Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
On Monday, the same day Howard Berman’s campaign accused fellow Democrat-turned opponent Brad Sherman of dodging debate invitations (L.A. Times) and BuzzFeed ran a piece about an anti-Berman mailer, the two Congressmen mixed it up in what may turn out to be their last debate on Which Way, L.A.? on KCRW.
Warren Olney moderated the encounter expertly, managing to keep both Congressmen to their allotted times while weaving in questions about their accomplishments, their reputations and how each one has run in this very expensive (between the two campaigns and outside groups, it tops $13 million) and very contentious campaign.
After listening, here are the three thoughts:
1. Getting up in arms over mailers is mostly a waste of time. The Buzzfeed story today is an interesting read, looking closely at one pro-Sherman Super-PAC mailer that appears to touch “the hot buttons of race and sexual orientation, as well as intra-party politics” by linking Berman to Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Barbara Boxer, and Rep. Barney Frank.
I’m not sure if the mailer is as much of a dog-whistle as the unnamed “Democratic operatives” who talked to Buzzfeed seem to think it is, but it would be pretty remarkable for a Democratic incumbent (Sherman) to suggest that the other (Berman) is too closely linked to the other members of their party.
Unfortunately for the Berman campaign, which called it “offensive,” the mailer isn’t a Sherman mailer. It’s a Super PAC mailer that attempts to sway Republican voters into backing one of two Democrats in this race. Of course, Sherman pled ignorance – as any politician would. Welcome to the brave new world of uncoordinated campaigns.
2. Sherman has always been, and continues to be, far more comfortable on the attack than Berman is. If you still need evidence of this, listen to Olney’s question to Sherman about whether it’s legitimate to critique Berman, the former chair and ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, for travelling abroad on the taxpayer dime or on trips paid for by special interests.
Berman’s practice sounds like it might be defensible, and he cited two former Secretaries of State supporting his claim that such trips are a necessary part of being a leading member of the foreign affairs committee.
But when Olney turned to Sherman, the Congressman was more than ready with his answer. Many of Berman’s trips, Sherman said, were taken before Berman became chairman of the committee, and that some of what Berman did (like traveling to accept honoraria from business interests) has since been prohibited.
And that – unlike the mailer mentioned above – is an argument that the Sherman campaign itself has been making for months. The mailers they send feature hand-drawn illustrations of Berman traveling to countries around the world; one recent TV ad has a soundtrack of plunky banjo music.
Contrast that to Berman’s attempts to attack Sherman. One way to read the fight at Pierce College was that it came out of the fact that Berman couldn’t simply say that Sherman was lying when he claimed that Berman hadn’t authored the DREAM Act. Instead he suggested that Sherman might be “delusional,” a criticism that few in the audience heard or understood.
On the KCRW debate, Berman did get the message across more clearly -- “The fact is he's not delusional; he was lying” -- but that was two weeks after the debate at Pierce ended.
Berman's allies quickly came to his defense after Pierce, but what if the Berman campaign had come out after the Pierce College debacle and simply called Sherman a bully and a liar? Those are labels that Berman and his campaign still haven’t really tried to attach to Sherman (although one pro-Berman Super PAC did try to label Sherman a “pufferfish”). But even if they had, that would have left the Berman camp with less than a month to try to catch the candidate who has been ahead (or way ahead) in every poll released since this race first began.
If Berman wins next week, it might be thanks to the fallout from Pierce College (although the Sherman camp says that their internal polling after the incident shows them actually pulling further ahead) or thanks to Republican voters or thanks to something I can’t predict today.
But if not, one possible lesson to learn might be this: If you want to go negative, brand your opponent as something more ominous than “ineffective.” And do it early in the race.
3. Even today, more than a year after it started, Berman v. Sherman is still a head-scratcher. For most 30th district voters, it’s a confusion-inducing choice. Listen to the recordings of the voters canvased by KCRW, and you’ll hear dismay, disgust and confusion as to what they should do with Berman-Sherman. That’s certainly what I found talking to people in the district – although I also found a good number of people who didn’t have a clue who these men were.
