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May 31, 2000,

EDITORIAL: Are all questions answered about election smear calls?

Are all Lancastrians fully satisfied that investigation of the smear campaign in the 37th House District primary is ending the way it should? As things stand, we have no clear verdict of who is guilty of ordering those contemptible telephone calls to voters on the eve of the election -- the calls that smeared winning candidate Tom Creighton and hinted that the message came from candidate Marc Lemon -- which was false. One of the injured candidates, Lemon, sets out this final prescription for dealing with the incident: "Although I would like to be assured that this type of activity will never happen again, I think that the voters can clearly see who are the individuals behind this... and put it in the backs of their minds and remember it in the next election." Can all voters clearly see who these individuals are, or do significant questions about who designed this fiasco remain? District Attorney Donald Totaro says his office is dropping its investigation because he doubts the negative telephone calls could be prosecuted successfully. He says the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down laws regulating anonymous attacks in electioneering. Besides, Totaro says, the major complainant, Lemon, has withdrawn his request for an investigation and no other citizens in the district have requested a study. State election law allows any five electors to ask an auditor to review the records, preparatory to a court decision on possible violations of the election code. That has not happened. Before everyone believes the only explanation given -- that a political consultant, acting on his own initiative and without a candidate's knowledge, initiated 2,800 smear calls at great expense -- some people might want to ask a few more questions. Among them: 'Even if the courts eventually threw out this case, wouldn't it be worth presenting it simply to determine all facts? Right now, ideas vary about who is ultimately responsible for this dirty deed. Are some innocent people still being smeared? 'Within weeks of the election, why has Don Raymond landed a top political job working for House Republicans? Raymond served as political consultant for losing candidate Kevin Harley and has taken full responsibility for ordering the calls and has apologized for them through his attorney. But some people believe a consultant does not do such things without authorization. Some people might think that a consultant who could initiate these negative calls all by himself could not be trusted to work responsibly as executive director of the House Republican Committee, a campaign oversight and coordinating group. Some people might even think that Raymond received this plum job in exchange for falling on his sword

and protecting others in relation to the smear campaign. State Rep. John Barley's group, Friends of John Barley, provided most of Harley's financing. Barley says a man who admits his mistake, as Raymond did, should be allowed to move on. Fair enough. But should such a man be allowed to move on to a position that requires oversight of the type of activity he engaged in? 'Why has the state elections bureau been so passive regarding this matter? An objective observer might think this is precisely the type of incident that the elections bureau would want to investigate, if it intends to protect the integrity of Pennsylvania elections. Does the bureau's passivity have anything to do with its leadership? Lancastrian Richard Filling, a former Lancaster City councilman and state Republican chairman, has headed that bureau since 1995. Is Filling protecting Republicans on his home turf? Those are a few relevant questions. No one suggests that finding answers would be easy. But some people might believe that finding answers would be crucial to defending the integrity of our democratic system. As we said at the outset, the basic question here is simple: Are all Lancastrians fully satisfied that investigation of the smear campaign in the 37th House District primary is ending the way it should? If the answer to that question is yes, it is time to move on. If the answer is no, remedies remain.