Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bellows Q1: $433K

Democratic Senate candidate Shenna Bellows showed some momentum in her second quarter of active campaigning, building on her impressive first quarter totals.

These aren't the kind of blowout figures we're seeing in Kentucky. And Bellows raised less than half as much as Sen. Susan Collins.

But Maine has 1/3 as many people as the Bluegrass State. And the kind of grassroots race Bellows seems intent on running just isn't that expensive in a small state. So as long as she can amass the funds necessary to build out her staff and continue to get the message out, her campaign remains on its chosen trajectory.

Whether such an approach is viable in Maine in 2014 is very much an open question. But it seems quite likely at this point that Bellows will have the funds necessary to test that premise.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Collins Q1: $877K

Not a bad haul for Maine's senior senator, but not a giant quarter either: She raised $963,000 in the comparable quarter last cycle. And of course there's always the question of where that money came from.

We'll know in a few weeks.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Pawn in a Larger Game

Regular readers know that there's a long and sordid history of left-leaning interest groups--and environmental organizations in particular--succumbing to a kind of willful blindness when it comes to Sen. Susan Collins and her record.

We saw it in 2008 with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) endorsing Collins even though she had a significantly worse record than her Democratic opponent according to LCV's own scorecard.

We also saw it in the wake of Collins's support for the 2011 incarnation of the Ryan budget, with Maine's senior senator earning praise from a children's advocacy organization just two weeks after voting to gut Head Start and food stamps.

There are, alas, many other examples. (Equality Maine is one organization that has, at least at times, charted a different course.)

So it was galling but not surprising when it was announced that a TV ad supporting Collins was going to be running in Maine as part of a multi-organization, multi-state pro-environment (or was it pro-renewable energy?) advocacy campaign.

On the Collins ad in particular, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) was teaming up with something called Mom's Clean Air Force (MCAF) to pay for a spot in local TV markets touting a pair of Collins votes that the Maine-centric ad suggests--against a backdrop of buoys and lobster traps--have helped protect "our" way of life.

Forget that both organizations are based in Washington DC and that no one on the ground in Maine was consulted about or involved in the decision to run the ad, according to David DiMartino of strategic communications firm Blue Engine Media, who spearheaded the campaign.

Forget also that Collins, a Keystone XL pipeline supporter with a lifetime LCV score of 67% (and dropping), has sided with climate deniers and corporate polluters in vote after vote in recent years--at one point famously blaming the weak economy for her lack of urgency on climate change.

That record notwithstanding, EDF and MCAF apparently felt so strongly about touting Collins's supposed pro-environment bona fides--based on two votes out of literally dozens scored by LCV in the last few years--that they could think of no better use of their hard-won funds than to take to the airwaves to tell Mainers about their own senator.

In purely environmental advocacy terms, it was hard to make sense of. So I reached out to EDF for answers. (I was less persistent in my efforts to speak with MCAF, a group with a shorter track record and a smaller footprint.)

I was eventually put in touch with EDF's Keith Gaby and we had a spirited fifteen minute back-and-forth.

Unfortunately, Gaby wouldn't confirm EDF's relationship with MCAF; or the size of the ad buy; or EDF's contribution to the buy; or the channels the ad was placed with.

He also refused to shed any light on the process through which the decision to green-light the ad was reached; or why it was launched as part of a multi-state, multi-organization effort; or whether it was dishonest for two DC-based organizations with no apparent Maine presence to craft an ad that poses as a message to Mainers by Mainers.

But his answers to my question about why EDF chose to single out Collins were illuminating.

After I rattled off a series of high profile anti-environment votes by Maine's senior senator (including the 2005 Cheney energy bill which LCV called the "most anti-environment bill signed into law in recent memory"), Gaby stipulated that Collins has taken any number of actions that EDF disapproves of.

Still, he argued, Collins, as a Republican, had taken particular risk on the votes EDF was touting. It was an idea he circled back to repeatedly as he made his case for lavishing praise on the three-term incumbent.

When I questioned that premise--and the idea that she deserved special recognition on the basis of her party affiliation--Gaby seemed to think I was kidding or being cute. He was genuinely flummoxed.

He ventured, ultimately, that it's "self-evident that a member of a political party" faces pressures by virtue of that membership. (That Collins actually chooses to subject herself to those pressures by running as a Republican didn't seem to weigh into his calculus.)

He argued, further, that highlighting the votes of a fellow Republican might "encourage others" in the GOP to see the political upside of taking more environmentally-friendly stances.

The overarching idea seemed to be that support for Collins could be used as way to reward her for breaking with her GOP colleagues (however sporadically) and to incentive other Republicans to think about taking pro-environment positions. That seemed to be about the size of it.