For spectators, Berman v. Sherman is a curiosity. Seriously, talk to anyone who knows about the race but doesn’t live in the district and doesn’t have a dog in the fight, and they’ll likely end up with a bemused look on their face as they shake their heads and wonder if the race matters at all.
For reporters, meanwhile, the race presents a conundrum that even a political science professor couldn’t answer. Berman v. Sherman isn’t about who took which taxpayer-funded trips or who lost control at a candidates’ debate. It’s a question about what kind of member of Congress the voters in the 30th District want.
For this reporter who doesn’t live in the district, it’s been educational and challenging and at times fun to follow. But I’m not convinced that the average voter – who might be trying to balance a job, family responsibilities and possibly even the task of parsing the 11 different statewide measures on the ballot this November – has the interest, let alone the time to decide what makes a better Congressman.
Which is probably why the polls are still saying what they’ve been saying all along, which is: The Congressman who represented more than half the district, who gives out promotional combs at his (almost monthly) town hall meetings, is winning. The other one, the Congressman who’s been endorsed by every significant newspaper and practically every national politician who’s taken a side in the race, isn’t.
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. . .
10.12.12 at 1:36 pm | On Friday, leaders in the movement for. . . (6)
11.10.11 at 2:59 pm | Gov. Jerry Brown and other elected officials came. . . (4)
3.15.12 at 1:04 pm | One incumbent Jewish Dem endorses another. . . (3)
October 24, 2012 | 12:22 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
President Bill Clinton was in Irvine yesterday, supporting a number of Democratic congressional candidates. And though Brad Sherman has touted Clinton’s signing on as his highest profile supporter, Sherman wasn’t on the list of candidates Clinton was pushing.
Yesterday evening, meanwhile, Howard Berman was at a small event in Beverly Hills to benefit American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Jewish Journal Editor and Publisher, Rob Eshman, spoke at the event, as did the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel. But when Berman took the floor -- even though his counterpart at the politically-themed event, Republican Jewish Coalition California Regional Director Arie Lipnick, would make the case that Mitt Romney would pursue a more pro-Israel agenda as President than Barack Obama has -- Berman focused less on the President and more on
his own record of achievements the importance of Tel Aviv University and high-tech innovation while emphasizing that support for Israel should be a bipartisan issue.
Did you follow that?
Sherman, who notes Clinton’s “support” prominently on his Web site but doesn't have his “endorsement,” went unmentioned at an appearance by the former President. Berman, who has gotten winks, nods and one highly publicized carpool ride with Obama, in a room with 40 or 50 Israel supporters, didn’t explicitly push them to support the President.
In other words, while Berman can claim the support of many more Senators and Congressmen than Sherman, and Sherman has frequently talked about having the endorsements of all the elected officials who live in the 30th district aside from the one who worked for Berman, when it comes to the current and former occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, everyone’s being pretty cagey.
UPDATE 1: After some additional reporting, it seems like Berman really didn't focus on politics of any sort, at least in his initial remarks. He later gave a defense of the President's record on Iranian sanctions, whose position he's been very well connected to. But the spirit of the evening appears to have been mostly apolitical -- an unusual departure for a guy who's been on the most closely watched Congressional campaign trail in the state.
UPDATE 2: And, as if to illustrate one point made in this post, the Berman camp announced that Rep. Henry Waxman (D) and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) have both recorded anti-Sherman robocalls, focusing attention on Sherman's grabbing Berman during a debate at Pierce College earlier this month. "Please, do not send Brad Sherman back to Congress," concludes the script for both calls. "His behavior is unacceptable.”
October 17, 2012 | 2:57 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
As far as policy matters go, Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman agree far more often than they differ. Over the course of their yearlong heated contest for re-election in the newly drawn district in the West San Fernando Valley, the few points of disagreement between these two congressmen have been investigated in more than a dozen public debates.
