Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
In the first big move since promoting a new senior strategist to lead Rep. Howard Berman’s bid for reelection, the Berman campaign went negative today, launching a new website attacking opponent Rep. Brad Sherman for what it called his “dismal record.”
On a new website launched today, BradShermanFacts.com, the Berman campaign is hoping to drive home for voters the message that Sherman, who has been in congress since 1997, has accomplished very little during that time.
It’s a message that Berman and his allies have been reiterating with increasing frequency since these two congressmen were redistricted into a head-to-head race for reelection last year.
But while many of the attacks on Sherman laid out on the Berman campaign’s new website were familiar, it also included one new charge – that Sherman has “tried to pad his resume” by arranging for his name to be added as a co-sponsor to bills that appear likely to pass.
Backing up that accusation is an internal email dictated by Sherman and sent to his legislative staff in December 2011. In the email, which is posted on the Berman campaign’s new website, Sherman encourages members of his staff to bring to his attention bills that have passed through committee “with significant Democratic support” so that he could consider whether or not to sign on as a co-sponsor.
The Berman campaign characterized this strategy as “leading from behind.” In a statement announcing the launch of the website, Brandon Hall, the senior strategist who took full charge of the Berman campaign earlier this month, said that Sherman “has shown zero leadership as a member of Congress.”
“Instead of putting some real thought into delivering for the Valley,” Hall said, “Sherman simply instructs his staff to look for legislation to tack his name onto. That isn’t the kind of leader Valley residents are looking for.”
But Sherman campaign consultant Parke Skelton called the email unremarkable.
“I don’t understand what the big deal is,” Skelton said, noting that Sherman had long asked his staff to “identify good bipartisan legislation that he can assess and decide whether to co-sponsor and work to pass on the floor.”
The new website also restates an old charge—that “two of the three bills [Sherman has] passed into law simply assigned names to local post offices.”
Skelton, meanwhile, said that Berman had co-sponsored Sherman’s bills renaming post offices. Bills renaming post offices, Skelton said, must have every representative from the state signed on as a co-sponsor in order to advance, and added that Berman himself had co-sponsored at least 53 such bills while in Congress.
Skelton speculated that Berman, who finished nearly 10 percentage points behind Sherman in the June primary election, “must be getting pretty desperate.”
Berman and his allies have been attacking Sherman for his limited record of sponsoring successful legislation for some time, but the intensity with which the charge is now being leveled is new. The new website appears to mark a shift in tone for the Berman campaign, which had been led by Berman’s brother, political consultant Michael Berman, until Hall took the reins earlier this month.
While BradShermanFacts.com is singularly focused on presenting Berman’s opponent in the worst possible light, Berman’s campaign, under Michael Berman’s leadership, held an “accomplishments tour” of the Valley for reporters to draw attention to the positive impacts Howard Berman has had in his 30 years in Congress.
According to the Berman campaign, the new website will be updated with new material every Monday.
Skelton played down the significance of today’s release.
“If they’ve uncovered a mass trove of Brad Sherman documents, I hope there’s something better than that in there,” he said.
3.14.13 at 9:24 am | The veteran former congressman joins Covington &. . .
1.4.13 at 2:55 pm | Colleagues paid tribute in in the House chamber. . .
12.19.12 at 3:06 pm | In political campaigns, how and when a strategist. . .
12.12.12 at 12:22 pm | Sherman and Berman spent $40 for each registered. . .
11.12.12 at 11:22 pm | And this blogger scratches his head.
11.7.12 at 2:46 pm | The National Jewish Democratic Council sent this. . .
5.17.12 at 6:23 pm | Ah, Jews and their Yiddishe mamas. (4)
10.2.12 at 1:17 pm | Berman goes negative! Sherman releases positive. . . (3)
10.12.12 at 1:36 pm | On Friday, leaders in the movement for. . . (3)
July 20, 2012 | 5:32 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
When November finally rolls around, there will be some hugely important choices to make.
Aside from the obvious one—Presidential election, anyone?—there are also some big decisions for voters to make on the 11 state propositions that will appear on the California ballot. Should the state raise taxes to help avoid cuts in education? How about repealing the death penalty, or requiring producers of genetically modified foods to label them as such? And should the state prevent unions from using the dues they collect by deducting from members’ payrolls for political activities?
These are major questions that could have potentially state-changing (or industry changing) impacts.
But what about voters in the West San Fernando Valley facing a choice between Rep. Howard Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman? With substantive differences between the two lawmakers few and far between, is this race really that important?
Talk to the partisans who’ve picked a side—and I have, repeatedly—and they’ll portray the choice between Howard and Brad as a hugely significant one, on par with any congressional race in recent memory.
But Scott Lay, a former Democratic party activist based in Sacramento who publishes “The Nooner,” a daily newsletter about California politics and policy, doesn’t buy the argument that these two Democrats “couldn’t be more different.”
