By Jason Stverak | Franklin Center
As the former director of the North Dakota Republican Party, I know politics is a nasty business. Individuals who throw their hat into the political arena can expect their lives to be investigated inside and out in order to discredit their candidacy.
The most important lesson you can teach candidates now: Beware of camera phones. Candidates can expect to be recorded at all public appearances, and in the age of new media should be aware that letting your guard down – even at dinner with the family in a restaurant – could devastate a campaign
But even in this hostile political environment, there have been rules. There is still a respect for minimal privacy and the sanctuary of the family home. With a few exceptions, family, especially children, is off limits. The residences of elected officials and candidates are also out of bounds for political opponents.
But the fine line between “tracking” candidates and “stalking” has been crossed. Recent news stories have exposed that operatives from the Democrat side of the aisle have begun video recording family homes and posting unedited footage on the internet.
Wisconsin GOP Rep. Reid Ribble has been followed and recorded shopping for groceries.
“I feel it’s totally inappropriate,” Ribble, a first-term congressman, told Politico. “It was disturbing to me that they would put that online. I don’t understand any political benefit that can be achieved with that.”
Ribble is also a victim of operatives recording video of his home from a car sitting outside his residency – a practice his wife Deana calls “deeply unsettling.”
Some may argue this is politics and “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” But this new breed of political stalking may become an accepted practice in the American body politic. And if that happens, it’s not hard to see a time when the addresses of the homes of elected officials and their families — shared on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter—could lead to bodily harm or even worse.
As a society we tend not to learn from the past. We all remember that horrific day 18 months ago when Democrat Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords of Arizona was the victim of a shooting near Tucson. Giffords survived the attack, but six other people, including a 9-year-old girl were not as lucky.
The attack allegedly was carried out by a deranged gunman, Jared Loughner, who remains in jail pending trial on federal charges. Arizona officials say they too will file charges in the case.
Unfortunately the world includes many unstable individuals who would relish in the notoriety of murdering a elected official. It doesn’t have to be a political figure. History is filled with examples where a deranged person believes killing someone famous will bring them the fame they crave.
I will never forget that Monday night in 1980 when Howard Cosell announced on Monday Night Football that John Lennon have been murdered on the streets on New York City just steps from his apartment.
Today, “political stalkers” are posting addresses and broadcasting video of homes and property layouts to make such as attack easier than before family and home privacy was discarded for political gain.
As president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, I have been on the forefront of promoting government transparency. But scaring spouses and children with postings of addresses and the shopping habits of a parent has nothing to do with keeping the public informed. It’s about political intimidation.
Let’s return to civility before disaster strikes again.
Jason Stverak is president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.