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Untruth in advertising

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Who’s winning the war of attack ads in the 21st Congressional District is anyone’s guess.

Matthew A. Doheny fired the initial volley with some direct mail pieces against Elise M. Stefanik earlier this spring. They are both seeking the Republican nomination in the June 24 primary for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Supporters of Ms. Stefanik, Willsboro, responded with some ads of their own. American Crossroads, a super PAC with ties to GOP strategists Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, spent $242,000 for the TV spots.

The ads put Mr. Doheny, Watertown, in an unflattering light. American Crossroads also has sent out corresponding direct mail pieces.

What’s most interesting is that it’s the first time this year that American Crossroads is directly attempting to weaken a Republican candidate in a primary, according to a June 2 story in National Journal. The super PAC has intervened in other Republican primaries this campaign season, but those ads portrayed certain candidates positively rather than attack any of their opponents, the article reported.

It’s also fascinating to hear both candidates complain about the negative tone of the ads against them and the falsehoods conveyed.

Mr. Doheny’s campaign sent out a direct mail piece linking Ms. Stefanik to the Troubled Asset Relief Program passed by Congress in 2008. At the time, she served as a policy adviser to then-President George W. Bush.

The mailer incorrectly attributed the claim that she helped craft TARP to the Watertown Daily Times. Given that we’ve never reported such a link, it’s unknown where the Doheny campaign came up with this information.

Here is something else that puzzles me about the Doheny campaign attempting to lay the blame for the creation of TARP at Ms. Stefanik’s feet. The impetus for this emergency legislation began under the direction of then-Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson. He worked with his staffers and some other economic authorities, such as Timothy F. Geithner, to keep the U.S. financial services industry from collapsing.

So unless Ms. Stefanik was suddenly moved from the White House to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, it’s easy to imagine her not being involved with TARP in its initial stages. As someone who has worked in the Wall Street banking industry, why wouldn’t Mr. Doheny know this?

Mr. Doheny then complained about inaccuracies in the ads being produced by American Crossroads. One ad claimed that he lost the GOP primary in 2009 for the House of Representatives, which was not the case. There was no Republican primary for the special election that year; party leaders had selected Dierdre K. Scozzafava to run for the seat.

The ad is also misleading about the source of a statement about Mr. Doheny. It said, “The Daily Times reported Doheny is a significantly flawed candidate.” The piece we published was actually quoting a 2012 article in Roll Call.

Details, details …

That the two candidates are decrying the negative ads being used against them shows the hypocrisy coming from both camps. Mr. Doheny defended his attack ads as merely portraying the truth about Ms. Stefanik’s record. And Ms. Stefanik has repeatedly said she is committed to running a positive campaign rather than going negative.

The message they are sending with this tactic seems to be, “It’s perfectly fine for me to ruthlessly attack my opponent. But how dare he/she do the same thing to me!”

Yes, the ads being used against Mr. Doheny have been produced by American Crossroads, not the Stefanik campaign. But given her strong associations to those involved with this PAC as well as those financing it, Ms. Stefanik could most likely have the ads pulled if she made the effort.

In the first place, she worked in the White House at the same time that Mr. Rove was there. It’s not a leap of logic to conclude that their paths crossed at some point.

But Ms. Stefanik also has links to billionaire Paul Singer, whose Winning Women PAC donated $110,000 to her campaign. She was one of a handful of House candidates to attend a weekend conference in Aspen, Colo., earlier this year convened by Mr. Singer. The hedge fund manager also donated $250,000 in March to American Crossroads.

Whether Ms. Stefanik had any prior knowledge of the attack ads against Mr. Doheny is unknown. But let’s put it this way: What if she strongly objected to such negative tactics and her supporters ignored her?

If she can’t persuade them that this isn’t the kind of campaign she wants to run, how effective would she be as a legislator? Either Ms. Stefanik hasn’t troubled herself to have yanked the attack ads she said she doesn’t like or she’s not the one pulling the strings in this part of her campaign.

Similarly, Mr. Doheny has offered promises that don’t ring true. He said he would cease his attack ads if Ms. Stefanik had the ones against him pulled.

If negative campaigning is so distasteful, why was he the one who started it? And even if the attack ads against him continue, this shouldn’t stop him from taking the high road by unilaterally pulling his out of circulation.

Here are two candidates who have very similar views on many important issues. In fact, it’s likely that they would get along quite well — at least politically — were it not for their mutual quest for power. What it is about running for elective office that makes candidates eager to destroy some of the very people who would otherwise support their goals?

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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