PA-Sen: Cancer Research Website Really Arlen Specter Campaign Fundraiser – UPDATED!

Arlen Specter has been promoting a new website - www.SpecterForTheCure.com – which appears to be an effort to raise money for medical research.  Take a look at the website for yourself and get a first impression of your own – and please share in the comments those first impressions as well as your thoughts after reading the below article.  It turns out that the donations solicited by the website do not go to medical research - the donations go to Specter’s re-election fund:

In two national TV appearances Sunday, Sen. Arlen Specter plugged specterforthecure.com – a website he said he launched to “put more pressure on Congress” to increase funding for medical research.What Specter didn’t say: The website is owned by his reelection committee, and contributions made there go straight to Specter’s 2010 reelection campaign.

No one doubts Specter’s commitment to federal funding for medical research. A survivor of two bouts with Hodgkin’s disease, the Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat is pushing a bill that would authorize $40 billion a year in baseline funding for the National Institutes of Health.

But critics say Specter’s comments Sunday and the layout of specterforthecure.com itself obscure the fact that what looks like a solicitation for medical research is really just a campaign cash come-on.

“While it may meet the technical legal requirements, it’s fair to say it’s a bit misleading,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign law watchdog.

As first noted by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s PoliTex blog, specterforthecure.com “appears at first glance to be a fundraising site for a reform movement to help Sen. Arlen Specter fund programs that will seek cures for major diseases.”

Visitors to specterforthecure.com are greeted with a banner promising “A Giant Leap in Turning Cancer into Cures.” While the homepage of most campaign Web sites feature a photo of the candidate, this one offers a picture of a woman with red tape over her mouth. The caption: “Red tape leaves medical research gasping for breath. It’s time we let loose the winds of a cure.”

The first several paragraphs on the site talk about the fight against cancer, autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes and discuss Specter’s efforts to push through legislation increasing funding for research.

“It’s time to unleash the cure,” the site says.

There’s a reference to “The Specter Record on Medical Research” at the top of the page, but there’s not a word about Specter’s reelection above the fold; that comes nine paragraphs in, after readers have scrolled down from a bit. And it takes 11 paragraphs before a reader would have any hint that the “Donate Now!” button displayed prominently at the top of the screen is for contributions to Citizens for Arlen Specter, the senator’s campaign committee.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the way the site is designed has “the trappings of a charitable organization” and that it would take a careful read to determine that the Web site is actually campaign-related.

“When you take a quick look, the focus is on finding a cure and it makes it look like a charitable organization,” Krumholz said, calling such a site “not at all common” in online fundraising.

The article goes on to include an extremely weak defense from Specter’s campaign manager, as well as a recap of Specter’s references to the website on Meet the Press and Face the Nation over the weekend, where he encapsulated the references to the site in a context of medical research – not his re-election bid.

As the article mentions, there is one scant reference to Specter’s re-election on the front page.  Here is paragraph eleven of the twelve-paragraph message:

Become a member, today, of Specter for the Cure. Please contribute to Senator Specter’s re-election Committee – Citizens for Arlen Specter. All contributions, of any amount, will be gratefully welcomed. Those who sign up to donate $10 each month for ten months, will receive members only information on the Senator’s effort to transform medical research and accelerate cures.

The previous ten paragraphs are all about medical research – finding cures, not funding campaigns.  So what do you think?  Please share your impressions of the website in the comments.

I would urge Arlen Specter to make public exactly how much money he has raised through this website and contribute that sum from his campaign account to a real medical research organization like the American Cancer Society or the American Association for Cancer Research.  I would also urge Arlen Specter to offer a clear disclaimer at the top of all pages of this website that this is a re-election campaign vehicle, to avoid the possibility of any further confusion.  To do otherwise would feed into the perception that this website is just a disingenuous and cynical effort by Specter to line his campaign coffers by exploiting people’s desire for medical research.

UPDATE: In the Politico story, Specter’s campaign manager says:

But Specter campaign manager Christopher Nicholas said that no one could be “genuinely confused about where contributions to this website go,” noting that language on the site specifies that contributions are meant for the campaign.

If no one could be confused, why did Specter’s staff quietly change the website?!

That’s right.  Adam Green breaks the news: without comment, Specter’s crew changed the message on the front page of the site, obviously in the wake of this story making the rounds, and clearly to tamp down criticism that Specter is trying to mislead people into contributing to his re-election campaign when the donors think that they are contributing to a medical research charity.

All Specter’s team did, apparently, was crowbar in at the beginning of the page the following paragraph:

In 2010, Arlen Specter will seek re-election to the United States Senate. With his unsurpassed record of support for medical research, helping to return Senator Specter to the Senate is a powerful statement on behalf of those suffering with disease. The purpose of this web site is to encourage support for Senator Specter’s mission to improve America’s health by helping assure Senator Specter’s re-election.

So now we can’t say that the site (any longer) disguises any mention of Specter’s political campaign.  However, BarbinMD’s criticism is even more pronounced:

This sounds like a new twist on Republican fear-mongering about terrorism … donate or people may die.

Without Specter’s re-election, people will die.  That’s his message.  He explicitly said as much about the recent passing of Jack Kemp, and that will be the theme of his campaign.  To paraphrase P. Diddy’s voter outreach effort, Specter is saying, “Vote for me or die!”

Ultimately, though, what is clear is that Specter is less concerned about the passing of any of your family members than he is about his own passing into irrelevance by losing his re-election bid.

Click here for the new senate guru blog…

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