GOP candidates' wording on Web strikingly similar
Baldwin's challenger apologizes; others say language is their own
By Jason Stein and Diana Marrero of the Journal Sentinel
May 24, 2010
Madison — Several Republican candidates for Congress in Wisconsin and other states are using nearly identical language on their Web sites as they try to sway voters.
Presenting the ideas as their own, the candidates have posted strikingly similar passages detailing their stances on such issues as the economy, taxes and jobs, a review of their sites found. The similarity raises the question of whether some of the candidates are plagiarizing each other or whether they are all taking their language from a common source.
At least one of the candidates, Chad Lee, who is running in the GOP primary for the chance to challenge U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison), has dropped the quotes from his Web site and apologized.
In a political world where staying on message is increasingly valued, both national political parties can distribute homogenized talking points to candidates across the country, said Nathan Gonzales, a political editor at the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
"Some candidates do a better job of putting it in their own words," said Gonzales, noting that candidates also can draw on their parties' Web sites, briefings and even "candidate schools" where aspiring politicians can receive party training.
The candidates with similar language include Sean Duffy, the favorite to win the GOP primary in Wisconsin's 7th congressional district now held by outgoing U.S. Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wausau), and Robert Ramirez of Westminster, Colo., a manager at a uniform rental company who is running for the Colorado legislature for the first time.
Tom Erickson, a spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, said his organization doesn't provide candidates "with any sort of written issue briefs for their Web sites, nor do we give them content to just paste on there."
The content on Duffy's Web site is all original writing from his political campaign and not the work of others, campaign manager Matt Seaholm said.
"We certainly did not copy and paste from anybody's Web site," he said. "We can come up with our own phrasing."
Lee, Duffy and Ramirez all posted nearly identical language on their sites saying they supported making "overtime tax-free."
"Why should you pay more for working longer and harder? The government should stop punishing hard work," all three sites said, with Lee's and Ramirez's sites continuing on in the exact same way. "Once you have put in 40 hours a week, the government should allow you to keep your overtime pay."
Duffy's site had only slight changes in that final sentence.
For his part, Ramirez said he didn't take the language on his Web site from a Wisconsin candidate or any other source. He said he had written the language in question in October and posted it to his site in February.
"If it's on my Web site, I personally wrote it," Ramirez said. "I'm very passionate about what I write and how I write it."
Lee said his Web site's use of other candidates' material amounted to an "overzealous and erroneous" move by volunteers and that he took down the material after WISC-TV in Madison reported on it last week.
"It was an honest mistake and I apologize for that," said Lee, who also denied receiving any talking points. "We're very independent of any establishment because we feel like our ideas and our issues are our own."
Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the Web quotes show Republicans have "cookie-cutter" candidates who don't put much thought into policy positions.
"Campaign rhetoric certainly overlaps on both sides . . . but we're not lifting whole quotes from Colorado and airmailing them in here," Zielinski said.
Both parties borrow words
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been caught lifting words from other sources. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Barack Obama of plagiarism for using a passage in a speech that Obama later said he should have credited to Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts. In 1987, accusations of plagiarism sank then-Sen. Joe Biden's presidential bid after he borrowed material from a speech by a British politician.
Mordecai Lee, a professor of governmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a former Democratic state senator, said voters shouldn't harshly judge beginning candidates who use borrowed language. Lee said he can remember working on campaigns using similar tactics in the 1970s.
"We did a lot of cutting and pasting and taking ideas," Lee said. "When you're an out-of-office challenger, you don't have the infrastructure that an incumbent has."
But Lee did call it "sloppiness" for a challenger who has never been elected to office to refer incorrectly to legislation he has "introduced."
Chad Lee did that in a passage lifted from U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's Web site, which lists the immigration legislation that Ryan introduced.
The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., reported recently that the Web site for Idaho congressional candidate Vaughn Ward had taken language from Ryan's Web site and also had passages similar to those on the sites of Duffy and Chad Lee. Critics are now accusing Ward, a Republican, of plagiarizing several phrases from a 2004 Obama speech.
Ryan finance director Susan Jacobson said Ryan is not working with other candidates to help them craft their campaign messages.
"You will have to ask the candidates who did the plagiarizing why they plagiarized," she said in an e-mail.
BOTH SIDES ARE JUST AS BAD, right?