Candidates bicker over campaign allegations

By SUSANNA RAY

Herald Writer

EVERETT — There’s a flurry of candidates who are trying to win the favor of voters with play-nice promises this week.

And a few others who aren’t.

Here’s the rundown:

  • In the 2nd Congressional District, which runs from Mukilteo north to the Canadian border, John Koster is pushing hard for a strong clean-campaign pledge similar to the one signed two years ago by Jack Metcalf and Grethe Cammermeyer.

    That’s because Koster has already been the target of four hit pieces sent out in recent weeks by the state Democratic Party.

    In 1998, Metcalf and Cammermeyer were largely successful in stopping such pieces as the first and only candidates in this state to participate in the Project on Campaign Conduct, which is run by the Maine-based Institute for Global Ethics.

    But Koster, a Republican state representative from Arlington, and Rick Larsen, a Democratic Snohomish County councilman from Lake Stevens, haven’t followed in their footsteps yet.

    Larsen has agreed to a weaker pledge, whereas Koster is holding out for something stronger. The candidates are busy pointing fingers and have yet to work out the wording together.

    In the meantime, at least two of the Democratic Party’s ads appear to violate one of the principles Larsen says he’s running on, which is to document any charges against a candidate’s record.

    They imply that Koster is against a plan to guarantee prescription drug coverage for seniors. The problem is, the bill mentioned is a congressional proposal that Koster, as a state legislator, has no influence over. In addition, Koster’s opposition is not documented. The ads tell readers to "Ask John Koster why he doesn’t support H.R. 4770," but Koster spokesman Gregg Richard said Koster hadn’t seen the bill and had never been asked whether he agreed with its language or not.

    State Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt said Koster had stated his opposition to the bill in several public forums, but he couldn’t recall which ones.

    Neither candidate was available for comment Tuesday, but Larsen spokeswoman Charla Neuman said "it’s not for us to say" whether the ads are fair or not.

    They were sent by the state party without Larsen’s involvement, which is a legal way for third parties to spend money on a candidate’s behalf.

    Brad Rourke, who runs the clean-campaign project, wouldn’t comment on the ads, but he did say that "it’s disrespectful of the citizen and it’s irresponsible to purposely confuse voters."

    The other two ads are documented and factually true, but questionable in the accuracy department. They correctly state that Koster was the only local legislator to vote against a budget bill that would have provided property tax relief for seniors, but they fail to mention that 11 leading Democrats also voted against it.

    Koster said he voted "no" because it was a budget that spent too much money.

    Rourke tried to stay out of the politics of the situation, but he did say, "There’s a difference between what’s factual and true. What’s left out is important context."

    But one ray of light in all this, Rourke said, is that "citizens are getting smarter" and are learning how to decode candidates’ campaign spin.

  • Rourke flew out from Maine on Tuesday to celebrate the project’s successes so far this year with three pledge-signing ceremonies planned for today in the 1st, 7th and 9th congressional districts.

    In the 1st District, which includes southern Snohomish County, incumbent U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., and his challengers, state Sen. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, and Libertarian Bruce Newman of Redmond, plan to sign their pledge this morning.

    Their pledge doesn’t go as far as Maria Cantwell’s independent announcement Tuesday …

  • Cantwell, the Democratic Senate nominee and a dotcom millionaire who has dumped more than $5 million of her own money into her campaign, banned contributions from her party as well as "soft money" help from outsiders.

    Her Republican foe, three-term Sen. Slade Gorton, rejected her challenge that he follow suit, calling it a cynical stunt.

    "It’s a phony pledge, and it’s not going to happen — these groups aren’t going to take down their ads attacking Slade Gorton," said Gorton spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman. "If you have $40 million in the bank, you can afford to say anything."

    Indeed, the Sierra Club and Indian tribes, two of the groups running anti-Gorton television ads, immediately announced they would not honor Cantwell’s request. But Berendt, the state Democratic chairman, said the party will comply with her wishes in order to help her cement a winning campaign image that she is fighting a corrupt system and that Gorton is "the candidate of special interests."

    It is the most sweeping campaign-finance step taken by a major candidate. It goes a step beyond the agreement by New York’s Senate competitors, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio, over the weekend to reject soft-money television and radio ads sponsored by their parties.

    Soft money refers to unlimited funds collected by political parties. While hard money contributions, limited to $2,000 per donor, can be used for ads that advocate voting for or against a candidate, soft money can be used only to advocate an issue, boost a candidate or attack a candidate.

    Cantwell went further by seeking to outlaw "independent expenditures" by outside interest groups on her campaign’s behalf. But she said there is nothing she can do if they don’t comply.

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