Saturday, December 1, 2012

Dirty Tricks Politics Goes Local With Rob Ford Ouster

In the wake of an Ontario Judge ruling that Rob Ford violated the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and was subject to its mandatory penalty of being removed from office, I've been following the #TOpoli stream on Twitter (which behaves remarkably like the old usenet political debates used to).   So far I have seen two different "petition" sites for outraged Rob Ford supporters to sign.  Both are pretty dubious affairs and I think this deserves some notice, as a sign of the kind of dirty tricks politics that I think should be of concern to Torontonians as we face a likely by-election where Ford is almost certain to be the right's candidate.

Democracy Denied!

We the people of Toronto and friends in the rest of Canada who support Rob Ford for Mayor of Toronto.

Our voice was shutdown by an activists who brought Rob Ford to court on a technicality for using the wrong letterhead to raise money for underprivileged kids sports.

Those elitist Ford haters wanted to get Ford anyway they could.

Now it's time to fight back. Let's bring Rob Ford back into the mayor's office with an even BIGGER vote margin.

Sign the pledge.

First off, this: "an activists who brought Rob Ford to court on a technicality for using the wrong letterhead to raise money for underprivileged kids sports" is a straight out lie (and grammatically atrocious) - Ford was brought to court for voting to save himself from losing $3K out of his own pocket, the most direct and obvious kind of conflict-of-interest there could possibly be.  The reason for that $3K fine has to do with his fundraising for a sports related charity, but that underlying matter is absolutely irrelevant to why he was brought to court.  

The fine could have been for anything, Ford clearly abused his powers as a member of City Council by voting on a matter in which he had a direct financial stake.  If a City Council member voted to cancel all their personal parking tickets, we would all easily understand this was an improper use of their power to vote in Council.  Ford's action was no different.  

Some other features of note in this "petition":
  • You can't see who has signed it.  It lists a number of signers at the top right, but we must take the site's word for that.  In a democracy, petitioning is necessarily a public act, where citizens put their name to a particular sentiment for all to see.  That's the point.
  • No one is claiming credit for this site.  Who started this petition?  Who will deliver it, and to what authorities?  For what outcome?
  • If you sign it via Facebook, it appears to gather an amazing amount of information that the user probably does not intend to provide to the mystery owner of the site, from the source code of the site:user_about_me, user_activities, user_education_history, user_events,user_groups, user_hometown, user_interests,user_likes,user_location,user_notes, user_religion_politics, user_status, user_work_history, email,user_birthday, publish_stream, user_checkins, friends_about_me, friends_checkins, friends_education_history, friends_hometown, friends_interests, friends_likes, friends_location, friends_religion_politics, friends_status, friends_work_history, friends_birthday
    The above means that if you are friends with someone who signs this petition, your info will be provided too.  A better excuse to unfriend any "Ford nation" supporters I can't imagine.
  • The site appears to be created by "" which just screams "astroturf" - a service that creates fake "grass roots" sites for corporate interests.
  • Whois records for the domain reveal no individual owner, registered through a service 
On October 25, 2010, 383,501 Toronto citizens elected Mayor Rob Ford.

At a stroke, that election has been overturned. Why? A politically motivated technical objection over how he raised money for underprivileged kids.

Mayor Ford gained nothing. The City of Toronto lost nothing.

This is unfair, undemocratic, and unacceptable. We elected Mayor Ford to bring respect for taxpayers back to City Hall.

And he’s been doing just that in the face of strong opposition.

We stand with Mayor Ford. We support his appeal. And we support his re-election.

Please show your support for Mayor Ford by signing our petition.  
The similarity in the writing makes me pretty sure the same person or people are behind this too.  Again we have the outright lie about why Ford was in front of that Judge.  We have some fresh sophistry here about whether Ford "gained" anything or the city lost anything.  This isn't really a lie, because I think Ford and Ford supporters really have trouble understanding why Ford's fundraising letter being sent on City letterhead was improper.  Things don't have to require direct financial gains or losses to be a problem.  First of all, if I raise a big chunk of money for some charity, I do gain from that act, not financially, but in social capital.   Being able to say he raised X dollars for charity is good for Ford's political career.  As a public figure, he's likely to get some positive press over it.  He can put it on his campaign site (and he did).  Using the letterhead sends a message to the people who get the letter that Councillor Ford, a person who may be able to help you win some City contract someday, wants you to donate to his charity.  That's plenty of extra reason to give where you might otherwise have passed on this charity.  If Ford someday votes to give one of these donors some City contract, how can we be sure their generosity to his charity was not a factor in his decision?  How could it not be, councillors are human too, someone helps you or helps a cause you care about, you will be emotionally better disposed to them. 

This is all why it is better if public officials steer clear of this stuff.  Honestly, even if Ford didn't use his city letterhead, he is still a city councillor and his donors will know that.  If you got a letter from Stephen Harper asking for money for some charity he likes, how can you ignore the fact that he's the Prime Minister and that you'll gain in his esteem by being generous? 

Again, like the first:
  • No one is claiming credit for organizing this, and whois for the domain is a dead end
  • You can't see who has signed it, and there isn't even a counter to know how many have done so
  • The youtube video linked is a new youtube account with only that video.  Comments and rating are disabled.
  • I don't see a nefarious facebook scraping script here, but my HTML-fu is only mediocre.  There's a set of embedded .js scripts which I didn't pursue, so I don't know what happens when you "share" this page on the social media icons it advertises.
I've seen speculation that these "petitions" are just a good way of gathering Ford supporter info for his upcoming campaign.  This makes sense, but of course since no one is claiming ownership, it could be literally anyone.

This is something to watch.

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