“I think it’s important for the movie/recording industry in terms of having a BFF in Congress,” Lay wrote to The Journal in an email, referring to Berman’s role as the so-called Congressman from Hollywood. “That said, the differential on actual policy votes is probably less than 2%.”
Since 2007, Lay wrote in a recent edition of his newsletter, Berman and Sherman had voted together 97 percent of the time, and voted with the caucus 95 percent of the time. (To do that analysis, Lay used a Web site – something that Congressman Henry Waxman would likely disapprove of.)
Even if they vote similarly, don’t Berman and Sherman focus their attentions on different subjects?
“Yes, legislative priorities in your congressman is important,” Lay wrote, “but let’s face it that neither -erman will be driving policy in Washington, particularly since Democrats have almost no chance of recapturing the House in November.”
That said, Lay is paying attention to the race. He recently named the 30th district as the “most interesting” congressional contest in California.
“It’s most interesting because of the story that played out over the last year,” Lay wrote, “with the strong behind-the-scenes push to get Sherman to run in Ventura, along with the fact that Michael Berman always protected Howard as he was the major player in congressional redistricting over the years.”
Both campaigns will face a challenge in November—not just getting voters to the polls, but getting them to stick around and actually cast ballots in this congressional race. Because while “interesting” may attract news coverage, only “important” races fire up voters.
July 16, 2012 | 5:08 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Is it just me, or does the Berman v. Sherman news from this weekend feel very familiar?
Take news item number one, the somewhat confusing – and effectively meaningless – gesture of support the more senior Rep. Howard Berman received from the California Democratic Party this weekend, when 58.5 percent of the delegates voting this weekend backed him, as compared to the 23.4 percent of delegates who backed Rep. Brad Sherman.
A candidate would’ve needed to win 60 percent of the delegates to get the Democratic Party’s endorsement in the race between these two veteran Democrats. (The party didn’t endorse in the primary, either; the delegates voted in February in almost exactly the opposite way, with Sherman taking 53 percent of the delegate vote and failing to win the party’s nomination.)
A divided Democratic Party: check.
But wait! Could the campaign finance filings provide some twist we’ve not yet seen?
Not quite. The recently released financial reports show that Sherman, despite raising only half of what Berman raised in the period between May 17 and June 30 ($170,000 to Berman’s $355,000), still has an overwhelming cash advantage going forward. Sherman has just over $3 million to spend ($700,000 of which takes the form of loans from the candidate to his campaign).
The Berman campaign, meanwhile, has about $445,000 on hand (and about $100,000 in various outstanding debts), and the only pro-Berman Super-PAC left standing, the Committee to Elect An Effective Valley Congressman, declared $7,800 in cash on hand and $48,000 in outstanding debt.
It feels like it’s been February 2nd – sorry, I mean June 5th—for a month already, since little has changed since Sherman won the June primary, by a significant margin. Heck, the best new story this month was one about Sherman’s affinity for taxpayer-funded mail.
Even the spin-filled press releases – I mean, explanatory emails – coming from the campaigns sound, well, almost predictable. The Sherman campaign explained Berman’s strong finish in the vote this past weekend as a result of his clout with high-ranking Democratic elected officials. And Berman’s campaign issued a press release saying that it “already has two-dozen upcoming fund-raising events scheduled.”
Let’s try an exercise; I’ll list two facts, and you come up with each campaign’s talking point. Ready?
- Today, Sherman’s D.C. office announced that on the first Sunday of the August recess, the Congressman from Sherman Oaks will be holding his umpteenth*** Town Hall meeting of his 15 years in Congress.
- Berman has sponsored 19 resolutions in the current two-year session of Congress, one of which has been passed, a law that extends a special class of visas for immigrant investors to Israelis. Sherman hasn’t seen any of the nine resolutions he sponsored become law this session. (He did introduce five amendments, though—four of which were agreed to. None had anything to do with post offices. )
Will the outcome in November be different than June? Will Berman be able to catch up to Sherman’s cash advantage? How many more town halls will Sherman hold between now and June?
How should I know? I’m not a God…
***I don’t know the exact number, but it’s somewhere between 160 and 170.
July 5, 2012 | 11:30 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Eve Kurtin didn’t intend to take a side in the race between Rep. Howard Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman.
In mid-2011, right around the time it became clear these two Jewish, pro-Israel Democrats would be running against one another for reelection in the newly drawn 30th Congressional District that includes her neighborhood of Mulholland Estates, Kurtin contributed $500 to each candidate’s campaign committee.
Then Sherman began criticizing Berman.
One TV ad from the Sherman campaign presented in a negative light the 163 foreign trips taken by Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, during his nearly three decades in office. The same ad took Berman to task for “charging taxpayers $186,000 to lease a car,” a perk congressmen are entitled to, but of which Sherman has not availed himself. That sum, according to the Berman campaign, includes spending dating back to the 1980s.
