Super PAC Ads Distort New York Congressional Candidate's 'Help Not Handcuffs' Quote

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, is running ads on TV and social media that distort Democratic House candidate Josh Riley’s positions on crime.

One ad misleadingly claims that the Latest York Democrat said he “supports help not handcuffs” for criminals. One other ad from the super PAC accurately says that Riley is supported by the Working Families Party, but misleadingly implies he shares that group’s position on defunding the police. 

Riley, an attorney and former Democratic congressional staffer, is running against Duchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, a Republican who lost the governor’s race in 2018. The pair are competing for the seat representing Latest York’s nineteenth Congressional District, which was recently redrawn attributable to redistricting. The seat is currently held by Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan, who’s now in search of the seat for the redrawn 18th Congressional District.

Contrary to the CLF ads, Riley has said he doesn’t support defunding the police, and the “help not handcuffs” quote was edited from Riley’s statement during a candidate forum, where he actually said that “folks having a mental health crisis deserve help not handcuffs.”

He was quoting a phrase utilized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which promotes “help not handcuffs” in instances when the police are called on someone experiencing a mental health crisis. 

The Congressional Leadership Fund, an excellent PAC dedicated to “winning a Republican Majority” within the House, paid for no less than 4 ads focused on Riley.

“For criminals, Josh Riley supports help not handcuffs,” says the narrator within the ad titled, “Vote Against Josh Riley: Not On Our Side.” The ad’s description on YouTube repeats the claim. CLF began running the ad on TV on Sept. 30, in keeping with Kantar Media, a media company that tracks political ads. CLF is currently running three versions of a Facebook ad that claims “In relation to CRIME, Josh Riley supports HELP over HANDCUFFS.” 

CLF also posted the ad on Facebook with the caption, “As crime runs rampant throughout #NY19, Josh Riley continues to place criminals before Latest Yorkers. Latest York doesn’t need one other criminal coddling politician like Josh Riley.”

In small print, the ad cites a forum hosted by the Tompkins County Democratic Committee in June as proof for the claim that Riley said he supports “help not handcuffs” for criminals in the course of the forum. After the citation, the ad says in parentheses, “quoting National Alliance on Mental Illness.”  

After we asked concerning the ad’s claim that “for criminals, Josh Riley supports help not handcuffs,” Calvin Moore, CLF communications director, told us in an email: “Josh Riley is literally on video saying he wants ‘help not handcuffs,’ and that clip is played within the ad, so you have got the video proof right there.” 

But as we said, the ad edits Riley’s quote. In Riley’s full comment in the course of the forum, he said he supports a concept advocated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness that “folks having a mental health crisis deserve help not handcuffs.” His comment followed a press release from Osun Zotique, who was certainly one of Riley’s opponents in the first.

Riley, Jun. 21: Osun was right once they said that the mental health issue and the intersection between the mental health system and the criminal justice system is a large challenge that we’d like to deal with. So, after I was working as counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I used to be hearing each from law enforcement officials and likewise advocates locally that because our mental health system is so badly underfunded, plenty of folks in crisis find yourself not getting the care that they need, not getting the services they need, after which their first encounter with anybody is with law enforcement due to a 911 call. That’s really bad for people in crisis. You recognize the National Alliance on Mental Illness says folks in crisis deserve help not handcuffs and I think that is admittedly, really true. However the system as we’ve got designed it doesn’t operate that way, so when people within the mental health crisis are interacting with the criminal justice system, it’s bad for people in crisis, it’s bad for law enforcement officials who need to make do those responses, and it’s really bad for the taxpayer because certainly one of the least efficient things you may do is take any individual who’s having a crisis and lock them up when what they actually need is help.

Riley’s campaign spokesperson told us in an Oct. 20 email that the ad takes Riley’s comments “out of context and presents them to voters in a shamefully deceitful manner.” 

“Josh has never said any such thing. Somewhat, Josh has a transparent position supporting law enforcement and community safety, and he has a proven record to back it up,”  the spokesperson said. “Josh repeatedly and explicitly said that individuals in mental health crisis – not criminals – deserve help, not handcuffs, and he was quoting the National Alliance on Mental Illness when he did so.”

“Actually, just seconds before Josh said that individuals in mental health crisis deserve help, not handcuffs, Josh said the next about law enforcement: ‘Our folks in law enforcement put their lives on the road on a regular basis to serve and protect our community and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for that,’” the spokesperson added.

Support for Law Enforcement Funding 

The CLF ad titled,Vote Against Josh Riley: Whose Side Is He On? Not Ours,” says Riley is supported by “a radical group that wishes to defund the police,” referring to the Working Families Party. The ad, which also repeats the “help not handcuffs” claim, began airing on TV on Oct. 11, in keeping with Kantar Media.

Moore said the ad’s claim that Riley “is supported by a radical group that wishes to defund the police” is “100% correct and indisputably true.”

It’s true that Riley will appear on the ballot under each the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party — a minor political party that endorsed Riley and has expressed support for defunding the police. But Riley has said he doesn’t support defunding the police. 

In a radio interview on Oct. 7 with Ithaca’s Morning News, Riley said he supports law enforcement and has “never ever” suggested defunding police.

In the identical interview, Riley said he worked on laws that provided more funding and support for the police during his stint as general counsel to then-Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota when Franken was on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Riley also said within the radio interview that he comes from a law enforcement family and his mother was a probation officer for nearly twenty years, adding, “I’m not going to defund my mom.”

On his website, Riley says he would support, “Justice Department programs that support law enforcement, including the Byrne JAG [Justice Assistance Grant] program and COPS [Community Oriented Policing Services] program; collective bargaining rights for law enforcement and first responders; proposals to finish the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduce law enforcement’s retirement advantages; and amending Section 7(k) of the Fair Labor Standards Act to be certain that law enforcement and first responders are eligible for the additional time pay they deserve.”

Editor’s note: doesn’t accept promoting. We depend on grants and individual donations from people such as you. Please consider a donation. Bank card donations could also be made through our “Donate” page. When you prefer to offer by check, send to:, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. thirty sixth St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here