Leader Blues

Friday, April 02, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Democrats slug it out

Having never invested any confidence in the honesty and propriety of political advertising, we cannot say that we were surprised by the first surge of commercials in the U.S. Senate race. Just mildly disappointed.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln began an all-out assault on her Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, last week with a barrage of multi-media ads that seemed to accuse him of lying, fraud and deception. The slick flyer that landed in mailboxes across the state last week has a picture of Halter, beneath which are the bold words “Drug Fraud. Lying. Lawsuits.” Then it asks, “Can we afford corporate board millionaire Bill Halter in the Senate?” That is followed by a picture of an overturned pill bottle and bundles of $100 bills. Television commercials send the same message.

If you open the flyer and read the somewhat smaller type with a little skepticism, you might conclude that Halter did not lie and did not defraud anyone in spite of the ads’ blurbs from the media that suggest that he did (“. . . lied to the public . . . offered false hope to people stricken with a deadly disease. . .” Associated Press, 10/03/09) (“. . . misleading statements” Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, 7/6/07).

Halter was a member of the board of directors of a couple of biomedical firms that got sued for misleading investors and patients. The CEO of one was convicted of lying about a lung-disease treatment. Halter was on the board that fired him.

Halter’s defense was that he had nothing to do with the actions of the executives of the companies, but notwithstanding Lincoln’s deceptions, it has to be a little embarrassing. Everyone knows that corporate directors are figureheads who have little to do with the operations of the companies on whose boards they sit. Halter was no different.

After graduating with honors from the prestigious Stanford University and serving on its board of trustees, Halter was a prospect for the board of every start-up technology and biomedical company on the West Coast. And he served on a number of them in the ’90s and in the last decade. His earnings from director fees and from the sale of appreciated stock of the companies brought him a tidy living and financed his first race for political office four years ago.

If serving on the board of a drug company that was accused of misleading people about the life-saving benefits of its products is a disgrace, then everyone who has ever served on the board of a pharmaceutical company should hang his or her head in shame. Not one of them — not Merck, Pfizer, Lilly, Wyeth — has escaped that infamy. They have paid tens of millions of dollars in fines and defended hundreds of civil suits.

Truth be told, Lincoln’s political fund has accepted vast sums from pharmaceutical companies that have been sued and fined for misleading patients, doctors, hospitals and investors. Her contributions from pharmaceuticals outpace all but a half-dozen members of Congress.

Having been victimized by deceptive and lying commercials in the health-insurance debacle for close to a year — those, after all, are the reason that she is in so much trouble — Lincoln might be forgiven for using the technique herself. We would have preferred that she show the grace to be better than her critics.

While some of Halter’s first commercials characterize differences that he has with Lincoln on matters of federal policy like bankruptcy and student lending, he can be accused not of being dishonest but merely insipid.

The slapstick ads with his lovable old high school football coach in Little Rock moved quickly from clever to tiresome. The worst ones have him boasting of having stood up to the vested special interests when he gave the people of Arkansas a lottery. And what vested interest would that have been? The United Methodist Church?