Bill seeks to hold campaign advertisers accountable

Posted Jan. 09, 2011, at 3:04 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 09, 2011, at 7:36 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — A state legislator from Ellsworth has proposed legislation that he hopes will discourage the kind of negative, out-of-state ad campaign that targeted his Democratic opponent last fall and also had a backlash on him.

Sen. Brian Langley, who was elected by a comfortable margin in November, said the proposed legislation was prompted by the ad campaign funded by the Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee, which included brochures, fliers and television spots targeting Democrat James Schatz. The ads were part of a wider campaign that targeted Democratic candidates in five Maine Senate district races.

Last month, Schatz filed a libel suit against the committee claiming that the information in the ads was false and defamatory. Schatz said the false information in the ads damaged his reputation, particularly among voters throughout the district who did not know him. Langley, who expressed anger at the ads when they appeared, said that they also damaged him and his campaign.

“He was the target of the ads,’’ Langley said Saturday. “But I was the target of the repercussions. Folks I knew understood what was happening, but I got some scathing e-mails from people in our party who said they had been going to vote for me; but when they saw what was going on, they said, ‘We don’t know who the other candidate is, but we’re not voting for you.’ That hurts.’’

Langley’s proposed legislation would require that campaign television or radio ads paid for with out-of-state funds and not endorsed by the candidate include a disclaimer at the beginning of the ad clearly stating that the ad is not endorsed by the candidate.

“I felt I had to do something,’’ he said. “I wanted to send a message to these groups who come in here from out of state and drop a bomb from 40,000 feet and then are gone before it goes off. And we’re left to deal with the fallout. They come in here, but they don’t understand the individual districts, they don’t understand the citizens and they don’t understand the candidates.’’

“I’m hoping this will stop this kind of stuff from happening,’’ he said.

Langley said the legislation also calls for the disclaimer to be long enough to ensure that t is clear the ad is not something a candidate has endorsed. Having the disclaiming at the beginning of the spot is the key, he said.

“I’ve been in the restaurant businesses for about 30 years, and I’ve had to advertise,’’ he said. “You need to have a hook, an opening to get their attention with. That’s the hook. We want people to key in that it [the ad] is not put out by the candidate and not endorsed by him, and then tune out.’’

He said that he’s hoping the out-of-state political action committees will recognize that this is going to happen and stop that kind of advertising.

Langley said he has received initial support from some of the other Republican candidates who had been in his same position during the election last fall. Schatz was not the only Democrat targeted by the Republican State Leadership Committee. The committee spent close to $400,000 on five state Senate races.

“I’ve talked with a couple of those people who were affected the same way I was,’’ he said. “Those ads were not sanctioned, they were not wanted, and those people were not happy that those ads came out.’’

He said some of those candidates won their elections, and he’s hoping they will be co-sponsors of the bill.

“This is just a little thing,’’ he said. “The process is complicated because you’re dealing with free speech issues. But I wanted to get the discussion started; just to get people talking about it. I hope we can stop this kind of thing from happening.’’

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