Rival's TV ads implying Goldstein is 'corrupt' scheduled to begin today

September 04, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

A long-shot candidate implies that popular Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein is "corrupt" in television commercials scheduled to begin today.

Rehashing old allegations, two ads by political newcomer James B. Moorhead accuse the 81-year-old Mr. Goldstein of using his 36 years in that office to get rich.

Mr. Goldstein. who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, has never been charged with committing a crime in office.

The 30-second ads are blunt. One says, "Jim Moorhead will protect your tax dollars from corrupt politicians." The other accuses Mr. Goldstein of getting "in bed with a utility company" and ends with Mr. Moorhead saying, "Too many politicians are corrupt. I know because I prosecuted them."

Mr. Moorhead, a 40-year-old former prosecutor, said he is not accusing his rival in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary of committing a crime. "I think the ads speak for themselves," he said.

Mr. Goldstein responded. "It's a lot of false advertising. It's a lot of lies.... This man has distorted the truth during the entire campaign."

The commercials, scheduled to run on network television stations in Baltimore and Washington until the Sept. 13 primary, are unusually negative by state standards.

"The ad lacks any subtlety at all, and it is unusual," said Richard Vatz, a professor of rhetoric at Towson State University. "I think -- what we have here is desperation rhetoric."

From a national perspective, this eruption in the comptroller's race does not qualify for the big leagues in terms of harsh campaign attacks, said Harrison Hickman, a Democratic consultant in Washington. "This is sort of a Norman Rockwell painting compared to what goes on in campaigns in a lot of states," he said.

"If you would rate the campaign. it's not the most negative because it's not name-calling without documentation," Mr. Hickman said.

Mr. Goldstein's camp said the documentation is mainly a rehash of old newspaper stories. "This is long discredited, unproven material that's been brought up before. looked at by the proper authorities and found to be baseless," Goldstein spokesman Marvin Bond said.

For example, both ads say Mr. Goldstein took money from a utility company and lobbied on its behalf.

Mr. Goldstein did issue a report supporting a pipeline proposal by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. a week after selling the company land for $900,000, according to a 1985 Evening Sun story. The article quoted Mr. Goldstein as denying any link between the two actions.

The State Ethics Commission examined the facts, Mr. Goldstein said, and found no wrongdoing.

The ads say Mr. Goldstein made "$5 million on a piece of land after telling the IRS it was worth $18,000." He did sell 66 acres of land for $5.3 million in 1989, and it was designated on tax rolls as farmland worth about $18,000.

Like many Marylanders, Mr. Goldstein benefited from a state program that undervalued farmland to discourage its development. His office has nothing to do with the assessment of land for tax purposes.

The ads have one new allegation. They say Mr. Goldstein put the state's pension fund $6 billion in debt while he took a $22,000 raise.

The comptroller did receive the pay raise, but he said his salary is set by an independent commission and cannot be changed during a term.

Mr. Goldstein does lead the board overseeing the state's $16.3 billion pension fund, and the fund does have an "unfunded obligation." of $5.6 billion. That means the fund would be short by that amount if for some reason it had to pay benefits to all retired and current employees at once. Mr. Goldstein said the pension fund began addressing the problem 14 years ago.

Mr. Vatz said he did not think the ads would hurt Mr. Goldstein substantially. "Where opinions of an official are stable, like they are about Louie Goldstein, negative ads are less likely to substantially affect a race," he said.

A recent poll found that 64 percent of Maryland voters had a favorable impression of Mr. Goldstein, compared with 14 percent for his opponent.

Mr. Goldstein's campaign contacted a lawyer last week to determine whether the ads were slanderous, Mr. Bond said. But two local law professors said it is difficult for a public official to win a slander or libel case in court.

The Federal Communications Commission told the campaign the stations "apparently do not have the nght to censor the material they are given as political advertising," Mr. Bond said.

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