By Thomas D. Elias - TheUnion.com
The sad reality about the political commercials now crowding California's airwaves is that they are, de facto, not subject to the same truth in advertising rules that govern ads for, say, cars or computers, laser eye treatments, weight loss programs or plastic surgery.
Candidates can say whatever they want, sometimes totally contradicting facts and suddenly taking positions 180 degrees different from their past stances, usually called a flip-flop.
They hope voters won't notice the lies and punish the liars. And even though political ads are covered by the same laws as other paid messages, campaigns are so short the damage is almost always done before anyone can protest, let alone see a lawsuit through the lugubrious legal process.
With more money than ever spent on political ads whose purpose often is to paper over candidates' awkward situations, lies or past statements, it's vital to track what's true or false in both campaign commercials and candidate statements.
So this column asked both the Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman gubernatorial campaigns for lists of the other's top ten lies and flip-flops.
Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford responded with not 10 but 19 of what he calls "lies Meg Whitman told."
"One of the more amazing whoppers," Clifford said, was about how long she's lived in California. He cited a Whitman ad saying, "...the state is in the worst shape that I've seen in the 30 years that I have lived in California." The ad was quickly changed after newspapers reported that Whitman lived in Massachusetts and Michigan through most of the 1990s. She hasn't been here even close to 30 years.
The Brown spokesman also claimed Whitman "lied about her connections to Goldman Sachs," the scandal-plagued Wall Street banking firm that was a key player in the financial collapse leading to the current recession.
"In her book, Whitman wrote that she had ‘nothing but the highest regard for Goldman Sachs' leadership and integrity,'" Clifford noted. This, he suggested, may explain why she remains a multi-million dollar client of the firm and happily took an appointment to its board of directors. During the campaign, however, she's said her time on that board "wasn't a good fit." She departed the board the very day federal authorities cracked down on some investment tactics the firm used on her behalf.
Whitman's campaign, rather than listing a single Brown untruth or flip-flop, provided a list of what it called "Brown's biggest failures." These, Whitman spokesman Sarah Pompei said, include his initial opposition to the 1978 Proposition 13 property tax cuts, voted in while he was governor, and "the fact that Oakland's public schools failed while he was mayor," then were taken over by the state. Local newspapers, however, report Brown often contended with local school board members during his time as mayor and had no control over their failures.
The Whitman list also includes Brown's appointment of Rose Bird as chief justice of the California Supreme Court during the 1970s and his loss of a 1982 run for the U.S. Senate.
Some might call these items failures, but there's nary a lie or flip-flop among them, other than possibly his working diligently to enforce Proposition 13 after it passed over his opposition.
"These items contradict much of what he's saying now," said Pompei.
So Whitman's campaign listed no falsehoods from Brown. Her campaign didn't mention what some others have called a switch of sorts - the fact that even though it was Brown who first allowed public employee unions strong bargaining rights, he now proposes to cut back on pension gains they have won since then.
Brown calls this change a recognition of today's realities and notes the tough negotiating he did with public employee unions in Oakland.
His campaign suggests Whitman has lied regularly about more than her own residence, financial choices and voting record.
"Not only did Meg Whitman lie about the Mexican border fence in her ads, but she lied about what was in her ads," Clifford said, noting Whitman's statement that "You haven't an ad from me with the border fence in it." Yet the fence was prominently featured in at least one of her commercials.
Perhaps more important, Brown's campaign charges Whitman lied about her stance on offshore oil drilling, an issue that will quickly confront the next governor. She told reporters she has "historically been against drilling." But in 2009, she told a newspaper she supported drilling in the Tranquillon Ridge portion of the Santa Barbara Channel.
The Brown campaign lists 14 more of what it says are lies Whitman has told since Jan. 1.
The bottom line: Whitman's campaign and commercials claim Brown's entire career has been a flop, even if it's not a flip-flop, while his operatives note a score of specific untruths and contradictions from her, not including her initial refusal to admit she physically abused an eBay employee, causing the company to pay a $200,000 settlement.
Voters need to know all these things and more to decide who might be their most trustworthy governor.