PAC advertisement troubles attorney general nominees in Pennsylvania

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September 25, 2012

By Maresa Strano


HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: Heading into the election season's final stretch, the major party nominees for Attorney General of Pennsylvania are facing the benefits and drawbacks of political action committees inserting themselves into their campaigns through independent expenditures. David Freed (R) and Kathleen Kane (D) each has the backing of powerful party affiliated PACs, with which their campaigns are legally prohibited from coordinating, but commonly perceived to be in alliance. This tenuous relationship came to the fore last week, when the Republican State Leadership Committee, billed as "the only national organization whose mission is to elect down ballot, state-level Republican office-holders,"[1] paid $558,700 to air a television advertisement on select Philadelphia stations containing what turned out to be false attacks on Kane.[2] The ad cited an example of a plea bargain that had been made in a rape case during Kane's stint at the Lackawanna District Attorney's office, inaccurately portraying her involvement in the deal to make her look "soft" on rape. Being tough on sex-abuse crime is one of the defining themes of Kane's campaign and her identity as a prosecutor; the ad, which stated, “Of Kane’s few cases, a judge rejected a weak plea deal she made because of the brutality of the crime and age of the victim,”[3] was designed to undermine that image.

Soon after the ad's release, the father of one of the two rape victims whose cases were mentioned came forward to refute the claims about his daughter's case. “I’d like to ask the people who made this outrageous advertisement if they would like their daughter’s tragic story all over television...if they can't convince people to vote for [Freed] without lying, he should not even be running,” the father wrote in a letter first published in the Philadelphia Daily News.[2] Documentation provided by the DA's office confirmed the father's claim that Kane's involvement in the case was purely administrative and ended after the preliminary filing stage, leading the PAC to pull the ad and publicly acknowledge the error.[4] The RSLC removed any reference to the rape case and promptly re-released the edited version, but continued airing the original ad on their website, inflaming the situation further. “Freed needs to tell his people to take their ad down immediately and take their special interest money and their dirty tricks and get out of Pennsylvania. The people of Pennsylvania deserve better,” said a campaign spokesman.[5]

After significant prodding by Kane's campaign, Freed's campaign manager commented on the controversy, saying, "It’s our sincere hope that our opponent, as well as any outside groups that are supporting our campaign or our opponent’s campaign, conduct themselves in an honest and ethical manner.” He made no specific mention of the ad or the insinuations about Freed's relationship to the PAC.[5]

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