Rayla Campbell brings factually inaccurate, hateful message about child porn in libraries to airwaves
Rayla Campbell, the anti-LGBTQ demagogue and Republican candidate for secretary of the commonwealth, just got her first ad on TV, but there’s a twist—channel 5, the only network airing the ad, included a disclaimer telling viewers that the spot is “not endorsed” by the station.
According to reporting by the Boston Globe, the disclaimer states that “under federal law, WCVB is obligated to air the following ad without censorship.” It continues: “Please be advised the ad contains language and/or images that viewers may find offensive.” The ad is running weekdays during the station’s 6am broadcast until Halloween.
“Do you want your children reading child pornography? Of course you don’t,” Campbell says in the spot. “So why are books like this available in our public libraries? The media says these types of books don’t exist. Books with sex acts and foul language have become available at our children’s fingertips.”
As Campbell’s voiceover plays, images from the book Gender Queer: A Memoir are displayed. Campbell has made attacking public schools and libraries the focus of her campaign for secretary of the commonwealth even though the office has nothing to do with either. She has been fixated on Gender Queer, an award-winning comic book memoir that can be found in libraries throughout Massachusetts. Campbell has repeatedly called the book “child porn” and claims it is part of a vast effort by librarians and teachers to groom children for sexual abuse and trafficking.
Gender Queer was written and illustrated by Maia Kobabe, an artist from California. First published in 2019, the book is about how Kobabe came to identify as nonbinary and asexual. It was the most challenged book of 2021 due to its queer themes and sexual content, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. The 240-page book has a few pages that talk about sex, including four pages with mild sexual imagery. The sexual content is on par with many of the works of classic literature taught in high school English classes throughout the country.
Dig previously reported that in August, Campbell was showing off the book at a Back the Blue rally in Plymouth. A counterprotester reported Campbell to the police, then an officer spoke with her, inspected the book, and wrote a report explaining that he determined the book was not child pornography.
Campbell has repeatedly stated that libraries in Massachusetts are stocking Gender Queer in the children’s section. However, Dig previously verified that several libraries Campbell mentioned by name did not keep the book in the children’s section, and all but one did not even keep it on the same floor. Dig could not find any examples of the book being shelved in a children’s section after searching the catalogs for all of the library networks listed on the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ website.
Campbell’s tall tales are motivated by a deep animosity for LGBTQ people. On her weekly talk show on WSMN, a radio station in New Hampshire, she has called transgender and nonbinary people “freaks” and “weirdos” who “should not be anywhere near kids.”
The copy of Gender Queer that Campbell was displaying at the Plymouth rally was checked out from the Brockton Public Library on June 15. In August, a librarian said that the book had been flagged as lost on July 30.
More than two months after the August rally, the book still hasn’t been returned, according to a librarian.
Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor, writes that “if Campbell’s ad had been submitted to a print newspaper, a digital news outlet or, arguably, a cable-only station, the folks in charge would have been free to reject it. Just as she has a First Amendment right to embarrass herself, those media organizations have a First Amendment right not to promote speech they disagree with.”
“But,” Kennedy continues, “broadcast is different. Since the 1930s, the Federal Communications Commission has regulated the airwaves in the public interest on the grounds that broadcast frequencies are scarce, publicly owned resources.”
He points to the FCC’s website, which says that broadcast media must provide “‘[e]qual opportunities’ … for legally qualified federal, state, and local candidates.”
Campbell has seemingly focused her campaign on library books because she is confused about the responsibilities of the secretary of the commonwealth’s office. The secretary’s office is responsible for running elections, oversight of the public records law, investigating securities fraud, and other duties—but it cannot dictate what books are purchased by local libraries.
In a May 27 Facebook post, Campbell said that William F. Galvin, the current secretary, “is on the board of trustees @ ALL STATE LIBRARIES!”
“Is he approving all of the stunning kids [sic] literature?” someone asked.
“Correct,” Campbell responded.
The secretary is on the board of trustees for the Massachusetts State Library, which maintains collections of state records and historical documents. The State Library is not responsible for the books in local libraries.
Asked about this by the Boston Globe, Campbell insisted that the secretary’s office has “influence” over local libraries because of the secretary’s position on the State Library’s board.
“She has every right to spend her campaign money on this issue. But it has nothing to do with this office,” Galvin told the Boston Globe.
Galvin, the Democratic incumbent who is running for his eighth term and has successfully fended off numerous challenges from both Democrats and Republicans during his nearly three decades in office, has little to fear from Campbell. Vile attacks on teachers, librarians, and LGBTQ people are unlikely to resonate with many voters in Massachusetts.
Furthermore, Galvin’s name is one of the most recognizable in state politics thanks to his decades in office, his frequent appearances in taxpayer-funded public-service announcements, and his massive warchest that allows him to buy all the ads he could want. In 2018, Galvin crushed Republican Anthony Amore, who is running for state auditor this year.
A recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe/NBC10 Boston/Telemundo poll found that 52.40% of likely voters support Galvin while 25.40 support Campbell.
