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IP: Court ruling allows anonymous political attacks
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Date: Mon, 12 Oct 1998 04:14:44 -0500
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Subject: IP: Court ruling allows anonymous political attacks
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Source: The Oregonian
Court ruling allows anonymous attacks
Viciousness increases after the U.S. Supreme Court
strikes down an Oregon law requiring that political
ads be credited
Sunday, October 11 1998
By Laura Oppenheimer of The Oregonian staff
Terry Thompson and Ryan Deckert opened their
mailboxes in mid-September to discover unpleasant
surprises: anonymous political advertisements
lambasting their public records.
The two Democratic Oregon House members
apparently were the first targets in what promises to
be a vicious advertising attack season. And there's still
plenty of time for candidates to exchange barbs
before the Nov. 3 election, said Tim Gleason, dean of
the University of Oregon School of Journalism and
"This is the true test, said Gleason, who is coordinator
of the Oregon Alliance for Better Campaigns. Races
tighten up, and people are going all out. Frequently,
the candidate isn't really in control of all the steps
taken toward the end. A lot of people want that
candidate to win.
Although the ads against Thompson and Deckert
included their opponents return addresses, as
mandated by the U.S. Postal Service, they did not say
who paid for or authorized them. Some candidates
are taking advantage of a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court
ruling that invalidated Oregons law requiring the
sponsors name to run with all political advertising.
Bills proposed during the 1997 Legislature would
have reinstated regulations to counteract the court
ruling. But the legislation stalled at the committee level
and never came up for a vote.
Oregons public officials didnt just maintain the level of
negative attack ads by ignoring the legislation,
Secretary of State Phil Keisling said. They raised the
profile of the ruling so candidates knew they could run
"The Legislature just turned their backs on it, Keisling
said. Their inaction spoke volumes about their
concern about anonymous ads. The effect was to put
up a big neon sign saying, Anonymous attack ads now
allowed in Oregon.
So whats the big deal about one little line of type that
says paid for by . . . ? In a political climate where
sparring can lead to voters cynicism, candidates
should take responsibility for their criticisms, Keisling
said. And all-out advertising slugfests can result in
hard feelings -- and more partisan politics -- after the
election is over, legislators said.
"The truth matters, said Ed Kammer, an advertising
activist who lobbied legislators to pass new
regulations. The facts matter. Its a persons right to
ignore what they want to ignore, but its not a thiefs
right to disguise the theft.
Many legislators, including Thompson, D-Newport,
and Deckert, D-Beaverton, said they would support
the type of legislation Keisling advocates if it is
proposed again during the 1999 Legislature.
In the meantime, candidates are free to be as vicious
as they want. Aware of just how nasty this campaign
season could become, several groups are pushing
voluntary codes of conduct to stop the underhanded
advertising before it starts.
About 50 candidates signed Keislings Stand By Your
Ad pledge, which requires them to include their name
and address on all political advertising and to take
responsibility for any criticism of their opponents. That
means using their pictures in written material, narrating
a radio ad and appearing on-screen in a TV
commercial if it involves a comparison of candidates.
Many candidates also signed the League of Women
Voters code of conduct, which was adopted by the
Oregon Alliance for Better Campaigns. The alliance,
which is not counting the number of signers or keeping
track of how candidates who took the pledge behave,
is asking candidates to keep campaigns clean. The
alliance also is coordinating issue-oriented, analytical
political coverage on TV and radio stations across the
"Its no more complicated than one of the things my
mom told me growing up, Keisling said of his pledge.
If youre going to say something bad about somebody,
say it to their face.
But nobody will be reprimanding candidates who
violate the pledges or choose not to sign them. And
for some candidates, sticking with the pledge will
mean not responding to jabs at their character,
credibility or public record.
In mid-September, voters received a mailing with the
headline, What was Terry thinking? In a large-print
checklist, the ad compares Thompson with
Republican Alan Brown, his opponent in House
"Supports returning the income tax kicker refund
shows a no for Thompson and a yes for Brown. So
does the campaigns are bankrolled by big labor
unions category. Thompson said many of the
footnotes supporting these criticisms were based on
one detail of a large bill or on bills that never came to
Amid these sweeping accusations, Brown did not
include a statement that his campaign had paid for the
flier. Several years ago, the ad would have violated
Henri Schauffler, Deckerts Republican opponent, said
he would change one thing about his September fliers
if he had it to do over again: Hed include the
sponsorship. But he would keep the derogatory
rundown of his opponents record, which included
claims that Deckert believes voting against small
business 57 percent of the time is acceptable and
supports spending 2 percent kicker tax refunds to
fund state government programs.
Schauffler, who signed Keislings pledge, said he did
not design the anonymous ads and regrets allowing
them to be distributed.
"Against my better judgment, I went ahead with the
ads, Schauffler said. Im ultimately responsible, and I
take responsibility for that mistake. Its not going to
happen again from my camp.
Deckert said he received more than 100 calls, e-mail
messages and letters of support from voters who had
seen the attack ads against him.
Victims of negative ads face enormous pressure to
retaliate, candidates said. In past elections, party
workers have even suggested that Thompson hire a
detective to spy on his opponent, he said.
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Robert A. Hettinga <mailto: [email protected]>
Philodox Financial Technology Evangelism <http://www.philodox.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
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