Friday, February 29, 2008

Maine Papers

Remember the faux "tracking" scandal? When supporters of Sen. Collins got hot and bothered because the junior senator was videotaped...from a safe public events?

More than a year before election day, Maine newspapers ran no fewer than ten stories about it. I count four articles in the Bangor Daily News alone.

But Collins jumps the shark with a vicious attack linking her opponent to unpatriotic thugs (and rich Jews)--and what happens? It takes three weeks for any coverage in the local papers.

And as far as I can tell, BDN and Portland Press Herald--two of the state's biggest papers--have still not run a single word about it.

What's that about?

Smear Watch

Ugh. The only thing I would add is that this is exactly the kind of mistake the spot is designed to cultivate.

Indeed, the whole point of juxtaposing Allen with flag-burners is to lump the congressman together with them.

Make no mistake: The video is a guilt-by-association hit job constructed to impugn Rep. Allen's character. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn't being candid.

They Write Editorials

From the Kennebec Journal:

Politics is a rough business.

That was amply demonstrated this past month when Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins' campaign produced a particularly pungent video for use in fund raising against her Democratic challenger, Rep. Tom Allen.


It features unflattering and downright provocative images of what the campaign calls Move's [sic] "extreme allies," including a flag burning and an image of anti-war demonstrators holding aloft a banner that says, "We support our troops when they shoot their officers."


This is a hotly contested campaign, with huge stakes given the close divide in the Senate. Strong partisan appeals, with all their potential for ugliness, will likely be a constant part of the next eight months of this campaign. Anyone who expects the Collins-Allen race to be a polite tea party is out of touch with reality.

That said, we're bothered by one aspect of the video affair. Collins' Maine campaign manager, Steve Abbott, told Blethen Maine News reporter Jonathan Kaplan that Collins had not seen the video until after it had run.


But in an interview with an editorial board member of this newspaper, Abbott said, "It's not like she didn't know that we were doing it." Indeed.

It's a rare politician who leaves even the details to campaign surrogates, let alone the substance of campaign appeals. Abbott's explanation of Collins' lack of involvement in the video then took a strange twist: Had the appeal been to Mainers, he said, Collins would have been much more involved in it. But this was an appeal to out-of-state contributors whose primary focus was on, not the actual candidates, so she didn't review its final form.

That's one of the most peculiar forms of constituent service we've ever heard of.

Collins can't have it both ways.

The materials produced by a candidate's campaign to drum up support are a reflection of the candidate. Especially when the message is this edgy and powerful, it's incumbent on a candidate to take responsibility for it--yet Collins herself has remained silent about the video.

The fundraising video is strong stuff. There's no legal requirement for the senator to have vetted the video before it went out, but neither the senator nor her campaign should be hiding behind those legalities.

We have nothing against the video--it's the lack of accountability by the senator that's the problem.
Kudos to the KJ for (finally) taking up the issue.

Credit them for rejecting the junior senator's ridiculous attempt to distance herself from the attack, and for questioning Abbott's contorted logic.

That said, I'd take issue with the KJ's characterization of the video's tone and substance as unexceptional. In truth, the spot is a vicious smear, featuring the kind of incendiary images you'd expect only from a fringe candidate.

Let's not forget: Sen. Collins loves to present herself as a moderate who prizes comity and consensus above all else. The video demonstrates clearly and succinctly that it's all a posture and a sham.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Better Late

After three weeks of near-silence, credit Jonathan Kaplan for being the first member of the Maine press corps to delve into the Collins fundraising smear story.

Kaplan's even-handed write-up includes some news: That the video was sent by the Collins camp to "potential out-of-state contributors" (my emphasis); and that the Collins camp alleges that "Collins did not see the video, which her staff composed, until after it ran."

Both bits of information suggest that Sen. Collins understands how radioactive the spot is, even as she embraces the ugly, Rovian tactics that the video epitomizes.

We also learn from Collins flack Steve Abbott that the video "isn't intended to inform people about...Congressman Allen." But I'd be surprised if Abbott was able to keep a straight face while saying that.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't examine the George Soros wrinkle of the attack, which I wondered about here.

