Usually this column topic appears once every two years coinciding with national elections. But as our interest in elections, and the candidates’ interest in our votes, transcends more than the national elections, much of this content bears repeating.
Of course, we should all take time to vote, but we should also take the time to understand the candidates and their positions. In the future we will again strive to host candidate information programs, perhaps for the U.S. Senate race and/or the now open 15th U.S. Congressional District race. There is greater competition for such programs and the candidates and their parties don’t accept every offer. Hopefully, we will be back as host of a political forum in a future election cycle.
This past year we commemorated the 40th anniversary of HAKOL. I do not know about the early years of HAKOL, but I know when I arrived at the Federation in 2002, HAKOL was not accepting paid political advertising (for that matter, HAKOL was not accepting much paid advertising of any kind). Our HAKOL Editorial Board reviewed the issue of paid political advertising and approved a policy enabling the acceptance of such advertising over 12 years ago.
As a charitable not-for-profit organization, we act in accordance with IRS guidelines as well as the federal election regulations. Although the Federation must remain politically neutral, we are not prohibited from contact with politics or politicians. That’s why our Community Relations Council sponsors political candidate forums, organizes missions to Washington and Harrisburg to meet with our legislators and mounts letter writing campaigns on issues of concern to the Jewish community. We are allowed to express positions on particular issues before our elected officials, but we are not allowed to endorse any candidates.
That decision rests with you and is done so – hopefully – out of a process of educating yourself on the candidates and their positions.
It is important for Jewish Americans, as individuals and as a community, to remain actively engaged in political discourse. Carolyn Katwan, then HAKOL editor and Federation assistant executive director, wrote in a February 2008 HAKOL column: “American Jews have exercised their right to vote enthusiastically and in percentages far greater than the national average. Our participation has served us well – on issues from Israel to civil rights to Soviet Jewry – and will continue to do so if we remain active, informed, engaged and accessible. The fact that candidates view our vote as important and significant demonstrates the role of the Jewish community in today’s electoral process.”
Over the years, our HAKOL Editorial Board and Jewish Federation Board of Directors have reaffirmed our policy to accept paid political advertising in HAKOL. This practice is mirrored in the vast majority of Jewish community newspapers sponsored by their Jewish federations. In accordance with federal regulations, our advertising policies offer equal access to all candidates. If we directly solicit advertising from one political candidate, we must reach out to all candidates with the same solicitation. Further, if we do not solicit ads, but we are contacted by a candidate and accept their ad, we must offer the same diligence to other candidates who similarly reach out to us. These and other policies we maintain for paid political advertising meet federal regulations.
It is important to note that the presence of an advertisement does not represent an endorsement of a candidate; likewise, the absence of an ad from a candidate does not reflect a position by HAKOL or the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley on that candidate.
I am Mark Goldstein, and I approve this message