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Published August 14 2012

Forum editorial: YWCA ad crosses ethical line

The Rick Berg campaign for the U.S. Senate seems to think an impossible-to-read disclaimer on a television spot is enough to justify running the offending ad again and again. The North Dakota congressman’s campaign apparently recruited (or she volunteered) a prominent Fargo businesswomen who had served as YWCA board president. Tammy Miller’s high-profile role in the ad has her endorsing Berg’s work for women, specifically his support for the YWCA Cass Clay. As political advertising goes, it’s a very well-produced spot.

Nonetheless, the folks at the Y quickly and properly objected. Berg certainly has helped the Y, but the Y’s nonprofit, tax-exempt status prohibits political endorsements and other partisan activities. In response to the Y’s concerns, the campaign attached a small and fuzzy disclaimer at the bottom of the screen image, which, of course, blinks on and off quickly, so few viewers see it, let alone read it. The impact of the spot remains the same: A not-so-subtle implication that the YWCA endorses Berg’s candidacy.

No matter how this thing gets the spin treatment by Berg’s people (or portly cheap-shot bloggers who do what they do without regard to facts, accountability or application of basic reporting skills), the Berg ad crosses the line. If the star of the spot wanted to highlight the candidate’s record on women’s issues, she should have done so without entangling the YWCA. The ad, despite the disclaimer, strongly suggests the Y has endorsed Berg, which it has not. The organization will not endorse any candidate because it is prohibited from doing so.

Again, Berg might very well have a good record on support for women and women’s and family policies that matter to the YWCA. That’s not the issue. The ad’s obvious implication is that the Y has taken political sides, and that’s the problem. Certainly operatives on the Berg team knew exactly what they were doing when they prepared the spot. Berg had to approve it before it was aired.

The ad was unethical from the start, remains so even with the disclaimer and should be pulled.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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