To hear most political candidates and party chairs tell it, they wouldn’t dream of running anything but an above-board campaign. They don’t believe in mudslinging, disparaging their opponents with lies or distortions or quotes taken out of context. They only tell the truth, about themselves and their opponents.
The reality is totally different, of course. Despite all the lip service politicians pay to the subject — right down to the now-universal disclaimer, “I’m so-and-so, and I approve of this message” — political advertising at all levels has never seemed dirtier or more disingenuous. Some people claim it’s the reason they’ve stopped voting.
A decade ago, the regional League of Women Voters developed a program to help mediate disputes over candidates’ ads. Known as Fair Campaign Practices, it relies on panels of impartial citizens to determine the veracity and fairness of claims that a candidate might object to. The panel’s decision, based on a variety of criteria, is strictly an opinion and has no authority. But the process is elaborate, it seems meticulously fair, and, slowly but surely, it has been gaining acceptance with candidates and voters.
Now the League wants the region’s political party chairs to join in — a logical step, since chairmen often set the tone for campaigns and are behind much of the advertising. It has enlisted the local chapter of the Interfaith Alliance in an effort to get all 18 regional party chairmen to pledge to wage fair campaigns. Unfortunately, as a story in Friday’s Gazette indicated, only a few have done so thus far, and one — Schenectady County Democratic Chairman Brian Quail — even denounced the idea as unnecessary and lacking credibility. His scorn for the system might have something to do with the fact that his party was flagged for violating fair campaign practices during the last election cycle. But Republicans were, too.
The system may not be perfect, nor may it carry that much weight with voters, but the more candidates and committee chairs who sign onto the concept of fair campaigns, the more likely they’ll adhere to the principles. That can’t help but make for fairer campaigns, a better-informed electorate and better government.