And Kaplan does repeat one serious error, describing Collins as having, "stopped short of embracing a full withdrawal [from Iraq]." That's like saying the Patriots stopped short of embracing full victory at the Superbowl.

But overall, Kaplan does a good job of letting Mainers know about the giant dose of attack-dog negativity that Collins has injected into the race. And that's far more than anyone else in the Maine media has done.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Much Ado?

Yesterday, I debunked the Collins camp's claim that an investigation of Iraq war spending was sought only by a single partisan Democrat. And I questioned their assertion that Collins had more important things to deal with.

But that second point--that Collins was busy tackling more important issues--is open to two different interpretations.

I took the Collins campaign to be arguing that the junior senator was so busy pursuing important oversight projects that she just couldn't find time to squeeze in a look at Iraq war spending.

But the other possibility (and perhaps a more natural reading of the remarks) is that Collins' schedule had nothing to do with it--she simply didn't see anything about Iraq war spending worth investigating.

After all, as Gerald notes, she still isn't calling for hearings.

But surely, below-standard kevlar helmets could bear a little more scrutiny. Surely, the pricing formula behind Halliburton's $45 cans of soda is ripe for a bit more probing.

And certainly, the Senate ought to be exploring why, even now, equipment contractors that repeatedly flunk inspections get rewarded with new business from the government.

Apparently, Collins disagrees. But I'd sure like to hear her explain why.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Walking, Chewing Gum, Etc.

As we just noted, Collins flack Steve Abbott opined yesterday to that, when it came to investigating Iraq war contracting, Collins simply had more important things to do:

Steve Abbott, campaign manager for Collins, said in the three years Lautenberg pushed the issue, the committee dealt with reports from the 9-11 commission and the Hurricane Katrina hearings. They oversaw mergers involving 22 federal agencies--the biggest reorganization in modern history. They dealt with intelligence reform.
But let's unpack this.

As we've seen, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) was already agitating for hearings by September, 2003.

Now, the 9/11 Commission Report wasn't published until July, 2004. And Katrina didn't even hit until August, 2005 . (More on Collins' incomplete, Bush-friendly Katrina investigation here.)

That leaves "mergers involving 22 agencies"--presumably, the creation and integration of the Department of Homeland Security--and "intelligence reform."

But from the beginning of the Iraq war till the day Lieberman and Lautenberg penned their letter, I count zero hearings on intelligence reform and only six related to launching the Department of Homeland Security.

So holding a mere six hearings left Collins too busy to look at Iraq spending? What on earth is Abbott talking about?

In fact, those six hearings left plenty of time for the junior senator to conduct a thorough investigation of Iraq war contracting.

How do I know?

Because Collins found time, during that period, to probe Great Lakes Restoration Management and tissue banks, among more than a dozen other subjects.

And in the months that followed, she investigated everything from the cost of the census to the Defense Department's premium airline tickets.

I'm not saying those hearings were frivolous: They may have been issues well worth pursuing.

But clearly, Collins can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Bottom line: The junior senator had every opportunity to probe Iraq war contracting. But she chose not to.

Not Gonna Cut It

Less than a month ago, Sen. Collins' story about her refusal to investigate the Bush administration's dangerously corrupt procurement practices was that she didn't want to duplicate work being done elsewhere.

But now she's singing a new tune.

According to the Collins camp, the uproar for hearings--the kerfuffle over her scandalously lax approach to oversight of the Bush administration--should now be seen as a charade cooked up by a single overzealous Democrat:

Staff for Susan Collins said today that the efforts [to get a hearing] were a politically charged one-man crusade, and the committee had more important issues to deal with...

"All this stuff was going on, and a single Senator from New Jersey wanted us to drop all the other things and hold a hearing about one thing going on in Iraq," Abbott said.

Lautenberg sent Collins nine written requests for the hearing. Abbott said they were all publicity stunts...

"It was all political," Abbott said.
Well, then.

Sometime soon, I'd like to examine Abbott's stunning observation that Collins "had more important issues to deal with." But for the moment, let's focus on the charge that Lautenberg was pushing a narrow, political agenda with a constituency of one.

This would be a great argument for Collins--if no historical record existed. But unfortunately for her, there's a paper trail. From September 23, 2003:

Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Tuesday sought Committee hearings on the limited or no bid contracts awarded for the reconstruction of Iraq.

