The Death Penalty Issue and the California AG Race

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

In California, the race for attorney general is drawing significant national attention: President Obama appeared at a fundraiser for the Democratic nominee, San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, and the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is headed by former RNC chair Ed Gillespie, is helping the Republican nominee, Los Angeles district attorney Steve Cooley.

According to a new poll from the Los Angeles Times, Cooley leads Harris among likely voters, 40–35 percent. Cooley benefits from his base in Los Angeles County as well as his position on the death penalty, which has 70 percent support among state voters. Harris opposes the death penalty, and the RSLC has an ad attacking her on the issue.

But, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Harris campaign is crying foul: “The RSLC is running the ad as an ‘issue ad,’ which means that they don’t really have to tell voters who funded the ad; Harris campaign attorney Jim Sutton said it’s clearly an independent expenditure ad, which would require more information in the ad about who paid for it.”

The RSLC’s Temple told the paper, “Our contention is that it’s an issue ad. Basically, it doesn’t cross any of the lines or include any of the language that would make it an independent expenditure.” He continued, “The RSLC is part of the Republican Attorneys General Association, and our mission to elect state level Republican candidates, which includes attorneys general. The point of this is to remind voters about Harris’ record and the fact that it differs from what many Californians believe.”

John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.

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