Dirty, dirty, dirty ...
Published: Thursday October 30, 2008
In the final days of the US presidential election, campaign yard signs are being defaced, fliers advise Democrats to vote a day late, DVDs warning of Islam's clash with the West flood mailboxes, and allegations of fraud are flying.
In American politics, it's all part of the late-game frenzy, when what one side considers a dirty trick can be easily hailed by the other side as a pure exercise of the right to free speech.
For example, a phony flyer bearing the state of Virginia's logo has turned up, saying that "all Republican party supporters and independent voters supporting Republican candidates shall vote on November 4th as prescribed by law."
Those supporting Democrats in the battleground state "shall vote on November 5th," it said.
Similar fliers in Philadelphia warn that anyone with unpaid traffic tickets or outstanding arrest warrants could be jailed if they turn up at the polls on election day.
These types of "deceptive practices" commonly target minorities -- who this year overwhelmingly support Barack Obama -- and while most states prohibit making false statements regarding elections, the laws are difficult to enforce.
"It is an insidious form of vote suppression that often goes unaddressed by authorities, and the perpetrators are virtually never caught," said a report by the political watchdog group Common Cause.
Vandals in northern Virginia went on a brief escapade this month, pasting a letter "S" on yard signs so they read "Osama-Biden," in an attempt to link the Democrat and running mate Joe Biden to Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Other tricks have verged on absurd, such as the 20-year-old white Ohio woman who claimed she was attacked by assailants who carved a "B" (for Barak) on her cheek in anger at the John McCain sticker on her car.
She later admitted fabricating the story. In addition, the "B" was carved in reverse, as if done with the help of a mirror.
Experts say that when an election approaches, just about anything goes, as Democrats tend to focus on get-out-the-vote efforts while Republicans aim to sway undecided voters and hope that low turnout will bode well for conservatives.
This election season, both sides have seized on allegations of fraud, after authorities launched an investigation into the nationwide community activist group ACORN for allegedly attempting to swell the voter rolls by registering people who don't exist.
Meanwhile, television, mail and Internet advertising by the campaigns, political action committees and advocacy groups have taken an increasingly negative turn on both sides.
Potential voters in key swing states have also been swamped with ideological mailings -- including one DVD from the Clarion Fund called "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," which has been mailed to 28 million people.
The Clarion Fund insists it simply aims to "raise awareness because people are being lulled into a false sense of security," said communications director Gregory Ross.
"By law we are not allowed to take sides on any election."
According to US law, labor unions and corporations are restricted on political donations to campaigns, in a bid to ward off corruption.
However, they can set up political action committees, funded by individuals, which have no fundraising limit and no obligation to state any facts.
"Campaign finance law doesn't concern itself with the veracity of the statements being made," said Paul Ryan, associate legal counsel at the Federal Election Commission.
"We have a First Amendment (to the Constitution) that protects the ability of individuals to speak freely in many, if not most, contexts with little or no restrictions on them."
So the attacks continue, some from left-wing groups like BraveNewPAC.org which has released ads questioning the health of 72-year-old McCain and warning that his administration would eliminate birth control for women.
Others, such as a "letter from the future" from the Christian group Focus on the Family, warn of an America in 2012 where "pornographic magazines are openly displayed."
And the latest, a new ad by the National Republican Trust PAC, hints that Obama would have granted a driver's license to September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta.
The independent watchdog group Factcheck.org called it "one of the sleaziest false TV ads of the campaign."
"It's not uncommon for the final weeks of the presidential campaign to bring out some of the most deceptive ads of the cycle," said Factcheck.org's Joe Miller.
"If this gem ... is any indication, we'd best brace for a blizzard of balderdash."