I first saw the anti Diaz commercial last week on WLOX. It was paid for by LEAA, an offshoot of the National Rifle Association. Not only was the ad well below the belt but according to Anita Lee is also false and misleading. The fact insurance company supported candidate Bubba Pierce was content to sit and watch these ads without comment speaks volumes too. Momma Pierce certainly taught her boy better but the lure of the supreme court has clouded his judgement and now his reputation is suffering. Here is Anita Lee’s story:
Proponents of campaign-finance reform say a loophole in Mississippi law encourages misleading, anonymously sponsored television advertisements that out-of-state groups back to attack candidates they oppose.
This past week, incumbent Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. became the target of an inaccurate and misleading advertisement sponsored by the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, an organization headquartered near Washington, D.C.
LEAA, a group that has been backed by the National Rifle Association, is airing the advertisements on television stations from Jackson to the Coast. They accuse Diaz of supporting two child killers and a rapist who murdered a woman. Diaz actually voted to give one convict a post-conviction hearing in Circuit Court, stay the execution of a second inmate pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on lethal injection and grant a new trial to a third defendant because of errors in a previous trial that the entire court acknowledged.
Matt Steffey, a Mississippi College School of Law professor who specializes in criminal law, said the ads are intended to mislead and play on the electorate’s fear.
“They are false in small respects and they are misleading in important ways,” Steffey said. “They exaggerate the importance of the opinions and make them look like something they’re not. They’re literally distortions of the record in these cases.”
Diaz’s opponent, Chancery Judge Randy “Bubba” Pierce, said he opposes negative ads but stopped short of characterizing the ads as inaccurate.
The ad infuriated Gulfport attorney Tim Holleman, who recently hosted a legal gathering where both candidates talked about running positive campaigns.
“The attempt by outsiders to influence judicial elections in Mississippi has got to stop,” Holleman, a Diaz supporter, said in an e-mail to the Sun Herald.
“My friends and neighbors constantly complain about the lies we see on television between the candidates. Well, here we go again! I am quite frankly sick of it and if someone runs ads filled with lies, then we should vote against them.
“I heard Bubba Pierce say in a speech that he would not deal in dirty politics, well LEAA is doing it for him. Bubba Pierce ought to publicly condemn them for it, if his word means anything.”
Steffey and Holleman pointed out that Diaz has served 14 years as an appellate court judge, so focusing on three cases hardly speaks to his record. In 10 minutes, Holleman found eight murder convictions Diaz has voted to uphold in 2008 alone.
LEAA, identified as a “stealth PAC” by the national watchdog group Public Citizen, is not required by Mississippi law to file the campaign paperwork that political action committees must submit if they spend or collect $200 or more in the state to back a candidate’s campaign. That’s because the Diaz attack ad never asks people to vote for a candidate. The ad simply says people should let him know how they feel about his positions.
The Legislature passed a bill in 2004 that would have required reporting from groups that run ads such as those aired by LEAA, whose office failed to return telephone calls from the Sun Herald. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, a former lobbyist, vetoed the bill.
“I believe that any group supporting or opposing a candidate for Mississippi election ought to comply with our campaign finance laws and if the activities of any group are not currently covered by our laws, we ought to change them to ensure full disclosure,” said Sen. David Blount, who serves on the Election Committee.
“If there’s a television commercial talking about a candidate, it’s a campaign ad. If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck. If we have a loophole, we ought to close it.
“Disclosure means accountability and lack of disclosure limits accountability.”
Campaign ad watch
Outlined below are allegations being aired in television advertisements attacking incumbent Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz vs. the facts.
The ad says: “We need judges to protect our families in Mississippi, but when a 6-month-old child was raped and murdered Supreme Court Justice Diaz was the only one voting for the child’s killer.” (Havard v. Mississippi)
Fact: In 2006, the court rejected Jeffrey Keith Havard’s appeal from Circuit Court of his capital murder conviction in the death of 6-month-old Chloe Britt. Diaz did not participate. In 2008, the court rejected Havard’s request for post-conviction relief that would have sent the case back to trial court for a hearing on whether he was entitled to another trial. Diaz voted to grant the hearing.
The ad says: “An elderly woman kidnapped, beaten and raped; Diaz, the only one voting for the rapist.” (Berry v. Miss.)
Fact: Diaz voted with the majority to uphold the capital murder conviction and death penalty sentence of Earl Wesley Berry for killing a 56-year-old abducted as she left choir practice. Diaz supported a stay of Berry’s execution in 2007 while the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the constitutionality of lethal injection. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently blocked Berry’s execution for that reason; the nation’s high court has since upheld lethal injection in a Kentucky case. Berry was executed in May.
The ad says: “A 20-month-old baby dead from blows to her head; Justice Diaz votes to overturn the baby killer’s conviction.” (Kolberg v. Miss.)
Fact: Before Diaz joined the Supreme Court, justices voted in 1997 to reverse the capital murder conviction and death penalty sentence of Bryan Kolberg, who murdered 22-month-old Madison Watson. On retrial, Kolberg was found guilty of capital murder but sentenced to life in prison. In 2002, Diaz joined an opinion by Chief Justice Ed Pittman to grant Kolberg a new trial because of errors in the second trial. A majority of the court rejected the request, but acknowledged “instances of error committed by the trial court,” concluding that Kolberg still received a “constitutionally fair trial.”