Now, in the wake of a blowup during a debate on Oct. 11 at Pierce College, which drew national attention when Sherman forcefully grabbed Berman around his shoulders and yelled, “You want to get into this?” one more disagreement between these veteran congressmen has come to light: Whether that altercation will alter the outcome of the election, now just weeks away.
Sherman, who for the past 10 years has represented a majority of the new district and beat Berman by 10 points in the June primary, was leading by double digits in a poll taken in September. But an independent poll conducted by Kimball Political Consulting on the Friday and Saturday after the incident suggested that while Sherman now leads Berman by about 6 percent among likely voters (32 to 26 percent), the remaining 42 percent remain undecided.
About one-third of likely voters had heard about the scuffle at Pierce College, and 29 percent of those voters were likely to vote for Berman as a result, as compared to 17 percent who were likely to go for Sherman. Twenty-four percent said the fight made them less likely to vote, and 30 percent said it had no effect.
Representatives from both the Berman campaign and from an allied super PAC supporting his candidacy declined to say how or whether they will use the altercation in campaign advertisements, but the Berman campaign’s senior adviser sounded a confident note after the release of the latest poll.
“We expect [Sherman’s] standing in this race to continue to decline as more voters become aware of his bizarre outburst,” Brandon Hall said in a statement on Oct. 16.
Sherman, meanwhile, has been downplaying the effect that the incident might have. “This may cost me the votes of 300 people,” Sherman told the Los Angeles Daily News on Oct. 12, “if [Berman’s campaign] can exploit the video.”
What impact — if any — the altercation will have on voters seeking to differentiate between, in the words of an NPR reporter, “two balding, bespectacled Jewish liberals with very similar voting records and rhyming names,” will depend on how those voters interpret what took place at Pierce College.
As is clear from video clips that have been shown on local and national news and had, as of Oct. 16, been seen by more than 235,000 people on YouTube, the scuffle between Sherman, 57, and the smaller Berman, 71, came in the midst of a heated disagreement.
Less clear is how two members of the same party could have such divergent views of what would seem to be a straightforward matter that they were arguing over — whether Berman wrote the immigration legislation that has become known as the DREAM Act.
The House of Representatives debated and passed the DREAM Act, which would have allowed some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as young children to gain permanent residency provided that they met certain criteria, during the lame-duck session of Congress at the end of 2010.
That version of the legislation — which was then halted in the Senate by a filibuster — was sponsored by Berman. (President Barack Obama earlier this year used an executive order to implement a number of the act’s provisions.) Berman also introduced an earlier version of the bill, in 2007, and was an original co-sponsor of it in 2006, 2003, and 2001.
Sherman, meanwhile, signed on as co-sponsor in November 2010, just weeks before the debate over the bill took place.
But if Berman and Sherman were on the same side in 2010, at Pierce College, Sherman aggressively and repeatedly argued that Berman had not authored the earliest version of that legislation, then known as the Student Adjustment Act.
“Howard, Luis Gutierrez introduced that bill!” Sherman yelled into his microphone, just before the physical fracas occurred, referring to the Democratic congressman from Illinois. “You didn’t, and the official records of Congress will prove you wrong.”
On Oct. 12, the day after the debate, Gutierrez, who had already spent time in California supporting Berman earlier in the campaign, tweeted, “It is a matter of public record that Howard Berman wrote the DREAM Act and I am a co-sponsor.”
That same day, leaders in the movement for comprehensive immigration reform, immigrant rights advocates and a few of the young immigrants who were the target group for the legislation all confirmed that Berman was the original author of the legislation, and urged voters in the San Fernando Valley to support Berman over Sherman.
“This man [Berman] has represented the community of the San Fernando Valley, the immigrant community, the Latino community with an incredible level of integrity,” Angelica Salas, board chair of CHIRLAction Fund, said during a conference call with reporters on Oct. 12. “Sherman has not voted the wrong way, but he also rarely engages directly with the Latino and immigrant community in order to speak up on their issues.”
Nevertheless, Sherman has not backed away from the technical argument he made so forcefully at Pierce College.
