Rep. Brad Sherman (D - Sherman Oaks) has a new ad that’s airing on cable TV (see the video here) in the Valley that attempts to draw a sharper distinction between himself and Rep. Howard Berman (D - Van Nuys) in the race to represent the newly redrawn 30th congressional district in the West San Fernando Valley.
A “simple comparison spot,” is how Sherman’s chief campaign consultant Parke Skelton described the 30-second advertisement, which features people praising Sherman and hammering Berman on a variety of subjects, including his holding frequent town halls. The ad is notable because it includes direct criticisms of Berman, including for his “163 foreign junkets,” and contrasts Sherman’s standing up to the “Wall Street Bankers” with Berman’s vote “to bail them out.”
The ad should be familiar territory for anyone who has been following the series of debates between these candidates that have been held over recent months, and it reinforces the impression that Sherman will be spending the next three weeks before the June 5 primary—and the months until November, when the two incumbents are likely to face off again—trying to paint Berman as a Washington insider, out of touch with his district.
Meanwhile Berman, who has been in congress since 1983—and was recently praised by President Barack Obama for his knowledge of foreign policy and his “extraordinary leadership on so many issues,” is making the argument that he has been more effective in passing legislation than Sherman has.
“In sixteen years in Congress, Sherman has only authored three bills that have become law and two of those were naming post offices,” Berman campaign manager Brandon Hall said in an emailed statement after viewing the Sherman campaign’s recent advertisement. “All he can do is go negative.”
Sherman’s ad actually doesn’t go quite as negative as the candidate has in some of the debates, though.
The ad, for example, includes a young woman standing beside her car, saying that she “heard Berman charged taxpayers $186,000 to lease a car.”
“Sherman didn’t,” she adds.
But when Sherman asked Berman at a March 14 forum sponsored by the North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce about that government car, he posed the question in a much sharper way, coming very close to implying that Berman was breaking House rules by driving a car paid for by the government while conducting personal errands or going to political events.
The ad, which was paid for by Sherman’s own campaign committee and concludes with a clip of the candidate saying that he “approves this message,” also holds back any mention of another subject frequently raised by Sherman and his campaign: Berman’s stance on so-called Super PACs, the independent expenditure groups that have supported his candidacy.
From their very first debate, Sherman has been pushing Berman to sign a pledge that would reduce or eliminate the influence of Super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations to act on behalf of (or against) any candidate. At one point, there were three Super PACs that were supporting Berman’s candidacy; two of them have since ceased to operate.
Sherman’s campaign, which has been asking questions about the operations of those outside money groups for some time, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on May 7 asking the body charged with overseeing election financing to investigate the possibility that The Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman, a pro-Berman Super PAC, illegally coordinated its activities with Berman’s campaign.
The Sherman campaign’s complaint centers on one campaign consultant, Jerry Seedborg, who was employed by Berman’s own campaign at some point earlier this year and is also the founder and head of a company that contracted with the pro-Berman Super PAC.
According to experts in election law, the possibility of the FEC’s acting on the Sherman campaign’s complaint is a distant one.
“What counts technically as illegal ‘coordination’ under FEC rules is much narrower than what a person speaking the English language would consider coordination,” Rick Hasen, a professor of law at University of California, Irvine, said.
Hasen, who writes the Election Law Blog, said it was entirely plausible that the FEC could dismiss the complaint outright, but if they did find evidence of coordination, the Berman campaign could face a fine. In any event, no resolution should be expected before the election in November, although Hasen said the Sherman campaign still might make mention of its complaint.
“Candidates like to file complaints and then point to the complaints as evidence of their opponents’ wrongdoing,” Hasen said.
Will matters involving somewhat arcane campaign finance law really sway voters in this race?
According to press secretary John Schwada, the Sherman campaign thinks so, even though they didn’t raise the subject in the new TV ad.
When Sherman’s pollster surveyed Valley voters in late March, Schwada said, she asked them about their opinions on Super PACs.
“I would say it’s pretty damn negative,” Schwada said, describing the poll results.
The Sherman campaign declined to release those results, but a poll released last week by Democracy Corps, an independent, non-profit polling organization founded by James Carville and Stanley Greenberg, found that a “significant majority (57 per-cent) [of voters nationwide] say that reducing the influence of money in politics and special interest lobbyists is one of the most important factors in deciding which candidate to vote for.”