Friday, July 20, 2012

Shays’ Swan Song


In an interview following his last primary debate with Linda McMahon, former U.S. Rep Chris Shays whispered a Swan’s song, a stark admission that the debate just concluded very well might be his last: “It may be the last time, and I think that would be a loss for the state.”
According to the most recent poll, Mr. Shays entered the debate trailing Mrs. McMahon by 29 points, a lead put down by Mrs. McMahon’s critics to her money advantage, which is considerable.
During her last campaign for the U.S. Senate, Mrs. McMahon poured $50 million of the sweat of her own brow into her campaign against then Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Mr. Blumenthal prevailed in that race, even though he was hobbled by charges that he had lied several times concerning his military service. It was an easy matter for Mr. Blumenthal to deflect these charges: He hit the mattresses towards the end of his campaign, after it had become apparent that he had stolen valor from Vietnam veterans, having claimed falsely several times that he had served in Vietnam. The most amusing of Mr. Blumenthal’s pants-on-fire escape from media scrutiny was recorded by the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) in a documentary on stolen valor called “Frauds and Impostors.” For curious yellow Blumenthalites, the video still may be found on the ABC news site “Foreign Correspondent.” Hit "Play video" to watch.
It was thought at the time that Mrs. McMahon’s Republican Primary opponent, Rob Simmons, might have exploited the issue more effectively than Mrs. McMahon. Mr. Simmons background in Vietnam, where he served with distinction -- while Mr. Blumenthal was in Washington D.C. in the reserves, never having seen service in Vietnam – his years of honorable service in the U.S. House of Representatives, and his unflinchingly honest character, would have made him, so his supporters claimed, a much more effective foil in a general election contest against an artfully dogging Blumenthal.
This reading of events, while it may be true, falls far short of a competent analysis. After years of attorney general agitprop – rare was the day that reporters and editors did not find in their e-mails a press release written by a Blumenthal flack praising the attorney general in terms that would make a saint blush -- Mr. Blumenthal had established, shall we say, a cordial relationship with those in Connecticut who buy ink by the barrel. When Mr. Blumenthal chose to hit the mattresses towards the end of his campaign, after polls showed him with a more than comfortable lead over Mrs. McMahon, there were few if any remonstrances issued by Connecticut’s Commentariate. No one shouted from the rooftops that Mr. Blumenthal was avoiding his very few critics in the media.
Mr. Simmons may not have prevailed over Mr. Blumenthal.
Why?
Mr. Simmons would not have had the resources, money being among the most important, to defeat Mr. Blumenthal, who was and is – dare it be said? – a millionaire. Money may not be everything in a political campaign, but it ain’t nothing.

Mr. Simmons’ primary campaign sputtered and flamed out for want of money. Mr. Shays has no money, and very little support among Republicans to wage a successful primary campaign against Mrs. McMahon. There is sound reason to believe that this defect would extend to a general election campaign against Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate Chris Murphy, who is, monetarily speaking, sitting pretty.
Mr. Murphy, who has pinned to his chest the progressive red badge of courage and as such would seem to be the natural political enemy of large institutions, has received from the employees and PACs of financial institutions $754,885 since 2006, an average of $188,500 in his four federal races, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Here is the key question: Why is Mr. Murphy better able than Mr. Shays to generate funds necessary to win a political campaign?     
Answer: Campaign finance reform – i.e. McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan – has altered the campaign resource playing field to such an extent that it is virtually impossible for a non-incumbent without independent means to win a campaign against any incumbent. A truly level playing field requires challengers to expend MORE money than incumbents in order to overcome other advantages enjoyed by the ruling regime. McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan, a SuperPAC spawning bill, simply bleeds money from parties and shuttles it to “independent” candidates, usually incumbents.

The enfeeblement of parties –They are too weak; not too strong – has made it possible for incumbents to become their own petite INDEPENDENT political parties. That’s why the Republican Party in CT cannot give monetary support to their – wink, wink – preferred MODERATE Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Chris Shays. How could Connecticut’s media have failed to notice that Karl Rove’s endorsement of Shays was not accompanied by a pledge of monetary support in the all-important primary? Unlike the Republican party in Connecticut, Mr. Rove’s SuperPAC is flush with funds. So is Linda McMahon – but it’s her own money. Mr. Shays is the poor country mouse in the primary. HE HAS NO MONEY TO RUN ADS. Against Democratic Party endorsed candidate Chis Murphy, rich in campaign resources, Mr. Shays would continue to run a shoe string campaign -- and lose, even if he were able to gain the support of the state’s putatively moderate, “non-partisan” media, which is doubtful.

Mr. Murphy is Jim Himes on steroids. Ironically, Shays-Meehan has become Shays’ petard. And the pitiful primary “battle” shows him being raised up by it.

Mr. Shay’s signature campaign finance reform bill prevents money from reaching political parties. And after a Supreme Court ruling on First Amendment rights that opened the sluice gates to SuperPACs, state parties have become poor – like Mr. Shays – and campaign financiers who have no attachments to state parties are free to determine which candidates shall win or lose by extending or withholding funds.
Because the Supreme Court decision is soundly based in constitutional law, it will not likely be reversed. The fix to this problem therefore lies in the reform of national and state campaign finance laws. An effective reform would prevent the influx of money to SuperPACS by allowing the unimpeded flow of money, perhaps anonymously, into national and state parties.
This solution, of course, will depend on the acquiescence of SuperPAC dependent incumbents such as … well, Mr. Murphy, who used to inveigh against SuperPACs before he entered into a Faustian bargain with them.
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