Glendening, Sauerbrey support conduct code Both sides fall short of total acceptance of group's rules

September 23, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

A group seeking to uplift American political discourse announced yesterday that Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey had endorsed the broad principles of its code of conduct for political campaigns.

The new Maryland affiliate of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, a national group led by former Washington Post political reporter Paul Taylor, released statements from the two campaigns in which they both agreed to participate in as many debates as possible.

But the carefully worded statements by the campaigns fell far short of a specific acceptance of the rules proposed by the group. And by late yesterday afternoon, the two campaigns were trading recriminations over which truly wants to debate the issues.

The proposed standards are part of a national effort -- endorsed by such dignitaries as former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and former CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite -- to elevate campaigns above the level of mudslinging. But Taylor emphasized that the alliance isn't seeking to ban all negative advertising, adding that attacks on an opponent's record are sometimes an important part of campaign debate.

In the Maryland race, both campaigns agreed to use fair and accurate advertising and to take full responsibility for their ads. Neither agreed to the group's proposal that they promise to renounce interest group ads that fell short of the code's standards.

The Glendening campaign specifically rejected a proposed rule that would require that the candidate's voice or likeness be used in TV and radio ads at least 50 percent of the time. Karen White, the Glendening campaign manager, said she believed it was "perfectly appropriate to use a narrator to present information about a candidate's record."

In its statement, the Sauerbrey campaign made no mention of that provision. While it praised the alliance's "strong proposal," it agreed to follow only the most general principles -- such as creating "responsible" advertising and representing its opponent's record truthfully.

While admitting their vagueness, Taylor construed the candidates' replies as a victory for the fledgling campaign to restore voters' faith in the political system.

"I don't think I'm stretching it to say they're endorsing the principles and the goals," he said.

But by the end of the day, Glendening camp spokesman Peter Hamm was accusing Sauerbrey of reneging on the agreement to stage frequent debates, charging that she was using pleas of "scheduling conflicts" to avoid a face-to-face examination of her record.

Sauerbrey spokesman Jim Dornan accused the Glendening camp of "throwing up a smoke screen," insisting his candidate is eager to debate.

Dornan did retract comments he made the day before suggesting that Maryland Public Television was too closely aligned with Glendening to serve as host of a candidates' forum. The comments, which sparked criticism from the Glendening campaign, were his "personal opinion" and not the official position of the Sauerbrey campaign, he said.

Another spokesman, Carol L. Hirschburg, said Sauerbrey will consider a debate next month on MPT, but only if it fits into her schedule. Glendening has already agreed to an MPT forum. The two campaigns have accepted only one debate offer -- from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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