In a letter to Committee Chairman Susan Collins, R-Me., Lieberman and Lautenberg noted that a secretive, non-competitive bidding process raises concerns about "favoritism and collusion" while an open process results in substantial cost savings for the taxpayer. In particular, the senators wrote, Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation, formerly led by Vice President Cheney, has received more than $2 billion for its work in Iraq, much of that from an oil infrastructure repair contract awarded through a no bid process. The cost of that contract has been spiraling upwards over the last few months, increasing by $300 million in just one week, according to news accounts.

"With these hearings," Lieberman and Lautenberg wrote, "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." (Emphasis added.)
And as Jessica Alaimo notes in her piece at, five other senators also signed on with Lautenberg.

But Lieberman's involvement, in particular, speaks volumes: It shows that even one of Collins' closest allies was so upset with her stubborn unwillingness to probe the Iraq war contracting mess that he went public with his concerns.

As we've pointed out before, back in 2003 plenty of people were aghast about the no-bid deals and worried about their impact on our war effort.

But--ever the Republican "team player--Collins stood down, even after Lieberman prodded her to act. As Iraq came apart, she sat on her hands.

We'll all be paying the price for years.

UPDATE: Senate Guru has more, along the same lines, here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Blog Blog Blog

I'd be remiss not to highlight PPH's primer on Maine political blogs, published over the weekend.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Collins Wants McCain in Maine


Collins, who endorsed McCain for the Maine caucuses, says his willingness to buck the GOP establishment could appeal to undecided voters in a state Bush lost by 9 points in 2004.

"I'd be glad to have him campaign for me," Collins said.
Maybe they'll call it the Hundred Year War Tour?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Remix

Just when I thought it was safe to take a couple of days off, Gerald catches Sen. Collins removing the offensive, over-the-top Allen smear video from her attack site

Some time over the weekend--I forget exactly when--I followed Gerald's link and saw what he saw: A fundraising solicitation without the inflammatory video, but otherwise similar to the original version.

In his post, Gerald seems to have been operating under the (reasonable) assumption that after sleeping on it, the Collins camp thought better of the gutter tactics employed in the spot, and pulled the video for that reason.

Alas, Gerald was wrong. How do I know? The video is back up.

But is it the same video?

I wondered, and so watched it several times in tandem with the original. And there is, indeed, a clear difference.

So: Did the Collins camp think better of including an unexplained snapshot of George Soros--a transparent pander to fringe paranoids and anti-Semites? Afraid not.

Did they reconsider the ugly, incendiary and unconscionably tasteless tactic of implying a link between Rep. Allen and people rooting for the death of American troops. Unfortunately, no.

No, instead--in a move that appears to be a response to a criticism I raised here--they reworked the text of the video to remove a demonstrable falsehood.

In the original video, one line of text about reads: "That's more than they've given to any other candidate."

But, as I pointed out, Moveon has given far more money to Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) than they have to Rep. Allen. So the new video reads: "According to the latest FEC reports, that's more than they've given to any other candidate." (Emphasis mine.)

Look, it's wonderful to know that people inside the Collins camp are careful readers of this blog.

But it's sad and disappointing to find out that, even in the context of a decision to rethink a fundraising pitch, Collins' team remains comfortable deploying a hateful and wildly misleading message designed to stroke the most radical, reactionary elements of the Republican party.

It speaks volumes about the lengths the junior senator is willing to go to win this thing.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Diana Allen Diagnosis

From the Allen campaign:

Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Tom Allen and his wife, Diana, today issued the following joint statement concerning her recent diagnosis of breast cancer:

"In recent days a routine mammogram detected breast cancer in what doctors have described as a very small malignancy believed at this point to be in its early stages. We will not know the entire story until surgery yields more information, but we are very optimistic that Diana will fully recover.


"In the meantime, our campaign for the U.S. Senate will continue and remain vigorous. Diana feels well and we are partners in this campaign as in our lives together...

Dr. Melinda R. Molin of Portland's Mercy Hospital and Breast Care Specialists, said that while further tests and surgery will provide more conclusive information, Diana Allen is in good health.

