Stealthy Endorsements In Ads That 'Educate'
By William Booth and Ben White
The Sierra Club recently went on the air with $600,000 worth of television and radio ads ostensibly intended to "educate" voters about environmental issues but effectively amounting to a political drive in support of candidates in tough races, most of them Democrats.
These "issue advocacy" ads, part of a $6 million voter education effort, are not subject to federal election law because they do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of individual candidates. But the message they send is clear.
One chief beneficiary is Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is in a tough reelection battle against state Treasurer Matt Fong (R).
A spot running in coastal Orange County, one of three on Boxer's behalf, features stark shots of polluted water and bulldozers and concludes: "Fortunately, our Senator Barbara Boxer voted to stop offshore oil drilling and fought for federal funding to buy and protect the Bolsa Chica," an Orange County wetland.
Fong, however, has taken environmental positions similar to Boxer's.
"The fact is, Matt Fong is 100 percent against offshore oil drilling," said Fong spokesman Steve Schmidt. "This just reeks of partisan politics."
The ads are running in 20 races in 13 states but support just two Republicans, moderate Reps. Constance A. Morella (Md.) and Nancy L. Johnson (Conn.).
Among Republicans targeted are Sens. Lauch Faircloth (N.C.) and Alfonse M. D'Amato (N.Y.), as well as Reps. Linda A. Smith (Wash.), Mark W. Neumann (Wis.) and John Ensign (Nev.), all of whom are running for Senate.
Sierra Club political director Daniel J. Weiss defended the ads as an attempt to encourage lawmakers to cast pro-environment votes. "Somebody who has a competitive race is much more likely to listen to us," Weiss said.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company