Candidates from both parties, as well as the parties themselves, have been pulling out all the stops in the homestretch, including ads meant to convince voters that the other guy won’t be tough on child predators and sex offenders.
Rep. Mark Foley’s sudden resignation and the accompanying speculation about his inappropriate conduct have made this visceral issue ripe for exploitation. We found 43 ads that raise the issue of sexual predators that have run since the scandal broke six weeks ago. Half of them tout a candidate’s work to protect children or highlight his or her promise to do so if elected, but the rest attack opponents.
Sixteen of them – five from Democrats, the rest from Republicans – directly or indirectly accuse candidates of making it easier for predators to do harm. Facts are often casualties of these attacks. One ad ties a lawyer to the National Man/Boy Love Association when she actually had no involvement with it. Another accused a lawmaker of killing a sexual registration bill, when all he did was to go along with the bill’s Republican sponsor to delay passage to make it acceptable to local chiefs of police.
These ads typically feature children innocently raking leaves or playing on a swing, and contrast these images with criminals’ mug shots stamped boldly with labels such as “Sexual Predator” and “Child Pornographer.” Creepy music often plays in the background as the announcer warns that the targeted candidate won’t protect children. Below are some of the worst offenders.
Perlmutter Killed a Registration Plan?
An ad by the National Republican Congressional Committee in Colorado’s seventh congressional district says that Democrat Ed Perlmutter “killed a plan for informing sexual assault victims that a sex offender lived in their neighborhoods.” That’s misleading. The announcer goes on to tell us that “if Perlmutter had his way, staff at nearby schools, child care centers, and former victims wouldn’t be told.” That last part is false. Here’s what really happened:
In 1997, Perlmutter did vote to table a sex offender registration bill, but according to a local news station so did the entire state senate judiciary committee, including the bill’s sponsor, a Republican. The sponsor said local police chiefs thought it was too restrictive and pointed out that they passed a similar bill supported by law enforcement the following year. Perlmutter voted for it.
The Colorado Republican Party further distorted this issue with a deceptive mailing recently distributed in the Denver area. On one side, it seems to be a notice to residents that a registered sex offender has moved into the neighborhood. On the other side it warns recipients to watch out for Perlmutter, because he “puts the rights of sex offenders before our children.”
After receiving one of these flyers at his own home, Perlmutter held a press conference with the state senator who had sponsored the tabled 1997 bill. Republican Dottie Wham said of the mailings, “it was intended to scare people, and it’s a very sleazy thing to do.”
Distorting Chris Murphy
In Connecticut, Democratic House candidate Chris Murphy has been attacked in three ads, all misleading, by the NRCC and his opponent Rep. Nancy Johnson. One ad says, “Murphy’s record: Voting to allow sexual predators in public housing with families and children.” In fact, Murphy did no such thing.
What Murphy voted against was a 1999 bill that would have allowed public housing officials to consider new criteria in evaluating potential residents, including registered sex offender status. It would not have automatically precluded registered offenders from residency, as the Johnson ad falsely implies.
The bill was focused primarily on giving landlords more power over tenants. Murphy says the bill was “actually opposed by children’s advocates because it would have resulted in more evictions of low-income families from public housing, leaving more kids homeless.”
Hayworth Attacks Mitchell
An ad by GOP Rep. J.D. Hayworth of Arizona says that Democrat “Harry Mitchell could have kept child molesters in prison, denying them bail backed by our Constitution. Mitchell voted no.” That falsely characterizes Mitchell’s actual position.While a state senator in 2002, Mitchell actually supported a bill that would have denied bail to child molesters.
The Hayworth ad is so awkwardly worded as to be almost gibberish. How can one “deny bail backed by the Constitution?” The Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution states that “Excessive bail shall not be required . . ” Hayworth’s ad strains to be literally true while at the same time giving viewers the false impression that Mitchell favors bail for accused child molesters. What Mitchell opposed was making denial of bail a part of the Arizona state constitution.
Hayworth’s Web site actually gets it right, saying: “Mitchell supported passage of the law, but voted against placing the law as an amendment to the Constitution.”
In another Arizona House race, Rep. Rick Renzi, a Republican, put up an ad that asks of his opponent, “What kind of person is Ellen Simon to lead the ACLU, which defended child molesters and the man/boy love association?” That’s grossly misleading. Simon led the local ACLU and never defended child molesters.
Simon is a past-president of Cleveland’s local ACLU chapter, filling the volunteer position in the early 90’s. While the national ACLU did defend the North American Man/Boy Love Association, Simon had no involvement with that case. In fact, according to Simon and local news reports, the only case she handled for the ACLU was a lawsuit on behalf of an AIDS patient who had been refused emergency treatment. She won the suit.
