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Save-the-farms drive

"The way all these people look at it, the bad in Proposal B clearly outweighs the good," viewers are told in a television commercial urging people to vote against a November ballot issue that would legalize physician-assisted suicide for Michigan's terminally ill.

The ad shows Prop. B on one side weighed against icons representing the medical, business and legal communities, disability groups, minorities, senior citizens, state lawmakers and the governor.

Conspicuously absent from the ad sponsored by Citizens for Compassionate Care, a ballot committee formed by Right to Life of Michigan, are the conservative religious groups that form the backbone of opposition to the measure.

To name a few, they include, among others, Concerned Women of America, Christian Reform Church in America, Foundation for Traditional Values, Assemblies of God, Baptists for Life, Michigan Catholic Conference and Catholic Campaign for America.

Tom Farrell, spokesman for CCC, was hard-pressed to explain why his group's core members were not included in a commercial detailing opponents of the proposal, saying finally that the ad isn't intended to reach those who oppose the measure on moral grounds.

"We're not going to aim any at religious groups, we're letting, obviously, the religious groups meet with their members, Catholics and others, every week and they're doing their own thing."

Political analyst Ed Sarpolus sees a different reason for the omission, saying the religious connection threatens to expose a political weakness on the part of Prop. B's opponents.

"I would not want people to know who is funding this," says Sarpolus, with Lansing-based EPIC/MRA. "Because people will wonder, Why are churches getting involved in this? Where is the separation of church and state?

"Then they would not be voting on the issue of Merian's Friends. They'd being voting on giving the church the right to control their lives. That's a very different issue, isn't it?"

Citizens for Compassionate Care welcomed in the deep pockets of the religious right, has announced plans to spend up to $6 million to defeat Proposal B, including up to $4 million promised from Right to Life of Michigan. The Roman Catholic Church has been running its own ads featuring messages against the proposal by church officials.

Citizens for Compassionate Care has also been joined by the state Republican Party. Because more Republicans than Democrats oppose assisted suicide, explains Sarpolus, Citizens for Compassionate Care could be helping the GOP get its voters to the polls.

"Republicans can hide soft money through this assisted suicide issue to help their cause," Sarpolus says. "They can do get-out-the-vote efforts that end up benefiting the candidate they want to see win."

Citizens for Compassionate Care has aired at least five separate commercials -- none of which mention the group's religious-right connections -- statewide since Sept.14. By contrast, Merian's Friends, which put Prop. B on the ballot, hadn't released a single ad as of last week. Merian's Friends' spokesman Ed Pierce says his group is at a financial disadvantage without the special interest money the other side has.

An EPIC/MRA poll conducted before Citizens for Compassionate Care began its media blitz showed 56 percent of Michigan voters approved legalizing assisted suicide. A poll last week by the organization shows only 48 percent now support it. However, in that poll, the number of supporters increased to 54 percent after those polled heard what's actually on the ballot, Sarpolus says.

"Number 1, the ads are working against it," Sarpolus says. "And number 2, if Merian's Friends manages to raise some money, it could help them. This is not over."

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