Special interests pick sides in race for Md. governor Groups spend heavily highlighting issues, getting out the vote

Radio, TV ads and mailings

October 29, 1998|By Laura Lippman and Thomas W. Waldron | Laura Lippman and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The radio commercial, with a beleaguered woman speaking as sirens and gunshots sound in the background, appears to have been scripted by Gov. Parris N. Glendening's campaign.

"Some nights, it feels like I live in a war zone. Stray bullets cut down children," the woman intones. "But Ellen Sauerbrey doesn't hear us. Ellen Sauerbrey doesn't care about our neighborhood."

The last line reveals it's the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association paying for the ad -- just one example of how special-interest groups are making an apparently unprecedented effort to influence the governor's race.

Throughout the state, organizations not directly affiliated with either candidate are pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into television and radio ads, as well as glossy mailings and rhetorically charged letters.

In doing so, they are highlighting issues that their favored candidates have sometimes failed to emphasize during the campaign.

They also are helping to get out the vote in a close election.

Both abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates have sent mailings to voters perceived to be sympathetic.

Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse has contacted its members, as has the National Rifle Association.

Arts advocates and local and national Jewish leaders have weighed in, along with unions representing tradespeople, police, communications workers, teachers and state employees.

The Sierra Club has paid for one of its first-ever radio ads in a governor's race, while the AFL-CIO has mounted an extensive, pro-Glendening television campaign focusing on the environment and education.

The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance attacks Republican Sauerbrey's positions on cigarette taxes, gun control and casino-style gambling.

At the same time, the owners of Maryland's thoroughbred race tracks are pushing the legalization of slot machines, indirectly boosting Sauerbrey.

Even the National Smokers Alliance -- a group funded heavily by tobacco manufacturers -- has sent a mailing targeting Glendening for his support for higher taxes on cigarettes.

While the candidates' own advertising efforts draw the most attention, so-called independent expenditures by others represent a less public, but highly charged, second campaign front.

"If a race is tight, then that means it becomes a targeted race for the interest groups involved -- and that means an influx of money," said Ronald A. Faucheux, editor of Campaigns & Elections.

"I think overall, more people are doing it. But they're doing it in a very targeted, careful way, and that makes it difficult to discern any trends until all the reports are in."

The advantages to the groups involved are obvious, Faucheux said. They avoid the limits on how much they can contribute to a candidate, allowing them to spend as much as they choose, while controlling the message on their issues.

'Turn in your guns'

The National Rifle Association, for example, can hit hard on an issue that Sauerbrey has sought to downplay in this campaign.

"If Parris Glendening gets four more years, he may be unstoppable," stated a letter sent to its members. "If you don't vote, get ready to turn in your guns."

Another mailing enclosed a pro-Sauerbrey bumper sticker and told NRA members how to volunteer for the Republican candidate.

Maryland voters, already besieged by advertising from the two candidates, can expect more mail, more ads and phone calls from interest groups in the days before Tuesday's election.

Even church newsletters are getting in on the action.

Not everyone is playing by the same rules. Groups such as the trial lawyers, which has formed a political action committee, can endorse someone running for office.

But many other nonprofit groups involved in the race are prohibited by law from urging a vote for or against a candidate.

While PACs must reveal their contributor lists and how the money is spent, advocacy groups that don't formally endorse are not required to disclose details about their finances.

Even though such groups stop short of an endorsement, they make clear which candidate they prefer.

For instance, a mailing from four abortion-rights groups sent last weekend to about 165,000 Maryland women cites the records of Sauerbrey and Glendening on abortion.

"She can run. But she cannot hide. From her own record," the flier reads. Overall, the coalition plans to spend almost $60,000 on two mailings.

Roberta Geidner-Antoniotti, president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland's Action Fund, said the direct mail effort grew out of the September primary defeats of two abortion-rights senators -- losses that may give anti-abortion advocates a slim majority in the state Senate.

"So the governor's race is key," she said.

Mailing endorses Sauerbrey

The National Right to Life PAC, meanwhile, has sent a mailing endorsing Sauerbrey and several other Maryland candidates. Asked about the group's efforts, a spokeswoman said: "It is our firm policy not to discuss strategy before an election."

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