Wisconsin Back and Forth
In Wisconsin, Republican challenger Dave Magnum’s ad features a mother speaking as children are shown raking leaves. The mother says that Rep. Tammy Baldwin “voted to change a bill so that a convicted child predator who hasn’t let the police know he’s moved into my neighborhood from another state might only get a slap on the wrist instead of five years in jail.” That’s a big exaggeration.
It is true that Baldwin voted for an amendment that would remove the mandatory minimum provision from the 2005 Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. Mandatory minimums are opposed by many judges, who believe that they should be able to mete out sentences depending on the facts of each case. But a sentence of less than five years isn’t necessarily a “slap on the wrist.” And in any case, Baldwin still supported the bill – including the mandatory five-year sentences – after the amendment failed.
In another Wisconsin House race, John Gard began airing an ad on Oct. 31 that says of his Democratic opponent:
Gard Ad: A vote for Steve Kagen is a vote to leave child pornographers like this one on the street. That’s because Steve Kagen doesn’t believe non-violent criminals belong in jail, so a vote for Steve Kagen is a vote to keep drug dealers on the streets too, and Internet predators, burglars, arsonists. If Steve Kagen has his way, then guys like this get to stay on the street.
It’s true that Kagen said in an Oct. 13 debate that he believes “non-violent offenders probably shouldn’t be there” in prison. That was in response to a question about how Congress could reduce the high rate of incarcerations without endangering public safety. It’s also true that the FBI’s official definition of “violent” crimes includes only murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. But Kagen responded to the ad in a local paper that, “my opponent states that sex predators are not violent offenders. He’s wrong. Violent offenders such as drug dealers and sexual predators belong in jail. Period.”
In Minnesota, an ad from Democrat Patty Wetterling accuses Republican Michelle Bachmann of voting against a bill that would put “repeat sex offenders away for life.” In fact, Bachmann supported mandatory life terms for some sex offenders, which Democrats opposed.
It is true that Bachmann voted against Democratic sex-offender legislation in the Minnesota state Senate, which would have provided life terms (not mandatory) for “repeat” sex offenders. But Bachmann supported a competing Republican bill which failed. Along the way, Bachmann supported an amendment to the Democratic bill that would have required mandatory life in prison for “first-degree” sex offenders, an amendment that failed on a party-line vote in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party controlled Senate. The parties quarreled over whose version of the legislation would be tougher, and we won’t attempt to settle that partisan spat here. But both would have increased the penalties for offenders.
Attention on Foley
Apart from the 15 ads that paint opponents as predator-enablers, five ads, all from Democrats, make reference to the Foley scandal by accusing opponents of “raising money with the politicians who protected a sexual predator,” or being involved with “leaders who covered up the actions of sexual predator Mark Foley.” News reports and the words of several members of the Republican leadership indicate that they did have some knowledge of Foley’s actions before the story broke in the press, but the Democrats are jumping the gun on a matter that is still under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.
-by Justin Bank with James Ficaro
Watch Gard Ad: “Loose Cannon”
Watch Hayworth Ad: “Child Molesters”
Watch Magnum Ad: Sex Predators”
Watch Renzi Ad: “Wrong Kind”
Watch Johnson Ad: “Trust”
Watch Wetterling Ad: “Vulnerable”
“Who We Are,” NAMBLA Web site.
Langhorne, Thomas B, “Ad Attacks Ellsworth Record,” Evansville Courier and Press. 20 Oct. 2006.
Kurtz, Howard, “Nattering Negativity,” Washington Post. 3 Nov. 2006.
Pitzl, Mary Jo, “Fall Campaigns Yield Bumper Crop of Negative Ads,” Arizona Republic. 26 Oct. 2006
Sarche, Jon, “Perlmutter Denounces GOP Mailer in 7th District,” AP. 1 Nov. 2006.
Osher, Christoper N., “GOP Aid Shifted to ‘Safe’ District,” Denver Post. 31, Oct. 2006.
Ruelas, Richard, “Man/boy love group getting free publicity from Rep. Rick Renzi,” Arizona Republic. 3 Nov. 2006.
Kagen, Steve and Gard, John, Wisconsin 8th Congressional District Debate. 13 Sept. 2006.
U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Congress, 1st Session. House Vote No. 470.
U.S. House of Representatives, 109th Congress, 1st Session. House Vote No. 468 .
Kirsti Marohn, “Senate Passes Sex Assault Bill,” St. Cloud Times, 9 Apr 2004.
Espino, J.E., “Gard Attacks Ad Conflicts with GOP’s 2000 stance,” Appleton Post-Crescent. 4 Nov. 2006.