Gara to file legislation against attack ads

  • By KATIE MORITZ
  • Tuesday, November 25, 2014 11:09pm
  • News

There were two surprises in the state’s general election guide this year: a missing profile for Independent candidate for governor Bill Walker, and an Alaska Republican Party ad attacking Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

The Division of Elections quickly copped to the Walker omission and released a supplemental guide including the candidate, who won the election by a small margin. But Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, wants to make sure an attack ad never again appears in the pages of a state publication.

Gara announced in a statement Tuesday that he will pre-file legislation that would eliminate language in state statute that allows political parties to submit material for the state’s election pamphlet. Currently, parties can pay $600 per page to include whatever they want up to two pages.

At the back of this year’s general election pamphlet, four full-page ads were paid for by three political parties. The Alaska Republican Party paid for two of the pages, one of which shows an ad that asks voters if they “know Mark Begich votes with President Obama 95 percent of the time” and gives “five examples of Mark Begich siding with President Obama over Alaskans.”

Begich and his Republican opponent Dan Sullivan, who ended up winning the race by just over 6,000 votes, both slung mud in their campaigns, leaving many voters with a bad taste in their mouths. But the non-partisan voter guide is one place where people should be able to get away from the worst of election season, Gara said.

“There’s already too much negative advertising,” he said. “It should rub people the wrong way that a state-funded voter guide would have attack ads.”

This year’s incident of a political party’s ad criticizing a candidate by name was a first for the state’s election pamphlet. The online archives of the Division of Elections, which puts out the publication, go back to 2002. In those years, no party has called out a specific candidate in their ads, focusing solely on promoting their own platforms.

Political parties often run variations on the same ad in the pamphlet year after year, but Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai said the division has never been able to regulate what parties put in their ads. State statute is silent on it.

“There are no guidelines whatsoever in state law that talks about what can or can’t be published … as part of that information (outside of the two-page limit),” she said. “The division has nothing to do with what is submitted.”

Gara said he didn’t think a political party had ever realized it could say whatever it wanted in its election pamphlet ads.

“I don’t think anyone had ever found the loophole in the law before,” he said. “I don’t think anybody knew that you were allowed to put in a negative or an attack ad in the state voter guide. I didn’t know that myself.”

The issue came to Gara’s attention when constituents complained about the anti-Begich ad, he said. Fenumiai said the division also received complaints. The Empire got a few concerned emails at the time, as well.

“People are expecting candidates to have statements, but they don’t expect to see attack ads (in the pamphlet),” Gara said. “If the state is funding it, there’s no place, in my mind, for attack ads in a publication that the public is paying for.”

The pamphlet cost about $199,000 to produce this year, Fenumiai said. The $600-per-page fee charged to political parties goes back into the state’s general fund.

Gara said he would have proposed the legislation even if the candidate attacked had not been a member of his own party. He said he intends to reach across the aisle for bipartisan sponsorship of the legislation.

“I don’t care if (it’s) the Republicans or the Democrats or the Libertarian party or the Green party,” he said. “The state voter guide is no place for that kind of politics. It’s not a place for attack ads from any party. … It turns people off of voting, it alienates people, and it’s, in my view, unsavory.”

Different states have different rules for their voter guides, Fenumiai said. For example, Washington state doesn’t allow candidates to mention any other candidate but themselves in their submitted statements. Gara said he’s open to changing the language of his legislation to allow non-attack ads, as long as there’s a fair way to determine what is and what isn’t negative.

Femumiai said the division could use more guidelines to work from.

“At this point, the more details about what is and isn’t allowed probably would be helpful to the division,” Fenumiai said. “Our hands are tied by state statute. Because of that, we have to take everything as it’s submitted to us.”

More in News

Soldotna Montessori Charter School Principal John DeVolld explains Montessori materials in a classroom at Soldotna Montessori Charter School on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Soldotna Montessori maxes out

The relocation of Soldotna Montessori is included in a bond package on the Oct. 4 municipal election ballot

Engineer Lake Cabin can be seen in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge on Nov. 21, 2021. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service announced Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, that $14.4 million of a larger $37 million package will be used to build cabins in the Chugach and Tongass National Forests. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Millions designated for cabins in Tongass, Chugach

$18 million is allocated to the construction and maintenance of cabins and historic buildings — of which $14.4 million is destined for Alaska

Puffin sits by a scratching tower in front of his main pad of buttons on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. Owner Geri Litzen says Puffin can communicate by pressing different buttons on the pad to form sentences. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Puffin with the buttons

Verbose Nikiski cat earns TikTok followers

CCFR officials and residents gathered at the section of Gastineau Avenue that sustained damage from the landslide on on Monday, Sept. 26, in Juneau, Alaska. At the time of 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday officials said they were still trying to assess the damage and no cleanup efforts had started yet. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Juneau set to begin cleanup after landslide

Three homes were damaged; at least a dozen people displaced

Members of the community attend the first part of the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska’s Food Security and Sustainability Series in August 2022. (Photo courtesy Challenger Learning Center of Alaska)
Challenger Learning Center workshop focuses on food sustainability

Gathering, growing and preserving food in the form of plants, fish and other animals will be discussed

Examples of contemporary books that have been banned or challenged in recent years are displayed on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at the Soldotna Public Library in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna library hosts Banned Book Club

Books have been challenged or banned for their content nationwide.

Nikiski Middle/High School Principal Shane Bostic stands near a track and field long jump sand pit on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. The track is one of several projects in a bond package Kenai Peninsula voters will consider during the Oct. 4 municipal election next month. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Critical needs’: Nikiski athletes await upgrade

Funding for long-delayed school projects on Oct. 4 ballot

Lars Arneson runs to victory and a new event record in the Kenai River Marathon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
A speech, a smartphone and a bike

Circumstances lead Arneson to Kenai River Marathon record

Trees with fall colors populate the Shqui Tsatnu Creek gully as seen from Fourth Avenue on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai to use $770k in grants to remove hazard trees along Shqui Tsatnu Creek

The money will be used to mitigate hazards caused by dead and dying spruce trees over more than 100 acres of city land

Most Read