Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Una Bomb

Posted By on Tue, Oct 16, 2007 at 3:22 PM

Someone asked me today if there is any law or rule requiring political candidates to have signed affidavits from people or organizations from which they claim endorsements. The short answer is no, but the real answer is there oughta be.

In some instances, newspapers (such as The Times-Picayune and, going forward, Gambit Weekly) will require candidates to produce affidavits before the publishers will accept advertisements from candidates claiming endorsements from high-profile individuals and organizations. That’s not a law, but it’s a good policy — and it came about because of situations akin to what Louisiana legislative candidate Una Anderson experienced last week.

Anderson, a member of the Orleans Parish School Board and certainly no stranger to political campaigns and the game of securing endorsements, is running for the state House of Representatives in District 95. The district includes most of Carrollton, part of Mid-City, and part of Uptown. It’s a crowded field in a well-educated district, and competition for endorsements as well as votes is fierce.

In several media interviews, Anderson claimed endorsements from U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Bankers Association and the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors — each of whom later refuted her claim.

Landrieu, a Democrat, officially encouraged all Democrats in that race (there are seven of them) to do their best but did not give her personal blessing to any one over the others. The two trade associations gave money to Anderson but stopped short of making an official “endorsement” of her candidacy.

Anderson, a Harvard-educated businesswoman, is running a very aggressive campaign. On this point, she apparently was a little too aggressive, and she may wind up paying a steep price for it. She downplayed the issue as one of “semantics,” but her opponents say there’s more to this controversy than she wants to admit.

Anderson ran for the state Senate two years ago, so she certainly should know the difference between somebody giving you a perfunctory check — many individuals and organizations give to “all sides” in a tight legislative or gubernatorial contest — and someone signing an affidavit authorizing you to use their name, image and reputation in an ad or a campaign. There’s a world of difference between the two, particularly when a person’s (or an organization’s) standing in the community is on the line.

In years past, candidates used to claim endorsements from all sorts of people, which led the T-P (where I worked in the 1970s) to require copies of signed affidavits proving every claimed endorsement in political ads. This time, the problem arose in the paper’s news columns — and elsewhere in the media. It reminds me of a famous line from the hit movie Animal House, in the scene where freshman Kent “Flounder” Dorfman is aghast at what his frat brothers have done to his older brother’s vintage car after a night on the town. Their response: “You f—ked up — you trusted us!”

That’s the lesson, then, of the Una Bomb: Henceforth, no one claiming endorsements will be trusted unless he or she produces affidavits. And the lesson for candidates is equally stark: Before you claim anyone’s endorsement, get it in writing!

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