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A Deceptive Political Commercial

During the campaign for the Democratic Primary in the 1986 Pennsylvania Governor's race, one of the candidates, Bob Casey, ran an ad criticizing his opponent, Ed Rendell. The ad opened with the statement (both in print and spoken) "Rendell's Scandals: Case No. 3. Freshie Foods." It is interesting that Casey ran only one other "Scandals" ad - it was Case No. 7.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the ad went on to say: "A company named Freshie Foods was being investigated for bribery and fraud in providing school lunches to Philadelphia. But, Philadelphia D.A. Ed Rendell took no action and the investigation stopped. Then, he asked for and took $11,000 in contributions from Freshie executives. Next, Rendell took a load of $300,000 from a bank - where Freshie's chairman sits on the board of directors. Oh yes, the federal prosecutor just indicted Freshie - after Rendell took no action."

I recall seeing this ad and thinking that Rendell must have been involved in some serious corruption. However, the Inquirer's story about the ad brought to light some interesting additional information.

Apparently, following a complaint, Rendell's office investigated Freshie in 1979 and found no wrongdoing.

Rendell did get an $11,000 donation from Freshie, part of the two million dollars he had raised for his 1986 campaign.

The bank loan needed no special favors from the Freshie chairman (one of 15 directors at the bank) since his application was backed by 15 men including millionaires like the owner of the Philadelphia 76er's. As it was, the Freshie chairman who was on the bank board was not one of the officials indicted.

In late 1983 or early 1984, Rendell's office received another complaint against Freshie and checked with federal authorities to see if they had received the same complaint. Since they had, Rendell's office followed standard procedure and let the federal authorities handle it. The person in Rendell's organization who handled it said Rendell himself was probably unaware of the matter since it was so routine.

Was the Casey ad true? There wasn't any specifically false statement in it. Did it create a false impression? It certainly did to me. The actual circumstances behind this ad's claims would never have occurred to me. My personal policy on ads, and my recommendation to others, is that they should be ignored. That applies especially to negative campaign ads, but should also apply to other campaign ads, and in fact most advertising of any type. Even if an ad is technically true, it can be misleading in ways that viewers are not going to anticipate.

By the way, Casey defeated Rendell and went on to become Governor after defeating his Republican challenger with the help of a last minute television blitz accusing the Republican of smoking marijuana while in college. Casey served two terms and died in 2000. Rendell became Governor of Pennsylvania in 2003 after defeating Casey's son in the primaries.