"This growth was detected on a mammogram and is much too small to even be felt," Dr. Molin said. "At this point Diana is in excellent health. Everything we are seeing suggests this cancer is in very early stages...We are all positive because everything now suggests an excellent prognosis."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

All Quiet

Gerald critiques an NPR story about the Collins camp's recent Allen smear.

Maybe more coverage is coming, but I've been surprised by how little attention Collins' hit job is getting in the Maine media--given how over-the-top the spot is.

One wonders: If the Allen team went ahead and designed a fundraising pitch linking Collins to David Duke and Southern Partisan magazine, would the reaction be similarly muted?

Just asking.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Thin Slice

BDN runs a disappointing campaign update that paints a picture of Sen. Collins and Rep. Allen as virtually indistinguishable on economic issues.

He criticized the influence of the pharmaceutical companies on the health care system, saying their lobbyists exert too much control over Medicare. He decried tax breaks for the oil industry at the same time that they are having record profits and many Mainers are having trouble paying their heating bills.

When he mentioned the Iraq war, he partly cast it in an economic light by leveling criticism at the Bush administration for wasting "billions" of dollars on the conflict and running up the national debt.


During a recent telephone interview, however, Collins expressed support for many of the same economic ideas espoused by Allen.
Yes, Collins has a long history of opposing the corporate agenda.

Except for, y'know, her votes in the Senate

To be clear, the article doesn't contain any blatant untruths. But this kind of context-free, surface-gloss reporting is one of the main problems with political journalism today.

And it plays right into the hands of the Collins camp.

Because instead of testing Collins' rhetoric against her legislative record--instead of doing the difficult (though not that difficult), boring work of sifting through votes and speeches, reporter Bill Trotter essentially takes the junior senator at her word.

That leaves Collins free to cast herself as a champion of the very causes she's opposed in the Senate chamber--to pose as an ally of Allen when she's really been a foe.

And so it's no wonder when, later in the piece, Trotter notes that, "Mainers often rely on a candidate’s likeability when they cast their votes."

Maybe if the Maine media did a better job of holding politicians accountable for not just their words but their deeds, that wouldn't be the case.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Passion Primary

Sen. Collins' decision to cozy up to the GOP's passionate, if paranoid, fringe makes more sense in the context of the "massive" turnout for the Maine Democratic caucus on Sunday: Her team must feel enormous pressure to do something to close the enthusiasm gap.

After all, 46,000 voters participated yesterday, nearly three times the Democratic party's 2004 total.

That's a stunning number, and one that signals Rep. Allen will have a reservoir of energy to tap not just on election day, but in the months leading up to November.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Collins Goes Negative

Make that very negative, very early.

The attack site--which Collins certainly approved personally--contains a number of falsehoods and distortions. For example, the video and accompanying text both claim, incorrectly, that Rep. Allen has received far more money from fundraising than has Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). The numbers shown are either invented or out of date.

But let's look past that for a moment.

My question is, What exactly is George Soros doing in Collins' video?

Not exactly a household name to begin with, the ad doesn't bother to identify Soros. Yet--and in a way that feels gratuitous--the video seems to go out of its way to include a snapshot of him.


Surely, this isn't dog whistle politics directed toward the paranoid wing of the Republican party. Right?

Surely, this isn't a coded appeal to conspiracy theorists on the GOP fringe who see a world full of scheming Jews conspiring to keep them down. Is it?

This Jew, for one, isn't amused. (Anyone in the press care to ask Collins endorser Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) for his take?)

Yes, I get it: The site is meant to be inflammatory--it's a hit job designed both to leverage radical right rage for fundraising and to distract voters, staving off a frank discussion of the junior senator's disastrous term in office.

But the Soros reference--and the inclusion of the obscene "we support our troops" poster--cross a line. And it's a line, incidentally, I wouldn't have expected Collins to cross even in October.

Let's be clear: This kind of ugly, Coulter-style smear has no place in our political discourse, let alone from a pol who poses as a champion of bipartisanship.

I hope Sen. Collins thinks carefully about the wisdom of embracing this kind of hard-right, slash-and-burn approach.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Inaction Matters

Gerald has a superb post up at TMB detailing the upshot of Sen. Collins' lack of Iraq contracting oversight.

As chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee, the junior senator dropped the ball. Period. She should admit it, apologize and move on.

PPH Lends A Hand

When we first encountered PPH reporter Jonathan Kaplan in December, he was passing on Republican talking points as if they were facts. A more recent effort was more encouraging

But now he appears to be back to his old tricks.

In yesterday's piece, on Sen. Collins' attack on Rep. Allen, Kaplan makes a number of dubious assertions.

First: "Allen raised $365,000 from" This is both false and misleading.

The strange thing is, Kaplan seems to know this: Lower down in the article, he clarifies, making it clear he understands that the money wasn't "from", and that the contributions instead came from individual citizens--who weren't necessarily even members.

So why, in the article's third paragraph, does he parrot the Collins camp's factually-challenged spin that Allen received a giant cash infusion directly from Moveon?

Second: "Allen has called for an immediate and safe withdrawal of troops. Collins has called on President Bush to change the mission of U.S. troops, but she has stopped short of demanding a complete withdrawal." Again, incomplete and misleading.

Allen has called for beginning a withdrawal immediately. But Kaplan's construction leaves open the interpretation that Allen wants all troops out within a week.

And while Kaplan is right that Collins has called for a change of mission, she hasn't demanded any sort of withdrawal, let alone a complete one: She has never voted for a plan which would force Bush's hand in Iraq. And in fact, while she nominally "opposed" the surge, I haven't heard any complaints from her about our current troop strength in Iraq.

In short, there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe that Collins has a problem with keeping 100,000 American troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future. But Kaplan's characterization leaves the opposite impression.

So again, we have two more sets of assertions which play into Collins' hands--glossing over her almost total deference to Bush while describing Allen's view in a way that makes him sound at least potentially reckless.

Credit Kaplan for observing that Moveon, "has become an organization despised by conservatives because of its ability to quickly organize and raise money on behalf of Democratic causes and candidates" and that, "this is not the first time Collins has tried to use to gain political advantage."

But these useful bits of context do not excuse the article's misrepresentations.

Monday, February 4, 2008

On Offense

Sen. Collins is, of course, entitled to attack Rep. Allen for accepting donations from participants in a fundraising effort.

But does it really make sense for the junior senator to focus attention on campaign cash?

After all, according to the most recent data, Sen. Collins has generated about twice as much money from PACs as she has from Mainers. She's raised more from business PACs than she has from Mainers.

And she's raised more than twice as much money from out of state donors as she has from Mainers.

In short, it's no stretch to say that Collins' campaign has been fueled, overwhelmingly, by out of state business interests: Donors who know, based on experience that when given a choice, Collins will happily vote with the corporate community and against ordinary Mainers.

If the Collins camp thinks small-dollar liberal donors are more dangerous to Maine's interests than DC influence-peddlers, Wall Street fat cats and the mega-rich, they're welcome to make that argument.

But with the economy souring, I suspect that this is an argument the Allen team will be happy to have.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

On The Ground

Here's an account from a Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) supporter of his GOP caucus experience yesterday:

[There] was about 1.5-2 hours of speeches by 6 or 7 people who are either running for some local office or a family member speaking for them. The over whelming [sic] theme of the day was mushy emotional talks about the importance of family, "honor", and how great it is to be a Repblican [sic]...

The Grand Finale was a speech by Senator Susan Collins. I was mildly annoyed with the complete lack of content up to this point...but by the time Susan was done speaking I was mentally counting down the days until I can switch back to being a registered independent.

She started right into a list of the faults of our congressional rep, Tom Allen (I'm sure he has plenty, but it seemed out of place to me) including the fact that he missed over 100 roll call votes to which a the Romney supporter standing next to me and myself both quietly said "That's bad?!"... In between her attacks of Tom Allen (which were plentiful and VERY well received) she filled us in on her fantastic Republican credentials.
Sounds like a blast.

UPDATE: PolitickerME has video:

The Collins Bump?

Gerald beat me to this post--about Mitt Romney's triumph in the Maine Republican caucus, and the rejection of Collins endorsee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) by the vast majority of Maine Republicans.

Hard to know what it means, if anything. But it does at least suggest that the testimony from Sens. Snowe and Collins didn't weigh too heavily into the thinking of members of the Maine GOP.