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Another utterly ridiculous and false campaign mailer arrived in the homes of North Texans

Big Brother is watching: If you don’t vote they’ll tell former President Trump that you let him down.

I want to present to you what may be one of the worst campaign flyers from 2024. That’s saying a lot because in this day and age the competition for below-the-belt political mailers is quite steep.

The Watchdog shares this because campaign literacy among voters and non-voters is a necessity. Use to be a time, only a few years ago, when we dealt with exaggerations and half-truths. Now villains can simply make things up and get away with it.

Why This Story Matters
With important elections several months away, the ability to discern accurate facts from false information is a skill many of us will need as we weigh candidates. Campaign literacy is a learned skill that takes practice.

That’s what happened here. But there are ways to check things out for yourself.

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The flyer

Jack Knowles, a retired school district business manager from North Richland Hills, sent me a copy of the mailer.

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Or with:

“I would really like to know who funded it,” he says.

So would I, and The Watchdog set out to learn.

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But first let me share the contents. The front says “Election Notice” and “Urgent Voting Alert.”

It states, “We see you haven’t voted yet. Your voting record is public. Your neighbors are watching and will know if you miss this critical runoff election. … We will contact you after the election to make sure you voted!”

Here’s the second message: “Please Don’t Make Us Report You to President Trump! We are sending an official list of Republicans who fail to vote in the upcoming runoff to President Trump. … You can’t afford to have that on your record.”

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Guess what? Knowles had already voted.

Another utterly ridiculous and false campaign mailer arrived in the homes of North Texans...
Another utterly ridiculous and false campaign mailer arrived in the homes of North Texans Big Brother is watching: If you don't vote they'll tell former President Trump that you let him down. This is from the late May 2024 runoff.(Dave Lieber screenshot)

Laughter then anger

Knowles told me, “I had to laugh when I first read it just because it is so ridiculous. Then I got mad thinking of some older or not so old folks who might take it seriously and feel threatened or intimidated by it.”

Knowles, in a terrific example of campaign literacy, researched the supposed sender — a group calling itself the America First Conservatives Election Department. He couldn’t find a trace of the group anywhere. The group did not register with the Texas Ethics Commission, and it’s also not listed on campaign finance websites like OpenSecrets.org.

Voter lists

Before I show you how I took the investigation a step farther, it’s best to show how voter lists are released. In Texas, a list of voters during each day of early voting is publicly available. Campaigns especially collect the lists to see who has and hasn’t voted.

There’s nothing wrong with a campaign worker coming up to you and saying, “I see you haven’t voted yet. Here are the remaining early voting days.”

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But only a voter’s name is on the daily list, certainly not who she or he voted for.

What’s preposterous here is the notion that someone is going to turn you into former President Donald Trump — and that he has the time and interest to know if the Knowles family voted in a primary runoff.

Although the flyer warns, “President Trump will be very disappointed,” I don’t think he will.

James Tinley, general counsel of the Texas Ethics Commission, said if the mailer is deemed political advertising and it’s anonymous then the ethics commission would be the appropriate entity. “We’d have civil jurisdiction. If it’s not political advertising then we wouldn’t have jurisdiction.”

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He declined to say if anyone filed a complaint, something that’s confidential under law.

Is the flyer legal?

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus and I looked at the flyer for legality. We found a loophole.

It may not be illegal. It doesn’t support or oppose a candidate or an issue, so it’s not considered political advertising which is more closely regulated under state law.

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He said, “Without a clear disclosure and because the laws are a little vague, no one will be held accountable for this advertising.

“It’s a real challenge to monitor and police these kinds of mailers,” he continued. “There’s no organization that has the resources to do this kind of investigation.”

The Trump campaign did not offer a comment in time for publication.

Rottinghaus says the state ethics commission “has very little meat in terms of enforcing” state election rules. Texas election code contains a “Campaign Fair Practices Act,” but it is voluntary and may not apply to anonymous flyers.

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The Houston professor teaches a class on campaign management in which he trains members of both parties to run campaigns, He calls it “How to Run a Campaign 101.”

“I’m going to totally use this flyer as an example in my class as a great way to scare them,” he says. “Don’t do this.”

Brandon Rottinghaus is a University of Houston professor who specializes in Texas politics....
Brandon Rottinghaus is a University of Houston professor who specializes in Texas politics. He grew up in Plano.

Another clue

The Watchdog promised to take this investigation further than others who’ve looked into this.

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I took the U.S. Postal Service bulk mail permit number on the flyer and searched on the web for “Austin Bulk Mail Permit 1318,” which is the postal mark on each mailer. That led me to a non-profit organization that uses that postmark. They, in turn, led me to the vendor that owns that permit, Thomas Graphics Inc. of Austin. On its website, the company boasts that it handled the campaign of President George W. Bush.

I left a message for them.

USPS spokeswoman Polly Gibbs told me that as far as USPS is concerned, the mail permit is not “being misused.”

Confused?

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That’s the whole point of anonymous mailers.

Watchdog tip: Don’t take campaign mailings at face value. If a mailing doesn’t look right, do a web search on all possible information.

Lies, deception and misinformation are too easy to get away with. We must be vigilant.

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