BETSY BENSON CAMPAIGN PAID PARTISAN NGP VAN GROUP FOR MARKETING
Betsy Benson used the top Democrat electioneering firm in Washington, D.C. to market her campaign for Broward County Court Judge. Campaign reports filed with the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office show Benson paid NGP VAN for “marketing.” Rules for Florida judicial campaigns prohibit candidates from engaging in partisan political activities. On its website, NGP VAN proudly boasts, “Nearly every major Democratic campaign in America is powered by NGP VAN.”
Late last year, NGP VAN was caught up in a scandal involving Democrat Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The Democratic National Committee (DNC), led by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, accused the Sanders campaign of illegally accessing information about the Hillary Clinton campaign. The data breach was discovered Wednesday by the Democratic party’s voter data software vendor, NGP VAN. The glitch broke down the firewall between the Sanders campaign and Clinton operation. According to The Washington Post, at least four Sanders staffers took advantage, briefly viewing data the Clinton campaign had collected.
On its website, NGP Van offers Democrat candidates help in targeted email, fundraising, online contributions, contact management and social network integration. NGP Van offers links to the Democratic Municipal Officials (DMO) website, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) website and Emily’s List. Some of the products offered by NGP Van include new media and union organizing.
COURTS BAN PARTISAN ACTIVITY
The Florida Supreme Court clearly warns judges and judicial candidates to stay out of partisan politics. The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee (JEAC), “has consistently advised judicial candidates to refrain from partisan and political activities, as well as those that may give the appearance of partisan political involvement.” Even the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on Florida’s rules regarding partisan forays by judges.
In Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “A State’s interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of its judiciary extends beyond its interest in preventing the appearance of corruption in legislative and executive elections, because a judge’s role differs from that of a politician. Unlike a politician, who is expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of supporters, a judge in deciding cases may not follow the preferences of his supporters or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors.” Despite the warnings, Benson is not the first Broward judicial candidate to cross the partisan line.
KRAUSS ATTENDED DEMOCRATIC CLUB PARTY
Last December, Broward County Circuit Court candidate Lea Krauss admitted she paid to attend a Democrat club holiday party, a clear violation of judicial ethics(https://redbroward.com/2015/12/17/leakraussforjudge/).
In a telephone interview with REDBROWARD, Lea Krauss said the Hills Democratic Club meeting was not a partisan political party event. Krauss said she was invited via an email from the club’s president, State Rep. Elaine Schwartz.
REDBROWARD obtained the email invitation sent by Schwartz. She states, “Help Us Celebrate the Kick-Off of our 2016 GOTV Plans.” GOTV is the acronym for “GET OUT THE VOTE.” GOTV is the most highly partisan activity of any political party. By definition, it is the very way political parties win elections.
While this may be been billed as a “holiday party,” the club makes it clear the meeting is a safeplace for partisan political party activity.
The invitation states the Hills Democratic club is a “positive place for Democrats to meet.” These Democrats are urged to join “Help Me” Howard Finkelstein, “Broward’s Celebrity Public Defender” kick off the 2016 election. The bottom of the invitation is an application to join the Hills Democratic Club (for a fee).
Sources told REDBROWARD that local Democrat clubs use these fees to make contributions to the Broward Democratic Executive Committee.
Krauss told REDBROWARD she paid the $7 dollar admission fee to the party.
Krauss admitted she was not invited to speak at the meeting. “I said hello to people,” Krauss said.
Krauss said she read Canon 7, but denied she her actions violated the rules. She said, “I gave you a clear statement. I was invited by the club president as were all the other candidates.”
BENSON’S PATTERN OF PANDERING TO DEMOCRATS
Like Krauss, Benson has exhibited a questionable pattern of pandering to local Democrat officials, groups and campaigns. Last week, Benson posted a picture with a Hillary Clinton volunteer outside an early voting location. Benson tried to crop the volunteer’s Hillary t-shirt out of the picture before posting it. Several political insiders questioned why Benson and her volunteers were even attending early voting. She is not on the ballot until August.
Last year, REDBROWARD showed Benson attending an EMERGE USA PAC at a west Broward mosque. The Muslim voters political committee is highly involved in Democrat campaigns. Benson and several other female candidates wore scarves covering their heads. Male candidates and the Peter Weinstein, the Chief Judge of Broward County, did not cover their heads.
So why did Benson use NGP VAN?
In a telephone interview with REDBROWARD, Benson said she used NGP VAN to reach Broward voters. When asked if she felt using NGP VAN gave the appearance of polticial activity, Benson said, “I don’t think it is. It’s a resource that I am using.” Benson did not know what NGP VAN gave her for her $960 payment. She said her political consultant, Michael Worley recommended NGP VAN.
Asked why she attended early voting when she was not on ballot, Benson said it was a great way to meet voters and get their “opinions” on what would make a good judge. Benson did not want to share those opinions with REDBROWARD readers.