“Really distasteful,” Kurtin said of Sherman’s attacks. “If it’s not a blatant lie, it is absolutely an insult and a distortion of the facts.” In May 2012, right around the time Sherman’s ad first aired, Kurtin donated an additional $1,000 to Berman.
A former president of Stephen S. Wise Temple, Kurtin was involved in getting her Reform synagogue more involved in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); Kurtin joins a chorus of prominent donors affiliated with pro-Israel groups who have rallied behind Berman.
Three former AIPAC presidents — Howard Friedman of Baltimore, Amy Friedkin of San Francisco and Robert Asher of Chicago — have donated to Berman. Other notable pro-Israel donors from across the country have given to Berman’s campaign at fundraisers headlined by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as well as Dennis Ross, who served as an adviser to President Barack Obama on Middle East affairs.
Many prominent Jewish donors from around Los Angeles have donated to Berman as well, and among Jewish voters in the 30th District, Berman’s support also appears to be stronger than Sherman’s. In the June primary, Sherman finished 10 points ahead of Berman, with 41 percent of the vote, but among Jewish voters, Berman came out ahead, according to a study conducted by political consultant Paul Mitchell.
Many Jewish and pro-Israel donors have decided not to take a side in this battle between incumbents, and more than a few have written checks to both candidates. But as the campaigns look ahead toward November, some who might have stayed neutral are picking sides.
“Brad Sherman is a nice guy, I’ve supported him, but he’s just another vote,” said Larry Weinberg of Beverly Hills, who is considered the father of modern-day AIPAC. “Howard is not just a leader; he is perhaps the most influential leader in the House, as far as the U.S.-Israel relationship is concerned.”
Like others interviewed for this article, Weinberg was careful to mention that AIPAC does not rate or endorse candidates, and that he was speaking for himself, not for any organization.
In an interview with The Journal, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the founder of The Israel Project, came out in favor of Sherman, instantly becoming the most prominent pro-Israel voice to endorse Sherman to date. (Other Sherman supporters reached for this article were unwilling to speak on the record.)
Mizrahi doesn’t dispute Berman’s seniority; indeed, she thinks his stature has cowed donors into supporting him.
“The fact is that Howard Berman has tremendous power, and sometimes people are afraid to speak truth to power,” Mizrahi said.
Mizrahi recently stepped down after 10 years as president of The Israel Project to launch her own public relations and government affairs firm. Mizrahi said she was speaking only as an individual and not for the global Israel advocacy organization she founded.
Mizrahi is a close friend of Sherman, and Sherman established The Israel Project’s board of advisers, of which Berman has since become a member. Mizrahi said she prefers Sherman’s policies vis-à-vis Israel —specifically on Iranian sanctions and on the strategies that might lead to a peaceful two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — over Berman’s.
“I can tell you, as someone who cares deeply about peace in the Middle East, that it’s time for new leadership,” Mizrahi said. “Brad Sherman would be a better chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee should the Democrats come back into power.”
If Sherman wins in November, attaining Berman’s spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee will not be automatic. Rep. Eliot Engel of New York has also said he would vie for the role of chairman, or ranking Democrat, should the Republicans maintain their majority in Congress.
Donna Bojarsky, an unpaid adviser to the Berman campaign, wondered whether Sherman is qualified for the committee position.
“When Israelis come to town, Howard gets the call,” she said, adding that when Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz visited Washington, D.C., in June, the only Congressional office he visited was Berman’s.
“Brad isn’t even in any of those rooms,” Bojarsky said. “How does he want to be chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee if he doesn’t have any of the necessary relationships or experience?”
While Berman backers are far more likely to cite his style of diplomatic, behind-the-scenes deal-making as a reason he won their support, Sherman’s supporters appreciate what they see as Sherman’s much more public — and some say aggressive — approach.
By way of illustration, Sherman supporters regularly point to each congressman’s record regarding Iranian sanctions.
Berman sponsored the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, a bill that instituted multilateral sanctions targeting companies that support Iran’s energy sector and against financial institutions that support Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. To get it passed, Berman worked with the Obama administration to ensure that Russia and China joined the group of participating nations.
But the way Sherman supporters like Mizrahi see it, Sherman first began putting forward bills and amendments to strengthen sanctions on Iran as early as 2005. Berman’s sanctions bill — which Sherman has argued was unnecessarily delayed — was, according to Mizrahi, composed of legislative ideas that originated in bills and amendments proposed by other lawmakers, including Sherman.
And for Jarrow Rogovin, an L.A.-based manufacturer of dietary supplements who is a high-level AIPAC donor, a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a longtime Sherman supporter, Berman is responsible for delaying the imposition of sanctions against Iran.
“When Iran gets a nuclear bomb,” Rogovin said, “it will be a monument to Howard Berman and Barack Obama.”