NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 19, 2013

Earls calls for investigation of 'ugly' campaign tactics

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT -- Former mayoral candidate Greg Earls has requested that state authorities investigate an anonymous letter of condemnation that has been sent to his residence.

The letter purports to be from “a very large group of friends and supporters” but Earls discounted that.

“It was obviously meant to bully me,” he said yesterday.

Earls came in third to Mayor Donna Holaday and City Councilor Dick Sullivan Jr. in a primary election last month, which eliminated him from the race for mayor. He drew 1,303 votes. Holaday had 1,498 and Sullivan polled 1,354. Earls asked for a recount, but the tally barely changed.

Though he toyed with the idea of running as a write-in candidate for an at-large seat on the City Council, he recently said he is not seeking write-in votes.

Mailed to his Milk Street residence, the one-page, typed letter attacked him on several fronts -- it accused him of being complicit in a campaign to attack Holaday with an anonymous flier and robocalls, of wasting taxpayer money by asking for a vote recount, not routinely attending Veterans Day and Memorial Day services, and surrounding himself with “hateful” advisors. It also attacks him for “supporting” Sullivan, whom the letter writers describe as “a bully” and “an idiot.”

Earls has consistently said he was not involved in the anonymous attacks against Holaday, and has not endorsed either Sullivan or Holaday.

The letter urged Earls to support Holaday.

“If you really care about the community whatever problem you have with Mayor Holaday -- be grown ups and deal with it,” it read.

The letter ended by saying it was from, “A large group of your former supporters.” There were no signatures.

Earls said, “I don’t know who sent this but it is interesting that it was mailed at the same Boston Post Office as the ‘anti-Holaday, anti-NRA flyer’ that was mailed prior during the preliminary election.”

He said he has sent it to the state to investigate, “as I have previously requested an investigation into the aforementioned anonymous flier mailed city-wide.”

Such matters are typically handled by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. As a matter of policy, the office would not confirm with the Daily News that it is probing the matter. And whatever conclusion it finds, it will not announce it publicly until after the election, per its policy.

State political campaign laws do not offer specifics on what, if anything, may be illegal about the anonymous letter. The letter does not meet the state’s legal threshold regarding illegal campaign finance activity. A minimum of $250 would have had to be spent on an anonymous effort to sway public opinion in order to qualify it as a violation of state law.

The arrival of the letter at Earls’ home is the third anonymous communication that has intruded on this campaign.

During the primary campaign, an anonymous flier appeared in thousands of mailboxes. In it, the author decried any private development on the waterfront, and urged voters not to vote for Holaday. The distribution of that flyer is estimated to have cost at least $2,500.

In a robo-phone call to hundreds of homes a day before the primary, an anonymous communicator offered similar criticism of the waterfront plans and said “I am taking a holiday from Holaday.” Estimates have placed the cost of those calls at at least $150 or more.

It’s not clear if the flier and the robocall were done by the same person or group.

Holaday said she asked the state to investigate both matters, as they appear to have violated campaign finance disclosure laws.

Earls said the recent letter was an example of “how strange and ugly this election is getting. I am not even in any city race, and dark-hearted people insist on throwing dirt around.”

Earls said that he has given Holaday and Sullivan copies of the letter.