This proposal for a "Clean Campaign Compact" is spelled out to present concepts that address problems faced by previous initiatives. It is a draft that needs refining. The proposal is prepared in the hope that it will serve as a catalyst to bring together people interested in such an initiative.

                        John Marty

Rationale for Clean Campaign Compact

The political campaign process is currently overwhelmed with negative ads in which candidates are attacked with misleading or even false information. The democratic process needs a vigorous debate on issues and between candidates, and criticism of candidates is necessary as part of that debate. However, many of these ads undermine that process.

Some attack ads provide intentionally misleading and even false information to voters. Flooding the public with distorted and inaccurate information does not foster debate; it drowns out the ability of candidates and others to present accurate information on issues, visions, and priorities.

Some attacks are designed to prevent rebuttal, coming too late for even the best-organized campaigns to respond. Others are made through carefully-targeted telephone calls or mailings so the candidate being attacked is not even aware of them.

These attacks undermine public confidence in the democratic process and political candidates, leaving many citizens so disgusted that they do not bother to vote.

Developing a legislative means of blocking the unfair attacks would be difficult at best. However, a voluntary means of discouraging them is desirable and necessary for a healthy democracy. Although a voluntary means would not contain legal sanctions for violators, it could be successful by creating political sanctions if the media and the public speak out against dirty ads and campaign tactics.

"Short of legal sanctions, social sanctions may be a useful approach (to fighting negative ads). And Minnesota is a place that could do it.... This is a wonderful idea, but you will need to be very vigilant, ready to punish those candidates who deviate from the rules."

        Kathleen Hall Jamieson
        Annenberg School of Communication
        (commenting on the 1996 Minnesota Compact)

This Compact could change behavior even among candidates planning to run negative attacks because the Council would review ads regardless of the candidate's support for the Compact. If the media and public take the Advertising Code seriously, political pressure would force candidates to stop the negative ads that violate the standards.

Process for Developing the Compact

A nonpartisan, nonprofit task force would be formed to develop an objective "Clean Campaign Advertising Code" and to establish a "Clean Campaign Council" to enforce the Code. The task force would also develop a more subjective "Clean Campaign Pledge" for candidates and political parties to sign.

The task force might include representatives from the media, nonprofit political "watchdog" groups, former candidates, and members of the public.

Clean Campaign Advertising Code

The task force would create a Clean Campaign Advertising Code to foster fair and clean campaigns through voluntary restrictions on campaign ads. This does not prevent candidates from criticizing their opponents. Instead, it would ensure that a candidate leveling criticism is personally accountable for the criticism, and that the criticism is made in a manner that the opponent has the opportunity to respond.

The Advertising Code might include the following provisions, as well as others the task force deems desirable:

  1. A campaign ad paid for or approved by a campaign (regardless of whether it is in the form of a billboard, mass mailing, leaflet, flyer, or a radio, TV, or printed advertisement) that criticizes an opponent, must be limited to statements by the candidate, not by a supporter of or surrogate for the candidate.
  2. A campaign ad criticizing an opponent may not contain a photo or audio or video recording of the opponent that has been distorted, retouched, or morphed in any way. A recording must be played in real time.
  3. A campaign ad that criticizes an opponent may not be disseminated in the last three weeks before the primary or general election in a local or legislative race, or in the last ten days in a statewide race, except to respond to criticism of the candidate by an opponent, or a new position taken by an opponent during that time.

Clean Campaign Pledge

The task force would create a Clean Campaign Pledge. The Pledge might include the following provisions, as well as others the task force deems desirable:

A candidate who signs the pledge agrees to:
  1. abide by the clean campaign advertising code;
  2. publicly repudiate and urge voters to ignore any campaign ads in opposition to their opponent that violate the Clean Campaign Advertising Code or that would violate the code if made by the campaign;
  3. not criticize an opponent in a campaign ad that is deceptive, misleading, or taken out of context;
  4. not disseminate any campaign ad that appeals to hatred of, or prejudice against, persons in classes protected by the Minnesota Human Rights Act;
  5. take full responsibility for campaign ads designed, produced, or disseminated by the candidate's campaign;
  6. not use push-polling or any other organized telephone calling that criticizes an opponent;
  7. publicly repudiate and urge voters to ignore any push-polling or any other organized telephone calling that criticizes their opponent; and
  8. participate in at least two debates if a candidate for legislative office, or at least eight debates if a candidate for statewide office, if opportunities for such debates are available.

Clean Campaign Council

The council would be responsible for enforcement of the Clean Campaign Advertising Code and administering the Clean Campaign Pledge. The Council could modify the advertising code or the pledge as necessary.

The Council would be funded through contributions from non-governmental, non-political sources such as foundations, the media, and individuals.

Enforcement of the Clean Campaign Advertising Code

Any person could submit a campaign advertisement to the council to determine whether it complies with the clean campaign advertising code. During the nine months preceding the general election, the determination would be made within 72 hours after the council receives the submission. During the last three weeks before the primary or general election, the determination would be made within 24 hours after the council receives the submission. The council may delegate the determination to the staff of the council.

If the ad is submitted after it has been disseminated and the council determines that it violates the code, the council should notify the person submitting it, the media, and all candidates in the race that it violates the code. If the ad is submitted before it is disseminated, the council may grant the campaign permission to display with the ad a clean campaign advertising logo approved by the council, a stamp of approval.

Concerns about heavy workload for the Council would be mitigated by the simple, objective nature of the Advertising Code -- a single viewing of an ad or reading of a brochure would indicate whether it was in compliance or not. In addition, if the public and the media are truly interested in stopping the demeaning ads that we have experienced in the past, campaign behavior would change quickly, and the number of ads submitted to the Council would quickly drop off.

Administration of Clean Campaign Pledge

The Council would distribute copies of the Clean Campaign Pledge to candidates and political parties, encourage the candidates to sign, and keep signed copies of the pledge. The council would provide the news media with names of candidates who have signed the clean campaign pledge.

The Council may consider a complaint that a candidate or party has violated the clean campaign pledge and issue an opinion on the complaint.