Saturday, August 11, 2012

Murphy, Romney and SuperPACs

What do U.S. Representative Chris Murphy, the state Democratic Party nominee for the U .S. Senate, and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president, have in common?

They are both victims of misleading ads, and those who initiated the ads refused to pull them after they had been shown to be pock marked with errors.

A Democratic primary ad criticizing Mr. Murphy approved by Susan Bysiewicz was found to contain errors of a minor nature. The ad claimed Mr. Murphy was the number one recipient of Wall Street hedge fund contributors in the nation. Mr. Murphy was number four, not number one.

Mr. Murphy’s lawyers at one point threatened to sue Connecticut television stations carrying the ad, even though the stations were obligated by law to run it. Eventually, Mrs. Bysiewicz pulled her ad, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief; no legal suits were filed.

The anti-Romney ad -- the handiwork of Priorities USA, a super PAC founded by former White House spokesman Bill Burton who, despite glaring faults in the scurrilous ad, refused to pull it. -- is much more egregious. Mr. Burton’s ad strongly suggests that Mr. Romney is responsible for the death of a cancer victim, the wife of steelworker Joe Soptic, who lost his job and health care benefits after Mr. Romney's Bain Capital closed a steel plant in Kansas City, Mo., in 2001.

Mr. Soptic describes in the ad how his wife developed cancer and strongly suggests that Mr. Romney is to blame, his non-portable insurance policy having elapsed when he lost his job -- owing, one supposes, to Mr. Romney ungovernable greed.

Several difficulties soon emerged that overthrew the planted axioms in the ad: Mr. Soptic's wife died in 2006, five years after the company that employed her husband closed. Mrs. Soptic had the use of her own health insurance following her husband’s unemployment and lost her coverage after she too lost her job – not, one supposes, as a result of Mr. Romney’s greed.

The SuperPAC is the bitter fruit of campaign finance reform measures authored by Shays-Meehan in the U.S. House and McCain-Feingold in the U.S. Senate. The “Shays” of Shays-Meehan is former U.S. Representative Chris Shays, a Republican running for the same seat in the U.S. Senate as Mr. Murphy.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a decision firmly anchored in Constitutional law that the campaign finance bill could not restrict large campaign donations issuing from corporations or unions without violating First Amendment rights. While such donations could constitutionally be prohibited to political parties, large donations assembled by SuperPACs were permitted -- provided the SuperPAC was not formally connected to a candidate or party. SuperPACs then proceeded to use the money to produce ads and other in-kind contributions useful to favored candidates or critical of their opponents (LINK).

Thus were born in the same legislative womb and at the same time the twin evils of SuperPACs and negative campaign ads.

Mrs. Bysiewicz is not yet a SuperPAC, but Priorities USA is – and the connections between Priorities USA and President Barack Obama, who benefits greatly from the SuperPAC’s ads, are, others have pointed out, just a little too close for comfort.

Priorities USA was founded by former White House spokesman Bill Burton; his associate, Robert Gibbs, served as White House press secretary when Mr. Burton was his deputy for about two years during the first half of Mr. Obama's term.

Even some Democrats and their well-wishers in the media are not pleased with the SuperPac’s obvious connections to the Obama campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the ad was "over the edge," and Lanny Davis, once an adviser to President Clinton, dubbed it "disgusting."

Mika Brzezinski, the progressive co-host of the "Morning Joe" show on MSNBC and a face familiar to news watchers in Connecticut, said that Obama campaign officials were "not telling the truth" about how much they knew about the commercial.

In view of the stringent provisos laid down by the Supreme Court, the campaign officials probably have lawyers attached to their legs the way some criminals on probation are burdened with ankle monitors.

Everyone in such elaborate charades is supposed to be politically disconnected; but in fact, the producers of such ads and the candidates whose campaigns they “indirectly” promote are in some cases professionally and ideologically connected at their brain stems.

Campaign financing has made it nearly impossible for political parties to fund party chosen candidates. Incumbent politicians – who have now become their own petit political parties and who complain bitterly that they spend too large a part of their time financing their own campaigns -- wanted it that way. And incumbents need SuperPACS to shuttle campaign funds around a U.S. Supreme Court ruling soundly grounded in constitutional and statutory law.

No one has yet asked Mr. Murphy, the victim of a false ad, whether he feels Mr. Romney’s pain.

He probably does not. In September, Mr. Murphy likely will face a self-funded Republican candidate of means. And he will need the services, financial and otherwise, offered to him by his very own SuperPAC, “Connecticut's Future,” whose chairman, Chris VanDeHoef, a Hartford lobbyist, was five years ago a groomsman at Murphy's wedding party.

Mr. VanDeHoft also had been the executive director of the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, one of those jolly journalists who buy ink by the barrel and who, one presumes, still is on speaking terms with his colleagues in Connecticut’s left of center media. Other members of Mr. Murphy’s SuperPAC are former executive director and general counsel of the State Elections Enforcement Commission Jeff Garfield and Kevin Graf, former chief of staff to state Senate Democrats. The keeper of the coins is Attorney Joseph Taborsak, who will serve as treasurer of Mr. Murphy’s new bride, to which he has plighted his troth till death do them part.

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