September 9, 2012 in City

Spin Control: McLaughlin flap puts originality, or lack of it, in spotlight

By The Spokesman-Review
 

One of the first things a candidate does these days, after announcing he or she wants to do good things for the good people of this good community, is get a website.

While any campaign website worth its salt must offer a chance to become a fan on Facebook, follow the candidate on Twitter or contribute via PayPal, the main purpose is to give voters something about the candidate’s background (Click here for bio) and ideas (Click here for issues).

But when voters read a candidate’s website – or an email or a campaign letter, for that matter – should they expect the candidate wrote it? Or that the candidate read and approved it? Or that the candidate is simply responsible for it?

These are the questions facing Republican state Senate candidate Nancy McLaughlin, as a Democratic group takes issue with her website’s issues page, as well as some other campaign material. Wording on that issues page, the Inland Northwest Leadership PAC points out, was lifted from the Senate Republican Campaign Committee’s website. Not only did it have the same headlines – “Higher Taxes, Gutting the Will of the People” – it even has the same typos as it bemoans the loss of jobs in the “prviate sector” and Democrats’ failure to “ease the budren” on business.

An August email from McLaughlin about the need to defeat Referendum 74, the same-sex marriage measure, also lifts six sentences word-for-word from a longer statement by Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus in May on President Barack Obama’s decision to support such unions. (The RNC apparently has better spell-checkers than legislative Republicans; there are no typos.)

A June campaign letter has a section noting her belief that government “needs to facilitate a vibrant, growing economy for the region by creating a regulatory climate that enhances the creation of jobs and the manufacturing of goods and services while at the same time protecting the quality of life that makes it all worthwhile.” That wording is almost identical to words used by Al French in a campaign statement during his 2010 county commissioner race.

None of this is attributed, or, as reporters like to say, sourced.

Inland Northwest Leadership PAC’s Sharon Smith suggests this is at least deceptive and at worst plagiarism, although that’s debatable regarding the website, because if anything can be considered in the public domain, it would be political statements. Smith may have a better point in questioning why a candidate for a local legislative seat would use generic language on her issues page.

Although she didn’t know the language was lifted wholesale from that other website, McLaughlin counters it was merely the top of her issues page. The rest was a series of questions and answers that include local issues.

Maybe this most highlights the pitfalls of the cut-and-paste mentality of the Web and some of its users, who find it so much easier to lift and drop than compose anew.

McLaughlin, not surprisingly, did not design or populate her webpage, and like many candidates would be more familiar with HD-TV than html. The issues page, designed by a local company, was taken down last week for reconstruction because it wasn’t particularly user-friendly, she said, not because of questions about sourcing. The campaign had already hired another company to do a complete redesign.

She didn’t author the email or the campaign letter either, she said. She directed staff to come up with drafts for both, and looked them over to see if she agreed with the sentiments – which she did – but no one told her the words came from somewhere else. If they had, she said, she would have rewritten them.

“We’re going to make some internal adjustments (telling staff), ‘If you’re taking it word-for-word from somewhere else, let me know so I can make it my own,’ ” she said. Otherwise, she sees this as a “nonissue” because she – and probably most conservatives – agrees with the sentiments expressed, regardless of where the words come from.

Democrat Andy Billig, her opponent for the 3rd District Senate seat, disagrees. Candidates are responsible for what goes on their websites and in their campaign literature, even if staff prepare them, he argues.

“It’s an integrity issue. It shows a lack of substance on the issues,” adding that he did write the verbiage on his issues page.

Given that the Internet makes discovering such cut-and-paste appropriations of other people’s words almost as easy as lifting those words, candidates and their staffs would be wiser to follow such a policy.

Spin Control appears online with daily items and reader comments at spokesman.com/spincontrol.


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