Oct. 7, 2002, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on political attack ads

Posted: Monday, October 14, 2002

Enough already.

Alaskans have been inundated with attack ads paid for by groups that don't have to disclose who is buying the ammunition.

This anonymity makes it impossible for Alaska voters to consider the source, which is the most important thing to consider when it comes to judging the merits of campaign attacks.

Sure, the moose ads attacking Frank Murkowski are said to be paid for by the ''American Small Business Alliance'' in Washington, D.C., but the group refuses to say where its money comes from or how many members it has. Likewise, the ads attacking Fran Ulmer are paid for by ''Supporting Alaska Free Enterprise,'' an Alaska group that is safe from having to reveal where its money is coming from.

The good news is that most of the attack ads that have been so prevalent in recent weeks had to stop as of Sunday. In the 30 days before an election, the fairly strict state limits on campaign expenditures take effect. From here on out, the candidates are free to attack each other, but it will be easier to see who's doing what to whom.

The state election finance rules limit campaign contributions mostly to Alaskans and require the source of the funding to be disclosed to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

A confusing mix of court decisions and loopholes in state and federal laws are largely to blame for the preponderance of cheap-shot attack ads that have filled the airwaves in recent weeks.

The rise of this type of campaigning in Alaska is not a welcome sight. Attack ads are not new, of course, but Alaska voters have the right to know who is doing the attacking.

There is more than a little irony in seeing a group attacking a candidate for hiding from his record when that group hides its funding sources. There's also something wrong when a group of people label others as ''enemies'' of Alaska, simply for taking a legitimate position in political debate.

This sorry state of affairs is due in part to a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that said campaign spending limits could only be applied to ''communications that in express terms advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate. ...''

Now everyone who has seen the attack ads against Ulmer or Murkowski would readily conclude that the ads are clearly advocating the defeat of a clearly identified candidate.

But because the attack ads don't use what the justices describe as the ''magic words,'' the ads fall into the unregulated category of ''issue ads.''

The magic words are not please and thank you.

They are ''vote against'' and ''vote for'' and ''cast your ballot for,'' among others.

That the presence or absence of these ''magic words'' would somehow magically make the difference between whether an ad is subject to campaign finance limits or not shows that the court doesn't understand a thing about advertising.

By this flawed reasoning, ''Just Do It'' would not be considered an exhortation to buy Nike shoes and ''Like a Rock'' would be a song, not a pitch for Chevy trucks.



CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS