Monday, December 31, 2007

Tooting Our Own Horn

We'll have a big picture post up shortly analyzing where things stand, as we enter 2008, in the Collins-Allen race.

But before we get to that, I'd like to take a moment to pat ourselves on the back for the work we did in 2007, and to ask for your help.

First, a quick look back at some of our proudest moments over the course of the year:

--We documented the corporate-dominated slant of Sen. Collins' fundraising, even as local media ignored the story: Collins Watch readers were among the first to learn that the junior senator has received more money from business PACs than from all Mainers combined.

--We outed the editor of the Bangor Daily News as a former Collins staffer, helping to set the stage for his recusal from 2008 race coverage decisions. BDN did the right thing. But the nudging certainly didn't hurt.

--Just last week, our continuing coverage of the Collins-friendly astroturf campaign on the Kennebec Journal's letters page resulted in the publication of a letter calling Republicans out for their shady tactics. The astroturf may continue, but Collins allies will now have to think twice.

--Month after month, we delivered readers the latest news. And we put it all in context, drawing attention to overlooked stories (e.g. an obscure article revealing Sen. Collins' hypocritical out-of-state fundraising strategy) and refuting misleading pieces in the Maine and national press.

Of course, as we move into 2008, the volume of media distortions, candidate misrepresentations and questionable behavior will only grow. And that's where you come in.

Because Collins Watch is an independent, privately-run blog: It receives zero funding from campaigns, committees and party organizations. Which means our budget is essentially nil.

And while we'd like to ramp up coverage as the 2008 race gathers steam, it will be difficult to do this without your support.

So if you value the kind of independent, timely, vigorous, opinionated coverage that we've been providing--if you think it serves as a corrective to media outlets that parrot talking points rather than questioning them--consider clicking the 'donate' button at right.

There are a number of exciting ideas we have for upgrading our coverage in 2008, and your contribution will help make them reality.

A couple of important caveats:

1. Only give if you can easily afford it. We'll keep writing Collins Watch whether we get 200, 20 or two contributions. And while we like to think we're doing important work here, there are a lot of other worthier causes.

2. If you work for a party or campaign, don't even try to contribute. (We promise to do a better job than the KJ of vetting contributors.)

End of sermon. Now, back to your regularly scheduled program...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

They Write Letters

From today's Kennebec Journal:

I am rather curious about a couple of the letters being printed in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel as of late.

As a proud Democratic party officer, I have no qualms in saying that I feel Tom Allen would do a wonderful job as a senator, and that Susan Collins needs to go. Of course I believe this: I'm a Democratic party officer! It's why I would never think to write letters to the editor touting my candidate -- or if I did, I'd identify myself as who I was.

That being said, University of Maine Farmington's College Republican Chair, Keith Mahoney, and the new District 55 representative, David Cotta, leave me scratching my head. They write letters to the editor touting Collins, but fail to note the fact they, too, are partisans. All while Mahoney remarks about the "blatant partisanship of Allen's campaign."

This leads me to ask, are they trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the editorial staff and readership? Or are they merely recognizing how tarnished the Republican brand is, and doing all they can to conceal it?

Edward Lachowicz

Vice Chair, Kennebec County Democratic Committee

For those who've only tuned in recently, it's worth underscoring that the pro-Collins astroturf campaign stretches back into early 2007.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What Spud1 Said

There are a bunch of problems with the Maine Sunday Telegram article on the junior senator's relationship with Sen. Joe Lieberman (CFL-CT). And Spud1 enumerates most of them.

The piece isn't the worst we've seen. But parts of it read like a Collins press release. And in describing the race, reporter Jonathan Kaplan adopts the Collins camp's preferred frame: Collins is a "centrist"; only hot-headed "liberal" Democrats oppose Lieberman. Etc.

The worst stretch comes in a discussion of the Government Affairs committee:

Lieberman is the chairman and Collins is the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. They have alternated roles twice since 2001, when party majorities changed hands.


The panel has broad jurisdiction to investigate everything from the White House and executive branch to the U.S. Postal Service, the Census Bureau and local government in Washington, D.C.


In 2005, when Collins chaired the panel, they wrote and passed legislation that reformed the structure of the U.S. government's intelligence community. They produced the only bipartisan report on the government's failure to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina.

Lieberman and Collins plan to continue investigating the roots of Islamic extremism in the United States, how to prevent suicide bombings in this country and revamping government contracting laws.
Context, anyone?