“Howard deserves a lot of credit for his work on this for a lot of years,” Sherman said during a subsequent debate with Berman, aired on KPCC on Oct. 15, but argued that in the same way Berman has frequently slammed him for his legislative achievements — in 15 years, Sherman has sponsored three bills that have been passed by Congress, two of which named post offices — Sherman could legitimately apply Berman’s own standard to the DREAM Act and reasonably conclude that Berman hadn’t been its author, as former Rep. Chris Cannon, then a Republican from Utah, introduced the first version of Berman’s bill in 2001. In the official Congressional record, Berman’s name appears second.
Berman rejected Sherman’s argument.
“Luis Gutierrez says Howard Berman is the author of the DREAM Act; Chris Cannon says Howard Berman is the author of the DREAM Act, ‘The Dreamers’ say Howard Berman is an author of the DREAM Act,” Berman told talk-show host Larry Mantle of KPCC. “And Brad Sherman, nine years after we introduced it and just before it was coming up for a vote, finally added his name as a co-sponsor to this legislation.”
If the Berman campaign or its allies are seeking to use video of the altercation for their political benefit, they may have an uphill battle.
In interviews with 10 people on Oct. 15 who said they were registered to vote in the new 30th District, only two of them knew about the scuffle at Pierce College. Indeed, even after the two campaigns have spent more than $9 million combined to advance their candidates, those two voters were also the only ones who could name both Berman and Sherman, and neither seemed likely to change his mind because of what took place on Oct. 11.
Standing in the central square at Valley College, Bill Shaffer, a student, said he would be voting for Sherman because he has lived in Sherman Oaks for 20 years and has met the congressman. He saw the scuffle between Berman and Sherman on a cable news network and didn’t draw any conclusions.
“I just saw a couple of frustrated people in a room with a bunch of maniacs screaming,” Shaffer said.
At a coffee shop in Encino, Bill Steinberg said he’s thinking about supporting Berman, in part because Berman has the support of his congressional colleagues. But his wife and son, Steinberg said, are leaning in Sherman’s direction, and nobody in his household has changed his or her mind after the Pierce College incident.
“They’re both intense guys,” he said. “What is there to make of it?”
October 17, 2012 | 1:59 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Over the course of the past 15 months, the reelection campaigns for Rep. Howard Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman have spent a combined $9 million trying to convince voters in the West San Fernando Valley that one Jewish Democrat is a better Congressman than the other.
But even as the Berman campaign launches its latest attempt to sway voters – a new ad set to appear on cable television using footage of Sherman grabbing and yelling at Berman during a recent debate – and the Sherman campaign unveils its own TV ad hitting Berman for his foreign travel, many voters in the district still don’t seem to know much about either of the candidates.
On Oct. 15, I interviewed 10 people in and around the 30th district who said they were planning to vote in the upcoming election. Of those voters, only two could name the candidates who were running for Congress. Even with all the media coverage this acrimonious Democrat-on-Democrat race has gotten, about half did not seem to be aware that their ballot would feature two people from the same party.
Asked who she’d be voting for in the upcoming Congressional contest, a young woman sitting at a coffee shop in Encino said, “Whoever’s the Democrat.”
That kind of response was typical.
“I don’t like Republicans,” said a man pouring cinnamon into his coffee by the tablespoonful. He, too, hadn’t heard about Berman or Sherman.
A third self-described Democratic voter, after being informed that there were two Democrats running against one another, said, "I don't know anything about that."
Unlike the pollsters behind the recently released surveys – one automated independent poll showed Sherman ahead by 6 points; another internal poll taken for the Sherman campaign showed him leading Berman by 25 points – I talked with people in person, and asked open-ended questions, initially not mentioning either candidate’s name.
The blank stares from self-described likely voters offers insight into the challenge the Berman campaign faces.
