Guest Post: Smear Fear by Mary Sheehy Moe

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The phase of the campaign cycle we hate most is now upon us: smear time. Our mailboxes are stuffed with the telltale placards from “Citizens for Justice” or “Americans for Prosperity” or some such misnomer, presenting the smear subject a la Robert Mitchum in “Cape Fear” – a dark, scowling menace emerging from an ominous gray fog. Thick, bold and black text warns us that Robert Mitchum will raise our taxes or prey on our children or, God forbid, take away our guns. Do not vote for Robert Mitchum.

The TV ads are even worse. With a film noir soundtrack underscoring the threat, a somber narrator warns us of our impending doom as blood-stained crime scenes or swarthy men in turbans or pathetic children clutching stuffed animals alternate with the ever-menacing Robert Mitchum on the screen.

The worst of these this year is the campaign to smear Supreme Court candidate Dirk Sandefur.  Stop “Set-‘em-free” Sandefur (appropriately, SSS) is the purported sponsor, but SSS is funded by the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is in turn funded by the likes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross Blue Shield, WalMart, the ubiquitous Koch brothers, and a couple of pharmaceutical giants. After poring over hundreds of cases from Sandefur’s 14 years on the bench, SSS found three to die for, all involving sex and children.

So the soundtrack rolls, and a deep, indignant voice narrates thumbnail sketches of the terrible tales while lurid details, carefully culled, roll across the screen.  Thirty seconds is all it takes to smear a man. Not so when it comes to clean-up. There’s no way to create a 30-second rebuttal that captures the complex weave of fact, law, and alternatives these cases entail.

Perhaps the best rebuttal is the one provided by Cascade County Attorney John Parker, who has argued cases in Judge Sandefur’s court for many years. As Parker explains, prosecutors present judges with impossible situations. “We often present them with a choice between a bad outcome and a worse outcome, especially in difficult sexual assault cases. Sandefur has never shied away from making [these] weighty and next-to-impossible decisions.” (Indeed, two of the ad’s tales occurred during this campaign cycle.)

There is something to fear in these ads, though, and it isn’t Robert Mitchum. It’s the legality of presenting as truth the selective detail and tortured reasoning that characterizes the SSS smear. One might as accurately say that Huck Finn is the story of a cross-dressing runaway on a Deep South crime spree. Or that Gatsby was a seducer of another man’s wife and got what was coming to him.

Beyond the legal lie is something even more frightening. Bolstered by Citizens United and lured by the low cost and high saturation of airtime in Montana, out-of-state interests are seeing Montana’s Supreme Court as an irresistible bargain. For the third consecutive campaign cycle, they’re unabashedly trying to buy a seat of their very own. If that means trashing the reputation of a Montanan doing the public’s work, so be it.

Particularly vulnerable to these attacks are Montana lawyers who work in the public sector, who have to take whatever case comes before them and whose work is publicly recorded. In 2012, for instance, the “Montana Growth Network,” also funded by out-of-state tycoons, spent some $650 million to smear Supreme Court candidate Ed Sheehy (Full disclosure: Ed’s my cousin.) Ed was and is a public defender, one of the few attorneys in Montana who meets the qualifications imposed by the United States Supreme Court to provide a legal defense in death penalty cases.

Death penalty cases are seldom pretty. MGN had no trouble finding one they could use to make mild-mannered Ed Sheehy look like heartless Robert Mitchum, “slapping the victims’ families in the face” by defending the “Christmas Day Killer.” After weeks of ominous mailers and radio spots, Ed was toast. The Office of Political Practices is now pursuing MGN for its clearly political role in his defeat, but whatever settlement OPP negotiates will be for the public’s benefit. It won’t undo the damage to Ed’s name and bank account or give him the court seat he might otherwise have occupied.

In years to come, what Montana attorney, after providing the legal services our Constitution requires in case after controversial case, will be willing to pay the price that Sheehy and Sandefur have paid to serve on Montana’s Supreme Court?  And what price will our court pay, when no member has any direct experience with the messy, undesirable cases that courts must adjudicate? “Cape Fear” soundtrack, please.

Mary Sheehy Moe represents Senate District 12 in Great Falls.

 

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

15 Comments

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  • This is a particularly troubling race, for this crazy, fundiwackmentalist person will be making decisions regarding our environment and our beautiful state. Why is that troubling? Easy answer. EVERY thing that these crazy people implement can eventually be undone through future legislation ex CEPT the environment! Ya just can’t put it back together again once it’s gone. Hell, ANY relative of a Galt should NEVER be allowed to make decisions regarding our beautiful land and water, for they just don’t care. There is NO more venal family in Montana than the Galts, and she’s a’one of them! They simply don’t mind living in a sh*t hole, for Jesus is a’comin’ back any day now, and He wants to know who’s been havin’ S-E-X not authorized by his appointees here on earth like this Jurass freak!

    • p.s. If you’re an overweight, homely broad with NO real experience for the position that you’re running for, and you feel that you actually NEED to remind folks that you like sex, I would opine that you really should just STFU! We don’t need/want you on our supreme court! You’re a joke, a gag candidate. AND, a really pathetic human being. I mean, really, just WHO THE FLOCK needs to reassure folks that they like sex? Only someone as bereft of humanity as this joke of a woman! She is NOT representative of any Montana values that I know of. Hell, we was BORN horny! And likin’ sex! We never needed to remind anyone that we liked sex. Hard to believe that she grew up in the same state that that rest of us did.

