Smear Campaign in Central New York

With midterm elections in Central New York fast approaching, cable television has been plagued by smear ads knocking one political candidate after another. Meanwhile, New York was recently ranked “the nation’s worst business tax climate,” an unfortunate title in a nation with the highest corporate tax rate in the world. The present fiscal environment has prompted the Republican candidate for the 24th district of U.S. Congress, and former assistant U.S. attorney John Katko, to push for job creation and empower small businesses. 

Katko argues that taxes associated with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) have hurt small businesses in Central New York, and continue to hamper local companies like Welch Allyn, Inc. that produce medical technology for a global market. Meanwhile, the percentage of eligible American workers pursuing employment continues to decline. The incentive to work is going to continue to decrease. By 2015, Katko notes, the marginal tax rate for a typical American worker will reach nearly 50%. He is looking to explore reforming Obamacare to alleviate stress on small businesses. 

Local voters have voiced support for this type of reform. According to recent independent polling, New York voters support “repealing and replacing” Obamacare in its entirety 47 percent to 38 percent. Central New Yorkers appear to have suffered significantly under Obamacare, and congressional elections are a great opportunity to explore possible solutions. A perceptive CNY resident himself, Katko has invited his opponent, incumbent Dan Maffei (D-NY), to debate local issues numerous times during their respective campaigns. Maffei has responded by avoiding all opportunities to debate and attacking his opponent’s character. 

In one television ad, Maffei accuses then-federal prosecutor Katko of “playing politics” by pursuing reduced charges for former Republican government official John Gosek, who was arrested for soliciting sex from a minor. For Katko, who has won highest awards as a prosecutor for his “honor, integrity, and superior performance” under both Republican and Democrat U.S. attorneys-general, these are serious charges that call for serious review. But the ad fails to mention even the most basic facts of the trial. Defendants facing similar charges in the past, for one, received even lighter sentences than Gosek’s. And Gosek’s cooperation in prior investigations legally qualified him for a reduced sentence. The ad fails to provide credible or relevant information about Katko. And it says even less about Maffei. 

In another series of ads, Maffei rails on Katko for perpetuating a “war on women” by refusing to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Upon closer review, however, it becomes clear that Katko supports Central New York women wholeheartedly. He simply refuses to advocate for women by subjecting them to one-size-fits-all legislation that may do more harm than good. He understands that the “onerous regulations” stipulated by the Paycheck Fairness Act make hiring women less economically attractive to businesses. The cost of these regulations will hinder job creation and reduce benefits, harming male and female workers alike. In the end, Katko “attacks” women only insofar as he denounces a bill that in some ways makes war on women itself. If anything, his nuanced understanding of the situation indicates superior interest and dedication to the cause of women in the workforce. Maffei, for his part, effectively limits his thoughts about women’s rights to a single cumbersome bill. 

In Maffei’s most personal attack, he calls out Katko for failing to properly secure a handgun he obtained legally after receiving death threats in 1999 for his work as a prosecutor. The gun was stolen from his vehicle and used in an April 2000 robbery where two men were killed. Although he did not violate any laws, and the weapon did not cause either fatality, it appears that Katko did not take all necessary precautions to secure his weapon. Still, voters on either side would be hard-pressed to directly relate the incident to his potential as a representative in Washington, much less to Maffei’s own abilities, or any currently proposed gun-control legislation, for that matter. There is nothing remotely political about the incident. 

And yet, all of these attacks have a political impact. They obscure what Katko can do for all who live in Central New York. They all point to Maffei’s grave lack of political substance. For now, the voters of NY’s 24th district must ready themselves to separate fact from fiction.