Lieberman has been a disaster as committee chair. And Collins was much worse. But the article simply parrots their version of the last six years without providing anything resembling a critique.

As Brad DeLong might say, why oh why can't we have a better Maine press corps?

UPDATE: In comments Mainefem notices that Jonathan Kaplan has a history of embracing GOP-friendly narratives in his reporting.

The analysis at the above link fails to mention that he also publicly called former Rep. Tom Delay a "very good" majority leader; has reported for The National Review; and has written dismissively about the six months he spent working for Tipper Gore.

Kaplan seems to be a new PPH hire. Let's hope this article isn't a sign of what to expect from him in the future.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Astroturf Watch

Would you believe that a Republican member of the Maine House thinks Sen. Collins is "the candidate best able to address the profound challenges we face as a country"?

And would you believe that the Kennebec Journal would run his letter without identifying him as an elected Republican official?

Look, this doesn't even qualify as astroturfing anymore.

It's just Republicans spotting an opportunity--the failure of the Kennebec journal and other papers to exercise anything like control of their letters sections--and taking advantage of it.

At a certain point, the onus shifts to the Allen campaign: Either they need to make an issue of this practice or admit that they're content for Sen. Collins to receive a steady trickle of positive publicity in letters pages across the state.

Or they need to flood the papers with letters in the same way the Collins folks have.

Friends Without Benefits

Sen. Collins on President Bush and LIHEAP:

Every year, we do battle with the president to get him to release the money.
Sure enough, here's Sen. Collins battling the President a few years ago at, I believe, a White House Christmas party.

Maybe someone needs to spend more time battling and less time enabling?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

One Way Street

The junior senator has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with President Bush these last seven years: On Iraq, tax cuts for the super-rich, smashing habeas corpus, Samuel Alito and corrupt defense contracting.

And part of the unspoken justification for her alliance with the President is that it serves Maine to have the ear of the White House. When crisis strikes, Mainers want representatives with clout and influence.

But as Spud1 notes, it's Sen. Collins' friend the President who is blocking the emergency LIHEAP funding that low-income Mainers desperately need:

President Bush vetoed $2.4 billion for the program last month, because it was $480 million more than he requested.
Yes, you read that right.

Sen. Collins' comrade is holding up emergency funds to prevent low-income people from freezing because the bill includes $480 million more than he'd like it to.

Remember: $480 million is about two days worth of Iraq funding.

If the junior senator's years of cozying up to the administration can't even produce emergency LIHEAP funds, what do she--and Maine--have to show for her years of steadfast support for the President?

UPDATE: It's worth noting that the same one-way-street argument could be made about Sen. Collins and Republicans in the Senate.

Namely: If she had real clout in the GOP caucus--or chits to call in from her GOP colleagues--she could use her position with fellow Republicans to force an override of the President's veto.

But apparently, she doesn't have that kind of influence.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Astroturf Watch

This just in: The Chairman of the University of Maine at Farmington College Republicans--and the statewide 2006-7 Maine College Republicans activist of the year--thinks Sen. Collins is doing a fantastic job.

Shocking, I know.

Too bad he didn't tell the Kennebec Journal of his affiliation before they printed his letter.

And too bad that the editors of the Journal didn't think it was worth spending five seconds on Google to find out that a committed partisan was using their paper to disseminate Republican talking points.

More on pro-Collins astroturfing here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Give credit to the Bangor Daily News for taking the Bushies to task for moving the goal posts on Iraq.

Still, it's telling that even in a critical editorial, there's no discussion about what our goal in Iraq is, or how America's continued occupation of the country might be thought to advance our national interests.

That's not so much a criticism of BDN's editorial writers as it is a symptom of how very far the Iraq debate has drifted from any discussion of America's priorities and the best uses of our limited resources.

Grown-ups know that as a nation, we simply can't afford to occupy Iraq, cut taxes and (for example) give heating assistance to everyone who needs it--while at the same time maintaining domestic spending at current levels.

But occupation supporters seem to want to talk about anything and everything but the trade-offs that their chosen policy has forced us to confront.

Let's hope that someone, somewhere in the Maine press focuses on those choices in 2008.

(Via Turn Maine Blue).

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Lautenberg Letters

Spud1 flags Senate Guru's analysis of Sen. Collins' tenure as chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

As we recently noted, the picture isn't pretty.

But Guru produces a stack of four pointed letters from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that I hadn't previously seen. The letters, dating back to 2003, practically beg Maine's junior senator to fulfill her oversight responsibilities.

