by Edmund Ford Jr.
Nationally, people have been making relevant noise about how dark money should not influence their elections. I believe in transparency and disclosure in government as well in campaigns. Unfortunately, this did not occur in our local November elections.
In October 2018, there were four Memphians that filed complaints with the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, citing that Mr. Steve Mulroy and Save IRV raised money in violation of State Campaign Finance Laws. The main grievances were mailing misleading campaign materials as well as raising and spending money without full disclosure, which is required by law. The Registry of Election Finance will be hearing these complaints on Wednesday, January 9 in Nashville.
To the reader, did you know about this? Probably not, but guess who did know…our local media. They were given notice immediately after these complaints were filed, and decided to do absolutely nothing. In fact, the media chose to be intentionally one-sided with the coverage.
When I decided to be the whistleblower on these unethical campaign practices, local news anchors were more concerned about when I was resigning from the City Council. Each television outlet played this same, scripted tune to cause distraction rather than report possible corruption in our elections.
I was exposing the truth to my constituents, who have trusted me for the last 11 years in office, and I suppose Save IRV and the media had issue with that. Too bad, because I am not one that will be silenced by any person or interest group.
On that note, a Pre-General disclosure by Save IRV shows that $60,000 of undisclosed money was raised before October 1 and that over $145,000 was raised in a matter of 26 days. The breakdown is as follows:
- 94 percent was raised outside Memphis;
- 85 percent came from just two donors, one from New York and one from Texas;
- 0 percent of the disclosed donors are African-American.
Instead of our media reporting the $200,000 of dark money raised, they decided to slant the news by discussing the $40,000 that was publicly passed by the City Council to counterbalance the propaganda campaign by Mr. Mulroy and Save IRV.
The complaints filed by those four people and this “buying” of elections should raise concern to all voters, especially black voters. Our elections should not be bought by outsiders. Local ballot referendum items should not be the financial interests of people outside of Memphis. Yes, there will always be campaigns that rely on resources from several places, but when almost all of a campaign is funded by those who do not live in Memphis, then that’s a problem.
Our local broadcasters of the news have a responsibility to us to report in the most impartial manner with equal time so that Memphians can make the best interpretations with all information, not just one part of the story. In fact, the FCC specifically states that “rigging or slanting the news is a most heinous act against the public interest.”
As far as I’m concerned, the intentional lack of reporting by Channels 3, 5, 13, 24, 30, The Commercial Appeal, Daily Memphian and Memphis Flyer on a matter where our elections were bought with dark money is indeed heinous.
Mr. Mulroy continues to tout his hypocrisy by stating that those complaining now are just making “excuses”; it is not about that at all. It is about the blatant lack of full disclosure by himself and Save IRV to black voters who were bought and sold by special interests, none of whom are black.
Many of you that are reading this op-ed probably did not know that all of this was going on in broad daylight. Just know that the local media did know, but didn’t want to tell you. They chose to mislead you, especially the black community. How can we trust them as we go forward in telling the entire truth and to report in a fair manner?
Remember this is the same media that makes it their business to exploit us in the first 15 minutes of their news programming with who robbed or shot who, so should I really say more? It is up to all of us to make them accountable for their inaction as well as asking questions about what is happening in our own backyard and not assume that TV and newspapers will tell us everything.
(Edmund Ford Jr. is a former Memphis City Councilman and now serves on the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.)
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