Every candidate for elected office travels down a campaign trail littered with potentially dangerous moments. Some of these are self-inflicted. A careless statement, for example, during an era when everyone seems to have a cellphone video camera, can quickly derail a bid for public service.
But the scourge of any campaign is the financial contributor who draws unwanted negative attention to themselves and, by association, the candidate they support.
An offensive rant by spirit channeler JZ Knight of Yelm, caught on video and distributed via the Internet, has placed several South Sound Democratic candidates in this unenviable situation.
Knight has contributed money to the campaigns of Sandra Romero, an incumbent seeking re-election to the Thurston County Commission; Bruce Lachney, running for the state Senate in the 2nd Legislative District; and Denny Heck, a candidate in the new 10th Congressional District.
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It’s no surprise that the state Republican Party is trying to capitalize on the situation, hoping that Knight’s outrageously bigoted and foul-mouthed tirade can create an advantage for its own candidates. That’s expected as basic political strategy.
But should the Democratic candidates have to give back the money?
They should certainly distance themselves from Knight, who sounds hateful and anti-Semitic on the video. Just as Republicans have distanced themselves from U.S. Rep. Todd Atkin, who talked about “legitimate rape,” and Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said women impregnated by a rape should accept it as something “God intended.”
And the candidates would be wise to return the campaign donations due to the extreme nature of Knight’s outburst.
But the idea that candidates must vet the moral standards of every campaign contributor is simply impractical. Imagine political races involving tens of thousands of individual contributors. A campaign might think it knows all that some individual contributor has done; who knows what some contributor might do in the future?
Candidates can, and often do, refuse to accept funds from contributors who represent beliefs or practices too divergent from their own. But who knew Knight was as extreme as the video portrays?
Any candidate would certainly return funds derived through criminal means, but that’s different from being compelled to do so.
What makes the Knight video unique is that some hater of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment spliced in unrelated clips of Romero, attempting to unfairly imply that the commissioner candidate shares Knight’s opinions.
That’s a cheap shot, and so are the inevitable attack pieces soon to arrive in South Sound mailboxes trying to suggest Lachney and Romero agree with Knight’s vitriolic spewings.
Must the public just accept these dirty tricks as part of the gamesmanship of running an election campaign? Is there no limit to the incivility of political campaigns, beyond which a majority of voters will not tolerate?
If there is, we apparently haven’t reached it yet. Political parties continue to show voters there is no mud too dirty to sling at an opponent.