Both candidates and their allies are expected to pour money into the district in the weeks before Election Day. Sherman had $1.8 million in cash on hand at the end of September; Berman had $394,000. A Super PAC allied with Berman, the Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman, which had spent almost $1.4 million as of the end of September, is poised to spend a total of $2 million on the race, according to Bill Boyarsky at LAObserved. Two outside groups – one affiliated with the National Association of Realtors, another connected to a group representing carpenters – have spent almost $2 million to advance Sherman’s reelection effort.
Talking to voters in the district, once I did mention the candidates, there was some recognition – but even then, voters couldn’t identify any differences between Berman and Sherman.
“They both seem like they want what’s best for the Valley,” said Suzanne Ledergerber, a Republican who lives in Porter Ranch. She said she had seen a few ads for both candidates. “But I don’t trust any commercials,” she added.
The raw video of the debate -- which only partially demonstrates what I saw at Pierce College -- hadn’t convinced the two partisans I met on Monday. (I wrote about them in this week’s print edition of the JJ.) One was supporting Berman, the other supported Sherman, and neither one felt the video changed anything.
Whether Ledergerber and the 20-40 percent of voters in the 30th district who are still uncommitted will trust a Berman ad that calls Sherman “mean” -- or the Sherman ad that features photos of a cutout of Berman in front of tourist sites around the world -- remains to be seen.
October 12, 2012 | 1:36 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
During a debate on Oct. 12, Rep. Brad Sherman, in a bizarre outburst, threw his arm around Rep. Howard Berman, yelling, “Do you want to get into this?”
“This” might have been a physical fight, or it might have been what the two Congressmen were arguing over before Sherman got physical -- namely, whether or not Berman was the original author in 2001 of the DREAM Act, a proposal to legalize some undocumented youth.
Sherman said that Berman was not the bill’s author. Berman, who began the debate at Pierce College on Thursday by touting his authorship of the DREAM Act, which aimed to give a path toward residency and citizenship to immigrants who had come to the United States illegally at a very young age, appeared to accuse Sherman of lying.
On Friday, leaders in the movement for comprehensive immigration reform, immigrant rights advocates and a few of the young immigrants who were the target group for the legislation confirmed that Berman was the original author of the legislation and urged voters in the San Fernando Valley to support Berman over Sherman in the election next month.
“This man [Berman] has represented the community of the San Fernando Valley, the immigrant community, the Latino community with an incredible level of integrity,” Angelica Salas, board chair of CHIRLAction Fund, said during a conference call with reporters on Friday. “Sherman has not voted the wrong way, but he also rarely engages directly with the Latino and immigrant community in order to speak up on their issues.”
Over the course of this long, expensive and hotly contested race between two Democratic incumbents running against one another for a single seat, Berman has frequently found himself having to argue with Sherman about whether he can legitimately claim credit for certain legislative accomplishments.
In April 2012, for instance, countering Berman’s claims that he secured the funding that sped up construction of a new carpool lane on the 405, Sherman claimed a critical role in the project, particularly at the state level. Berman and his supporters worked hard to convince people otherwise, touting assertions by those involved in the funding process – including the former Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar, who had been the ranking member and then Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee when the funding was approved. Oberstar said that it was Berman, not Sherman, who was “the driving force” in getting the project sped up. Still, that hasn’t stopped Sherman from claiming credit in town hall meetings, advertisements and other communications.
Friday’s conference call felt similar, although the organizers said that it had not been coordinated with the Berman campaign.
“We’re doing this because we know the guy [Berman]; we love the guy; and he’s our champion,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a group aiming to promote fair and just immigration reform.
Berman, Sharry said, was inspired to write his immigration bill, initially known in the House of Representatives as the Student Adjustment Act, when he met an undocumented honors student in 2001 who told him that she could not go to college because she didn’t’ qualify for financial aid.
Moved by her situation, Berman crafted the bill in 2001 with Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), and brought then Congressman Chris Cannon (R-Utah) on to introduce the bill, on a bipartisan basis.
That year, Sharry said, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), introduced a similar bill, titled the DREAM Act, in the Senate.
“It was understood that both bills introduced in 2001 were companion bills, very, very similar in nature,” Sharry said. “They both became known as the DREAM Act.”
