Friday, August 31, 2007

Saying No To Craig

Sen. Collins has apparently decided to return a $2500 contribution from the PAC run by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID).

The Boston Herald article doesn't explain her reasoning. But I'd sure be curious to know what it is, given that the junior senator hasn't had any reservations about taking $10,000 from the Northern Lights PAC operated by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

You know, the Sen. Stevens who's currently under scrutiny in a public corruption probe.

Here's the paperwork for the PAC's $10,000 contribution to Collins, which was broken down into three separate donations.

The Stevens PAC last gave to Collins on March 14 of this year.

Collins: What Conflict?

Eric Kleefeld at Election Central has followed up on the Bangor Daily News conflict-of-interest story, and he adds new details:

Senator Collins' press secretary, Jen Burita, tells us us that a 2008 loss by Collins wouldn't actually affect Bridget Woodward's employment as a district caseworker for the Senator. "Bridget is going to be retiring in September," Burita said. Thus, there is no direct financial conflict of interest on the part of the Woodward couple.

And interestingly, Burita brought it to our attention that family connections run both ways at the Bangor Daily News. In fact, Congressman Allen's cousin Tim is the news editor there. Given the nature of small-state politics, Burita explained, there are bound to be people at any major newspaper who have personal connections to both camps.

Also worth noting is that, like Collins Watch, Kleefeld has been unable to get a comment from Bangor Daily News Executive Editor Mark Woodward himself.

It's worth noting because the issue here isn't, of course, the campaign's behavior. (Though Burita's response is pretty lame.) It's the newspaper's failure to make the kinds of disclosures that readers deserve.

So the fact that Congressman Allen has a cousin who works at the paper doesn't even things out. It just underscores the absence of transparency.

(Though, obviously, a candidate's cousin working as a section editor is very different from a former staffer working as editor-in-chief.)

The fact that Woodward is apparently unwilling even to discuss the subject suggests, at best, that he doesn't understand the seriousness of the issue. And it risks leaving the impression that he's got something to hide.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Abbott Is Busy

Another point about that PPH blog-themed piece: It's the first place where I've seen Steve Abbott identified as both "Collins' chief of staff" and "campaign manager."

Is this kosher? My hunch is that it must be, as long as he does all campaign-related work outside of the normal senate schedule.

But how unusual is it for a senator's chief of staff to do double-duty as campaign manager in a hotly-contested race? A year before election day?

If you know, drop us a line.

False and Balanced

The latest blog-themed piece in the Maine press--this one courtesy of Justin Ellis at the Portland Press Herald--is no worse than the other articles on the subject.

But Ellis and his editors are guilty of the same sin committed in previous reports: He creates a false balance that masks the truth. Here's his opening line:

A comment on Daily Kos says Maine's Republican Sen. Susan Collins wants another terrorist attack on American soil, while the Maine Web Report says Democratic Rep. Tom Allen is in bed with hateful left-wing extremists.
Seems like everyone's even, right?

In reality, of course, it's silly to juxtapose an anonymous comment on a giant community site with the considered commentary of the Collins campaign's official internet strategist.

But that's what Ellis does in his first paragraph.

Upon close scrutiny of the article, it becomes apparent that Ellis and his editors know that it's a false balance--and even that they want their readers to know this.

But they've decided to cloak the truth in the neutral-seeming, on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand reporting style that's so popular in political reporting these days. And so Ellis' real take on the situation is only apparent if you give the piece an especially close read.

On a related note, I'd like to make a point I'm surprised hasn't been made elsewhere: It's pretty obvious, now, that Dutson is working, with the Collins camp's approval, to make this election about the supporters of the candidates rather than the candidates positions on the issues.

It will be interesting to see whether, and to what extent, the Allen camp engages him on that level. But my hunch is that they'll be smart enough not to take the bait.

Monday, August 27, 2007

More Woodward

No word back from Bangor Daily News Executive Editor Mark Woodward about his ties to Sen. Collins.

(Also, no mention of Woodward's ties in today's BDN article about the Maine senate race--which focuses on, of all things, the role of the blogs!)

In any event, this old press release from the University of Maine would seem to confirm Woodward's history as a D.C.-based Collins staffer.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Woodward and Woodward

Yesterday, we learned that Bridget Woodward--wife of Bangor Daily News Executive Editor Mark Woodward--is (or recently was) on the staff of Sen. Collins.

But further sleuthing here at Collins Watch has raised a question of equal, if not greater interest: Was Woodward himself Sen. Collins' press secretary in the mid-1990s?

Apparently so, according to an old column posted on the website of one-time Maine senate candidate Jean Hay Bright.

I have no reason to doubt Bright, but I've left a message on Woodward's voice mail, in an effort to confirm the details.

