Leader Blues

Saturday, September 30, 2006

EDITORIALS>>The 527’s are coming

This is the part of the election season we dislike, when the 527s take over. Those are the “independent” political groups that are exempt from the rules of the game set up by the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law.

You don’t know who is paying for the attack ads, they aren’t subject to gift and spending limitations and disclosure requirements, and there’s no candidate to hold responsible for lies, distortions or bad taste.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is the most famous and probably most successful of the 527s, so called by the section number of the McCain-Feingold act that regulates — or fails to regulate — their activities.

Bankrolled by Texas millionaires who were friends of President Bush, the Swift Boat ads questioned John Kerry’s patriotism and heroism, whether he was the valorous swift boat commander in Vietnam that military records said he was, and even whether Kerry had actually suffered the wounds in combat that crew members like Fred Short of North Little Rock, whose life Kerry saved, said they had witnessed on Vietnam’s muddy rivers in 1969.

Everything in the ads proved to be false, but they cost Kerry the presidency.

Democratic groups such as MoveOn.org exploit the 527 exemption, too, but Republicans are far better at them as they are at almost every other aspect of modern electoral politics.

The “independent” Republican groups also overcome the rare imbalance in campaign funds enjoyed by Democratic candidates.

Attorney General Mike Beebe enjoys that advantage in Arkansas, one of the few Democratic candidates for competitive high office in the United States who has more money to spend than his Republican opponent.

The 527s will help make up the difference for Asa Hutchinson, the Republican candidate for governor. If the ads go too far, or there’s a backlash, Hutchinson can say he has nothing to do with them and has absolutely no knowledge of them.

This week, a group called The Coalition for Arkansas’ Future ran more ads attacking Beebe. Hutchinson won’t report the spending because the ads don’t tell you to vote for him and he says the group doesn’t coordinate with his campaign.

The ads are almost inoffensive in their allegations, but if the pattern holds they will get meaner as the election nears. The ads attack Beebe for voting to raise taxes while he was a state senator.

They do not note that the taxes were often broadly supported by people, that Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee often backed the taxes or that the tax increase that Beebe sponsored was to compensate for a sharp reduction in property taxes.
Beebe can defend himself on the tax issue, and he ought to.

But the ads also seek to engender fear among homeowners and other landowners that Beebe will allow their property to be confiscated by government and given to other private individuals or developers.

A decision by the U. S. Supreme Court last year in a Connecticut case said the U. S. Constitution had no provision that protected private property owners in certain instances if local governments condemned private property for use by private groups that had a higher use for the land that would serve community needs, like getting rid of blight.

It said that since the Bill of Rights was silent on the issue, state and local laws would govern.

Politicians all across the country, Democrats sometimes as well as Republicans, saw a chance for demagoguery as well as a need to protect property rights where state constitutions did not protect them.

Hutchinson was among them. He said as governor he would seek laws to protect Arkansas property owners from government taking of the land for other private uses.

Beebe, as attorney general, said there was little threat to property owners in Arkansas because the Arkansas Constitution did specifically protect them when the U. S. Constitution did not.

If he detected a loophole he would fix it but it was not a decision that Arkansans should be worried about. The Coalition for Arkansas’ Future says Beebe won’t stand up for property owners.

But Beebe was right.

The state Constitution bars the taking of private property for anything but public purposes: e.g., roads, streets and public institutions.

If a ban on takings for private purposes in the state Constitution is not sufficient to protect people, no mere act of the legislature will do it.

Arkansans have a thousand things to be worried about that the candidates for governor should be addressing, but this most thankfully is not one of them.