Guilt by association. Innuendo.
Jackson County legislator Crystal Williams says secretive political enemies are using both tactics in an underhanded attempt to derail her re-election bid, and violating campaign laws while they're at it.
Williams' complaint centers on an attempt this week to link Williams' behavior in office to that of former county executive Mike Sanders, who is awaiting sentencing on a federal corruption charge.
Sanders pleaded guilty in January to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for lying about his misuse of campaign funds to take trips, buy wine and pay his income taxes.
Williams has been accused of nothing illegal or unethical before or during her eight years on the county legislature.
But postcard-size fliers implying that Williams, too, is a lawbreaker were piled up outside the doors to Tuesday night's regular meeting of the county Democratic committee on the second floor of the county courthouse in downtown Kansas City.
On the front were photographs of Sanders and Williams side by side, with the former identified as a "convicted felon" and the caption below saying "End the Corruption in Jackson County." The back side implies that Williams is corrupt because she chaired the legislature during "these times," implying it was while Sanders was committing his misdeeds.
"Mike Sanders wasn't the only one breaking the law!" the flier says without citing what law, if any, Williams might have broken, and urges her to resign.
On Wednesday, Williams called the accusation of corruption on her part "egregious" and "a lie." Not only that, she was voted chair of the legislature by her peers the same month Sanders left office in January 2016.
"This is the old time, Jackson County political hit job and I'm not going to allow it," Williams said.
She claimed the flier was illegal under campaign finance laws because it doesn't identify who paid for it. In the space where that information would normally appear was this message in small type: "Not a political endorsement or opposition but a constitutionally protected free speech comment on the activities of an unethical government official."
Williams called out the author for failing to cite any instance of unethical behavior and for being cowards.
"If this is free speech," Williams said, "why don't you sign your name?"
Geoff Gerling, the county Democratic Party's executive director, called the attack "dishonest" and "concerning," but acknowledged that it wasn't the first time political infighting has stooped to this level within the local party at election time.
"We do have a history of things happening like this," he said.
Committee chairman Paul Wrabec also denounced the attack. Wrabec, who is running to replace retiring county legislator Dennis Waits, said he shoved one of the fliers into his pocket as he entered the meeting but didn't get a good look at it until he was home later that night.
"I don't know who put them out there," he said. Had he read it when he was at the meeting, he said, "I would have had them thrown out."
Williams is running for her third term as the 2nd district at-large representative on the nine-member Jackson County Legislature. Her opponent in the Aug. 7 primary, John Burnett, is a former state legislator and was a member of the county legislature from April 1994 to the end of 1998.
The winner will be occupy the seat for the next four years as no other party fielded a candidate for the general election.
Williams accused Burnett of being behind the hit piece. But he told The Star that he had nothing to do with the attack on Williams' reputation.
Burnett and his wife, state Rep. Ingrid Burnett, were both at the meeting Tuesday, he said, but were unaware that the flier existed until he was informed about it Wednesday morning.
"It seems like someone would have mentioned it to me while it was happening," Burnett said.
He agreed with Williams that the accusations were unfair.
"She was chair of the county legislature when Mike (Sanders) got in trouble, but I’m not sure how that’s a valid criticism of anything other than guilt by association," he said. "It's kind of stupid."