Debate Focuses On Third-Party Campaign Ads
Rep. George Nethercutt accused Democratic challenger Judy Olson of being a tool of big labor bosses who are trying to scare his mom.
Olson hinted the freshman Republican was a hypocrite for complaining about this year’s attack ads after benefitting from a similar onslaught in 1994.
The first debate between Eastern Washington’s congressional candidates offered a few sparks, a few misstatements of fact and even a few areas of agreement Friday morning.
Olson’s biggest mistake may have come while answering a question about her support for a cut in the capital gains tax.
A good idea, but not as high a priority as eliminating the deficit, she told the audience of businessmen and women.
The capital gains tax, she added, “only occurs when people go out of business.”
Shot back Nethercutt: “You don’t pay a capital gains tax only when you go out of business.”
He’s right. People who make a profit on the sale of investments, houses or other property are subject to the tax.
Olson said later she misspoke, confusing the question with a previous inquiry about the inheritance tax, which she said only comes into play when someone dies. She said she’d consider a capital gains tax cut, but thought investment tax credits would be more helpful to business.
Nethercutt seemed to overreach when talking about how Republicans had reformed Congress over the last two years.
“No more bounced checks, no more bank scandals,” he said.
In fact, the controversial House bank - which for decades allowed members of Congress to overdraw their accounts without penalties or interest - was closed in the previous session, by his predecessor, House Speaker Tom Foley.
Ken Lisaius, a campaign spokesman, said later that Nethercutt was not taking credit for closing the bank. “He was taking credit for Republicans cleaning up Congress in general, so there were no scandals like that.”
Nethercutt’s most frequently used phrase in the 45-minute forum was “big labor bosses.” Olson’s was “middle class families.”
The sparks flared brightest when the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce debate ventured into questions of campaign contributions, and the way that money is being spent in the congressional race.
Given a chance under the debate’s format to ask Olson a question, Nethercutt accused unions of “blatant demagoguery” for their television ad campaign on which they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. He asked her to “renounce this campaign and stop scaring seniors like my mom.”
The ads accuse Nethercutt of “cutting Medicare” for supporting a proposal that would have reduced the increases in the program’s costs. His mother, Nancy, is a senior citizen who gets her health care through Medicare.
“You benefited from third party ads two years ago and said there was little you could do about it then,” Olson replied. “This is about your vote on Medicare.”
Nethercutt later said there was little that could be done about ads by outside groups attacking a candidate because they are protected as free speech. But the law should require full disclosure so the public would know “who is giving what to whom,” he said.
He criticized Olson for having a greater percentage of money from political action committees than individuals.
“She has about 15 (donations) from individuals. I’ve had hundreds,” he charged.
An angry Olson shot back: “That’s incredulous. I’ve received more than 15 contributions from people in this room.”
Her campaign reports don’t list contributions of less than $200 because federal law doesn’t require it, she said. That law also limits individual contributions to $1,000, but she voluntarily set a limit of $500 per person, an amount more in line with what middle-class families can afford, she said.
“What Mrs. Olson hasn’t been reluctant to accept is PAC money,” said Nethercutt. “Two-thirds of my contributions come from individuals.”
Such contributions are the most highly regulated money, Olson said.
“He has been the recipient of a great amount of PAC money,” she said.
According to the latest campaign reports, Olson has received about two-thirds of her funds, or about $86,000, from PACs. Nethercutt has received about 30 percent of his funds from the committees - about $181,000.
The two candidates agreed on limited support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and changes in the nation’s estate tax laws. When asked, each made a plug for his or her party’s presidential candidate.
Nethercutt was an unqualified supporter of former Sen. Bob Dole: “He’s a decent, honest human being. We want the best character to be in the White House.”
Olson was more cautious in her praise of Bill Clinton, saying the president has grown and learned in the last four years: “Not everyone’s perfect. He’s not the person that shut down the government, twice.”
“He sure is learning on the job, he’s learning to be a Republican,” retorted Nethercutt.