An anti-death penalty group is crying foul over radio advertisements in which the secretary of state tries to "clarify" ballot language that will decide the fate of capital punishment in Nebraska.
Retain a Just Nebraska sent a letter to the Nebraska Broadcasters Association asking it to stop running a pair of public service announcements produced by Secretary of State John Gale.
Darold Bauer, campaign manager for the group, said the radio announcements fail to say that the Nebraska Legislature repealed the death penalty and replaced it with life in prison without parole. Research shows that public opinion changes "drastically" based on whether or not the alternative of life imprisonment exists, he added.
"The current ad ... is nothing more than a state sponsored political ad which violates the trust of the public, the intent of numerous campaign laws, and may be a violation of state and federal law," Bauer wrote.
Gale declined to comment Tuesday.
Jim Timm, director of the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, said the organization will not discontinue the ads. The scripts were written by Gale and carefully reviewed so as not to sway voters either way on the issue, he added.
"I approved them to make sure they are not steering people to vote one way or the other," Timm said Tuesday. "They are trying to inform and educate as to what will be on the ballot."
Timm pointed out that the public service ads are available to radio stations statewide to broadcast as they see fit. The $3,500 campaign does not come with a guarantee that the ads will air a minimum number of times.
The Legislature voted to repeal the death penalty in 2015. Supporters of capital punishment launched a successful petition drive to put the question to voters in the Nov. 8 general election.
"It's easy to get tripped up over the language," Gale said in the release. That's because the ballot language asks voters if they want to retain or repeal the legislation that abolished the death penalty.
In the ads, Gale explains "a vote to retain abolishes the death penalty, a vote to repeal preserves the death penalty." Bauer also criticized Gale's campaign for not including an online component that would more likely reach younger voters and for not including a Spanish-language version
Source: Omaha World-Herald, October 25, 2016
Statement by Darold Bauer, campaign manager, Retain a Just Nebraska In response to Secretary of State John Gale’s Decision to Pull Radio Ads
“The assurance of life imprisonment is an essential part of the ballot language, and critical to voters.”
OMAHA - “Upon learning of the public service announcements, we requested late yesterday that they be immediately taken off the air. The assurance of life imprisonment in place of the death penalty is critical to voters, and is mentioned repeatedly in the ballot language. Failing to mention that fact in these ‘PSA’s’ effectively made the Secretary of State an advocate on one side of the debate, with taxpayer money.”
“The ads failed to mention what the ballot question clearly states: that the elimination of the death penalty in Nebraska leaves in place life imprisonment. That is a matter of fact of the ballot language, and of critical importance to voters.”
“Decades of research has shown that voters’ opinion of the death penalty changes drastically based on whether or not the assurance of life imprisonment exists.”
“In addition, as Secretary Gale correctly realized, the radio ads caused more problems and confusion for Nebraska voters by failing to include that fact that Nebraska has life imprisonment. We appreciate his willingness to listen to our concerns and take action.”
“To avoid any continued confusion, we strongly recommend and request that all media outlets take the time to accurately describe the choice voters have before them:
“A vote for ‘Retain’ removes the Death Penalty and replaces it with life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.”
“We also suggest that where possible, media outlets include the entire ballot language. And to always include the exact purpose of the law passed by the Nebraska Legislature”:
The Purpose of Legislative Bill 268, passed by the First Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature in 2015, is to eliminate the death penalty and change the maximum penalty for the crime of murder in the first degree to life imprisonment.
The exact ballot language:
A vote to “Retain” will eliminate the death penalty and change the maximum penalty for the crime of murder in the first degree to life imprisonment by retaining Legislative Bill 268, passed in 2015 by the First Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature.
A vote to “Repeal” will keep the death penalty as a possible penalty for the crime of murder in the first degree by repealing Legislative Bill 268, passed in 2015 by the First Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature.
The Purpose of Legislative Bill 268, passed by the First Session of the 104th Nebraska Legislature in 2015, is to eliminate the death penalty and change the maximum penalty for the crime of murder in the first degree to life imprisonment. Shall Legislative Bill 268 be repealed?
Source: Retain a Just Nebraska, October 2016
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