As the 1996 general election inches closer, one focus of Minnesota elections is on cleaning up dirty campaign advertising.
Increasingly negative campaigns have led to the Citizens Campaign Advertising Code, a voluntary pact that asks Minnesota legislative candidates to follow a set of guidelines for advertising, particularly in the broadcast media. Although a few prominent candidates have not agreed to the code, many have responded to it positively.
The code calls for candidates to appear in a minimum of 50 percent of their TV ads, to speak directly to the camera, and to refrain from distorting or retouching pictures.
“This is important because most citizens are turned off by the political ads they see,” said David Sharp, executive director of the committee that drafted the code. “Voters care about this issue. They want candidates to focus on the issues.”
Sharp said 100 Minnesota Republican and Democratic candidates have signed the pledge since it was issued July 16th, when the filing deadline closed for public office.
Jennifer Halko, president of the University’s League of Women Voters chapter, said the code must not endanger candidates’ free speech rights.
“My concern is that nothing inhibits freedom of speech, and our first amendment rights,” Halko said.
The most notable race in the state is the contest for the Senate seat held by Democrat Paul Wellstone. Neither Wellstone nor leading Republican candidate Rudy Boschwitz have signed the pledge.
Wellstone is considering the plan, said Linda Marson, his press secretary. She said Wellstone has already signed the Minnesota Compact, a similar agreement.
Marson said Wellstone’s ads have been positive and issue-oriented, where Boschwitz’s ads have been very negative. “These ads are way over the line,” Marson said. “They appeal to people’s basic fears.”
Boschwitz could not be reached for comment.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who represents the University area in the State House of Representatives, has signed the code.
“The idea of open and forward campaigns instead of opponent bashing is a good idea,” said Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis. “The public is clearly fed up with negative advertising. This code may not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.”
Don Aldrich, one of two Republicans vying for Kahn’s seat in the Legislature, said he has not decided if he will sign the code. The code wouldn’t affect him, Aldrich said, because he doesn’t have much campaign funding to spend on advertising.
Jack Uldrich, a Republican candidate to represent the University’s district in the U.S. House of Representatives, has also signed the code. He said he will win with a positive campaign based on ideas, and will not run negative ads against Democratic incumbent Martin Sabo.
The committee that drafted the code includes former DFL Chairman Todd Otis, former Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser, former Governor Al Quie, and former Republican Chairman David Krogseng.