The DREAM Act came up for a vote in 2010, during the lame duck session of Congress. Cesar Vargas, a national advocate for the DREAM Act and a “Dreamer” himself, was in the chamber during the floor debate.
“All I remember was Howard Berman, defending the DREAM Act tooth and nail against Rep. Lamarr Smith (R- Tex), when he was calling us criminals,” Vargas said on Oct. 12.
The bill passed the House, but was stopped by a filibuster in the Senate. President Barack Obama used an executive order to implementa number of the provisions contained in the DREAM Act earlier this year.
During the debate at Pierce College, Sherman loudly proclaimed that it was Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D – Ill.), and not Berman, who had introduced the bill that later became the DREAM Act.
Gutierrez did introduce a bill, the Immigrant Children's Educational Advancement and Dropout Prevention Act, on April 25, 2001, about a month before Berman’s bill was introduced. But that bill, Sharry said, was a “constituency bill,” from a relatively junior congressman who was not on the Judiciary Committee.
Berman, who was serving on the Judiciary committee, had been in Congress for nearly 20 years in 2001, and he had introduced his bill with a Republican co-sponsor. Consequently, Sharry said, Berman’s bill had much more weight, and “that really launched what became a drive since then for the legalization of undocumented students.”
Though the bill has had different names through the years, Berman’s act was introduced in each subsequent Congressional session. Sherman, who was first elected to Congress in 1996, did not sign on as a co-sponsor to any version of the legislation until Nov. 29, 2010, just weeks before it was passed by the House on a close floor vote.
“We really worked hard to get Brad Sherman to sign onto this legislation,” Salas, who was speaking of work she did as director of CHIRLA | Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
“Brad Sherman had to be convinced that he needed to sign onto this legislation,” Salas said. “Many times it was very difficult to even get meetings with him on the subject.”
October 11, 2012 | 10:08 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Rep. Brad Sherman didn’t throw any punches at Rep. Howard Berman during their debate Thursday at Pierce College, but at one point, he certainly looked angry enough to.
In an exceptionally heated moment near the end of a debate, Sherman placed his right arm around Berman’s shoulder and shouted at his senior colleague, “Howard, you want to get into this?”
Berman and Sherman have met for numerous debates in their lengthy, expensive, and closely watched member-on-member race for reelection in California’s 30th congressional race. While the tenor of those meetings has grown more contentious as the campaign has progressed, the altercation at Pierce College took it to a new level.
“At a debate in front of local college students Congressman Brad Sherman loses his mind and acts like a bully,” Brandon Hall, senior advisor to the Berman campaign said in the release. “This speaks directly to his temperament that is totally unsuitable for anyone, especially for a member of Congress. The Valley deserved better.”
The inciting incident came after Berman, for the second time in the debate, took credit for authoring the DREAM Act.
[FACT CHECK: Did Howard Berman Really Help Create The DREAM ACT]
That bill would allow some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as young children to gain permanent residency provided that they met certain criteria.
Story continues after the jump.
Sherman forcefully disputed Berman’s first assertion, saying that Berman had not been an author of the bill. Later in the debate, Berman again asserted his authorship of the legislation, explaining that he had introduced a bill called The Student Adjustment Act in the House of Representatives and that its companion bill in the Senate had the better-known title.
Sherman stood up to deliver his response.
“Howard, Luis Gutierrez introduced the bill!” Sherman yelled into his microphone, referring to the Democratic Congressman from Illinois.
The 200-strong crowd, most of them students, began to cheer, egged on by the Sherman and Berman staffers and supporters standing near the back of the Great Hall.
“You didn’t, and the official records of Congress will prove you wrong,” Sherman said, gesticulating.
“Don’t you dare stand up here in the West San Fernando Valley--” Sherman said, and, as Berman took a few steps in his direction, added, “--and get in my face!”
Berman, who had been repeating the words, “You are wrong,” throughout Sherman’s outburst, was standing next to Sherman.
