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Campaign ads throw truth out the window

RALEIGH — When the stakes are high, maybe anything goes.

So it goes this campaign season.

Election mailers tied to candidates, political parties and independent groups aren’t just especially nasty this year. Some are plain false.

Of course, nastiness is nothing new to politics.

In 2008, Gov. Beverly Perdue and her Republican opponent, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, traded mean-spirited ads about illegal immigration. A Republican mailer accused Perdue of “rolling out the red carpet to illegal immigrants.”

Perdue’s Democratic primary opponent, former State Treasurer Richard Moore, ran ads on urban radio stations accusing her of owning stores that sold “Confederate junk.”

That same year, a Democratic Party mailer showing a picture of an Iraqi war veteran with a prosthetic arm accused a Republican state legislator of cutting veterans benefits.

Nasty ads? Every one of them. Factually incorrect? Not exactly.

Each claim contained some kernel of truth that could be twisted or exaggerated. Perdue’s husband did have an ownership stake in some Georgia convenience stores that sold Confederate flag-emblazoned hats. The Republican state legislator, Rep. Nelson Dollar of Wake County, voted against a state budget bill that included money for veterans programs.

With control of the state legislature at stake in 2010, the ad wars have been even nastier. Equally troubling is how the political consultants responsible have shown complete disregard for the truth.

This year’s most malicious mailer was sent in the Davidson County district of House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman, a Democrat.

The Republican Party mailer includes mug shots of two death row inmates, Wayne Laws and Henry McCollum. “Thanks to Hugh Holliman, death row inmates could leave prison early and move in next door,” says a caption above their pictures.

The mailer is especially egregious because Holliman’s 16-year-old daughter was abducted from the family home and murdered in 1985. Holliman witnessed the murderer’s execution and supports the death penalty.

Republican Party officials say they were ignorant of the Holliman family history.

They’re also apparently ignorant of the law that is the subject of the mailer. It would only allow death row inmates to have their sentences switched to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, if they could show statistical evidence that race played a role in their sentencing.

In other words, the mailer doesn’t just exaggerate. It’s a lie.

Then there’s the mailer from a conservative-leaning group accusing another Democrat, Rep. Chris Heagarty of Raleigh, of voting for bills approved before he was even a member of the legislature.

Democrats can hardly claim clean hands either.

Mailers sent out in the district of Democratic Sen. A. B. Swindell accuse his Republican opponent, Buck Newton, of once being a drug dealer. The flier doesn’t mention that the drug charges were dropped and that a prosecutor said they were the result of mistaken identity.

The solution: Disregard all this mail for the garbage that it is. Throw it away without reading it, and learn about the candidates the old-fashioned way: Read your local newspaper or talk to them personally.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.

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