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NYS Assemblyman Condemns Attack Ads

A New York state assemblyman from the Hudson Valley is denouncing what he says are false and anonymous social media and robocall ad attacks against him. The Democrat from Orange County says the ads cross a line and he is taking action.

“As you can see, one of the groups is called “Not Our Tax Dollars.’ If you look up ‘Not Our Tax Dollars’ on the Board of Elections website, you won’t find anything,” says Skoufis. “Other groups have included ‘Support Hudson Valley Jobs’; ‘New Yorkers for Affordable Education’; ‘Lyme Disease Awareness New York’; ‘Stop the Corruption in Albany’; ‘Now  Support Our Veterans New York’; ‘I Love Bear Mountain New York’ and the common one these days is just simply ‘My Hudson Valley.’”

This latter group, Skoufis showed, is behind a recent ad that says Skoufis got the bloc vote helping him win reelection to the state Assembly, the bloc vote referring to the Orthodox Jewish community Kiryas Joel.

“For starters, KJ isn’t in our Assembly district so I don’t know how I can win the bloc vote of the group that, even if they wanted to vote for me, and I suspect most would not want to vote for me, but, even if they did, they couldn’t vote for me  because they’re not in the Assembly district.”

Skoufis says if you look up the groups on individual pages, the attack ads are not there.

“They only show up on voters’ individual news feeds as paid advertisements so they really erase their tracks wherever and whenever possible,” says Skoufis.

Skoufis is taking action.

“First, I am submitting, and I have copies, here, a letter to the state Board of Elections, Risa Sugarman, who is the chief enforcement counsel, to investigate these paid advertisements that are being undisclosed, unreported and, in my opinion, are breaking campaign finance laws,” Skoufis says.

Sugarman, in an emailed response, said she has no comment. Skoufis also penned letters, all dated June 26, to executives at Facebook and Instagram, asking that they take down the ads or, at a minimum, disclose who is paying for them. Skoufis estimates that tens of thousands of dollars have been expended on these advertisements. Plus, Skoufis says he is exploring legal recourse. Former Democratic state senator Terry Gipson of the Hudson Valley says attack ads via social media are free-for-alls.

“It’s one of the real down sides of social media that the various avenues like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram all allow this type of activity to exist because they make an enormous amount of money off of it it,” says Gipson. “And it’s one of those things that we really do need to change about how these social media platforms operate.”

Skoufis has been hearing from constituents about the ads and believes there is some confusion among those who do not know him.

“These ads are meant to misinform people. They’re meant to confuse people,” Skoufis says. “I think overwhelmingly they’re not effective but even if they’re effective to 5-to-10 percent of people, that’s still a lot of people.”

Gipson, who is a lecturer at the State University of New York at New Paltz but offers his comments as a former Senator, says false ads can render damage.

“If a candidate is being attacked the way James is, the way I was, it’s because they’ve done significant polling to determine these candidates are a real threat to their candidate,” Gipson says. “And so what they are trying to do by starting so early, even before the election year, is to engage in a constant type of character assassination by having this long-term smear campaign hoping that by the time the election comes around, the credibility of that candidate will be so damaged that it will be difficult for him to overcome that and that’s why they start so early.”

Skoufis has represented the 99th Assembly District since 2013.

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