William Bender, Philly.com
We here at Clout can appreciate the folks in politics who dig up dirt on their enemies. But, like in journalism, there are certain rules to opposition research.
Or, at least, there should be.
If, for example, you run an online criminal background check on a candidate, don’t ignore the fine print — or in some cases, the ALL-CAPS warnings — about the veracity of the information.
Second, make sure you have the right person before mailing out fliers, creating a website about your opponent’s supposed criminal record, and erecting giant lawn signs for said website.
And if the opponent subsequently insists that you screwed up royally and got the wrong person altogether — whoops! — do not double down by insisting that what you published must be true because you found it on the Internet.
This brings us to the case of Joy Fox, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year in Chester Heights, and in the process was branded as a longtime fugitive.
Fox, who works in the real estate business, recently filed a lawsuit alleging that Republicans in the small Delaware County borough confused her with a woman named Joyce M. Watkins, who apparently was charged in 1997 with passing bad checks in Durham, North Carolina.
“It is not her. She has a traffic ticket. Zero arrests,” said Fox’s attorney, Bryan Lentz.
The suit alleges that Fox’s opponents spread the false information in mailers and on Facebook as well as a separate website they created for the election, www.chfactcheck.com.
In November, when Fox demanded that the Chester Heights Republican Candidates Facebook page remove the information, the person running the page wrote back: “No lies here. Facts backed up with data certified by the state that brought the charges and by multiple agencies cross referenced repeatedly.”
Ginamarie Ellis, a Republican councilwoman in Chester Heights, also responded to Fox on Facebook, writing: “Our post is based on SIX background check reporting agencies. The voters can decide what to believe.”
Except, according to Lentz, they were smearing the wrong person. Fox even posted her birth certificate online showing that her name is Joy, not Joyce.
“I guess it was a little bit of a desperation thing,” Lentz said of the GOP tactics. “It’s like, if you looked up ‘knowing falsehood’ in the dictionary, they’d put a picture of this case.”
It appears that the anti-Fox website has been scrubbed and the social media posts have been deleted, but Fox claims in her lawsuit that her reputation has been “permanently damaged.”
Clout reached out to Ellis and five other Chester Heights Republicans named in the suit, but no one wanted to talk. Lentz said it is unclear exactly who paid for the background checks, mailers and website.
When a Chester Heights resident asked Ellis at a January Council meeting why she hadn’t apologized to Fox, Ellis would only say: “We shared information that was publicly available. We just brought people’s awareness to it.”
Yeah, that’s probably not going to fly in court, Councilwoman.