Tell the truth

If you've heard as thousands have that Rob Cornilles, the Republican candidate for Congress in Oregon's 1st District, can be compared to a dishonest used car salesman, you didn't hear it from his opponent, Democrat Suzanne Bonamici.

At least that's what Bonamici said when asked about it by a reporter. Instead, Bonamici disavowed the campaign flier attacking Cornilles as being the work of others, in this case the Democratic Party of Oregon, and that it was unknown to her in its preparation and release.

We don't doubt Bonamici in her assertions. Her known integrity from years of service in the Oregon Legislature was among the reasons this newspaper endorsed her to win David Wu's vacated and crucial seat.

But we do find it disappointing that Bonamici, who stands to gain from any snipe against Cornilles, wouldn't also say: This kind of thing stinks, and it has no place this campaign.

Because it doesn't. Attack ads perilously threaten to become the campaign norm here and elsewhere.

Cornilles, for his part, has attacked Bonamici quite freely. And so goes the campaign's steady drip of half-truths, sort-of-truths and untruths that can baselessly create advantage as well as confusion.

Bolstering the practice nationwide is the Supreme Court's decision two years ago to allow super political action committees, or super PACs, to receive unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions and then use that money to promote or attack any candidate anywhere for any reason. In recent weeks super PACs spent more than a reported $6 million to influence the outcome of last week's presidential primary in South Carolina — a pittance if the meddling helps to determine the next leader of the free world.

Federal rules, meanwhile, bar any candidate from coordinating on campaign strategies with a super PAC, lending full deniability to any candidate who benefits from an attack on his or her opponent. The candidate who stands to benefit can innocently ask: Who knew?

But attacking the opponent with money from elsewhere is hardly new. Wealthy conservatives helped defeat John Kerry in 2004 by forming the political nonprofit Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and calling into question his Vietnam record.

Cornilles has, meanwhile, unfairly aligned Bonamici with the troubled Wu, and Bonamici correctly challenged him on it. But Cornilles made a good point in a recent debate when he said that if Bonamici disdains independent advertising efforts as much as she says she does, then she should publicly denounce them.

Actually, both candidates would do voters in the 1st District a great favor to do exactly that.

To do so would not be in violation of federal rules. To do so would be a startling vote for decency in campaigning. And to do so would be a great relief to Oregon voters, increasingly subjected to advertisements that wear a veneer of truth but underneath do nothing more than inflict damage.

We need to hear from the candidates about their best plans only. And we need for them to more fully own campaign assertions made on their behalf.

The election is around the corner. At stake is effective representation for a varied, rich and sprawling region in which jobs and prosperity will increasingly be on the line.

Truth-telling, accountability and decency will be keys to success in the nation's Capitol. And it starts here, in this election.

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