Opinion by Darin Weeks
On January 25, Torie Osborn was awarded the endorsement of the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills Democratic club in the race for California’s 50th Assembly District. The problem is, the regular, active members of that club didn’t give it to her.
How can this possibly be?
The club president told West Hollywood Patch that 45 Torie Osborn supporters became members of the club on December 29th with their memberships paid for by a single check amounting to $1,125. Media reports estimate that about 40 of those new members took control of the endorsement away from the normal club members and awarded it to their candidate.
“The new members were from places far away from West Hollywood,” said West Hollywood Mayor John Duran when explaining his position and the reason for his dramatic outburst in the meeting. “Places like Glendale and Norwalk and communities outside of the Assembly District.”
(Update: apparently Osborn supporters who hijacked these meetings also included underage children… see comment section below.)
Yet, Osborn and her campaign have no issue with deceiving voters by implying that the endorsement was awarded by the normal, active, local West Hollywood and Beverly Hills club members. Osborn’s camp says that some of the new folks were indeed locals, but they do not deny that many were not. And it doesn’t sound like anyone expects these new people to be regular, active club members.
“The club of local Democrats voted 43-28 to endorse Osborn,” proclaimed a campaign press release touting the win (emphasis added).
“Last night, grassroots Democrats of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills sent a high-powered message to the Sacramento political machine that they’ve had enough of ‘politics as usual,’ and that they’re ready for bold changes in our state,” said Osborn in the press release (emphasis added). “I am extraordinarily grateful for their support, and plan working directly with them throughout this campaign and beyond.”
As someone who regularly relies upon these endorsements, I’m deeply dismayed by this practice. It comes awfully close to buying an endorsement. Even Osborn supporters admit that the resulting endorsement is deceptive, and the practice used to obtain this endorsement (and others) is unfair.
Marta Evry, an Osborn supporter who was at the meeting and who is the source of the widely seen video of Duran’s outburst summed it up pretty well on her blog. “Are these practices unfair? Do they reward the candidate who’s best able to ‘game’ the system? Yes. Absolutely.”
And she wrote, “to the layman, club and party endorsements are assumed to mean that local activists have weighed the merits of each candidate and chosen one through a democratic consensus process.”
I don’t disagree with Evry’s ideas, except on her premise that we shouldn’t blame the candidates if they exploit the unfair rules and loopholes. Of course we should. We should hold them to high ethical standards, but realize that we’ll often be disappointed. Utilizing a tactic when you know it is wrong is would not meet any definition of ethical behavior that I know of.
Everything boils down to a few very simple points here:
An endorsement obtained via unfair, unethical means makes the endorsement illegitimate.
Holding out an illegitimate endorsement as legitimate is dishonest and misleading to voters.
Period. Nothing else matters. Ethics are ethics. There is no grey area here. There can be no possible, adequate justification. There was not a gun to Torie’s head making her do this.
But since Osborn and her supporters are running around trying to make a case, let’s look at some of their arguments.
Over and over, Osborn supporters will tell you that the opponent was “out organized” as if that makes everything OK.
Dante Atkins, an Osborn supporter who lists his position as the Vice-Chair, Region 2, of the LA County Democratic Party, engaged us on Twitter to try to redirect our focus away from his candidate.
“Betsy Butler’s camp tried to do the same thing, they just didn’t have any support,” said Atkins. “I have the email.”
“If it’s the ethics you object to, attack all guilty,” he continued. “Otherwise, you’re attacking motivation and competence.”
That Osborn and her supporters associate unethical practices with motivation, competence and effective organizing is just one reason why I am focused on this particular situation. That is a disgusting proposition, and it seems to me that unethical behavior that is organized only makes it more reprehensible. Unfortunately, in politics it may be the norm rather than the exception. Still, that doesn’t mean that those caught in situations such as this should not be held to account.
It matters not that others may have used similar practices in the present or in the past. Examples could surely be found for almost any type of unethical behavior imaginable by politicians. It doesn’t make repeating the offenses or utilizing the same tactics OK. Even small children know that two wrongs don’t make a right.
Why hold Torie to account and not others? Well, I had no clue this practice existed until this case, so it is what I will address. And while it looks like others may have had their hand in the cookie jar before, Torie came along and swiped the whole jar. Complaining about this is like getting pulled over for speeding and telling the officer that other people were speeding too. Let me know how that works out for you.
It matters not that there wasn’t any rule broken. It would be impossible for a club to create a rule for every possible circumstance. On the other hand, ethics do not depend on rules. Doping wasn’t prohibited by rules some years ago in sports, but the lack of such rules did not make it ethical or fair to engage in the practice. The same logic holds true here.
I could easily support a candidate who broke a rule through an oversight, but cannot support a candidate who either willingly compromised her ethics or is blind to the ethical issues here.
Osborn will tell you she really, really needs these local endorsements because the state party endorsement is biased against her. Well, maybe so, but that doesn’t give her license to embrace unethical practices for others without reproach.
With foolish pride, Osborn makes no apologies for these practices and apparently can’t see what the fuss is about. She told Patch, “We’re in it to win it. I have a grassroots army that’s working with me. … People joining clubs in order to vote for who they vote for is part of the grassroots. It just is part of the tactics. People do it all the time. I’m proud of my troops.”
Perhaps others do engage in the practice all the time, Torie. But I suspect it won’t be happening as much in the future, thanks to your fiasco here. For this, I thank you. However, in good conscience I cannot ignore this blatant lack of ethics and you will not have my support for office.