In a Facebook post, Campbell suggested that the poll was part of a Democratic conspiracy: “Dems are on play #3 in their bag of dirty tricks. 1st have the media ignore us, then label us now it’s time for a fake suppression poll.”
So far, there have been no debates between Galvin and Campbell.
Galvin debated Sullivan twice during the primary. During one of those debates, Galvin mentioned Campbell, although he did not use her name. Galvin said he was “concerned about” Campbell, calling her a “vociferous” election denier and a supporter of the QAnon movement.
“My opponent is part of the old guard on Beacon Hill, and the last thing he wants to do is share a stage with me because he knows he’ll lose,” Campbell said in a September campaign email. “Bill Galvin is a coward, but he can’t stop us if we keep up our momentum!”
GBH politics reporter Adam Reilly wrote in September that “Campbell’s penchant for provocation may give Galvin … a rationale for avoiding a debate altogether.” Reilly pointed to Campbell’s speech at this year’s Mass GOP convention in which she said that public school teachers are “telling your five-year-old that he can go and suck another five-year-old’s dick.”
Reilly also pointed to an incident in June in which Campbell attempted to disrupt a drag queen story hour at the Holbrook Public Library by yelling and demanding to know if the performer had been CORI checked. Organizers called police, who told Campbell that she was causing a disturbance and convinced her to leave.
In 2020, Campbell ran a disastrous campaign for the US House of Representative, failing to get on the ballot in the primary or general election. She filed two unsuccessful lawsuits against Galvin: one to force him to put her name on the primary ballot even though she didn’t get enough signatures and a second to force him to put her name on the general election ballot even though she didn’t get enough write-in votes during the primary. The Supreme Judicial Court rejected both lawsuits.
The day before Campbell filed the second lawsuit, she argued with an Elections Division employee in the main lobby of One Ashburton Place. A Sept. 9, 2020, Facebook Live video shows her yelling and interrupting the employee as he tries to explain that she didn’t get enough votes.
“Everybody on my Facebook Live right now is listening to you guys breaking the law,” Campbell says.
The man eventually walks away as she continues to yell at him: “Walk away just like Kennedy. Running away because you know that you’re breaking the law and you’re denying me my legal rights. As a Black Republican Catholic—what are you afraid of?”
Campbell went on to receive just 695 write-in votes during the general election and lost to Democrat Ayanna Pressley, who received 267,362 votes.
During her remarks at the Mass GOP convention this year, Campbell claimed that the 2020 election had been “stolen” from her.
Campbell said on her May 19 radio show that the secretary’s office tried to ban her from the 17th floor of One Ashburton Place, where the Elections Division is located. Campbell was never banned, according to Debra O’Malley, the communications director for the secretary’s office. Due to concerns about the September 2020 incident, the Elections Division asked that staff be notified by security whenever Campbell was on her way to the 17th floor.
“It seems that the security in the building incorrectly noted in their system that she had been barred from our offices,” O’Malley explained. “She was never turned away as a result of this error—security contacted the Elections Division when she arrived to file papers [this year] and our staff told them they were unaware of any request to bar her, and instructed security to allow her up to the 17th floor with a security escort.”
Emails provided by O’Malley verify that Campbell was not banned and that security corrected the mistake when notified.
In June, Campbell joined other Mass GOP members in a third failed lawsuit against Galvin. The state Republican party argued that the VOTES Act, which permanently expanded early voting, violates the state constitution. The SJC rejected the lawsuit in July, days after hearing oral arguments.
Nevertheless, Campbell’s current campaign has been much more successful than the last—this time she managed to get enough signatures to get on the primary ballot, and she received the party’s nomination after an uncontested primary.
Campbell actually collected more signatures than Galvin or Sullivan. According to O’Malley, the secretary’s office certified 7,892 signatures for Galvin, 6,772 for Sullivan, and 10,000 for Campbell.
“Under state law, the Elections Division is allowed to stop counting certified signatures when a candidate reaches two-fifths more than the number required,” O’Malley noted. “As a courtesy, they will count until the candidate reaches twice the number required. Rayla Campbell submitted more than 10,000 signatures, but staff stopped tallying them when they reached the 10,000 mark.”
Still, she stands little chance of unseating the entrenched incumbent, Bill Galvin, who she calls a “misanthrope.”
“I’m undoubtedly down in the polls, that’s why I summoning [sic] the spirit of the 2004 Red Sox,” Campbell wrote on Facebook the night before her ad first ran. “Nobody aside from a few in that locker room thought they could do it. It took an epic swing and an, even more, epic comeback to make history. I can relate.”
An extended version of Campbell’s 30-second TV ad can be viewed on her Facebook page.
Campbell and Galvin did not respond to requests for comment.
Election Day is November 8. Early voting is underway.
This article is syndicated by the MassWire news service of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. If you want to see more reporting like this, make a contribution at givetobinj.org.
Andrew Quemere is the author of the Mass Dump, a newsletter about public records. Follow him on Twitter @andrewqmr.
Andrew Quemere has been making public records requests in Massachusetts for more than a decade. He writes The Mass. Dump Dispatch, a newsletter about public records. Subscribe to read about the latest developments in government transparency. Follow him on Twitter @andrewqmr.