October 11, 1996 in Nation/World

Nethercutt, Labor Lead TV Ad War ‘They’re Spending Money Like It Was Water,’ Says Exec

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Eastern Washington’s congressional race may turn into a million-dollar television war.

With Rep. George Nethercutt and the AFL-CIO engaged in a six-figure battle over the actions of the Republican Congress - and the two state parties and several other groups eagerly joining in - the Spokane-based Fifth District is headed for a television spending record.

“They’re spending money like it was water,” said one television executive who books political commercials.

Nethercutt has spent $282,434 since Sept. 1, booking 1,773 commercials that will continue running until the Nov. 5 election. About one-third of those are on cable television channels, which have lower price tags to match their usually lower viewership. He said he needs that to counter the campaign by the AFL-CIO.

The AFL-CIO has spent about $437,450 on 1,338 ads. Some of that money - including all since the primary, has been spent on ads criticizing Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, said AFL-CIO spokeswoman Deborah Dan.

“But that’s subject to change at a moment’s notice,” she said.

For the next several weeks, district residents will be barraged with conflicting claims:

That Nethercutt and his fellow Republicans in Congress want to eviscerate Medicare or save it from bankruptcy.

That Republicans destroyed the nation’s social safety net or turned it into a workable system.

That one side is telling the God’s truth and the other side is full of lying snakes.

Nethercutt calls the union involvement in the campaign “the biggest story the media’s missing. Somebody from outside the district is coming in to buy the election.”

The unions are doing to Nethercutt what the National Rifle Association and other groups did to House Speaker Tom Foley two years ago, said a television executive who handled ads in both campaign years. Nethercutt was as slow responding to the ads attacking him as Foley was two years ago, the executive said.

Reminded that Foley made the same complaint about outside groups two years ago, Nethercutt argued his foes are spending more and spending it earlier.

“I denounced (the ads) and asked them not to come here,” he said. Judy Olson, his Democratic challenger, “has not denounced the AFL-CIO ads.”

Olson said she has nothing to do with the labor ads. “They have absolutely no relation to my campaign. I have no input into their ads.”

While other groups spend freely on commercials, Olson is searching for money to air commercials that introduce her to the voters.

Reports on file at the three Spokane television stations show Olson has spent about $30,000 on commercials, slightly less than half of it since the Sept. 17 primary.

“That’s always the case with challengers,” Olson said recently about the disparity between the amount of money she and Nethercutt have for campaign commercials.

Eager to make the most of her resources, she even sent out a press release proclaiming, “Olson back on television.”

Olson said she is trying to offset the difference in television budgets by appearances around the far-flung district, participating in group forums and debates, and other standard but less expensive campaign tactics. “It takes a combination of ads and other things” to win, she said.

Most of the ads are national productions known as cookie-cutter commercials. One candidate can be substituted for another by changing a few words in the script and a few seconds of video. That way the same basic ad is used around the country.

Targeted organizations often respond with cookie-cutter ads of their own.

The state Republican Party became so eager to counterattack that it began running an ad denouncing Olson for an AFL-CIO commercial that hasn’t even appeared.

“They’re spending big bucks on Judy Olson,” says the state GOP ad.

But no AFL-CIO ad has mentioned Nethercutt’s Democratic challenger by name, according to the unions and television executives.

“Obviously, they don’t do their homework,” Olson said of the state GOP. “We have a saying on the farm that when you’re slinging mud, you’re losing ground.”

Todd Myers, a state GOP spokesman, refused to apologize for the slip-up. “I guess we jumped the gun,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time” until the ad runs.

Nethercutt and the unions have spent much of their commercial air time arguing over an abortive GOP proposal to revise Medicare.

Republicans say they were trying to make Medicare solvent by slowing its rate of growth and making the program more efficient.

That’s not a cut, said Nethercutt, because the total amount paid per person would have continued to go up, just not as fast as currently planned. President Clinton also wanted to restrict the growth rate for Medicare, he added.

It is a cut, reply the unions and many Democrats, because the people on the program would pay more in out-of-pocket expenses and there was no guarantee that the changes would create the savings projected. Clinton’s reductions are less than half the original GOP plan, and even the Republicans were forced to scale back their reductions when they tried to fix Medicare in 1996, Democrats contend.

Neither group aired a commercial that explains exactly what it would do about Medicare - which most experts agree needs some revisions - when a new Congress meets next year.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Campaign commercials spending

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Debate George Nethercutt and Democratic challenger Judy Olson will engage in the first of several campaign debates this morning at a Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast. The debate begins at 7:30 a.m. at The Met, at Sprague Avenue and Lincoln Street. Tickets are $10. The debate is also being taped for rebroadcast on KXLY-Extra cable Channel 14 at 7 p.m. Sunday. Another debate between the two candidates will be broadcast live at 6 p.m. Sunday on KSPS-TV.

2. Campaign ad watch Here’s a look at some of the recent political commercials airing in Eastern Washington’s congressional race. Big money. Big lies. Background: This ad from the state Republican Party tries to counterattack ads by the AFL-CIO against Rep. George Nethercutt. It visually links a grainy photograph of AFL-CIO international president John Sweeney with Democratic challenger Judy Olson, saying the unions are running ads supporting her. “They fought against welfare reform, stopped term limits, blocked a balanced budget. But they’re spending big bucks on Judy Olson.” It ends with the number of the AFL-CIO’s national headquarters and suggests viewers call to “tell them this Washington is not for sale.” Campaign Response: Deborah Dion of the AFL-CIO said the unions are not running ads supporting any candidate, but rather informing the public on issues. It does not say to vote for or against anyone. Rebuttal: Todd Myers of the state GOP contends the ads are clearly campaign ads because they say negative things about an incumbent and positive things about the challenger. Analysis: The ad is false because the commercial it seeks to counter has never run. Although the AFL-CIO has spent large sums criticizing Nethercutt, local television stations say they have not yet aired a union ad that mentions Olson. The claim that labor stopped term limits is also weak because the main barrier to such a change is the U.S. Supreme Court. Labor was only one of many groups opposing the constitutional amendment that failed to pass Congress.