There are, of course, any number of reasons to be skeptical of Gaby's argument. (I've dealt with some of them here and here.)

But I'll make three new points:

First, at least as it applies to Collins, the encouragement-via-praise approach has been tried and it's failed: Collins had a 68% lifetime rating with LCV when it endorsed her in 2006, presumably with hopes similar to those espoused by Gaby. Today her lifetime rating stands one tick lower at 67%. And she never got behind the only viable climate change proposal that surfaced in the Senate during that period.

Second, it's clear as day that EDF's agenda here has almost nothing to do with Collins or a couple of cherry-picked votes--let alone the interests of Mainers. Rather, it's about a larger game.

Whether the goal is actually to try to change the political dynamic around environmental issues or whether it's simply about appeasing wealthy right-leaning donors (or something else entirely) is impossible to say. But plainly, Collins is being used as a pawn. The fact that she's happy to be used in this way doesn't make the ad itself--or the calculation behind it--any less disingenuous.

Third, whatever their aims, groups like EDF would have more credibility in this kind of effort if they were willing to pair their praise of Collins with a commitment to call out her bad acts. After all, you can't advance the cause of environmental defense through happy talk alone; constituents deserve an accurate picture of the political challenges that stand in the way of success.

For mission-based organizations, the imperative to be straight with with members, donor and stakeholders requires candor. Or it ought to.

UPDATE: Jonathan Cohn alerts us to the fact that according to MCAF's own website, MCAF "is a special project of the Environmental Defense Fund, which provides the funding and staff support."

EDF's unwillingness to confirm this relationship is rather curious.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Dealmaking and "Dealmaking"

Voices inside the beltway were buzzing again this past week about Sen. Susan Collins's role as an aisle-crossing beacon of bipartisan dealmaking, with the narrative crafted mostly around her comments and supposed efforts on the minimum wage issue.

We pay much less attention to this type of chatter than we used to and it's worth reiterating why: Particularly on the most salient topics of the day, there's often a large gap between Collins's words and actions--between what she professes to believe and what she's actually willing to do.

We've seen this on climate change, with Collins saying the right things and voting to advance a serious proposal right before the 2008 election when it had no chance of passing only to abandon ship once the prospects for reform become real.

And we saw it with the Obama health care proposal, when Collins told voters during the 2008 campaign that she thought his plan was "pretty good" and was open to supporting it--only to fight it tooth and nail once she won reelection.

Collins's willingness to talk out of both sides of her mouth on these issues and others makes the job of reporters harder; it forces them to peel back the rhetorical facade and to do the boring, difficult work of sifting through her actual record in office if they want to get at the truth.

For a mix of reasons including journalist time constraints, Collins's branding and the stake that the DC press corps has in sustaining the "moderate narrative" such digging rarely happpens. And so we get the kind of coverage we saw last week.

But on the minimum wage in particular, it's easier than usual to see that Collins is playacting rather than looking for actual solutions--that she's guilty of the very political point-scoring approach that she professes to be combating. All you have to do is look at her proposal.

Specifically, Collins is trying to tie even a modest minimum wage hike to an Obamacare "fix" that would add $140 billion to the federal debt over ten years, cost 1 million Americans their job-based health coverage and leave 500,000 fewer Americans insured.

It's pretty safe to say that such a proposal--completely unrelated to the minimum wage itself--counts as a poison pill in the current political context. And so it's not the sort of thing you'd try to tack onto a wage hike if you were truly animated by a concern for improving the lot of the working poor.

On the other hand, it's exactly the kind of plan you'd propose appending if you were facing a surprisingly vigorous challenge and your main concern was to make a show of attempting compromise in order to win praise from beltway pundits--without actually moving the ball forward.

On that score, Collins's efforts have been an unmitigated success.

Quote of the Day

David Friedlander:

At times, [Democratic Senate candidate Shenna] Bellows can sound like a spokesperson for the Ron Paul Army.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Collins and the McMahons

According to the filings at FEC.gov, one couple gave Sen. Susan Collins more than any other--the legal maximum of $10,400--during the most recent filing period. And there's a good chance you've heard of them: Linda and Vince McMahon, the duo behind World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Let me say at the top: I'm not a huge fan of judging politicians by who supports them. It was unfair and offensive when, in 2008, Collins smeared Rep. Tom Allen as an ally of flag burners and other nefarious miscreants (including rich Jews) simply because MoveOn.org had encouraged supporters to donate to his campaign.

That the group endorsed Allen didn't mean he endorsed everything it had ever done. And it didn't mean that he ought to be held responsible for the political views of every one of his small dollar donors (let alone the Collins camp's ghoulish and hysterical caricature of those donors and their views.)

