If your candidate can’t win fairly, then it is OK to lie? Or to take some small kernel of truth and distort it to the degree that it becomes unrecognizable? It’s the funhouse mirror approach to political campaigning, except it is not fun at all. It’s disgusting.
In Aroostook County, the Maine Republican Party has launched a smear campaign against Democrat Troy Jackson falsely claiming that he wants to cut funding for the police. Signs proclaiming “Vote Troy Jackson – Defund the Police” started to pop up along roadways in Jackson’s district recently. The false statement was in big type while the disclosure that the signs were paid for by the Republican Party – information that is required by law to be on signs – was in a font so small you would never be able to read it while driving by.
Jackson called the faux campaign slogan a “flat out lie.”
The Republican Party can’t back up its own messaging. According to the Portland Press Herald, “A spokesperson for the Maine Republican Party could not cite a vote or statement to support the claim and instead pointed to Jackson accepting assistance from an out-of-state group that is affiliated with another group that offered model legislation across the United States to study police spending and the possibility of reallocating it to social programs or education. Such legislation, called the Community Reinvestment Act, was never proposed in Maine.”
In other words, shock value over substance – over the truth.
While the Republicans may be up to these tactics now, Democrats tried their hand in the 2020 U.S. Senate race when they sought to tie Collins and former President Trump together by launching a sign campaign of their own.
Two wrongs don’t make a right.
And while politicians may not be responsible for false attack ads funded outside their campaigns, they do have a choice in how they respond. They should be as mad as their opponents.
Maine candidates can sign a voluntary code of campaign practices. Those who do so vow, “I shall not use or authorize and I shall condemn material relating to my campaign that falsifies, misrepresents or distorts the facts, including, but not limited to, malicious or unfounded accusations creating or exploiting doubts as to the morality, patriotism or motivations of any party or candidate.”
Candidates should take that pledge and mean it.
Regardless of party affiliation, we must all demand the same things: free and fair elections and a clear portrait of the candidates seeking to represent us so that we can make informed decisions. Anything less is a disservice to the candidates, the electoral process and to democracy.
Speaking of disservice to democracy, an online poll last week launched by a Virginia-based political action group asked Mainers a series of loaded questions on topics ranging from gender identity, immigration, welfare and critical race theory. The poll, dubbed “Maine Today & Public Insight,” seemed to play on the names of two entities already familiar to many Mainers: Digital Research Inc.’s annual Critical Insights on Maine poll and MaineToday Media, the company that owns the Portland Press Herald and other newspapers around the state.
“It is unlikely that this survey was named as it was, by accident,” observed Bob Domine, president of Digital Research. “It seems plausible that the survey sponsors were well aware that the naming would effectively leverage the reputations of Maine’s most respected media and research brands.”
The First Amendment gives broad protection to political speech even when it is deceptive. The Federal Trade Commission regulates truth in commercial advertising but not for political ads. So, what protects the public from false or misleading messaging? Common sense and common decency. We could do with a whole lot more of both. And remember, always read the fine print.