Commentary: Halloween politics

Oct 31, 2012

First, the good news. A week from now, this election will be over. No more ads, no more lies, no more charges and counter-charges. Do you know one person who regrets that, or who isn’t heartily sick of the campaign at all levels, including the candidates?

Now for the bad and scary news. After all, it is Halloween.  The next five days are going to be worse than ever. Vast sums of money are going to be thrown around. Some of the most disgusting ads will appear. And thanks to Michigan’s inadequate campaign finance reporting laws, we will never know where much of the money for these nasty ads is coming from. Which is dangerous.

Dangerous for democracy. Here’s an example. Kerry Bentivolio, a Tea Party candidate who believes we should close all U.S. military bases overseas, is the unexpected Republican candidate for Congress in the Eleventh district, which includes a bunch of mainly white-collar Oakland and Wayne County suburbs.

The Freedom’s Defense Fund, a super PAC supporting him, has now spent about $30,000 on an ad saying his Democratic opponent, Dr. Syed Taj, is both a socialist and a Muslim.

Given that the physician is a small businessman himself, the socialist claim is plainly not true. But the real question voters should be asking is, what is the Freedom’s Defense Fund?

The name sounds good.  Well, actually, it is a political action committee run by a man named Jerome Corsi, whose theories are those of a raving maniac. Mr. Corsi says, among other things, that President Obama is a secretly gay Muslim who joined the United Church of Christ to have sex with men who he then has had killed.

Unfortunately, those who see his commercial attacking Dr. Taj likely have no idea of that. But you can at least find it out on the internet. But in many cases, especially when it comes to issue-oriented ads, you can’t. I could form a group called, “Friends of Puppies and Kittens,” accept secret funding from al-Qaeda, and use it to try to influence voting for Michigan’s Supreme Court. And unless we change our laws, nobody would ever know where that money came from.

I mentioned the Michigan Supreme Court because most of the money spent on races for the court now comes from these shadowy groups. It’s not just that they can try to buy the election. It’s that we may not even be able to find out who owns them.

Nor are there any standards of fairness. Bridget McCormack is a leading candidate for the Michigan Supreme Court, and the mother of four young children. But something called the Judicial Crisis Network is now spending a million dollars to smear her on TV, saying that she “volunteered to represent suspected terrorists and encouraged others to do so.“ In fact, what she volunteered to do was support the U.S. Constitution.

McCormack is a law school dean at the University of Michigan, where there is a clinic dedicated to the idea that everyone deserves legal representation. That’s as American as apple pie.

There’s going to be a lot more of this stuff on TV in the next few days. My advice is that you should tune it all out, and catch up on Downton Abbey instead.   

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.