That distinction--between a candidate endorsing his donors and being endorsed by them--seems pretty elemental and easy to grasp. Unless, of course, you're committed to playing a political "gotcha" game.

That said, there are obviously limits to what a pol can fairly disassociate herself from: Some actions are so egregious--some actors on the world stage so odious--that we expect candidates to explicitly reject them.

Contributors who are under investigation for political bribery is one category that comes to mind. Notorious bigots is another--which is why I've been critical of Collins's decision to take $5000 from the PAC of strident homophobe Sen. Tom Coburn R-OK: When you say things like "The gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power in every area across this country...That agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom that we face today" you put yourself outside the bounds of civilized discourse in a way that demands to be called out.

But Collins's relationship with the McMahons raises different questions: Specifically, in this case the usual dichotomy between endorsing and endorsed by doesn't apply. Why?

Because in this case the endorsing does actually go both ways:

Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski...were the featured speakers at a "Women for Linda" rally McMahon held Saturday afternoon at a Norwalk hotel...

Both Collins and Murkowski said McMahon would bring a woman's common sense touch to the dysfunction of Washington...

Collins said she and the 16 other women Senators gather for dinner every six weeks or so. One day, a male colleague asked what those dinners were all about. Collins said she smiled sweetly and responded that the women were planning a coup. "And I can't think of a better person to help us execute that coup than Linda McMahon," she said as the crowd cheered. (Emphasis added.)


At issue for Maine voters in the mutual support between Collins and the McMahons is (among other things) the WWE's history of virulent homophobia and misogyny: While Collins fancies herself a champion of civilty, McMahon has made her fortune trafficking in ugly sterotypes and sexually-tinged violence--up to an including a mock gay wedding played for laughs and storylines about (NSFW) sexually predatory lesbians.

To put it simply, something's got to give.

Either Collins is truly concerned about the coarsening of the culture or she's comfortable aligning herself with folks who have a history of feeding on--and fueling--bigotry.

Either she cares deeply about changing the tone of our politics or she can further entrench her relationship with the McMahons.

But it's time to abandon the pretense that she can do both simultaneously.

(WWE photo by Simon Q.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quote of the Day

Democratic Senate candidate Shenna Bellows on Sen. Susan Collins's support for the Blunt Amendment:

You can't be pro-choice and vote to limit access to birth control.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Quote of the Day

Peg Dilley of Casco on her fear of tar sands oil being pumped through her neighborhood:

I have asked Susan Collins and I'm asking Angus King and I'm asking any of the other legislators to come and we will find you a horse and I would like to put you on a horse right here, bring you down the pipeline and let you see the smush and the trickle brooks because that's all this area is, is natural springs and trickle brooks that run.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

NRCM Pressing Collins on Tar Sands Oil


WLBZ2:
On Thursday afternoon, the Canadian National Energy Board ruled in favor of a project that will allow tar sands oil to flow east from Alberta Provence to Montreal, Quebec.

Environmental groups in Maine believe the decision paves the way for energy companies to seek to have tar sands oil flow from Canada to Casco Bay via the Portland Montreal Pipeline.

"Up until this point, the line that comes from Alberta down towards the New England border has not been able to carry tar sands," explained Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "So it is literally now at our doorstep."

[...]

"We really need to take this latest move seriously," said Pohlmann.

She is urging Mainers to contact Senator Susan Collins, the only member of Maine's congressional delegation that has not called upon the State Department to do a full environmental review were the pipeline company [to] seek permits to move tar sands through Maine. (Emphasis added.)


The pressure from NRCM comes at a sensitive time for Collins, a Keystone pipeline supporter who was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters in 2008 despite having a lower rating on the organization's own scorecard than her Democratic opponent.

With Sierra Club recently declining to back the 18-year incumbent, it remains an open question whether and to what extent left-leaning interest groups will again be willing--as they were during the 2008 campaign cycle--to greenwash the senior senator's record in exchange for a (momentary) bolstering of their bipartisan credentials.

(Photo by FeatheredTar.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Copyright Violations At Collins Website

With the 2014 race picking up steam, Sen. Susan Collins's campaign recently unveiled a spiffy new version of their campaign website. Among the new features is a "Latest News" tab that, soon after launch, included unabridged reprints of articles from the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News.

Asked whether Portland Press Herald had consented to have its work reprinted by the campaign, the writer of one of the pieces posted in full, Eric Russell, confirmed via e-mail that his article had been republished without permission. Which is a big no-no. Specifically, it's a violation of federal copyright law.

Earlier today Russell suggested that an editor would be reaching out to the Collins camp and--lo and behold--the page was changed within minutes.

