It's hard to write a good hit piece. Going negative looks easy and when done right, it can be very effective. However, if you write a bad hit piece, you can blow up your client. There are three major mistakes that amateur consultants tend to make--any one of them is fatal to your client. I call them "File Under Sasquatch", "Waking the Giant" and "Get the Cuffs". An over zealous campaign consultant can make one of these mistakes and a real amateur can make two....if you want to see an ad campaign that manages to make all three mistakes, you need to check out the attack pieces that the firefighters are running against Sal DiCiccio.
The first mistake in amateur hour is "File Under Sasquatch". That's when a piece is so outrageous that it looks like a National Enquirer parody. Check out the hit piece at the left and then compare it to these. Click the picture to enlarge it, and you will notice that it's full of outrageous allegations "22 Felony Counts" $750,000 in fines...paired with weasel words (that I have circled) like "may" and "could" together with "accused" and "can never be sure".
I especially like the trick with the picture. When the consultant juxtaposed "Felony Counts" with the picture of Sal with his right hand raised, he is implying that DiCiccio was in court. Of course, it's pretty obvious that since his left hand is on a Bible, that he's taking the oath of office.
Real Sasquatch stories are meant to be entertaining. They are so outrageous that they are fun, but you know that they are so over the top that they are essentially parody. The consultants for the firefighters don't seem to understand the difference and have therefore ruined the credibility of the candidate they are seeking to support.
The next mistake is "Waking the Giant." That's what happens when you send out a piece that's so misleading that newspapers make your misrepresentations the story. Since the newspapers reach a lot more people and since they are credible with insiders, a consultant who writes a piece that the newspapers take time to rebut does his client a lot of damage.
For example,the Republic's Bob Robb pounded the mailers.
So, one group of political opponents accuses DiCiccio of breaking the law. Another, the firefighters, use those accusations to try to create the impression that DiCiccio is a crook. Meanwhile, no one in an official capacity has alleged or concluded that DiCiccio did anything wrong.
That’s beyond dirty.
Here's an example in which Republic columnist Laurie Roberts points out that the mailings are simply BS.
It’s no surprise that the firefighters would come after DiCiccio. He’s long taken aim at the city’s public employee unions, questioning employee pay and benefits and the unions’ power at city hall. A campaign aimed at unseating him is fair.
But these mailers? Not so much.
More people will see the Bob Robb and Laurie Roberts articles than will see the mailers, and what's more important is that Robb and Roberts affirm what people already understand. DiCiccio is taking on the unions and the unions are responding by just making stuff up.
Waking up the media is a problem, but ticking off a judge is a much bigger problem.
A Maricopa County judge on Tuesday sharply criticized a lawsuit filed by three Phoenix residents who have accused Councilman Sal DiCiccio of sweeping campaign-finance violations related to a non-profit corporation he created.
Ouch. I mean seriously, that's going to leave a mark.
While "File under Sasquatch" and "Waking the Giant" are fatal mistakes, and they are likely to dramatically shrink your nascent campaign consulting business, they are unlikely to have legal ramifications. However, if you make the 3rd fatal error, you have a serious problem. That's why I call it "Get the Cuffs."
It turns out that the group behind the mailers may be in a bit of legal trouble.
State elections officials have determined there is “reasonable cause” to suspect that a left-leaning advocacy group behind a series of attack ads directed at Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio is violating campaign-finance laws.
Campaign finance law is really tricky, but for some reason, newbies seem to think that they are experts. Try not to cringe too much as you read this do-it-yourself legal analysis
Ken Chapman, chairman of the group and former director of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, has said they’re following the law. He contends his group’s issue-advocacy efforts are not aimed at influencing the council election — their mailers don’t directly mention the race or urge residents to vote against DiCiccio — and therefore not subject to campaign-finance reporting laws.
Why is it that consultants think that if they don't use the word "vote" that they aren't writing campaign pieces?
Here's the response from an actual lawyer in the Secretary of State's office. Rather give an ad hoc opinion on what the law should be like Mr. Chapman did, the lawyer from the SOS quotes, you know, the actual law.
“Each of the examples of the literature issued by (the group), from the mailers to its website, saldliar.com, make a general public communication referring to a clearly identified candidate that in context has no reasonable meaning other than to advocate the defeat of the candidate,” Chan wrote.
Dude, Prepare to Be Boarded. That's not going to end well.
So there you have it. The firefighters and their hapless consultants spend a ton of money on hit pieces that are so extreme that they serve as a parody, and the pieces were so outrageous that the media was compelled to come to DiCiccio's defense. DeCiccio is actually in much better position after the pieces than before...and Karlene Parks is in much worse shape than she was before. After all, the poeple who get the mailer will naturally assume that they are associated with her campaign.
Then, in addition to blowing up Ms. Parks and boosting DiCiccio, the group's Do-it-yourself legal team has the real lawyers from the Secretary of State's office (and soon the Attorney General's Office) polishing a proctoscope.
That's why politics isn't for amateurs...Kids, Don't Try This at Home.