David Bly got hammered by corporate-funded attack ads, AKA free speech

FreeSpeechZoneIn the 2010 election, corporations, big business spoke loudly with support from the Supreme Court’s decision in January. Representative David Bly evidently was targeted by a lot of nasty mailings. 

Strib columnist Nick Coleman writes about it today in a piece titled Business buys itself a new government

But one Democrat who felt the sting of the corporate lash was David Bly, a state representative from the cow-and-college precincts of Northfield who was seeking a third term… The corporate-funded attack ads that flooded his district even slimed him as a crook that would steal cash right out of the hands of the elderly… "It’s outrageous," says Bly. "It was cleverly crafted — it didn’t outright accuse me of being a crook. It only implied it. But I was trying to make the case for why I should be reelected, and I was drowned out by accusations against me that were totally untrue. I had no way I could counter them. My name was dragged through the mud."

I hate those nasty attack ads as much as the next guy.  But it wasn’t too long ago (2004?) that Ray Cox was the target of attack ad mailings that falsely distorted his record as a school board member in his race against David Bly. In 2010, if the backers of Democrats had judged Bly’s 25B seat to be at risk, I think it’s safe to say that similar slime ball attack ads would have targeted Bly’s opponent, Kelby Woodard.

Regardless of the outcome between Bly and Woodard, we’ll have a business-friendly Minnesota legislature come January. I’m eager to see what they can do. Editorial writer Lori Sturdevant in today’s Strib: Well, that worked out pretty well for business

But if the business money that elected Republicans is accompanied by business savvy to truly remake public services into more efficient and effective operations, "reform" and "redesign" will become cues for applause. And Republicans will be more likely to occupy the Capitol’s majority office suites for years to come.

For another perspective on the Supreme Court decision, see Vance Opperman’s opinion piece in the March issue of Twin Cities Business, When Corporations Speak.

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission held that the free speech protection of the United States Constitution extends to all speakers, regardless of whether they are individuals or corporations. Companies, labor unions, and all other types of entities are free to spend whatever they want to at any time for election communications, as long as they are independent of political parties or candidates.

… The best antidote in a democracy for speech you do not like is more speech. Corporations are not monolithic. Large pharmaceutical companies, some large insurers, and some doctors associations support the current administration’s health care reform. Other corporations do not. There are corporations variously supporting windmills, solar power, natural gas, coal, and petroleum as energy resources—all attempting to persuade our democracy to join them in their divergent positions on energy. Entities such as the National Right to Life Committee and Planned Parenthood share the corporate form, but little else.


  1. Ray Cox said:

    My first reaction on Sunday when I read Nick Coleman’s article was that someone should take away his typewriter and —put the man out to pasture. I cannot recall any other recent opinion article that had such a bunch of blathering without saying anything of substance.

    Griff, you are indeed correct about the Cox-Bly 2004 election. There were at least a dozen rather negative literature pieces put out against me by the teachers union, the DFL party and various other ‘progressive’ organizations. But what was even more objectionable to me was the 2002 election when in the final week these same groups put out a few negative pieces—-in an open district! Anyway, the groundwork for the damage that negative mailing do was firmly laid in 2004 and paid off for the DFL in 2006.

    But, all this being said, I wouldn’t vote to restrict this type of free speech—as long as it is telling truths. In the examples used in the Nick Coleman article the issues being pointed out against Bly were based in fact. Sometimes the facts are presented in ways that are unflattering, but they still remain the facts (and are generally footnoted with a citation).

    The one thing that I would support as far as campaign reform is to outlaw photoshopping. I’d like to see all photos in campaign literature be actual untouched photographs. I found great objection to the recent ‘cork-in-the-mouth’ ad against Bly. That was uncalled for. The message of his ‘tax and cap’ vote could have been presented in a manner that did not need a photoshopped picture of him.

    Finally, Vance Oppermann is correct in his article you referenced in Twin Cities Business. Corporations, unions and other aggregations of individuals should not be silenced. As he points out, the antidote for objectionable campaign materials is not censorship. It is getting more voices being involved in the process. There will always be people that promote censorship, like was attempted to do against Target, but that does not make is something we should adopt. I for one like to hear what the business world thinks will make a stronger America.

    November 15, 2010
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Ray, I’d like to see BOTH Nick Coleman and Katherine Kersten replaced as Sunday Strib columnists.  Coleman’s mean-spirited sarcasm towards anyone he disagrees with is really tiresome. And Kersten’s conspiracy theories (eg, last week about Obama) are equally tiresome.

    One would think the Strib could find a MN version of David Brooks and EJ Dionne for a right-of-center and left-of-center columnist duo who intelligently add to the understanding of issues instead of just being polarizing.

    But I digress!

    November 15, 2010
  3. Ray Cox said:

    Agreed Griff. I can’t understand why the Strib keeps running them either. Perhaps as the printed paper world dies these type of colmnists will die with them. As you note there are some good columnists that present right sided and left sided views in a manner that is productive and reasonable.

    November 15, 2010
  4. Paul Zorn said:

    Ray, Griff,

    There’s no mystery surrounding why the Strib runs battling left-right columnists … conflict sells.

    This is no less true in the e-world than in print journalism. On the contrary, e-journalism is, for better or worse, more inclusive of “journalists” of every political leaning and degree of sanity, and getting attention in the e-sphere probably requires louder shouting rather than greater cogency.

