Legis.News -- Inside the Iowa Legislature, September 22, 2006
By House Democratic Leader Pat Murphy
We are only now approaching the traditional fall campaign season, but already Iowa is awash in a tidal wave of negativism. Candidates in some legislative races have been subjected to half a dozen pieces of attack mail and it's not even October yet.
I'm not naïve about negative campaigning. Part of the reason you run for public office is because you think the other guy isn't doing a very good job. It's incumbent upon you to point out those differences so the public can make reasoned decisions about who to vote for.
And I'm not bothered about using legitimate votes to make your case. Citing education votes, for example, to make the case that an opponent has not funded local schools adequately is certainly fair game and part of a legitimate debate.
But what concerns me most about the negative mail this year is the tone of the attacks. They contain reckless and inflammatory charges which in many cases are predicated on outright lies. Like these examples:
- A legislative candidate switched from Republican to Independent to protest what he called a "vile and disgusting" direct mail attack by the Iowa Republican Party accusing his opponent of coddling child abusers.
- Two first-term legislators, Bob Kressig of Cedar Falls and Dawn Pettengill of Mt. Auburn, were condemned in campaign mailings for voting to give college tuition breaks to illegal immigrants, which was impossible since the vote was taken before either was elected.
- In an effort to capitalize on the CIETC scandal, legislators who voted for extra money to keep open Iowa Workforce Development field offices in 24 Iowa communities were accused of "lining the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats," a completely false charge.
So what's responsible for these higher intensity attacks? For one thing, the stakes are higher. Control of the Iowa Legislature is truly up for grabs this year. Although Republicans have controlled the Iowa House for the past fourteen years, Democrats have more incumbents running for re-election this fall. There is a real sense that those in control this year will be out of power in January and they are desperate to hang on.
But it seems to me the bigger reason is the funding behind the negative mailings. For months I've written of my concerns about the role of corporate-funded PACs known as 527s. The most notable in Iowa is the one created by House Speaker Christopher Rants, which has relied for its funding on the gambling, tobacco, alcohol and car title loan industries.
Many of these mailings have been paid for by 527s, and their corporate funders - Big Tobacco and loan sharks, for example - are used to employing cut-throat tactics to get their way. So is it any surprise that the attacks they've sponsored are just plain nasty? And the fact many of these mailings originate in Washington, D.C. gives credence to the belief that this is simply Karl Rove-style sleaze oozing from the nation's capital into the Iowa countryside.
For his part, Rants has largely defended the attack mailings. What he's failed to admit is that in each of the three examples I mentioned earlier, Rants' own votes would be subject to the same negative attacks he and his colleagues are dishing out.
The campaigns will only get worse as Election Day draws closer. It will be up to you to watch the campaign claims carefully and decide which negatives make justified comparisons between the candidates, and which ones are outright lies.