Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
If 2012 is the year when the independent expenditure groups known as Super PACs went mainstream, it could also be the year when an imperfect tool—the bilateral candidate pledge—emerged as a way to limit their power.
This week, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, and his likely Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren have signed a pledge aimed at curtailing the influence of the outside money groups on their race for the Senate.
The so-called “People’s Pledge,” was first proposed by Brown last week and Warren accepted it on January 23. According to the Boston Globe, some of the groups—mostly those supporting Warren’s candidacy—are promising to comply, at least for now.
The pledge is quite similar to one publicly proposed two weeks earlier by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) to his one-time colleague and current opponent, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys).
On January 5, speaking at the first debate between candidates running in California’s new 30th congressional district, Sherman proposed that he and Berman promise to donate to the U.S. Treasury an amount of money equivalent to any expenditures made by Super PACs on behalf of their respective campaigns.
The Brown-Warren pledge is slightly different—the candidates are committing their campaigns to donate only half as much as is spent by any outside group, and the donations are to go to a charity of the opposing candidate’s choosing, not to the U.S Treasury.
But the intended effect is exactly the same.
Brown called the agreement “a great victory for the people of Massachusetts,” but the move to limit, if not eliminate, the impact outside groups can have on the campaign appears to be a way for Brown to take away an advantage from Warren, who has been the beneficiary of more Super PAC-bought advertising, so far. According to the Globe, groups backing Warren have outspent those backing Brown 3-to-1.
Warren, who is probably best known as the architect of the new U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, called the agreement “historic,” supporting it even though it would apparently work against groups supporting her candidacy.
“oth campaigns will need to remain vigilant to ensure that outside groups do not try to circumvent what is an historic agreement,” Warren told the Globe in a statement. “This can give Massachusetts voters a clear choice come Election Day.”
The Berman v. Sherman race presents a remarkably parallel situation. Berman, who is reportedly being supported by three separate Super PACs, has said that he supports a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the groups.
But that was all Berman said at the debate in Woodland Hills earlier this month, and Sherman made frequent reference to his Super PAC pledge as a way to attack his opponent.
In an interview, Berman’s campaign manager, Gene Smith, told me that Berman doesn’t have any intention of signing Sherman’s pledge. Coordination between candidates and Super PACs is explicitly prohibited, she said, so the pledge could actually end up harming the candidate’s own efforts to get out his message.
“We have absolutely no information about who these PACs are, what their plans are, what they’re going to do,” Smith said on Friday, January 20. “ So to commit resources that we have raised and for which we have a plan and a strategy against resources that we have no clue about and no control over is silly.”
Sherman, meanwhile, would appear to have much to gain from his pledge because as of now, nobody knows of any outside groups supporting his candidacy.
Phil Trounstine, writing on the Callbuzz blog, presented Sherman’s strategic thinking this way:
Hoping to turn Berman’s strength into a weakness, Sherman, with obvious guidance from campaign pro Parke Skelton, is trying to make an issue of the evil super PACS by challenging Berman to refund whatever money they spend on his behalf to the U.S. Treasury. (Good luck with that, Brad.)
It’s clear that, for politicians like Warren and Berman who oppose the existence of Super PACs—even though they are being supported by Super PACs—the outside money groups present a particular conundrum.
Which leaves us with two questions:
1. Could the agreement between Brown and Warren—assuming it lasts—strengthen Sherman’s hand in pushing for an anti-Super PAC pledge?
2. Could a pledge like this work at the national level? Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have said that they oppose the existence of Super PACs (although both reportedly supported the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that gave rise to the groups). It seems unlikely that either Romney or Gingrich would propose such a pledge—but what about President Obama? He is reportedly no fan of Priorities USA Action, an outside group that is supporting his reelection effort. But Democrats involved in his campaign effort see Super PACs, which can accept unlimited individual and corporate contributions, as a necessary evil.
“We can’t unilaterally disarm,” former South Carolina Democratic Chairman and Obama national finance committee member Dick Harpootlian told Politico.
But what about bilateral disarmament? Could Obama propose a pledge akin to the one proposed by Sherman and enacted by Brown and Warren?
3.14.13 at 9:24 am | The veteran former congressman joins Covington &. . .
