Well, I have to admit they were creative. And despicable.
2010’s most unethical maneuvers ran the gamut from lying to zombie exploitation, from false identity to extortion. Unfortunately, most of the worst stunts were pulled by or on behalf of Democrats; I say unfortunately because I try awfully hard to keep these kinds of lists in partisan balance. But the Democrats and their progressive fans were especially slimy this time around, and it it figures. When the going gets tough, the tough get unethical, and it is the Democrats who are facing ballot box carnage. They have been pushing the envelope, to say the least, in their campaign tactics, and I think it probably made their situation more dire rather than less.
Here, in reverse order of ethical outrageousness, are the Ten Most Unethical Maneuvers of Campaign 2010:
10. Joe Miller stonewalls the press. When the tale of Miller’s unethical use of office computers as a government lawyer surfaced, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, feigning indignation, announced that he would no longer answer questions about his past personal or professional history. He said the reason was that he wanted to focus on issues. The real reason was that the story was true, and showed Miller to be prone to ethical lapses—which is relevant to his candidacy. So is his craven and dishonest handling of this incident.
9. Bill Maher extorts Christine O’Donnell. Angry Left formerly-funny comedian Bill Maher wanted Delaware Senate candidate and Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell to subject herself to his sneers and ridicule in front of his hooting like-minded claque on his cable TV show, and when she (sanely) refused, he announced that he would run increasingly embarrassing video clips of her saying jaw-dropping things (as she is wont to do) until she capitulated. Bill thinks threats and extortion are funny now, as long as, you know, they are focused on “THEM.” Maher can run whatever clips he wants, but threatening to embarrass anyone to force them into doing what he wants is the mark of an unfair, disrespectful, mean-spirited bully. Previously, I had though Maher was merely an arrogant jerk.
8. Bill Clinton tries to cheat voters out of a choice. This is apparently Bill’s new trick: use his status as a former President to fix elections. Previously, we now know, he wanted to rob voters in Pennsylvania of the chance to elect someone other than turn-coat Arlen Specter, by talking Joe Sestak drop out of the primary. Sestak said no, and voter got to nominate someone other than Arlen, no thanks to Clinton. This week we learned that Clinton tried to remove the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Florida, Kendrick Meek, from the ballot, so another Republican turned-traitor, Gov. Charlie Crist, could use Meek’s voters to beat Republican Marco Rubio. Heck, why should actual voters choose their Senators when Bill Clinton can do it for them? Luckily, Clinton isn’t any good at his new trick: Meek turned him down too.
7. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murchowsi makes a dead friend give a zombie endorsement. Now we are getting to the really rotten stuff. Former GOP Senator Ted Stevens endorsed Murchowski for re-election, not knowing that 1) she would lose the Republican primary to Joe Miller, 2) she would turn on her party and run a write-in campaign to stop her own party’s nominee and 3) he would die in a plane crash. Would he have endorsed Lisa, knowing 1) and 2), if there had been no 3)? I don’t know, and neither does Murchowski. That didn’t stop her from using Stevens’ endorsement in a different election and under different circumstances than had caused Stevens agree to make it. Not to mention forcing Stevens to do her bidding after he died. Good senators don’t make old friends into zombies.
6. Obama’s U.S. Chamber smear. President Obama, the Democrats and the media really, really don’t like the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United…you know the one: Solicitor General Elena Kagan argued that limits on organizational spending on campaigns could include banning books, among other things. The Court chose to move toward free speech rather than away from it, ruling that domestic corporations could spend money to run issue ads like anyone else, and that they didn’t have to divulge who might have given money to the organization. Thus someone at the White House decided that this presented a perfect opportunity to argue that big corporations were going to “buy the election” (though any voter whose opinion turns on an ad is either too gullible or too uninformed to vote responsibly anyway). They couldn’t stop there, though. Inspired by a piece by a progressive website, President Obama and his advisors began insinuating, suggesting and accusing the nation’s largest association of businesses, large and small, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, of illegally channeling foreign money—still banned from use in U.S. elections—into political races with Chamber-favored candidates. There was never a single shred of evidence that this was occurring, and every reason to believe it was not; for one thing, Chamber President Tom Donohue is as dedicated to obeying the law as any U.S. leader or executive, and has an unblemished record of integrity in a 50 year career. The President of the United States using innuendo to suggest that the distinguished business lobby that faces the White House is engaged in an illegal money-laundering operation without any proof, just to increase the public’s distrust of business—these are totalitarian, McCarthy-like, morally-repugnant tactics. If Obama supporters are going to be legitimately outraged every time conservative talk radio hosts compare him to Hitler, they should prevail upon the President’s advisors not to cook up Hitler-style tactics for the President to use in his campaign speeches.
5. Jack Conway’s low-blow attack on Rand Paul’s religion (or lack of it). Losing in the Kentucky race for the U.S. Senate against eccentric Republican Rand Paul, Democrat Jack Conway dug deep, avoided his conscience, and decided to mine a ridiculous and irrelevant G.Q. article that spun out tales from an anonymous co-ed from Rand’s college days. She told tales out of school, literally, painting the libertarian as acting, like, well, a lot of college kids, and specifically one who liked to challenge Baylor’s overtly Christian culture. In Conway’s media hitmen’s hands, however, the non-story became a sinister scandal about secret societies, paganism ( as if anyone seriously worships something called “Aqua Buddha”—talk about screaming “joke”! ) and kidnapping, which the “victim” herself denied. For a member of a party that has been condemning those who have questioned Obama’s religious beliefs to use college pranks to raise questions about a Republican candidate’s religion is bad enough; to suggest that Paul committed the federal crime of kidnapping when he obviously didn’t is worse.
