Campaigns commonly share policy platforms, slogans
Sep. 22, 2014
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Democrat running for Wisconsin governor acknowledges her campaign lifted policy platforms, including some exact language, from like-minded candidates.
Republicans quickly charged plagiarism, but Mary Burke is just the latest in a long line of politicians in both parties who have shared slogans, talking points and campaign materials. With Burke locked in an extremely tight race with Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the practice is putting a spotlight on how much leeway those running for office should have when presenting ideas as their own.
"We need to be a little more cognizant of the rough and tumble that politics is," said Rutgers University history and journalism professor David Greenberg on Monday. "We've never held campaigns to the highest standards of strict scrutiny that we would hold a scholar to or hold a journalist to or a judge to. You know, it's politics."
The accusations against Burke first came to light on Thursday night and focused on several passages from her jobs plan, which she's made a central part of her campaign to knock off Walker, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate. Burke is a former state Commerce Department secretary and Trek Bicycles executive.
Burke said the jobs plan passages, which were identical or largely the same as materials from four previous Democratic gubernatorial campaigns, were written by a consultant who had worked for all of the candidates. Burke cut ties with the consultant but said she wouldn't change the language because she believed in the underlying ideas.
"It does not at all undermine the credibility and integrity of the plan," Burke told The Associated Press in an interview Friday. "When I was at Trek, the way Trek would always look at being better would be to look at best practices and ideas that others had."
Over the weekend, Walker's campaign found seven additional examples in Burke's plans for rural communities and on veterans issues that appeared to be taken directly from statements from advocacy groups and others. In four cases, Burke cited the original source for the material but did not place it in quotes.
Burke, whose campaign says Walker is using the issue against her out of desperation, is far from the first politician to face pressure over plagiarism claims.
In fact, a recycled idea helped Walker first get elected in 2010. He argued then that a sign of his frugality was that he eats his lunch out of a brown paper bag every day. But Ohio Republican George Voinovich, being advised by the same New Hampshire consulting firm as Walker, tried the same approach in a Senate race 12 years earlier.
Just last week Monica Wehby, a GOP Senate candidate in Oregon, blamed a former staff member for policy positions that matched those of two other Republicans word for word.
Unlike Burke, Wehby removed the language in question from her health care plan while also defending the fact that it was nearly identical to poll questions tested by Crossroads GPS, a political group run for Republican operative Karl Rove.
"These aren't proprietary ideas of one particular group," Wehby told the AP last week. "This is what we all talk about. In every plan, you'll see the same issues, and that's why these are good plans."
In Montana, Democratic U.S. Sen. John Walsh is under investigation by the U.S. Army War College over allegations that he used others' work without attribution in 2007 research paper required for a master's degree.
In perhaps the most famous example, Vice President Joe Biden ended his campaign for president in 1988 after delivering a series of lies and exaggerations about himself, including giving speeches that borrowed biographical details from a British Labor Party official's life and tried to pass them off as his own.
Voters won't pay attention to the details of the accusations, but they will trust Burke less than they did before, said Hogan Gidley, a longtime Republican operative based in South Carolina.
"Mary Burke no longer comes across as honest, and that is absolutely going to hurt her campaign because it hurts her credibility to the voters," Gidley said.
But Greenberg, who is writing a book on political spin, said the plagiarism accusations against Burke are a stretch because the public generally understands that politicians use consultants, pollsters and speech writers who regularly adhere to, and share, winning talking points and proposals.
"This is a pretty minor offense," Greenberg said.
Shortly after he left office, former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in 2002 spoke to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful conservative group that often proposes model legislation for state lawmakers to push back home.
"I always loved going to these meetings because I always found new ideas," Thompson said. "Then I'd take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare that 'It's mine.'"
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