      • p.s.s. I’m sure that her hubby is THRILLED that she likes sex! Right? Right? I mean, who the flock could resist such a worldly deeelight as this gem??? Missionary position after about a YUUUUGE night of drinking is about the ONLY way! No WONDER that is the only position she approves of! Good thing that God created booze! And the flag! Doin’ it for old glory! Coverin’ that mug! Hey! “The world must be peopled”!, right, Billy?

          • p.s.s.s. I actually had to appear for jury duty in Judge Sandefur’s court TWICE for jury duty. Now, truth be told, I don’t much like judges OR cops. But I gotta tell ya that Judge Sandefur is cut from a different mold. The man is the real deal. I could have not been more impressed by his compassion, professionalism, and just good humor. He really is a nice, sincere, honest man. He actually laughed when I told the defense attorney that I was a rabid radical environmentalist. The defendant was a logger, and I was just being honest. Naturally, I got dismissed. Hmmm. Wonder why?

            I was taken aback, for I have been before LOTS of judges who were just pure assh*les, including some really nasty ones right here in GF who shall remain unnamed. (but anyone from here probably can deduce who she was!)

            But we have the rare opportunity to put a great man on the Supreme Court instead of a fundiwackmentalist crazy religeeeous NUTjob! The choice could not be clearer. If you want Jeeeesus on the supreme court, vote for that nutty woman. But IF you want a real judge, vote for Sandefur.

            http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/opinion/guest-opinions/2016/10/20/qualified-montana-supreme-court/92459910/

            • But…..but…..but! I’m sorry, Judge Sandefur, but I must protest. Her “ignorance” is not astounding, but her arrogance is! These freakin’ Jesus freaks are gettin’ down right annoying! I’m sick of ’em. And actually, I have been since they FIRST appeared on the scene in my beautiful Montana back in the early seventies. I couldn’t stand their sorry sanctimonieeeous asses back then. And now, I simply hate them! Loathe them really. Meet me at the pole. Yeah RIGHT! I’ll shove that thing where the sun down shine! And Jesus would approve!

              http://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/local/2016/10/20/sandefur-goes-attack-candidate-event/92495908/

              • Oh geez. Well excuse the hell outta me! I didn’t realize that ms. jurass had been endorsed by the Chamber Pot of Commerce! Uh huh. That makes more sense now, for the Chamber Pot of Commerce has NEVER met a polluted toxic mess it didn’t like! And hell, why NOT buy one of the supremes for their own personal toxic dump?! Makes perfect sense, right? I mean if you flocking REALLY have to reassure the world that you like sex with a dumbazzz video, you’re perfect chamber pot material! Dumb, da dumb dumb, DUUMB! Move over Slinky the Barking Seal! Here comes a woman who played even MORE football than you did without a helmet!……………..or maybe she was just born stoooopid!

  • Excellent post, Mary. Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FCC have done irreparable damage to all branches of government. The judicial seems particularly vulnerable as it’s even harder for court candidates to defend against the negative advertising since they need to at least appear nonpartisan and above the fray.

    A personal aside: The other day I did a little door knocking for a statewide candidate. I’ve been doing this for years and it just gets worse-and-worse since Citizens United and McCutcheon. People are so disgusted by the constant barrage of negative advertising that they are completely turned off by politics and the last thing they want to hear is another pitch.

    I don’t think I’m any less charming than I was a decade ago. 🙂 But I used to get thanked by the voters, even those of the opposite party, when I knocked on their doors. Recently, not so much.

    Political discussion, indeed the whole system, is being corrupted by these big money, negative campaigns.

  • The M-D Poll will bring more negative out of State money=speach artillery into Montana to shoot down and knock down
    Candidates running against Candidates financed by out of State money.

    Therefore, I encourage the “undecided” also the under excited, to Vote against out of State hit squads, in these times when there’s too much money in all the wrong places.

  • Wait, what? You are saying out of staters spent SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILLION to elect McKinnon?

    All of the numbers I can find suggest the number was more like $900,000.

    That’s a pretty big difference.

    • See, the problem is that when a “newspaper” like the GF Spitoon FIRES all their real reporters and hires in their stead a bald headed dumdazzz from back east, suddenly a dink like bill mercer is worthy of an editorial in the Spitoon. He’s not. He’s a jerk and a REAL jerk who should have been fired long ago during his tenure.

      But the Spitoon and baldy back east boy phil drake, a regular Philatio Alger, decide to find the most unfit dipstick around to back this jurass freak, they call billy mercer.

      Well, billy has an history, Philatio, of which you wouldn’t be aware. For you weren’t here and you don’t know your ass! Here, allow me. Ass, meet billy!

      http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jul/20/nation/na-mercer20

      • p.s. Billy, just like ms. juras herself, does NOT like out wonderful stream access law and has repeatedly tried to destroy it. If you vote for a Pubbie in this state, you need your head examined, for you certainly aren’t a fisherman or hunter! But HEY, if you’re a billionaire looking to buy a home, billy will sell you one complete with the river that runs through it! Right, billy boy? If it runs through your property, you own it! At least according to billy and the I-like-sex freak! You see, they don’t like no riff raff like us floatin’ by lookin’ at them! And really, can you blame them? It ain’t EVERY day you can watch the freak show from the river! HEY, you might even get a glimpse of a wacko kristeeyan lady doin’ the nasty! Ya never know!

        http://www.hcn.org/issues/43.12/montanas-stream-access-law-stays-strong

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