So, what role does Woodward have in formulating BDN's pro-Collins editorial stances? What, if any, disclosure does the paper provide readers about his past work for the junior senator? About his wife's current role in Collins' office?

If we hear back, we'll let you know.

Friday, August 24, 2007

They Get Letters

Charles Picard writes to the Kennebec Journal:

Maine has proven that we can be a leader several times. We do not need to "track" our political opponents simply because other states do it. We are better than that, at least I thought we were. Let us once again lead the nation and ban "tracking."
And while we're at it, maybe we could ban all those pesky journalists from the campaign trail, too?

All In The Family

I had no idea that the wife of Mark Woodward--executive editor of the tracking-averse Bangor Daily News--happens to be, of all things, an aide to Sen. Collins.

Small world.

For corroboration of the Daily Kos report, see this article, and this staff listing.

On the fly, it's difficult to determine whether Woodward is still on the Collins payroll. But we'll see what we can find out.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Quote of The Day

Somehow on Saturday I missed this letter from University of Maine political science professor Amy Fried, published in the Bangor Daily News:

Filming should demonstrate respect for personal space and time, but I find it baffling that a newspaper, protected under the Constitution because of its critical role in informing citizens, would object to a campaign filming a public official in public and claim that it "does not reflect Maine values."
(Via Daily Kos.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Collins' "Plan"

It's worth restating: To the extent that Sen. Collins has a "plan" for Iraq, her plan is to leave President Bush in charge of our mission there.

So the Portland Press Herald obscures more than it clarifies when it reports:

Most of the 20 people who were questioned during swings through six towns in Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties disapproved of Allen's call for an exit deadline...More of those interviewed liked Collins' plan than Allen's approach.
This tells us almost nothing.

The obvious truth missing from this survey is that neither Collins nor Rep. Allen is going to be commander-in-chief any time soon. Given that fact, neither will have an opportunity to implement the plans they're setting out.

So to focus on the specifics of their views for Iraq's is like asking Gov. Schwarzenegger (R-CA) how he proposes to rectify the Minneapolis bridge collapse: It's a misplaced question.

Unless Allen and Collins both decide to run for President, the particular contours of their Iraq plans are, sadly, beside the point. And focusing on which plan is "better" distracts attention from the real issue confronting voters.

Namely: To what extent is each candidate interested in legislatively mandating a shift in our approach in Iraq, even if the President disagrees?

And on that score, both candidates have been clear (even if the junior senator has occasionally tried to muddy the waters).

Rep. Allen thinks the President has driven our country into a ditch one too many times. He thinks it's time to pry the keys to our Iraq policy out of George W. Bush's hands.

Sen. Collins, on the other hands, thinks the President deserves one more chance. She wants to give him a stern warning and send him back on the road.

That's the key distinction. In the context of a senate race, the rest is just theatre.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Blog Wars

I confess that I find it all a bit tedious. But I'd be remiss if I didn't direction your attention to the ongoing proxy war between liberal bloggers and Lance Dutson of the Collins camp over anonymous blog comments, name-calling and (to a lesser extent) tracking.

There are a lot of people who would like this election to be about something other than the junior senator's record--and the record of her opponent. I'm not one of them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Maine Papers: Recording Collins Unfair

In today's editions, both the error-prone Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News chastise those dastardly, mean Democrats for the unsavory, sneaky and downright despicable tactic of...recording Sen. Collins in public.

In explaining the practice of tracking, the PPH editorial notes:

It is meant to capture the opposing candidate off-guard, saying something that he or she probably wouldn't blurt out if given time to think.
Shocking but true: Maine Democrats want to take Collins' unscripted, public comments and, y'know, hold her accountable for them! As part of a political campaign!

What will they think of next? Buying time on television and then running advertisements that point out their candidate's strengths and Collins' weaknesses? Because that would really be over the line.

In all seriousness, these editorials--while ridiculous and out-of-touch--are also a bit disturbing.

Here we have two news gathering organizations telling readers that the unscripted public comments of their elected officials aren't fair game in a political campaign.

Whether these papers are willing to condemn tracking-type activities by their own reporters is an open (and interesting) question.

But what is clear is that both papers have contempt for political activists who want to sift out the tired, canned rhetoric to find out what elected officials are really saying and thinking. Even if they pursue the truth politely and at a safe distance--and only at public events.

The contempt both papers have for this kind of activism is palpable. And it's not very flattering.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

More On Tracking

As Maine Democrats notes, Sen. Collins hasn't exactly been a privacy rights absolutist.

So it is a bit rich of her camp to take such umbrage at the videotaping of her public appearances.

And one more point: The only political campaign I ever worked on--way back in 1994--used tracking. And I'm pretty sure our guy was followed around as well.

