A couple weeks ago, Sen. Fran Pavley complained about a television ad of unknown origin, paid for by a mystery group called the "California Senior Advocates League PAC," that falsely claimed she was paid a "$261,000 tax-free salary." It turned out the reference was to the cumulative total of nine years of per-diem payments that are paid to out-of-the-area legislators when they are in Sacramento.
At the time, Pavley and her supporters called on her Republican opponent, Todd Zink, to publicly respond to that ad. His campaign put out a statement noting, correctly, that it had nothing to do with the independent group and no control over its advertising.
Later, in an interview with Zink, I asked him what he thought of the ad. He said that it should have noted that the amount of money was paid over 9 years, as the word "salary" implies money received in a one-year period. When I asked if he would accept per-diem payments if he is elected, he did not directly answer the question, but eventually allowed that he did not have a problem with "the concept" of per diem.
Now it is Zink who is calling upon his opponent to publicly respond to an independent expenditure group's attack against him. A mailer paid for by the "California Alliance," a group funded by the Consumer Attorneys of California and the California League of Conservation Voters, asserts that Zink "refused to support" access to birth control and is "opposed" by Planned Parenthood.
In response, Zink issued a statement yesterday, which reads in part:
"Independent expenditures being funded by trial attorneys are claiming that I 'can't be trusted to stay out of women's health care decisions.' It also says I am 'opposed' by Planned Parenthood. I have never had a conversation with Planned Parenthood on these issues.
"This is an effort to scare and mislead female voters. It is disingenuous and misleading...
"Pavley and her supporters owe the people of this district an apology."
As you might guess, Pavley and her supporters are not apologizing.
The assertions that Zink "refused to support" access to birth control and access to abortion services are based on the fact that Zink did not respond to a questionaire sent by Planned Parenthood's Los Angeles affiliate. Serena Josel of that office told me today that Planned Parenthood sent the mailer on March 13 and followed up three times with phone calls to the Zink campaign before the April 1 deadline to respond. After getting no response, the group's board made a decision to endorse Pavley.
David Allgood of the League of Conservation Voters said the mailer's assertion that Planned Parenthood "opposes" Zink is accurate, and says that the content of the mailer was vetted with Planned Parenthood officials before it was sent. He noted that Zink, in a story published in The Star, publicly said his position on abortion is that he opposes it except in cases of rape or incest. He also asserts that at a Sept. 30 candidates' forum Zink said he opposes public funding of abortion and supports a requirement for parental notification before an abortion can be provided to a minor.
So, is the mailer fair? The impression it leaves is that is Zink opposes such things as access to birth control and funding for Planned Parenthood, when there is no record of his having ever said such things. But what the mailer actually says is true -- that when asked in a questionnaire from Planned Parenthood whether he supported those things, Zink "refused" to respond. And in his statement responding to the mailer, Zink still provides no clue as to his position on those issues.
In his statement, Zink does say that if elected he intends to focus on economic and public safety issues. "My service in the state Senate will not center on social issues at all," he says.
One difference between the two independent expenditure attacks is that while the attack on Zink is misleading, the attack on Pavley was flat-out wrong. Just as significantly, the mailer attacking Zink identifies the actual entities that paid for it, and those entities can be called into account and asked to defend their accusations. The attack on Pavley, on the other hand, comes from a group that keeps its identity secret and cannot be held accountable.