Mark Twain popularized the saying that “there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
If Twain were alive today, he might have added a fourth: congressional campaigns.
The race for the 7th U.S. House District between incumbent Rep. Ami Bera and former Rep. Doug Ose has descended into a cesspool of ridiculous accusations.
More than $17.6 million has been poured into this race so far, making it the most expensive congressional battle in the country. There’s a lot at stake: solidifying control of House of Representatives is a lucrative prize for the GOP, as is holding on to one of the few recent House pickups for the Democrats. We understand that politics is a full-contact endeavor, but this race has pushed the envelope beyond the typical distortions in highly competitive partisan races.
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Early in the race, both sides engaged in exaggeration.
In television ads and campaign mailers, Bera asserts that Ose made millions of dollars while he served in Congress. That’s a stretch. Ose was wealthy before he went to Congress in 1999. He continued to be wealthy while in Congress and is wealthy now. There is no evidence to suggest Ose served to enrich himself. This has been Bera’s calling card throughout the 2014 race. A candidate’s wealth or lack of it should not be a qualifier or disqualifier. Bera, a doctor, hardly is a poor.
But it gets worse.
Main Street SuperPac funded an ad on Ose’s behalf saying that Bera had lied about being the chief medical officer for Sacramento County. He hadn’t, and The Sacramento Bee’s Ad Watch reporters found this is an “outright lie.”
On Tuesday, Ose’s campaign e-mailed out a campaign statement to the press touting Ose’s endorsements and indicating that Bera had only a paltry four endorsements. The email listed two acronyms, “NCPSSM” and “ARA,” Nancy Pelosi and The Sacramento Bee, a view we reaffirm, having watched as the campaign spirals ever downward.
While Ose is under no obligation to enumerate Bera’s supporters, with just a little more effort Ose’s aides could have found the announcement of Vice President Joe Biden’s endorsement.Former President Bill Clinton could even be counted, as he is stumping for Bera and other Democrats in Davis Wednesday.
Ose’s oft-cited example of Bera supporting a $716 billion “cut” in Medicare is yet another example of not letting the facts get in the way of a good commercial. The cut was really a move to slow Medicare growth.
These shamelessly distorted commercials and statements just lead to more future lies.
Money makes the world go round, and campaigns, too. In 2000, outside committees spent $52 million on ads in congressional races. In 2012, that ballooned to $1 billion. This election cycle, so-called dark money is expected to exceed that.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the way for unlimited corporate and labor spending on supposedly independent campaigns. That decision and its progeny have helped accelerate spending on campaigns, made politics less transparent and worsened a climate of distrust. Isn’t there enough of that already?
When campaigns stoop to falsehoods, such a genteel word for ludicrous lies, candidates muddy themselves, demean the voters they seek to represent and sully the American democracy they claim to so cherish.