For example, from Sept. 23, 2003:

Dear Senator Collins:

Last May, we urged you to convene hearings in the Governmental Affairs Committee to investigate the Iraqi reconstruction contracts that were awarded through a closed or limited bidding process..

Since we last wrote to you...the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the initial value of a no-bid Iraqi contract awarded to Halliburton by the Army Corps of Engineers has ballooned to $1.25 billion, which is $500 million more than what was projected earlier this month...

Earlier this month, the President also asked for an additional $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction as part of his larger supplemental appropriations request. Unfortunately, the President provided no assurances that the billions of dollars in new contracts will not be awarded through similarly secretive processes. However, the importance of a transparent and open bidding process for federal contracts cannot be overstated...

We are reiterating our request for hearings on all post-war Iraq contracts awarded by the Bush Administration through a closed or limited bidding process. With these hearings, we would hope to examine the details surrounding these secretive contracting procedures, and explore what additional safeguards are needed to restore the public's confidence in the integrity of our procurement system.
Again, this was 2003.

The writing wasn't just on the wall. It was on Senate letterhead.

More than four years later, the price tag for Sen. Collins' inaction continues to grow.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Risking Offense

There's nothing particularly objectionable about Sen. Collins' Op-Ed on fuel prices and energy independence. But that's actually part of the problem.

Because there's no way to end our country's reliance on foreign oil ("addiction" is too weak a word) without offending either big business or the oil companies, environmentalists or the automakers--or all of the above:

Do we spend staggering sums of money on research in development in a way that crowds out other spending? Do we make a national commitment to nuclear power and wind farms? Do we allow more oil drilling in Alaska, the gulf coast and just about everywhere in between?

These are difficult questions; they desperately need to be answered. But answering them is bound to anger somebody.

Yet Sen. Collins--even as she calls for a "Herculean effort"--doesn't seem prepared to back any plan nearly bold enough to actually solve the problem.

To wit: While I'm glad she's sponsored a $275 million dollar R & D amendment to the energy bill, let's not kid ourselves--that's chump change.

Collins' amendment sets aside about as much for a year's worth of R & D as we're spending in Iraq every six hours.

(Priorities, anyone?)

The junior senator also touts the current attempt in Congress to raise the gas mileage standards for cars and trucks. But the increases she's lauding don't take effect until 2020, and they've faced little more than token opposition from the automakers.

Will 35 mpg in 2020 really solve the problem? And can we really wait that long?

Finally, Sen. Collins warns of the dangers of "speculation" and price-manipulation in the futures market, suggesting that traders are driving up prices.

The junior senator clearly knows far more about this issue than I do. But everything I've read (including this) suggests that the rapid rise in oil's price over the last few years has been driven, at its core, by increases in demand against the backdrop of finite supply.

Speculation may play some role at the margins, but no one seems to think we're going back to $30-per-barrel oil anytime soon. So intimations that nefarious traders are at the heart of our energy conundrum--and, implicitly, that the conundrum can be resolved simply by reining in Wall Street--is disingenuous at best.

Or, to put it another way, whatever you think of Collins' donor base, don't blame the spike in oil prices on them.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

They Write Op-Eds

The junior sentaor pens a column for the Bangor Daily News.

More on this later.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Condescension Watch

Check out this passage from the latest post at Susan's Blog:

A remarkable aspect of our state is the interest and involvement of our residents in foreign policy. Wherever I travel in Maine, from our biggest cities to our smallest villages, I am consistently impressed by the interest the people of Maine have in better understanding the world and our place in it.
Okay, not exactly earth-shattering.

But it does reek of the patronizing attitude that comes from being in Washington too long. (Can you believe it? Those quaint small town folks actually find time to think about things!)

Memo to the junior senator: Of course Mainers are working to understand these issues. With our soldiers caught in the middle of a civil war and our national reputation in the tank, they have no choice.

Our know-nothing foreign policy leaders--enabled six of the last seven years by weak-kneed Republican congressional majorities--certainly haven't been minding the store.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Asleep at the Wheel?

Spud1 notices a new CREW report documenting waste at the Department of Homeland Security. A department, you'll remember, over which Sen. Collins had oversight responsibility until this January.

Among the findings is what CREW terms a "$2 billion loss on the SBInet 'virtual fence' border program."

I don't know enough about the program--or about CREW's methodology--to know whether that ten-figure "loss" is as shocking as it seems.

But I'm pretty sure that allowing DHS to remain a bastion of cronyism and incompetence won't stop the wasteful spending.

(It won't solve our illegal immigration problems either.)