So the notion that this is a new practice--and, implicitly, that it represents some sort of "escalation"--is just plain wrong.

Tracking The Trackers

When I saw this headline--"Collins says 'tracker' got in her face"--I figured some overzealous Allen campaign operative had crossed the line, invading the junior senator's personal space during a public event.

But when you read the article, it quickly becomes clear that nothing anywhere near objectionable occurred.

Because (shame, Press Herald) the article doesn't deliver what its headline promises: There isn't any allegation that anyone "got in [Collins'] face."

All that's alleged, by Collins' Chief of Staff Steve Abbott, is that the very presence of a video tracker "demean[s] the political process" and that the Democratic party tracker got "too close" to Collins when she was talking to constituents.

Abbott never defines "too close"--but, tellingly, elsewhere he criticizes the tracker for standing "five feet away." The tracker maintains that he stayed out of Collins' personal space.

Look, I'm sympathetic to the notion that pols deserve not privacy in public, but a freedom from the kind of close-range hectoring that can border on harassment. (I'm not a fan of trying to shout down politicians during speeches, for example.)

But this isn't that. What we're talking about, instead, is the documenting of a public event.

The Collins camp is free to try to spin the very act of recording her discussions with voters as some kind of invasion. And I can understand why the junior senator might not want her public comments recorded.

But that doesn't mean her political opponents should go along with her attempt to keep Mainers in the dark about her thinking on the most pressing issues of the day.

UPDATE: Over at Maine Web Report, Collins operative Lance Dutson goes to hilarious lengths to try to make the Democratic party tracker's behavior seem ominous. But the proof is in the photo Dutson runs, which shows the tracker a good, safe distance from the junior senator.

Take a peek—-if only for the humor value.

Let me be clear: If bands of radical left, foul-mouthed, extremist hatemongers start stalking the junior senator--in public or private--I'll be sure to call them out. But at least for the moment, Dutson's paranoia isn't warranted.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

PH Gets It Right

I've been critical of the Portland Pres Herald more than once.

So it's worth giving the paper credit for the strong piece it ran on Friday, which generated a good deal of blog interest: Reporter John Cheves drew attention to the gap between Sen. Olympia Snowe's (R-ME) views on Iraq and those of Sen. Collins.

What distinguished the article--and made it illuminating--was Cheves' willingness to cut through the spin to focus on the key distinction between Snowe's and Collins' views: That only one of the senators supports a deadline for troop withdrawal. (Hint: It's not Sen. Collins.)

But I'd like to make another observation.

Namely, I've been struck by how little we've heard from the junior senator on Iraq lately.

Even as she's held fast to a view rejected by her constituents and Maine's senior senator, she's made virtually no effort to lay out her assessment of the Iraq landscape, no effort to enumerate the principles that are guiding her decision-making, etc.

There've been no extended televised interviews that I'm aware of; no constituent letters or opinion articles; and the only town hall-style Q & A I've heard about seems to have been straight out of Karl Rove's playbook.

So, why has Collins been as close to silent on Iraq as she can get away with without being seen as ducking the issue?

Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First, speaking up hasn't been a great strategy as of late for the junior senator.

Remember this quote about Sen. Joe Biden's plan (D-DE) to devolve power in Iraq from the federal government to local officials?

"It’s essentially giving federal approval to ethnic cleansing," Collins said. "On the other hand, nothing seems to be working."
So it pays to keep your mouth shut when the alternative is offering up statements like that one.

But there is, of course, another reason to stay quiet: The less she says now, the more wiggle room it preserves for later.

And I suspect this is the key reason Collins has had so little to say about Iraq.

But if that's the case--if Senator Collins is willing to sit on the sidelines of a roiling national debate as Americans and Iraqis die because it advances her political interests--her crass calculation is yet another reason that she should be bounced out of office next November.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Free Money

Jim Cyr, a Republican, has an offer:

10 bucks to anyone who can explain how someone serves as John McCain’s campaign co-chair, and claims to have deep philosophical kinship with Joe Lieberman, yet, on what’s our most vital national issue by far, can stubbornly peddle a position diametrically opposed to the one held by [them].
The explanation, of course, is that while Sen. Collins has "peddled" an anti-surge position, she hasn't lifted a finger to effect a change in policy.

So, yes, she's abandoned Sen. McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Lieberman (CFL-CT). But only rhetorically.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Devils, Details, Etc.

Apparently, Sen. Collins now backs "binding legislation that would order Bush to restrict the mission of U.S. troops to counterterrorism, training Iraqis and protecting U.S. assets."

It depends on the details, but it sounds like this at least might be step in the right direction for the junior senator.

That said, President Bush has demonstrated repeatedly that he's working with a very expansive definition of "counterterrorism." So mark me down me as far from convinced that this counts as progress.