“Stay away from me!” Sherman yelled, appearing to step away from Berman, but then abruptly changed direction, approaching Berman and throwing his arm around his opponent. “Howard, you want to get into this?” Sherman yelled.
“Whoa, whoa,” Berman said, retreating.
Sherman’s strategist, Parke Skelton, attempted to shift some of the blame for the outburst onto Berman.
“Berman left his table and came over to Brad’s,” Skelton, who had not attended the debate, said. “He was standing there, calling Brad a liar and saying he was delusional. They got upset, they were both upset, and then they calmed down.”
A complete video of the debate, posted online a Livestream Web site, shows one perspective of the entire altercation.
In it, Berman, in the course of claiming credit for authoring the DREAM Act, saying that he believed Sherman knew Berman was the author. In explaining why Sherman was still contesting Berman’s claim of authorship, Berman said, “He is either delusional--,” but was prevented from continuing by the debate’s organizer and moderator, Denise Munro Robb, an assistant professor of political science at Pierce College.
Berman protested, which is when Sherman stood up and began yelling.
“I didn’t know they hated each other so much,” Robb said after the debate.
Los Angeles County Sherriff William Dunkin who ascended the stage to break up the two lawmakers during the altercation, placed his hand on Sherman’s back to calm him down.
“He was the one who was kinda talking loud,” Dunkin said, afterward.
October 3, 2012 | 11:31 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Two days ago, Rep. Howard Berman’s reelection campaign unveiled its latest line of attack against opponent Rep. Brad Sherman, drawing attention to Sherman’s practice of charging interest on personal loans he made to his campaign committees and accusing him of using those accounts as a “vehicle for self-enrichment.”
Yesterday, I kicked the tires of that claim a bit, and found it unconvincing.
Unfortunately, I got my math wrong – Sherman’s loans were made to his campaign at a rate of about 5.4 percent interest, not 3.5 percent as I initially reported.
Still, the basic determination holds up: the Berman campaign is using deceptive numbers in this attack, and the idea that Sherman lent money to his campaign committees specifically in order to enrich himself is dubious.
To be sure, the substance of the Berman camp’s attack is accurate – Sherman did loan his campaign committee money and charged interest on those loans. In so doing, he engaged in a practice that, while legal, is frowned upon by some watchdog groups.
But the Berman camp's presenting Sherman's practice as "reprehensible" is less easy to justify.
Unlike some lawmakers who have charged far higher rates of interest on personal loans to their campaign committees, Sherman made his loans at rates lower than the prevailing rates he could’ve earned in, say, a money market fund (see photo). And Sherman earned interest both on the principal that had not yet been repaid and the interest that had also accrued, a standard practice in banking.
Furthermore, the Sherman campaign’s defenses of Sherman’s actions – that (a) the practice of charging a reasonable rate of interest on personal loans to one’s campaign fund was and is legal and (b) that Sherman charged his campaign account a rate of interest lower than the one he could have earned by investing his cash elsewhere – are true.
How deceptive are Berman’s numbers? The campaign’s new anti-Sherman Web site outlines the so-called Brad Sherman Scam by looking at a loan of $237,399 made by Sherman to one of his campaign committees on December 29, 1989.
“Ten years later,” the text on the site reads, “his [Sherman’s] campaign had paid back the principal — but the interest had continued to accrue.
“By 2000,” the text continues, “the unpaid interest had grown to $111,148.97 — a 47 percent profit on Sherman's original investment.”
That 47 percent number is the total amount of interest paid to Sherman on what was an 11-year loan. The annual rate on that loan, I found out, is far lower. After a good deal of back and forth, the Berman campaign told me that the annual rate of interest charged to Sherman’s campaign on that loan was 6 percent. The Sherman campaign said it was “about 5 percent.” My independent calculations (which I’m happy to share – just email me) show that the interest rate is likely somewhere between those two numbers.
But since 5.4 percent doesn’t sound as much like a “scam” as 47 percent does, the Berman campaign is going to be presenting the latter number to voters.
