ST. PAUL (AP) -- Unheeded by parties and candidates, a twice-tried attempt to get candidates to run cleaner campaigns has been all but ignored this election season.
The Minnesota Compact, first proposed for the 1996 cycle, is a voluntary set of campaign standards aimed at getting politicians to focus on issues and to get the media to hold them accountable if they don't.
"I haven't read it this year," acknowledged House Minority Leader Tom Pugh, who is heading the DFL's effort to retake the Minnesota House. "It probably needs its image escalated a bit."
Republican Bill Walsh, campaign manager of Linda Runbeck's 4th District run for the U.S. House, said he hasn't heard a word about it this cycle.
Yet it still exists.
Judy Duffy, president of the Minnesota League of Women Voters' education fund, said the compact is alive, if less prominent.
She said her group has sent pamphlets explaining the four planks of the compact to all state candidates.
She also said there is less work to do this year because the compact had success in past years in areas such as encouraging media outlets to perform "ad watch" analyses of controversial commercials.
"It definitely has a lower profile," Duffy said. "But it's there."
Previous state efforts to tame campaigns have met similar fates. Before the compact, there was an effort led by Minneapolis advertising executive Lee Lynch. His group worked to get candidates to sign pledges promising to abide by specific standards in their advertising.
Among other things, the pledge required that candidates not use the likeness of their opponents in political ads. Shortly after it was proposed, candidates from both major parties accused their rivals of violating it.
Duffy said that because of her group's tax-exempt status, the league is prohibited from requiring candidates to sign such a specific pledge. She said that's why the compact remains merely a voluntary commitment.
Pugh said that while ideas like the compact are well-intended, the public remains the final judge of what sort of campaigning is out-of-bounds.
"Although it would be helpful if there were some kind of guide, it would take a 400-page document, single-spaced, to cover all of the campaign tactics that have been used or could be used," he said.
Walsh agreed. "It's up to the people to decide what's right and what's wrong in political advertising. They're the ultimate truth squad."
The compact was supported by such groups as the Humphrey Institute. In 1998, it was promoted on their behalf by former U.S. Rep. Tim Penny.
Penny stepped away from his role promoting the compact in part because he considered a Senate run early this year. He said the pact has left a mark on state campaigns whether candidates know it or not.
"Even though there's a lot of ugly stuff going on the air, of the stuff that has been actually paid for by the candidates, the vast majority of it would actually abide by the code," he said.
Among code tenets that candidates generally abide by, he noted, is a plank that would have them keep their image on the air for the bulk of their commercial. The theory behind that pledge is that candidates are more likely to stay clean if they must do the attacking themselves.
But Penny acknowledged that there are still plenty of dirty ads on the air.
Many of them are paid for by special interest groups, who have never promised to abide by any codes of conduct.
"It's sad but true," Penny said, "They do it because it works."
On the Net:
Minnesota Compact: http://www.lwvmn.org/MNCompact/
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.