Stretching the truth

July 21, 1994

In politics, a little hyperbole is part of electioneering. Puff your credentials as much as you can. Make modest proposals sound like major-league changes. Be sure to sound like you're out to help Joan and John Taxpayer.

We've seen all this in the summer's gubernatorial campaign. Some of it is the expected puffery that goes with running for office. But a few candidates have stretched the truth beyond legitimacy.

The most recent example was Rep. Helen D. Bentley's claim that accepting money from the state's public campaign finance fund would be "nothing more than political welfare" in which a candidate would "ride on the backs of taxpayers." It's just not so. And the Bentley camp knew -- or should have known -- the true facts.

Money in this fund came from voluntary contributions provided by those eager to promote public financing of elections. Besides, Mrs. Bentley had initially filed the necessary forms to qualify for public funds. Only when it became clear she would raise more than the $1 million ceiling imposed on those who accept public funds did Mrs. Bentley denounce this practice.

But Helen Bentley isn't alone in distorting the record. Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening has been criticized by his Democratic opponents for repeatedly claiming to have been a "police commissioner" earlier in his career. His campaign literature states it, his ads state it and he states it on the campaign trail.

In fact, Mr. Glendening has no training in law-enforcement and has never been a "top cop." He was, though, a town commissioner in Hyattsville with oversight responsibility for the town's small police force. That's hardly enough to justify the "police commissioner" label.

And then there's Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who claims he'll save taxpayers $10 million by wiping out the entire state Department of Personnel. What he doesn't tell voters is that once he has abolished this agency, every other section of state government would have to create its own, enlarged personnel division -- with a new, central personnel office in the budget department. That $10 million savings would evaporate in a hurry.

As the primary campaigns heat up in the crucial eight weeks leading to the Sept. 13 voting, candidates should take care to fine-tune their message so they weed out the puffery and focus on the underlying message. Voters are not stupid. They can see through a political smoke screen. The best way to instill public confidence in a candidacy is for candidates to tell voters the truth.

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