Letter from Elisabeth MacNamara, LWVUS President
January 2012

Dear League Leader:

If the first three weeks are any indication, 2012 is going to be even more interesting and opportunity-filled for the League than we imagined. In some cases, the League has already been in the spotlight in ways that we could not have anticipated.

Last week, the President released an ad in several states touting his own record on ethics and the environment. In that ad, he quoted several sources, including a joint press statement sent in April of 2009 by the League, Common Cause and other good government groups commending the then new Administration's ethics policies. Use of the statement was not authorized by the League. The ad, but not the League, has been criticized in the media. State presidents were alerted to the ad last Friday.

In addition, as you know, the environmental community, including the League, engaged in issue advertising throughout 2011. This work focused on protecting the Clean Air Act and the EPA by highlighting votes in Congress. This week, Sen. Scott Brown, now a candidate for re-election to the Senate from Massachusetts, and Elizabeth Warren, a possible Democratic opponent, entered into an agreement designed to ban independent advertising in that race. So far, the only independent ads have been from the right and aimed at Warren. To balance their stories, several news outlets (Time, NY Times) mentioned the League of Women Voters and the League of Conservation Voters as independent groups aiming attacks at Scott Brown. Several of the stories were inaccurate and those reporters have been contacted. Every news outlet that contacted the LWVUS for comment on the agreement received a response that corrected the timeline and the notion that the League has any interest in the current Massachusetts Senate race.

Taken objectively, there are many positive aspects to the recent spate of visibility. The League voice matters, and candidates, elected officials and reporters think our opinions are newsworthy. The League has a long and proud history of speaking to our elected officials about issues that matter to us. In this political environment, we must be prepared to have our words, positive and negative, used by politicians and the media for purposes that we never intended. We can take two approaches to this new environment. We can stop speaking out on issues and make sure that candidates have no new fodder for their campaigns or we can honor our traditions and celebrate the visibility and effectiveness that controversy brings.

Our research shows that taking stands and speaking out on issues is positive for the League and keeps us in the public eye in a manner that reinforces our role as a source of information and an advocate for voters. That research also suggests that we should appreciate this kind of visibility. The Obama ad refers to us as an ‘independent government watchdog group,’ and the clear inference is that we have enough credibility and name recognition for the president to think that our opinion matters and should be shared. Politics is not for the fainthearted, but we know our hearts are strong and our message matters.

To clarify our position, we have added some language in several places on our website stating clearly that the “League of Women Voters never supports or opposes candidates for office, or political parties, and any use of the League of Women Voters name in campaign advertising or literature has not been authorized by the League.” We encourage you to add similar language to your websites in this important election year.

Speaking Out in League,

Elisabeth