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Editorial: Truth in political advertising?

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Posted on September 23, 2010 |
By Angelo Lynn



After several months of elevated discussion on serious policy issues and sound solutions during the Democratic gubernatorial primary race, the contest between Democrat nominee Sen. Peter Shumlin and Republican nominee Brian Dubie has been reduced to pot shots, distortions and unfounded charges.

The negative side of the campaign is to be expected: Political advertising financed by outside groups (like the Republican Governor’s Association for Dubie) goes negative because consultants say smear tactics work and because the candidate is not supposed to have a direct say in the content of those ads — allowing them to distance themselves from blatant falsehoods.

But Vermont voters don’t have to suffer such insolence silently. If voters are offended by distortions and falsehoods, contact the campaign. Complain, demand honesty and suggest the misleading ad is costing the offending candidate your support. Once candidates start hearing from hundreds of Vermonters that lies and half-truths on their behalf are costing them votes, the consultants will get the message. Not up to the hassle? Then, just bleep the commercials on both sides of the political aisle. They’re full of bunk anyway.

The latest tit-for-tat has a Dubie ad suggesting Shumlin has raised taxes on Vermonters and wants to raise even more. Shumlin fires back with an ad proclaiming it was Dubie who was willing to raise $100 million in taxes on middle class Vermonters, then claims he (Shumlin) was responsible for eliminating the sales tax on clothing, suggesting his mission is actually to cut taxes on Vermonters.

Where’s the truth? Shumlin is right to say that Dubie’s support of Gov. Douglas’ plan to transfer $40 million of the teachers’ retirement account to the education fund, which would have been raised to $60 million in fiscal year 2011 if passed, would have raised that amount from the property tax. Plus, the Dubie/Douglas plan would have cut $24 million of income sensitivity funding out of the current formula: thus effectively increasing the tax burden on Vermonters by $84 million. Add that to $35 million of school construction costs, $6 million of Medicaid costs, and a $6 million General Fund transfer (total of $47 million) all shifted onto the education fund, and the tally would have been a $134 million shift onto the education fund (paid through property taxes) under the plan Dubie supported. (It was not, however, passed.)

As for eliminating the sales tax on clothing, Shumlin does get partial credit for the idea and helping get it passed, though many others in the Legislature (as well as the Douglas administration which approved of the idea) were also involved.

We’ll try to debunk or explain the worst of the political claims and charges as they arise (check our Web site for updates at www.addisonindependent.com), but you can play a role too. Add your comments and observations to our web site, but also hound the candidates about the commercials you find are blatantly false. Vermont is small enough to self-police these campaigns if voters take an active role in demanding some semblance of accuracy in campaign advertising.

Angelo S. Lynn

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