Democratic Sen. Mark Begich put out a scathing attack ad last week against GOP opponent Dan Sullivan in Alaska, alleging that the former attorney general is to blame for the early release and subsequent alleged crimes— a double murder and sexual assault— by one Jerry Andrew Active. Begich ran the ad without consulting the family of the victims in the case or their lawyers, and they demanded the ad be taken down because— wait for it— the case has yet to be prosecuted, and making it the centerpiece of a race for national office by a sitting senator might have the potential of derailing the case in some manner.
Politifact gave the ad a “Pants on Fire” rating after it and its response ad from Sullivan had already been taken down, at the family’s request. Here’s a bit of the transcript:
“(Sullivan) let a lot of sex offenders get off with light sentences,” says the ad’s narrator, identified as a retired police officer, standing outside of an Anchorage apartment complex. “One of them got out of prison and is now charged with breaking into that apartment building, murdering a senior couple and sexually assaulting their two-year-old granddaughter. Dan Sullivan should not be a U.S. senator.”
Politifact goes over the facts in the case and finds Begich’s charges inflammatory and false. It was a paperwork error before Sullivan’s tenure that caused the early release:
The Department of Law said at the time that they are not sure how the mistake happened, though the information network sometimes has blind spots when it comes to offenses that happen in rural villages, like the one where Active was arrested in 2007, according to the Alaska Dispatch.
Regardless, this chain of events happened before Sullivan became attorney general.
The Alaska Public Safety Information Network pulled Active’s report the day after he was arrested in January 2009 — Sullivan took office the following June. So although Active’s plea agreement and sentencing happened in 2010, while Sullivan was in office, the mistake that led to Active’s shorter sentence happened more than a year earlier. (At the time, Sullivan was on active duty for the U.S. Marine Corps, according to his campaign.)
Additionally, it’s highly unlikely that Sullivan was personally involved with Active’s case and plea agreement at all, said John Skidmore, director of the Department of Law’s criminal division. The state handles about 40,000 cases each year, at least half of which are felonies — so it’s “unrealistic” for an attorney general to be involved with individual cases, he said.
“There is no way that (any attorney general) would be involved in that sort of decision at that level at that time,” Skidmore said.
Despite the nature of the allegations and the fact that it was a lie that had to be pulled from TV to protect the victims’ family and case, there is precious little coverage of the “unprecedentedly negative” nature of Begich’s campaign. The Post did offer this analysis conceding the ad hurts him but it’s remarkably kind in tone for a guy who just ran a false ad accusing his opponent of abetting the alleged sexual assault of a toddler and the murders of two people:
1. The story became about process. The point of Begich releasing the ad was to define Sullivan in a very specific way, but the story quickly became about more about and his campaign than anything else. The front pages of today’s Alaska Dispatch News and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, for instance, feature stories about the removal of the ads, and the controversy set off by Begich’s decision. When voters look back on this incident, what are they going to remember more? The details of Begich’s ad, which only aired briefly before it was pulled? Or the resulting criticism from the family’s attorney and the Sullivan campaign, which received days of coverage?
2. Things were running smoothly. Then this happened. Begich is one of four Democratic senators running nationwide in states Mitt Romney won in 2012. Of the four, he had arguably put himself in the best position headed into the fall. He’s run effective ads produced by red state expert Mark Putnam that have sought remind voters of his deep Alaska roots, including a memorable one about the death of his father, who was a congressman. He’s done as good a job keeping President Obama at arm’s length as any other vulnerable Democrat. He hadn’t committed a major gaffe or been hit with a devastating revaluation of his past record. The most negative story about him up to this point had probably been fellow Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R) rejection of his efforts to link the two of them together. Not anymore.
Lachlan Markey reports on the family’s response to being dragged into the race and the national spotlight.
Between this and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz’s truly disgusting comments about Gov. Scott Walker, I’m beginning to think they’re feeling desperate.
“Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand. I know that is stark. I know that is direct. But that is reality.”
Wasserman Schultz added: “What Republican tea party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back. It is not going to happen on our watch.”