In recent years, it seems that Republicans have played dirtier than Democrats at the national level, from the Willie Horton ads that ravaged Michael Dukakis to the Swift Boat campaign that torpedoed John Kerry. But if you follow politics at all, you know that members of both parties are capable of almost unspeakable smear tactics.
The latest dirty trick that caught my attention is a savage and unwarranted assault on state Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas. I'm no fan of Beers' conservative views, but as a journalist taught in the old school, I'm even less enamored of misleading and blatantly false campaign charges.
A billboard on Ann Road, just a few blocks from my house, proclaims: "Danger Bob Beers, In bed with the 'Southern Nevada Porn King.' " The phrase "In bed with the 'Southern Nevada Porn King' " is attributed to a newspaper, the Las Vegas Mercury.
I just so happen to have been the first and only editor of the Las Vegas Mercury during its existence from 2001 to 2005, and when I saw the billboard, I could not recall publishing an article describing Beers as being "in bed with the 'Southern Nevada Porn King.' "
That's because the Mercury never published such an article.
On Dec. 18, 2003, the Mercury printed a cover story about Beers titled "The Obstructinator," detailing his legislative efforts -- he was an assemblyman then -- to block an $836 million tax package.
The article did not once mention Beers being in bed with any "Southern Nevada Porn King."
But fast forward to the May 6, 2004, issue of the Mercury, which contained an article headlined "X-Rated Exodus." The article pondered whether adult movie companies would be moving their productions to Las Vegas in the wake of a self-imposed moratorium in Los Angeles after two performers tested positive for HIV.
The reporter, Andrew Kiraly, interviewed Raymond Pistol, a local businessman who was involved in several facets of the adult entertainment industry, to get his thoughts on the issue. Kiraly casually described Pistol as the "Southern Nevada porn king."
There is no mention of Beers
It turns out, though, that Beers did accept a contribution from Pistol -- two years after the article was published. Pistol donated $10,000 to Beers' 2006 run for governor, half of which Beers returned after losing in the primary. When the noxious billboard appeared recently, Beers admitted this on his Web site:
"The Bob Beers campaign team accepted a contribution from a man who owns a topless bar. The owner was one of the many hundreds of citizens and legal business owners across the state who donated to the campaign."
The only problem with Beers' statement is his soft-pedaling of Pistol's resumé. Pistol has been involved with far more controversial activities than simply owning a "topless bar." As far as I know, everything Pistol is involved with is legal, and it certainly should not be construed as a huge deal in Las Vegas, which everybody knows makes a ton of money from its adult services industries.
In an interview last week, Beers described his gubernatorial bid as a "shoestring campaign" and acknowledged that neither he nor his campaign volunteers vetted the sources of contributions.
But on his Web site, Beers hits the target with the next part of his defense: "Suggesting that campaign contributions from a legal business (licensed by elected officials of both parties) come with obligations is an erroneous conclusion at best."
The only entity claiming that Beers is "in bed with" Pistol is the Nevada Democratic Party, which paid for the billboard. The billboard refers viewers to a Web site, suggesting that more info is available there. It's not. The party offers not a shred of evidence that Beers has done any favors for Pistol in return for his contribution.
As a longtime member of the Nevada Democratic Party, I'm ashamed and angered that these dirty tricks are being deployed against Beers and, presumably, other Republicans. Beers, in particular, is a wide target. There are all kinds of things he can be criticized for, including his extreme fiscal conservatism and his penchant for self-styled statistics that often don't jibe with the figures most other officials are looking at.
Beating Beers is a priority for the Democrats, who badly want to gain a majority in the state Senate in November's election. The Republicans hold 11 seats and the Democrats have 10.
But nasty, misleading campaign tactics are beyond the pale. Beers should be beatable on the issues. While he serves a vocal constituency of ideologues who want lower taxes and smaller government, he does not represent the wider, quieter majority of voters who are moderate and pragmatic, who understand that the costs of education, public safety and government services rise as the population increases.
Beers stands in the way of Nevada improving its educational systems, its public services, its quality of life for the poor, sick and disabled. Democrats should hammer him on these issues. But carting out sleazy billboards to mislead voters is an insult to the party's underlying principles.
Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@ reviewjournal.com) is publisher of the alternative newsweekly Las Vegas CityLife, which is owned by the same company as the Review-Journal. His column appears Sunday.