One of the candidates seeking to replace former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner in Congress claims he was blackmailed to drop from the congressional district race, and that his 16-year-old daughter and her friends were being stalked online.
Washington Twp. Republican Jim Spurlino came out Tuesday night with two videos — a 30-second campaign ad, and a 3-minute video — saying a candidate or campaign threatened to release information about his divorce with his first wife, and possibly another candidate or campaign was stalking his daughter and her friends on social media.
“I guess my candidacy has some of the professional politicians scared,” Spurlino said in the second of two videos.
Spurlino’s campaign spokesman Baylor Myers said the candidate is not commenting beyond what’s in the 3-minute video, but “has asked the lawyers to look into legal options.”
According to the video, Spurlino said “an anonymous blank manila envelope” was dropped off at one of his campaign staff’s office that contained information about his first wife, and it was “not very flattering towards the end of our marriage.” He compared the delivery to something “out of a movie or some TV show.”
Spurlino will remain in the race, Myers said.
Cedarville University political science professor Mark C. Smith said if the allegations are true, Spurlino “should provide some evidence.”
“He does not need to name names, but he could provide something to verify these serious allegations,” he said. “If true, this would be low and dirty, but not unheard of.”
Smith said Jack Ryan, the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate race in Illinois, dropped out of his 2004 race against Barack Obama when details from court documents pertaining to his divorce were unsealed by a judge. It’s rumored that someone from Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign leaked to the media about the divorce documents, but they eventually came to light after the Chicago Tribune sued to have them unsealed.
But the strategy to call out another campaign is “the right one,” said Mack Mariani, Xavier political science associate professor and department chair.
“If you are going to stay in the race, you need to get ahead of the attack and shift voters’ focus to your opponent’s tactics rather than the information itself,” he said.
It’s common for campaigns to research opposition, Mariani said. And in some instances, campaigns dig up information that could be “extraordinarily damaging to an opponent, not only politically but personally and professionally,” he said.
Mariani said, in most cases, campaigns will use the information they receive in a campaign ad, but if that campaign feels it could backfire if used in a negative ad, “they may try to get the information out to the public less directly by sending the information to a reporter or to local opinion leaders through a whispering campaign.”
But this apparent “cloak-and-dagger approach seems a bit odd.”
“Campaigns have to be careful not to cross the line when it comes to opposition research,” Mariani said. “Going negative has its risks, but campaigns do it because it moves voters. Trying to push an opposing candidate out without making the information public reduces the risk of blow back from a negative campaign.”
Spurlino said he “can’t believe” one of his opponents would “stoop” to an alleged blackmail attempt, adding it “clearly came from one of our opponents’ campaign, and they knew what was in it, and they were trying to run us off.”
“While I can stand this type of criticism, it’s not fair to my wife, it’s not fair to my kids, it’s not even fair to my ex-wife who I still remain good friends with, and they’re the people that end up really getting hurt. And this has nothing to do with the issues,” Spurlino said in the video.
Spurlino said he also found out last week that one of his opponents “has been stalking my 16-year-old daughter on social media, and her friends. I really can’t believe that kind of stuff happens.”
“There is no question to me that if that sort of thing happened in my campaign, those people would be fired. They would be unceremoniously shown the door, don’t ever talk to me again,” Spurlino said. “How can anybody let that kind of thing happen?”