1.4.13 at 3:55 pm | Colleagues paid tribute in in the House chamber. . .
12.19.12 at 4:06 pm | In political campaigns, how and when a strategist. . .
12.12.12 at 1:22 pm | Sherman and Berman spent $40 for each registered. . .
11.13.12 at 12:22 am | And this blogger scratches his head.
11.7.12 at 3:46 pm | The National Jewish Democratic Council sent this. . .
6.13.12 at 2:56 pm | This November, Allan Hoffman is going to have a. . . (6)
3.14.13 at 9:24 am | The veteran former congressman joins Covington &. . . (4)
7.5.12 at 11:30 am | Eve Kurtin didn’t intend to take a side in the. . . (2)
January 22, 2012 | 5:48 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In his race for reelection in the new 30th congressional district, Rep. Brad Sherman (D - Sherman Oaks) won a victory of a sort on January 22. In a preliminary meeting known as a pre-endorsement conference, more than half of the Democratic party activists from the new 30th congressional district urged the party to endorse Sherman.
Sherman’s opponent, fellow Democratic incumbent congressman Rep. Howard Berman (D - Van Nuys), received 36 percent of the votes, with the remainder advising the party not to endorse either candidate.
By winning more than 50 percent of the votes cast, Sherman guaranteed that a second vote would be held at the Democratic Party convention in San Diego next month. The nomination process in this internecine contest could end up taking these two long-standing congressmen all the way to an open battle for the party’s endorsement on the floor at the convention.
The 30th district vote was the last one taken at a meeting in Van Nuys that lasted almost four hours. Endorsements in 10 different state assembly, state senate and congressional races were considered. Most other races either produced one clear winner, resulting in a recommendation to endorse, or left the field so evenly split that the process of endorsement was halted immediately.
But in the 30th district race, when the votes were tallied, Sherman received 77 votes, or 54 percent of the total number of ballots cast. Berman received 52 votes from the district’s party activists.
The two campaigns have been ferociously fighting for every endorsement, and the atmosphere on Sunday was tense. The Democratic Party official who was running the meeting made a lengthy and vague reference to allegations of “irregularities” in the process of casting ballots in the race between Sherman and Berman.
Even though Sherman may have received more votes—votes could be cast by mail or fax—in the hall, the most vocal support was clearly lined up behind Berman.
Supporters waved “Reelect Congressman Howard Berman” signs when Berman got up to outline his record over nearly 30 years in congress. Even after Sherman spoke, touting his endorsements by local Democratic clubs and his 100 percent rating from the AFL-CIO, many in the crowd chanted “Howard, Howard.”
“I wasn’t a bit surprised,” Berman said of the result of the vote after the event. “This is Brad’s strongest forum, and this now goes to San Diego.”
A recommendation to endorse an incumbent that reaches the floor of the convention usually only requires a simple majority to pass. But in the 30th district, where two incumbents are facing off against one another, a 60 percent majority will be needed—if it makes it to the floor at all. Berman said that he felt “comfortable” about what he would face in San Diego and sounded dubious about the prospects of a party endorsement being made in the race.
“My best guess is we’ll get nowhere near endorsing anyone,” Berman said.
But Parke Skelton, a consultant for the Sherman for Congress Campaign, celebrated Sunday’s result.
“Once again it is crystal clear,” Skelton said in an emailed statement. “The Democrats who live and vote in [the 30th congressional district] know, trust and support Brad Sherman,”
Many of the races considered at the pre-endorsement conference featured only one candidate. Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, who is running for reelection in the 45th Assembly district, is one such candidate.
Closely allied with Berman, Blumenfield used his two minutes to urge people to avoid intra-party fighting. He cited his own experience of receiving a pre-endorsement conference recommendation in 2008, only to have that recommendation stripped at the convention.
“When we’re united there’s no stopping us,” Blumenfield said. “But when we’re divided, the Republicans win.”
Party unity isn’t an option in some races. Four candidates are running for office in the 46th assembly district, and no single candidate took 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, eliminating the possibility of the party nominating a single candidate. All four Democrats will appear on the open primary ballot this June. While their party affiliation will appear on the ballot, no official party endorsement will be made.
