Senate bill outlaws campaign trickery

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin added his support yesterday to a measure that would make it a federal crime to distribute campaign literature that makes false claims about political endorsements -- an issue that came up during his campaign last fall.

Maryland Democrats say brochures sponsored in part by the campaign of Michael S. Steele -- Cardin's Republican opponent for the Senate in the November election -- were designed to mislead African-American voters about Steele's party affiliation and his support from prominent black leaders.

The Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007, proposed by Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Charles E. Schumer of New York, would call for penalties of up to $100,000 and five years in prison for those convicted of knowingly communicating false information on the time, place and manner of elections, voter eligibility and rules, a candidate's party affiliation, and endorsements.

Cardin, who has pressed Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to examine the Maryland allegations, signed on as a co-sponsor.

"I really do believe it is an extension of the Voting Rights Act," Cardin said. "It is to deal with allowing the full rights of people to participate in our election process. ... Some candidates, some political parties have felt it's right as part of a political strategy in elections to suppress minority participation. And that is not allowed. That should not be allowed."

In Maryland, full-color "Democratic sample ballots" produced by the campaigns of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and then-Lt. Gov. Steele showed the Republicans topping the list of candidates.

The fliers, which were distributed outside polling places in predominantly African-American precincts in Baltimore and Prince George's County, also appeared to suggest that Ehrlich and Steele had been endorsed by former Rep. Kweisi Mfume and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson. Mfume and Johnson, both black Democrats, had endorsed Cardin.

Obama, who made a similar proposal that went nowhere in the last, Republican-controlled Congress, referred to the Maryland allegations at a news conference that included representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"It's hard to imagine that we even need a bill like this," Obama said. "But unfortunately, there are people who will stop at nothing to try to deceive voters and keep them away from the polls. What's worse, these practices all too often target and exploit vulnerable populations, like minorities, the disabled or the poor."

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