4. Alan Grayson’s dishonest slander. At least the incident behind Conway’s ad actually happened. Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, however, produced back-to-back attack videos on his Republican opponent, Daniel Webster, that intentionally and blatantly misrepresented the truth in order to support scurrilous, fabricated accusations. In the first ad, the fact that Webster accepted several student exemptions from the Vietnam war draft before he voluntarily reported to his draft board (and was rejected for a physical ailment) was portrayed as unpatriotic draft-dodging. In the second, Webster was shown repeating a Bible quotation calling for women to submit to their husbands…with the original context left out: Webster was citing the passage as the kind of literal Bible reading modern day Christian husbands needed to look beyond. In Grayson’s ad, however, this was proof that Webster was “Taliban Dan,” a “religious fanatic” who was determined to oppress women. Grayson is infamous for making unfair and baseless accusations against his political opponents, but these ads were his masterpiece. And, it appears, his political epitaph. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.
3., 2., and 1. A three way tie! You can’t go any lower than any of these three. Pick your own order; they are all awful.
- New Jersey’s fake Tea Party candidate.In one New Jersey congressional race, the Democrat party or its operatives placed a party member, Peter DeStefano, on the ballot under the “New Jersey Tea Party” banner, though there is no such organization. His mission: draw votes away from the Republican, Jon Runyan, so Democrat Congressman John Adler will prevail. A county Democratic employee is operating Web elements DeStefano’s website. This is far worse than the Florida scheme to take away the voters’ option of voting for Kendall Meek. That is distorting and gaming democracy; this is disgracing it. DeStafano’s entire campaign is a fraud: he is not who he says he is; he does not believe what his party label says he believes; he is not opposing one of his adversaries, but actually working for him; and worst of all, he is exploiting the trust of New Jersey voters in our system of government. This is a United States election, not NASCAR, where supposed competitors sometimes help each other win. His deception, and the conduct of the people who put him on the ballot, needs to be outlawed.
- The Nevada G.O.P.’s “Don’t Vote” Campaign. Nevada Republicans tried to boost Sharron Angle’s chances against Senate Leader Harry Reid by creating a mysterious Hispanic advocacy organization called Latinos for Reform to front an ad urging Hispanics to stay away from the polls as a way to send a message to Democrats. “Clearly, the Democratic leadership betrayed us,” the English-language ad goes. “And now, when they need our votes, they are at it again with more empty promises. This November, we need to send a message to all politicians. If they can’t keep their promise on immigration reform, then they can’t count on our vote. Democratic leaders must pay for their broken promises and betrayals. Don’t vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message. You can no longer take us for granted. Don’t vote.” This is a complete and utter sham, and as cynical as politics gets. The is no real difference between this trick and efforts in some communities to suppress minority votes by intimidation or sending them fake notices announcing the wrong date for election day. The ad would be deplorable if the people making it actually believed their moronic message. That, however, would only be irresponsible. Broadcasting such an argument when one knows how wrong and foolish it is counts as intentional pollution of the culture, the election, and the mind.
- Gloria Allred’s brilliant/unethical Meg Whitman attack. Feminist legal publicity hound Gloria Allred held a press conference introducing her client, Nicky Diaz Santillan, as a poor Hispanic woman treated like dirt by Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who advocates strong sanctions for employers who hire illegals without doing proper background checks. As lawyers are supposed to do—indeed required to do—Allred was ostensibly helping her client. The real motives of Allred were something else, however. A longtime supporter of Democratic candidate Jerry Brown, she was using Santillan to claim that Whitman herself knowingly hired an illegal immigrant. She was also using her to get publicity for herself, which is what Gloria Allred media lawyer, does. But Allred’s claim that Whitman had knowingly hired an illegal immigrant was far from convincing, for Santillan admitted that she deceived the Whitmans about her immigration status when she applied for work, showed false documents, and lied on an affidavit. Santillan’s complaint that she was unjustly fired after nine years—when the Whitmans say they discovered her illegal status—is absurdly weak, and certainly not worthy of a press conference, which itself would be considered a breach of legal ethics for lawyer Allred in most states. And speaking of legal ethics: Allred, who by her own admission is not qualified to represent immigrants, allowed an illegal immigrant who was her client to expose herself to deportation and other criminal prosecution, when doing so in no way provided an advantage or legal benefit to Santillan. The only benefit of the press conference was Allred’s, who got to deliver the equivalent of a live negative campaign ad for her friend Brown, and a misleading, unfair and deceptive ad at that. Allred’s trick was effective: she got her publicity, she wounded Whitman’s campaign (in part because Whitman’s response was evasive), and she may have won a close election for Brown. As for Santillan…the duty of lawyers to serve their client’s needs and not their own…Allred’s integrity as a feminist (Allred’s argument was based on a societal presumption that a woman of a household hires the help, though Whitman said her husband handled Santillan’s employment)… fairness and accountability (Santillan is the criminal here, not the Whitmans), they are just collateral damage in another dazzling Allred manipulation of people, the law, and politics. Perhaps because of my work in legal ethics training and consulting, I find her unethical campaign tactic the worst of all.