Beltway group back in Pennsylvania, peddling inaccurate attack ad

    While most of the nation’s voters and media are obsessed with the presidential contest, some smart political operatives around the country are raising money and strategically targeting state and local races that don’t get a lot of attention, but matter a lot.

    A hard-hitting attack ad in the Pennsylvania state attorney general’s race funded by an out-of-state group has been criticized as inaccurate.

    While most of the nation’s voters and media are obsessed with the presidential contest, some smart political operatives around the country are raising money and strategically targeting state and local races that don’t get a lot of attention, but matter a lot.

    A while back I wrote about how a Washington area group called the Republican State Leadership Committee had targeted a 25-year western Pennsylvania Democratic state legislator named David Levdansky and dumped $150,000 worth of attack ads and mailers on him, contributing to his narrow loss to a Republican opponent.

    When I spoke to an RSLC spokesman, he candidly said the group looks for opportunities to intervene in state contests and build Republican majorities in legislatures about to do Congressional redistricting. He also acknowledged that one of the attacks on Levdansky had taken “artistic license” with the truth. Read my 2010 story about it here.

    They’re back.

    The Republican State Leadership Committee is back in Pennsylvania, now funding a half-million dollar attack ad campaign against the Democratic candidate for state attorney general, Kathleen Kane.

    An ad (see it above) accuses Kane have having been soft on rape as a prosecutor. The Daily News’ Chris Brennan has reported that there are inaccuracies in the ad, and that the father of a rape victim in one of the cases cited has called the ad a lie. Brennan reports that the RSLC said Friday it would edit the ad to address the issues, then continued to air the inaccurate ad through the weekend.

    Why would the RSLC target a state attorney general’s race in Pennsylvania? As I said, some people think strategically, and an attorney general has a lot of discretion in matters of major political import, like whether to challenge the national health care law, when to pursue election law violations, and how to handle issues like voter ID.

    The RSLC, by the way, played a critical role in the 2004 state attorney general’s race, giving Republican candidate Tom Corbett a huge lift with $490,000 in contributions as he won narrowly over Democrat Jim Eisenhower.

    The RSLC refused to reveal the source of the donations until after the election. And guess what? A big chunk of it came from Aubrey McClendon, chairman and CEO of the Chesapeake Energy Co., a name that’s become much more familiar to Pennsylvanians in recent years.

    So this is democracy?

    Just to be clear, this is not an endorsement of Kathleen Kane. Her Republican opponent, Cumberland County District Attorney  David Freed may be a fine prosecutor and qualified candidate. I would feel better if he stood up and denounced the RSLC attack from a high place, rather than releasing a statement saying that everyone “should conduct themselves in an honest and ethical manner.”

    The larger point is that we’ve come a long way from the representative democracy the founders intended. It’s entirely legal for the RSLC to scan the nation and lob stink bombs into political races its donors know nothing about. And there are Democratic and liberal groups that do the same thing.

    But it sucks.

    When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United decision that corporations and unions can make unlimited independent expenditures to influence campaigns, the case involved a federal election. But the decision has quickly affected state races, too.

    One of the few restrictions in Pennsylvania’s wide-open campaign finance system is a longstanding ban on corporate contributions to political candidates. The Pennsylvania Department of State has made clear that it now regards corporate spending on Pennsylvania races to be legal, as long as they don’t contribute directly to a candidate committee.

    Pretty soon we’ll have super PAC’s in school board elections.

     

     

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