I’m all on board with the thesis of today’s Seattle Times’s editorial lauding Judge Richard Jones ruling that last September’s unprecedented $1.5 million anti-Senn ad campaign violated WA’s public disclosure laws. Our Open Government Law was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1972 — via citizens initiative — and the Times reminds us of one of its core tenets:
“The public’s right to know of the financing of political campaigns and lobbying and the financial affairs of elected officials and candidates far outweighs any right that these matters remain secret and private.”
But in writing their editorial, the Times repeats an unfortunate myth that has gained far too much credence in the MSM, while providing absolutely no research or analytical data to back it up:
In Washington, the television smear campaign might have backfired, because Senn won the primary handily.
Oh, that’s right… we’re living in Upside-Down World.
Get real. Senn won the primary despite of the smear campaign, not because of it, and if not for the intense onslaught of negative ads, she likely would have beaten Mark Sidran by an even larger margin. Furthermore, the ads forced Senn to empty her campaign treasury fighting a primary battle that shouldn’t have been, leaving her unable to mount an effective campaign against Rob McKenna in the general election.
People spend money on negative ads because they work, and there is no doubt that the negative ads substantially chipped away at Senn’s approval ratings — which the US Chamber of Commerce’s own internal, pre-primary polling showed to be an astonishing 3 to 1 margin among Democratic voters. Indeed, internal documents obtained by Senn’s attorneys during the court proceedings show that the US Chamber conducted extensive polling on how to drive down Senn’s positives… polling which formed the basis of their $1.5 million campaign.
To suppose that Senn’s primary and general election prospects weren’t damaged by these ads not only defies common sense, it defies decades of research and real-world experience. And let’s be honest… the US Chamber certainly would not have spent $150 million over the past five years (more on that later) running negative ads in judicial and attorney general elections across the nation, if they weren’t satisfied with the results.
While it is impossible to know for sure, it is more reasonable to speculate that McKenna rode into office on the back of an illegal, $1.5 million smear campaign, than it is to speculate that the ads backfired. It might be comforting to the Times editorial board and others to suppose that somehow, WA voters are savvier than their counterparts elsewhere, and thus immune to the pernicious influence of negative advertising. But this is a fantasy, totally unsupported by fact.
The ads intentionally misled WA voters, not just in content, but in provenance. And for that, the Times and I are in total agreement: the US Chamber, and not just its fake front organization, deserves to be punished directly for arrogantly flouting our state’s public disclosure laws.