Other candidates recommended for endorsement on Sunday included State Senator Fran Pavley, who is running for re-election in the new 27th district. Initially, there were two names of candidates on the sheet of paper hanging on the front wall—Pavley’s and that of former Assembly Speaker and one-time Los Angeles Mayoral Candidate Bob Hertzberg. Hertzberg, who is reportedly considering running in the 27th senate district, had not yet filed or paid, so he was not considered.
January 19, 2012 | 1:05 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A correction to our coverage of the debate between Brad Sherman and Howard Berman (Sherman Lays Into Berman in Four-way Congressional Debate, Jan. 13) appears in the print edition of the Jewish Journal that hits newsstands today.
The problematic sentence in the original article read as follows:
“On more than one occasion, Sherman attacked Berman for supporting a bill that he himself had also voted for.”
So let’s clear this up. At the debate, Sherman assailed Berman on a number of topics, including his support of the $700 billion bailout of the banks passed by Congress in 2008. Sherman led a rebellion against the bailout, known as TARP, and voted against the bailout. Berman voted for it. No flip-flop there.
More complicated—and perhaps more significant—were Sherman’s jabs at Berman for his support of the Iraq War. Sherman did vote for the resolution authorizing the war in 2002—that’s part of why we thought it unusual that he attacked Berman, an early supporter of the war effort, so fiercely.
But as Sherman pointed out at the debate (and as his campaign manager, Parke Skelton clarified in a subsequent email), Sherman supported the war resolution only grudgingly, and only after attempting to limit the mandate for war given to President George W. Bush. He introduced one amendment and supported another that would have had that effect. It appears that neither the Davis amendment nor the Sherman amendment made it out of committee—Berman voted against both of them. Ultimately, Sherman voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the Iraq war, a move he characterized at the debate as a mistake.
The last Americans troops left Iraq at the end of last year. Could their past stances on this unpopular war help voters distinguish between Berman and Sherman, two Democrats with very similar voting records? That’s a question we’ll take a look at in a future post.
January 5, 2012 | 5:30 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
The four candidates vying to represent California’s newly redrawn 30th congressional district in the West San Fernando Valley met on stage for the first time in a heated town hall on January 5.
Two long-serving incumbent Jewish Democratic congressmen who have represented adjacent districts in the valley for more than a decade, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), focused their attention on their records.
Meanwhile, the two Republican candidates, businessman/actor Mark Reed, who ran unsuccessfully against Sherman in 2010, and writer Susan Shelley each hammered home the message that voters should throw out their current representatives.
Over 300 people gathered in an empty retail space at a Woodland Hills shopping mall to hear the candidates present their positions on topics including the economy, President Obama’s 2009 health care law, Israel and the Iranian threat, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most of the media attention thus far has focused on the contest between Sherman and Berman, who were thrown into the same district by the 2011 round of redistricting. Both congressmen are considered to be staunch Israel supporters, and many in the Jewish community had hoped this internecine battle could have been avoided.
On Thursday, Berman, who has been in congress since 1983, looked like he initially wanted to stay somewhat positive, presenting himself as a lawmaker who got things done. He touted a long list of accomplishments including securing federal funds to expand the 405 freeway and establishing the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy.
That attitude lasted about three minutes—until Sherman introduced himself and began swinging directly at his fellow Democrat.
“Howard has been very effective—on the wrong side,” Sherman said, pointing to, among other things, Berman’s support for free trade agreements. Since coming to Congress in 1997, Sherman has opposed such agreements, and his protectionist stance has won him the endorsements of five major labor unions in this race so far.
“I love organized labor,” Berman countered, arguing that erecting trade barriers in the United States resulted in fewer American jobs. “But just because I love them doesn’t mean I have to agree with them every time.”
But Sherman’s most frequently repeated criticism of Berman focused on what might seem like an arcane issue—the existence of multiple independent expenditure committees that are planning to support Berman.
Commonly referred to as Super-PACs, these committees are allowed to accept unlimited donations from corporations and individuals and then may spend that money in support of or opposition to a particular candidate, provided they do not coordinate their actions with the candidate’s campaign.
Wielding a poster-sized reproduction of a letter he had sent to Berman one day earlier, Sherman asked his fellow Democrat to sign a pledge to forgo any advantage derived from outside money groups by donating an amount of money from his own campaign fund to the U.S. Treasury equivalent to the amount spent by any Super-PACs on his behalf.