Lies Background: This Nethercutt commercial, released shortly after the state primary, is an attempt to counter AFL-CIO ads on Medicare. It quotes three news media sources - “even The Spokesman-Review” - to bolster his contention that the program was not cut. “Lying has no place in American politics,” he says at the end. Rebuttal: Olson says GOP proposal would indeed have cut Medicare, and says Nethercutt himself is lying about the newspaper supporting his side of the debate. Campaign response: Nethercutt continues to maintain the vote did not cut Medicare, and challenged Olson to prove otherwise. Analysis: The question of Medicare cuts are a subject on which Republicans and Democrats cannot even agree to disagree, and this commercial doesn’t add anything new to the debate. A newspaper editorial did, in fact, characterize the union ads on Medicare as “bilge” and twisted.” News stories, however, have pointed out that the claims of both sides have supporters in the complicated Medicare debate.

8mm Background: Sponsored by the U.S. Chambers of Commerce, this ad supports Republicans in Congress, particularly freshmen under attack by labor unions and environmental groups. Some ads support Nethercutt, others support Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho. It features black-and-white footage of a family vacation of a generation ago and video of a harried family of today. The previous generation always had enough time for a vacation and “to do the things families should do,” says the announcer. “Today Americans are paying the highest taxes in history. Double the taxes our parents paid.” It praises Nethercutt for cutting wasteful programs and protecting families from higher taxes. Analysis: The claims about taxes are definitely open to debate. Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union says the overall tax burden, as a percent of a family’s total income, has doubled over the last 45 years. But Jaimie Ridge of the Concord Coalition argues that the greatest increase has been in state and local taxes, and payroll taxes for programs like Social Security and Medicare. The federal tax burden - which is something that members of Congress can affect - has remained relatively constant for several decades, Ridge said.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Debate George Nethercutt and Democratic challenger Judy Olson will engage in the first of several campaign debates this morning at a Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast. The debate begins at 7:30 a.m. at The Met, at Sprague Avenue and Lincoln Street. Tickets are $10. The debate is also being taped for rebroadcast on KXLY-Extra cable Channel 14 at 7 p.m. Sunday. Another debate between the two candidates will be broadcast live at 6 p.m. Sunday on KSPS-TV.

2. Campaign ad watch Here’s a look at some of the recent political commercials airing in Eastern Washington’s congressional race. Big money. Big lies. Background: This ad from the state Republican Party tries to counterattack ads by the AFL-CIO against Rep. George Nethercutt. It visually links a grainy photograph of AFL-CIO international president John Sweeney with Democratic challenger Judy Olson, saying the unions are running ads supporting her. “They fought against welfare reform, stopped term limits, blocked a balanced budget. But they’re spending big bucks on Judy Olson.” It ends with the number of the AFL-CIO’s national headquarters and suggests viewers call to “tell them this Washington is not for sale.” Campaign Response: Deborah Dion of the AFL-CIO said the unions are not running ads supporting any candidate, but rather informing the public on issues. It does not say to vote for or against anyone. Rebuttal: Todd Myers of the state GOP contends the ads are clearly campaign ads because they say negative things about an incumbent and positive things about the challenger. Analysis: The ad is false because the commercial it seeks to counter has never run. Although the AFL-CIO has spent large sums criticizing Nethercutt, local television stations say they have not yet aired a union ad that mentions Olson. The claim that labor stopped term limits is also weak because the main barrier to such a change is the U.S. Supreme Court. Labor was only one of many groups opposing the constitutional amendment that failed to pass Congress.

Lies Background: This Nethercutt commercial, released shortly after the state primary, is an attempt to counter AFL-CIO ads on Medicare. It quotes three news media sources - “even The Spokesman-Review” - to bolster his contention that the program was not cut. “Lying has no place in American politics,” he says at the end. Rebuttal: Olson says GOP proposal would indeed have cut Medicare, and says Nethercutt himself is lying about the newspaper supporting his side of the debate. Campaign response: Nethercutt continues to maintain the vote did not cut Medicare, and challenged Olson to prove otherwise. Analysis: The question of Medicare cuts are a subject on which Republicans and Democrats cannot even agree to disagree, and this commercial doesn’t add anything new to the debate. A newspaper editorial did, in fact, characterize the union ads on Medicare as “bilge” and twisted.” News stories, however, have pointed out that the claims of both sides have supporters in the complicated Medicare debate.

8mm Background: Sponsored by the U.S. Chambers of Commerce, this ad supports Republicans in Congress, particularly freshmen under attack by labor unions and environmental groups. Some ads support Nethercutt, others support Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho. It features black-and-white footage of a family vacation of a generation ago and video of a harried family of today. The previous generation always had enough time for a vacation and “to do the things families should do,” says the announcer. “Today Americans are paying the highest taxes in history. Double the taxes our parents paid.” It praises Nethercutt for cutting wasteful programs and protecting families from higher taxes. Analysis: The claims about taxes are definitely open to debate. Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union says the overall tax burden, as a percent of a family’s total income, has doubled over the last 45 years. But Jaimie Ridge of the Concord Coalition argues that the greatest increase has been in state and local taxes, and payroll taxes for programs like Social Security and Medicare. The federal tax burden - which is something that members of Congress can affect - has remained relatively constant for several decades, Ridge said.


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