Candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties are treading into off-limits territory, according to an independent electoral watchdog group.

A Political Improvement Group (PIG) report released Thursday criticized both President George W. Bush (R) and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) for unfairly exploiting certain important issues for political gain in the course of their presidential campaigns.

“Some people take these issues very seriously, on both sides,” said PIG Executive Vice President Harold Rammstein. “National security, the economy, jobs, health care, the war in Iraq, gay marriage; these are all very important issues to a lot of Americans. It’s not fair for candidates to bring them up in a shameless attempt to woo voters.”

According to Rammstein, the 2004 election cycle got off to a poor start with President Bush’s first television campaign ads. “Those first ads talked about what the country has been through during Bush’s term. They mention the recession, the dot-com bust, and 9/11. I mean, those are important issues that have tested the American people, but a presidential campaign isn’t the place to discuss them.”

The Bush campaign isn’t the only one bringing up these issues, says Rammstein. “Kerry’s just as bad. He’s basing almost his entire campaign on creating new jobs. It’s not really fair to be talking about that, when somebody listening might themselves be faced with the prospect of unemployment.”

Both the Bush and Kerry campaigns also unfairly criticize each others’ voting and policy records, according to the PIG report. “Bush talks about how Kerry voted to authorize war in Iraq, and then says he’s against it. Kerry criticizes Bush’s justification for the war. I think we can all agree that it would be in America’s best interest if both sides stopped talking about each other’s record.”

A campaign spokesperson for Senator Kerry expressed disagreement with many of the report’s criticisms. “Why shouldn’t we talk about things that President Bush did wrong during his term? Why can’t we talk about growing the economy and changing our foreign policy? The report was right about the Bush campaign unfairly utilizing 9/11 and other events, but our campaign is taking the high road.”

A Bush campaign spokesperson said that the PIG report unfairly singled out the president. “It’s perfectly acceptable for us to talk about what President Bush has done during his four years in office, as well as point out numerous inconsistencies in Senator Kerry’s voting record. The criticisms of the Kerry campaign in the report, however, seem to be right on the money.”