According to FEC records, the campaign has paid $29,917 in "web consulting" and related fees to longtime Republican operative and As Maine Goes proprietor Lance Dutson since January 2013.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Revolving Door Watch

PPH's On The Move column:

Chris Philbrook, a senior account executive, was promoted to director of public affairs at Kemp Goldberg Partners.

Philbrook was previously a senior staff member with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and a special assistant to Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Henry Paulson.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Quote of the Day

BDN's Gordon Weil:

If senators like Collins try to survive the Tea Party threat by letting it set the agenda, traditional Republicans could turn out to be little more than foot soldiers in a right-wing army.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sierra Club: We'll Pass

Sierra Club has decided not to endorse in the race between Sen. Susan Collins and challenger Shenna Bellows, according to Melissa Walsh Innes of the organization's Maine chapter.

Sierra Club declined to elaborate.

To an unknowledgeable observer, the move might seem a setback to Bellows, whose positions on the issues are more closely aligned with Sierra Club's than those of Collins. That Bellows has incorporated warnings about the urgency of addressing climate change into her campaign pitch while Collins has spent the last four years virtually ignoring the topic might seem to corroborate that view.

But such a conclusion ignores the relevant history and context.

Specifically, given Collins's sizable lead in the race's only published poll, Bellows's lack of voting record and the history of environmental organizations greenwashing the Maine Republican's record in a (desperate) attempt to burnish their bipartisan bona fides, Sierra Club's decision can more accurately be seen as one which raises questions about the eagerness of beltway-based left-leaning interest groups to go to bat for Collins in 2014 as they did last cycle.

When you factor in Sierra Club's unwillingness to endorse Collins challenger and stalwart environmental protection supporter Rep. Tom Allen in 2008, despite the vivid apples-to-apples contrast on the issues between Allen and Collins, the decision starts to seem like a win for Bellows.

(More on the peculiar reticence of left-leaning interest groups to tell the truth about Collins here and here.)

What nexus of considerations figured into Sierra Club's decision to buck Collins remains unclear. That Maine's senior senator has continued to side with her GOP colleagues on environmental issues with disappointing regularity is one likely factor--her lifetime score on the scorecard of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) remains stuck at 67% and she scored an astounding 0% as recently as 2010.

It also seems plausible that Bellows's long-standing membership in--and familiarity with--Maine's left-leaning activist community might have played a role: Her work at the ACLU would have almost certainly put her on the radar of the local affiliates of these organizations in a way that may have given her an opportunity to prove her credibility with their leaders.

It will be interesting to see what similarly-situated organizations such as LCV--which endorsed Collins last time--will do with a similar confluence of pressures. One notable difference on that front: Beth Ahearn of Maine Conservation Voters told me in a phone interview that at LCV, the local affiliate has no voice in endorsement decisions for federal officials.

Why Maine-based activist on the ground should have zero influence in decisions about who is best qualified to represent them in Washington she couldn't explain. But it is what it is.

Quote of the Day

Jim Antle, editor at the right-leaning Daily Caller News Foundation:

Not sure Shenna Bellows wouldn't be an upgrade from Susan Collins.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

On The Radar At Daily Kos

In a move that's that's hard to make sense of in strategic terms, National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Brad Dayspring has gone out of his way not only to attack Sen. Susan Collins's challenger Shenna Bellows, but to link her to the popular left-leaning online community Daily Kos:

"Susan Collins is a strong, independent woman, and an effective legislator who always puts Mainers first. If the Daily Kos declares statehood, Shenna Bellows would fit in well, but in Maine she's way too far outside the mainstream for independent minded voters," he said.

Predictably, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas is having none of it:

1) [...] The national GOP is way outside the Maine mainstream. Objectively so.

2) Shenna Bellows grew up without electricity in rural Maine. Her dad's a carpenter, her mom's a nurse. So try to paint her as an outsider at your own peril.

[...]

5) If Dayspring had been magnanimous, I wouldn't be writing about this race right now. The last thing Republicans want is for buzz to start building around this race. They want it to remain sleepy, out of people's minds. Instead of having people follow a link to Shenna Bellows' campaign website.

Why Collins's NRSC allies would want to boost the prominence of the Maine Senate race among the national left-leaning grassroots--and to do it in a way designed to tweak activist Democrats, implicitly linking it to the national battle between Republicans and Democrats--is hard to fathom. Espcially given the track record at Daily Kos for grassroots fundraising.

But every time Collins and her allies go after Bellows it seems more likely that they see her as a real threat.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quotes of the Day

Sunday:

[Sen. Susan] Collins' campaign, meanwhile, said she is listening to arguments from both sides of the issue.
Sunday:
Collins’ office did not grant repeated requests for an interview with the senator.
Sunday:
Collins has not taken a clear stance on the issue. Her office said that the Republican continues to listen to Mainers and others as she weighs the implications.