overly defensive." She said that her office had received almost no calls or emails on the subject.
McNamara quoted research findings indicating that the League should continue to demonstrate its nonpartisanship at all levels but said the League "should not feel compelled to spend too much time defending ourselves against every charge to the contrary."
Instead, the national president said the research "also suggests that we should consider this kind of visibility as a positive development." She added that the ad describes the League as an "independent government watchdog group." The clear inference, she said, "is that we have enough credibility and name recognition for the president to think that our opinion matters and should be shared."
The League of Women Voters is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to good government and to educating the public about the responsibility of citizenship.
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