Hosted by the Woodland Hills-Tarzana Chamber of Commerce, the forum’s moderator asked a few questions about local issues that fell beyond the jurisdiction of Congress that left the veteran lawmakers puzzled. “I’m not running for the state legislature,” Sherman said in response to a question about whether California state laws about the environment should be relaxed.
Other questions—like the one asking whether the candidates would support requiring voters to present photo identification to vote in state and federal elections—divided the candidates on predictably partisan lines, with the Republicans in favor and the Democrats against.
The 30th district has almost twice as many registered Democrats as it does Republicans, and, for the first time this year, all four candidates will face off in a single open primary in June. The top two vote getters will advance to a run-off in November.
The forum did touch on foreign policy, and the candidates were asked whether they would support Israel taking preemptive action against alleged Iranian nuclear weapons development sites.
“Israel is gonna do what Israel is gonna do,” Sherman said, adding that he had been an early advocate for sanctions against Iran. Berman also talked about his role in passing sanctions in congress at the end of 2011 and called a nuclear Iran “the single greatest international security threat we face.”
Shelly, who is Jewish, said she would support an Israeli air strike against Iranian nuclear sites.
Reed went one step further. “What I support, before that, is a preemptive strike by America on Iran,” he said.
Neither Shelly nor Reed has ever held elective office, and both of them pledged to stay true to the U.S. Constitution, sounding very much like the conservative voices that have dominated the nation’s political scene in recent years. Both criticized the efforts at economic stimulus and the recent health care overhaul.
Shelley put forward a 5 percent national flat tax that she said would attract businesses from all around the world to the United States, and railed against “too much government control.” Reed, who initially appeared to ignore Shelley entirely, proposed ending unemployment benefits, earning boos from some in the crowd.
Sherman and Berman have very similar voting records, and the two congressmen did, at times, give nearly identical answers. In response to a question about noise at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, both incumbents noted that they were working together on federal legislation with Rep. Adam Schiff (D - Burbank) to tackle the problem.
A “straw poll” was taken at the end of the event, but organizers said that the results would probably not be posted on the chamber’s website for a few days.
January 4, 2012 | 8:35 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In the race for California’s 30th district, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) is running ahead of fellow Jewish Democratic incumbent Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), an independent political newsletter has reported.
“Look, Sherman has released a poll showing him far ahead,” said David Wasserman, the house editor at The Cook Political Report, an independent newsletter that began publishing political analysis since 1984. “Berman has not released any polling thus far. That reflects that Sherman is starting this race with an initial advantage, primarily because he occupies more of the district.”
The listing of California’s 30th district as “lean[ing] Sherman” was included in a broader report published last month about House incumbents’ reelection chances. Sherman’s campaign circulated the report as further evidence that the eight-term incumbent is leading in the race against Berman, who has been serving in congress since 1983.
Wasserman’s analysis relied in part on a poll from August 2011 paid for by the Sherman campaign that showed Sherman beating Berman by wide margins—25 percentage points in a three-way race and 27 points in a head-to-head match-up.
“I don’t believe it’s quite that wide, and I also believe it will narrow,” Wasserman said. “This is not a race that is by any means an easy one for Sherman to win, or as easy as his poll would suggest.”
Like all elections, the race between Berman and Sherman will come down to a lot of different factors, including the amount of money that will be spent on what some have called the most expensive congressional campaign in American history.
Sherman had more cash on hand than Berman did at the end of September 2011, the most recent numbers available, but Berman has probably narrowed the funding gap since then. Berman’s campaign raised $1.6 million at a fundraiser in November, and two separate independent expenditure committees that can accept unlimited donations, known as Super-PACs, are known to be supporting Berman’s candidacy.
“Berman’s money advantage will help tighten this race,” Wasserman said, “but there’s another thing at work here too. These days a long list of endorsements from party officials and fellow members of a Washington delegation don’t necessarily sway Democratic voters like they used to.”
Both candidates have announced endorsements in recent months, with Sherman winning the support of five labor unions and Berman touting the support of 23 of the other California Democrats in the House of Representatives.