Opinion: Negative advertising from Wamp supporters sends Hamilton County mayor's race into the dumpster

We had a sense this was about to happen.

With early voting for the May 3 primary underway, three-way debates over and no public poll showing a lead for any of the three Republican Hamilton County mayoral candidates, we had a feeling one of the three candidates - or a group associated with one of them - would go negative.

Sure enough, into the mailbox Wednesday, the mail carrier slid an oversize mailer portraying former home remodeling company owner Matt Hullander as just short of a criminal for being "sued multiple times for paying illegal wages," "admitting to violating [the] Fair Labor Standards Act" and selling his "company during lawsuits."

Meanwhile, WGOW radio listeners were hearing a spot accusing Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley of being a closet radical who cozied "up to liberal teachers unions" who had supported masking in the classroom, teaching "gender in the classroom instead of at home" and espousing critical race theory.

"Sabrena would hand our children over to woke, liberal activists," the spot said.

In Hullander's case, the ad at best tells an incomplete story, and in Smedley's, the ad is laughable in attempting to make an endorsement by the Hamilton County Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education - which is not the teachers union itself - mean she supports specific things some teachers around the country support.

The culprit in both cases was a political action committee called Chattanoogans for Responsible Government. It was created April 1, according to a financial disclosure listed on the Hamilton County Election Commission site. Its treasurer's name is Adam Boeselager, and it lists Jacob T. Hutcherson as an officer.

Once we found that information, we went scurrying to lists of campaign contributors to the three mayoral candidates. The two names weren't listed as giving to Hullander, and they weren't listed as giving to Smedley, but they were listed as giving to the third candidate, entrepreneur Weston Wamp.

(READ MORE: Group blasts Hullander, Smedley as Hamilton County mayoral campaign turns negative)

In the Jan. filing, Boeselager, whose place of employment was listed as Legacybox, and his wife both gave the maximum amount possible, $1,600, to the Wamp campaign. In the same listing was a $500 contribution from Hutcherson, who was listed as a self-employed recruiter.

Contributions to candidates, political action committees and negative advertising against other candidates aren't against the law. But it was interesting to see with which candidate the individuals were associated.

Wamp, as we expected, said he had nothing to do with the ads. He told this newspaper's business editor, Dave Flessner, his campaign "has most certainly not gone negative," that he is "running a substantive education-focused campaign about the future of our county" and that he is "legally prohibited from being involved in an outside group."

We well remember eight years ago, though, when what is being done to Hullander and Smedley was done to Wamp. We had supported Wamp in the Republican congressional primary against incumbent U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, and days before the August primary election Fleischmann's campaign had mailed out flyers depicting Wamp - through photo manipulation - of burning a passport with the words "Weston Wamp supports amnesty for illegal immigrants."

Another Fleischmann advertisement in the same campaign used more of Wamp's words purportedly supporting such illegal immigrants but didn't use the more critical words he said about them in the same speech.

In 2014, we called the ads what they were: "downright dishonest."

We would suggest Wamp ask Chattanoogans for Responsible Government and his contributors to stop the radio ads and send out no more mailers because of their dishonesty, but, as we said in 2014, "voters can't unsee something they've already seen in their mail" (or unhear what they've already heard on the radio).

A 2014 Facebook post by Boeselager on one of those negative ads toward Wamp said this: "Unbelievable that sitting Congressman Fleishman would approve, spend his own campaign money, and mail this piece out to the district. This is dirty politics at its finest - photoshopping Weston Wamp and intentionally misquoting him to make it appear like he has a position that he actually doesn't support. It's time for a change in Washington."

On Wednesday, about the anti-Hullander and anti-Smedley ads, he told the newspaper: "In a race that severely lacks depth, we wanted to bring transparency to important topics. If a mayoral candidate can't handle public scrutiny, they probably wouldn't make a very good mayor."

Certainly a change of tune.

Late Wednesday, the head of a local organization rang us up to vent. His mailbox had been filled with the Chattanoogans for Responsible Government flyers against Hullander and Smedley, and he was angry. He had stayed out of the race, but he had something to say.

We're paraphrasing him, but we believe he spoke for many like-minded Hamilton County residents who didn't want to see the mayor's race descend to this level.

The country is sick of this, he said in essence. This is what is tearing us apart.

In 2014, we said, "This, in fact, is why so many are turned off politics altogether."

We echo that today.