Free Speech vs. Fair Elections - Round oneFree societies are messy. They allow me to worship the aqua-Buddha as my God. They allow you to call me an idiot for doing so. They allow a Yemeni friend to send me a birthday present, and they almost allowed one of his countrymen to send us a bomb. They allow you to vote for the candidate of your choice, and they allow me to influence that choice by masquerading as someone you should choose. This is the case with the latest set of slate mailers delivered in a flurry over the last month to your doorstep. Democrat? Jerry Brown supporter? For Prop. 19? Against Prop. 23? We've got the candidates for you! Republican? Meg Whitman supporter? Against Prop. 19? For Prop. 23? We've got your ticket as well! Surprise! They're the same candidates! Just take this mailer with you to the polls and punch the holes knowing that you're doing the right thing. Who needs a hanging chad when I can get you to punch the right hole without your even knowing it?
The courts have ruled that this type of political activity is protected by the 1st amendment as an exercise of free speech. Fair enough. On the other hand, no one would argue that this promotes fair elections. In fact, anecdotal reports of these mailers in trash bins next to the polling booths suggest that our elections have already been distorted by these mailers. So what to do? We don't live in Singapore, although some may wish we did. In my view, the only antidote to bad free speech is good free speech. So, here's a proposal.
On the city website, in a section titled "Encinitas Campaign Practices", let's publish the following 3-item campaign pledge:
1) I will not allow my name to appear on campaign material which endorses candidates or ballot initiatives with which I do not agree, or whose content I have no knowledge of.
2) I will publicly identify the amount and sources of financing for campaign material on my behalf within 24 hours of the distribution of that material.
3) If I or my supporters publicly attack my opponent's character or conduct, I will either provide supporting evidence for any charges on a campaign website within 24 hours of the attack, or disavow the legitimacy of the attack. I will also allow my opponent to post a response to the attack on my campaign website.
At the start of each election, organizations such as the North County Times, the Union-Tribune, The Coast News, The Encinitas Tax Payers Association, and The Leucadia Blog can ask each candidate whether they will take or decline the pledge. Everything is voluntary - no arm-twisting. You either take the pledge or you don't. At the least, it will save a tree, and at best it might save an election.
This rewrite was suggested by the Bearded Dragon:
As a candidate or election participant (PAC or major contributor):
1. I shall conduct my campaign for City office openly and fairly. I will not misrepresent, distort, or otherwise falsify the facts in any of my communications nor approve of such tactics by others. Further, I will be prepared to provide supporting evidence for all statements made on my behalf.
2. I shall clearly identify myself, or my campaign committee(s), as the sender of all of all campaign communications. The individual(s) responsible for approving and funding the content of the communications will be clearly identified.
3. I shall openly discuss the issues and participate in fair debate with respect to my views and qualifications. I will focus on the issues in all statements, debates, advertisements, and press releases, and other communications.
4. I will formally request all advocacy groups and PACs--special interests, campaign contributors, or any individual--to respect my dedication to this pledge and to refrain from making independent expenditures on materials which involve unsubstantiated negative or wholly personal attacks on my opponents.
5. Should it be discovered that false or misleading statements have been made in my name, I will issue a retraction and apology in a timely fashion. Any retraction of a false representation will be conspicuous and in the same manner as the initial statement was made. If an third party unauthorized by me has paid for such a breach of this pledge, I promise to immediately and publicly denounce any such activity and will help to identify the responsible parties.
6. I will only accept financial support for my campaign from residents of the City of Encinitas. I will use only unpaid, volunteer campaign workers and canvassers to place signs and go door-to-door. While I welcome a statement of support from any organization, I will reject any offer of financial, logistical, mass mailing, or ground support from any and all non-profit service organizations.
7. I will use local business for all my campaign materials
8. I will not participate in slate mailers. I shall publicly repudiate any and all support derived from any individual or group whose activities would violate this Fair Campaign Pledge.
9. To further public discussion of the issues I will publish all of my mass communications to the (yet-to-be-established) Encinitas campaign clearinghouse website for information and debate for the candidates’ campaigns. I will conspicuously note in all my mass communications that I am participating in the EFC Pledge and will conspicuously display the specific EFP website address on all mass communications where my opponents and I may opt to discuss or respond to each mailer, video, or other mass communications.
10. I will help any and all of my opponents respond to violations of the EFC Pledge by helping them to publish a response, if they desire, by sharing up to 35% of the space/time of my mailings (or other communications) to allow my opponents to response to any attacks until the response has reached an equivalently sized audience as offending communications.
See Also: Campaign Pledge