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Republican Governors Association doubles down on negative ad campaign against lawyer

Posted May 1, 2014 10:55 AM CDT
By Victor Li

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Unbowed by persistent criticism over its negative ad campaign focusing on a gubernatorial candidate’s past as a trial attorney—which has generated outrage from many political commentators, lawyers, and bar associations, including the ABA—the Republican Governors Association doubled down on Tuesday.

According to an article in The State, the RGA has released a second negative ad against South Carolina Democratic gubernatorial candidate and attorney Vincent Sheheen, a former prosecutor and current partner at Savage, Royal & Sheheen, for representing criminal defendants.

Republican Governors Association's new ad, released
on April 28.

“Have you heard the news about Vincent Sheheen?” asks the narrator of the ad released on Tuesday. The spot then runs a clip from an unnamed news anchor who reported that “Sheheen represented a sex offender who abused a minor and court papers show he negotiated the man’s sentence from 10 years to 38 days.” The spot concludes with the line: “Vincent Sheheen: He represents criminals, not us.”

The first attack ad, which was released two weeks ago, led to a flood of criticism of the RGA by several political commentators and attorney groups. The South Carolina Bar took the unprecedented step of publicly condemning the ad as an attack on the legal profession as a whole.

Last Friday, the ABA sent a letter to the RGA (PDF) and called for the withdrawal of the ad in a press release. "The Republican Governors Association ad sends a disturbing message to lawyers—that their clients’ past actions or beliefs will stain their own careers, especially if they want to serve their country in public office," wrote ABA President James R. Silkenat.

Sheheen, who was also the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2010 (he lost to Republican Nikki Haley by four percentage points), has declined to comment on the ad. The RGA, for its part, isn’t backing down.

“Voters have a right to know about Vincent Sheheen’s record,” RGA spokesman Jon Thompson said to the State. “Sheheen claims to be tough on crime and violence towards women, but his past shows that is simply not true.”

Sheheen isn’t the only 2014 candidate taking fire for being a lawyer. According to a Wednesday article in Slate, Woody White, a conservative Republican running for U.S. House of Representatives, was recently attacked by another Republican candidate for being an attorney “like John Edwards.”

“In one case, [White] represented a man accused of molesting a child,” said the narrator of the ad. “Sadly, White tried to downplay his client’s behavior by saying the molester merely crossed boundaries. Crossed boundaries! It’s not right, but it’s what lawyers like Woody White do.”

Sheheen and White can take heart by looking at two successful politicians who survived attacks based on their legal careers. According to the Am Law Daily Tea Party hero Ted Cruz faced a similar attack ad during his 2012 Senate campaign after his primary opponent, Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, accused Cruz’s law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius of donating to Barack Obama. Meanwhile, the South Bend Tribune reported that, in 2010, former Indiana Senator Dan Coats, a partner at King & Spalding who was running for his old Senate seat, was hit with an attack ad focusing on his firm’s work on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Both Cruz and Coats ended up winning their races.

Related article:

ABAJournal.com: "State bar and ABA condemn political attack ad against lawyer running for South Carolina governor"

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