    November 16, 2010
  5. Griff, you identify Lori Sturtevant as an editorial writer for the Star Tribune, which she is; some readers may think, then, that this piece is an editorial, namely the institutional view of her corporate employer, the Star-Tribune. But she is also a columnist, and this piece is a personal column, which may or may not agree with the paper’s editorial positions. I’ve had the same kind of dual role at several papers, and can testify that a columnist’s view may indeed be the opposite of the paper’s view, and in fact the same person may well have written both sides on the same Sunday. It makes for interesting Monday-morning phone calls.

    Kersten and Coleman do not have the same dual role, so there’s no confusion about whose views they’re expressing — their own. Yes, papers sell better if they publish “battling” views, but the alternative, publishing only the views that agree with their own editorials, would hardly be an improvement, especially in cities that have only one newspaper left, which is, unfortunately, most of them.

    November 16, 2010
  6. john george said:

    Linda- Excellent points. I have been ruined for “news” publications ever since taking a propaganda analysis class more years ago thasn I like to admit. The thing that stands out to me is after all these years, news publicaions and general human nature haven’t changed much.

    November 16, 2010
  7. john george said:

    And, neither has my ability to operate a keyboard! Good grief!

    November 16, 2010
  8. Paul Zorn said:

    Linda, John,

    In case there’s any question, I would never advocate that newspapers publish only views that agree with their own editorials. Conflict on the editorial page is not in itself a problem — it’s why that page exists. Nor is “propaganda” (that favorite Cold War bogeyman) a real problem — on editorial pages where it belongs.

    Opinion writing can be bad, of course, but less for being wrong-headed or hare-brained than for being ill informed, poorly reasoned, or opaquely put. At their best, IMO, Coleman and Kersten can be entertaining. At they’re worst, they’re just dull.

    November 16, 2010
  9. Ray Cox said:

    I agree with you Paul….the dull part. Coleman seems to always come off as a sarcastic, angry liberal. It gets very boring reading his stuff since it is essentially the same work over and over. What I can’t understand is why the Strib continues to use him. I have to believe it would be quite easy to locate someone from the liberal tent that could actually write interesting, thought provoking columns.

    But the interesting thing, and one that Griff introduced this thread with, is where was Coleman’s column when the DFL was doing all the negative mailings in 2006/2008 that worked to remove Republicans? Obviously he is fine with that as long as it comes from the DFL and works.

    I appreciate the Opperman view of working to get more discourse in our political process, not try and find ways to limit it.

    November 17, 2010
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    Last week, this commentary DFLer Steve Elkins and a City Council member in Bloomington, appeared in the Strib: Political attack mailings seem to have worked, and that’s scary.

    I am concerned that since these attack mailings "worked," this style of outrageous attack ad will become the new norm in campaign communications for future elections. If this happens, voters will become ever more disgusted with the political process, and qualified candidates will be reluctant to seek office.

    To the voters, I say this: If you want to see fewer attack ads in your mailboxes, start voting for the victims of the attacks. To the state Chamber and other interest groups on both sides of the political spectrum, I make this request: Could we call a truce in the interest of basic human decency and civility?

    November 17, 2010
  11. Ray Cox said:

    Griff, I saw the Elkins article. I, more than most anyone else that may post on this site, understand what it is like to be the victim of unjust attack ads. But I again raise my earlier question….”Where was the outrage in 2006 and 2008 when the DFL and their allies were running printing presses full speed with negative ads?” Is this issue only being raised now because we have seen a huge Republican sweep?

    And we really need to be careful about what we call negative ads. In my mind a negative ad is one that uses inappropriate photos and images as the main theme of the ad to convey the message. I do not consider an ad a negaitve ad if it simply points out a voting position an elected official has taken. In the recent elections in this area I thought all the ads by Kelby Woodard and Al DeKruif were fine. They had some good compare and contrast issue points listed that made it easy for a voter to quickly see differences in major issues. However, as stated earlier, some of the interest groups went over the top on their mailings. But as Opperman says….the best antidote for that is more discourse.

    November 17, 2010
  12. Paul Zorn said:

    Speaking of (fact)-free speech:


    Seems Anderson Cooper did some legwork on one of Rep. Bachmann’s deep thoughts, which then went viral on the right. Did Pres. Obama’s Asia trip really cost $200 million a day? Not so much.

    The closest thing (but good enough for Michelle B and Rush L) to a source seems to have been an unnamed official (UO) of the Indian state of Maharashtra. If there’s any sense to be made of this, and that’s a stretch, my best guess is that the UO had some *rupee* figure in mind. 200m rupees, at around 45 rupees to the US dollar, gives a bit (by government standards) less than $4.4m.

    November 17, 2010
  13. Phil Poyner said:

    Paul, off the top of my head I know of two websites that have been doing this kind of fact-checking for quite a while: PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org. I receive articles from both organizations via facebook. They look into the statements and campaign promises of members of all parties, regardless of where on the political spectrum they fall (PolitiFact even has a section where they track the President’s campaign promises). FactCheck reviewed the India statement on the 3rd of November, and PolitiFact rated her statement as “False” on the 4th of November. As you can see, a lot on Anderson Cooper’s legwork had already been done for him! The one thing I like about what Cooper did was that he actually brought this sort of fact-checking into the mainstream. Now let’s see if he follows through with more of it, or if this was just a single-shot deal done for ratings.

    November 17, 2010
  14. At least David Bly has not tied up the re-count process and has been a class act: Unlike Tony Sutton and Mr. Trimble who have dragged out the process: Give it up Emmer you are not doing any favors for Minnesota :

    December 1, 2010
  15. Kathie Galotti said:

    Well said, David R! David Bly has, in my opinion, continued to show a lot of class.

    December 2, 2010

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