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Officials lack options in case of controversial mailer

BY JARED KEEVER - jkeever@perutribune.com

An anonymous campaign mailer that named all three mayoral candidates sent to Peru residents ahead of Tuesday’s city elections may have violated state campaign rules, but there is little to nothing that local officials are able to do about it, at least right now.

That was the message that came out of a brief meeting convened Friday morning by the Miami County Election Board.

“I don’t know what you can do about anything that has no signature on it,” board chairman Richard Lancaster told the handful of residents who gathered for the meeting at the Miami County courthouse.

“But … if the person would come forward that would be another matter, and we could address this legally,” Lancaster continued.

He said that board members had been in contact with state officials and said that it appeared that laws “could have been violated” by mailing out the postcard during the election season, but because it was anonymous, “we have no recourse to go after anybody or fine anybody,” Lancaster said.

That the mailer did not note who was behind sending it was at the crux of the complaint sent to the election board in October by Miami County Democratic Party chairman Charles Wagner.

Wagner wrote that he felt that the cards may be in violation of Indiana code for “failing to identify the person, persons, or group doing the mailings.”

The mailer listed cause numbers associated with legal issues from each of the three candidates’ past.

“While the author(s) of the above mentioned cards may or may not have been within their First Amendment rights, the disposition and age of each case was not divulged, making the message at best misleading,” Wagner wrote.

All three candidates have spoken with Tribune about those cases and most said many in town already knew about the cases listed on the mailer and downplayed their overall significance as well as any effect their particular case may have on the election.

It is unclear how many city residents have received the mailer. A handful have spoken to the Tribune saying that they had received one in the mail and Wagner’s complaint says rumors vary from 1,100 to 11,000.

In the end, all three board members – Lancaster, S. Diana Smiley and Miami County Clerk of Courts Sherry Raber – voted to hold the matter “open” should more information be learned.

Board members did say that it was their understanding that someone had made a complaint to the prosecutor’s office, but it was unclear where that complaint might lead.

Miami County Prosecutor Jeff Sinkovics confirmed that with the Tribune on Friday after the meeting. Citing the active investigation, he said there was not much he could say about it at this early stage or if it even rose to the level of being a criminal matter.

“You would need more investigation to determine that,” he said.