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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
 anonymous advertisements.

 "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
 District 4.

 "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
 a vote.

 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
 Oregon law.

 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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