October 2, 2012 | 1:17 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Note (10/3/12, 11:41 pm): This post has been updated to reflect the more accurate mathematical calculations described in a subsequent post.
The race in the 30th district has come a long way since Rep. Howard Berman was touting his effectiveness and Rep. Brad Sherman was hammering his opponent on all sorts of somewhat arcane yet nefarious-sounding practices in debates and ads.
Today, with Sherman still leading in the polls, the roles have been reversed.
Yesterday, the Berman campaign debuted for reporters its new attack line on Sherman – that for 17 years, Sherman used his campaign funds as an investment vehicle, a legal practice that campaign manager Brandon Hall said is very convincing to voters.
What a difference a few months makes. Back in May, it was Sherman hitting Berman, in a 30-second spot, accusing Berman of “charg[ing] taxpayers $186,000 to lease a car.”
Now consider Berman’s new attack on Sherman. The campaign accuses Sherman of “making a personal profit of nearly $500,000” on monies loaned to his campaign committees.
When Sherman attacked Berman with this line of attack in a debate, Berman responded that the practice is legit -- House rules allow members to lease a car at the government’s expense.
Like Berman’s reaction to the car assertion, the first response by the Sherman campaign about the practice of charging interest on personal loans is perfectly legal.
And in the case of the $186,000 car, people close to Berman’s campaign pointed out that the number is deceptive, because it’s actually the total sum spent by Berman on car leasing for his three decades of service in Congress
But now it’s the Berman campaign that’s using its own deceptive numbers.
In its data dump to reporters, Hall focused on the big numbers – that Sherman collected as much as $461,000 in personal profit from interest on loans made to his campaign funds. The document referred to the sum as a “19 percent return on investment.”
Of course, the Sherman campaign responded that Sherman charged his campaign less in interest than he could have made had he put that money in the bank. And if you actually break the numbers down, the Berman attack seems less convincing.
Take the loan of $237,399 made by Sherman on December 29, 1989 to his California State Campaign Account. By the end of 2000, when the account appears to have been closed, that loan had accrued $111,148.97 in interest – a profit of nearly 47 percent on the original investment, Berman’s campaign manager said yesterday.
But that’s the total return, though, not the rate of return. I’m no investment guru, but a simple financial calculator app online helped me determine that Sherman appears to have made that particular loan to his campaign at a rate of about – drumroll please --
3.5 5.4 percent interest per year.
And if you consider what Sherman could have made had he invested that money elsewhere, the Berman campaign’s basic assertion -- that Sherman used his campaign accounts as a “vehicle for self- enrichment” – looks even more dubious.
Say that instead of loaning his campaign that money, Sherman bought $237,399 worth of shares in a fund that tracks the S&P 500 companies at the end of 1989. On the day he made the loan, the S&P closed at 353.40. Eleven years later, when the last of the interest was paid out to Sherman, the S&P closed at 1334.22, a gain of 277.5 percent over those years.
By the end of 2000, when the fund was closed, those shares would have been worth $658,782 -- 277.5 percent more than at the beginning of the investment period. The return on that hypothetical investment -- $421,383 – far exceeds the $111,148.97 in interest Sherman actually accrued on the loan he made to his campaign fund.
Now, I’m not saying that Sherman’s practice of loaning money to his campaign and collecting interest and compound interest on those loans is a good practice – watchdog groups clearly find it to be problematic.
What’s notable is that this campaign has gotten to the point that Berman’s campaign has taken up the tactics that the Sherman camp has been using against it.
Nevertheless, as the Berman campaign’s Hall said yesterday, this “nearly $500,000” attack on Sherman appears to have sway with voters. And that’s why the brought him in to run the campaign in the first place.
Over his 30 years in Congress, Berman has been charging taxpayers about $500 a month to lease a car. Sherman, meanwhile, regularly loaned his campaign funds money, in one case at a rate of about
3.5 5.4 percent interest.
Both campaigns hope these facts -- presented in the worst possible light, of course -- inspire voter outrage.
Five weeks to go.