Outlet: BDN Blog
Date: June 19, 2012
Topic: Super-PAC Influence In Maine Elections
Author: Amy Fried
Analysis: Sharp bias, Ignores Relevant Contribution Information, Misrepresents Obamacare Suit As “Judicial Activism”
BDN Columnist Ignores Large Sussman Contributions
While Decrying Influence Of Money In Politics, Misrepresents
Obamacare Suit As “Judicial Activism”
Bangor – On June 19, 2012, Bangor Daily News Columnist Amy Fried penned a column in her Bangor Daily News Pollways blog titled Campaign money and two terrible tendencies,i in which she targets donors to Republican or conservative political causes. A number of statements, claims and omissions made by Fried have been flagged for review by the Media Accountability Project.
Critical Omission: Fried makes the following statement regarding large contributors to political causes, “Although many see big campaign money as legalized bribery, often it rewards and supports politicians who already agree with funders. Those with the greatest economic power thereby get greater political power. When the funds are used to run ads that actively misinform citizens, this undermines democracy.”
Yet Fried, in her rush to decry this influence, fails, in her entire column, to even mention the most prolific political contributor in Maine, Donald Sussman, whose contributions, in her own words enable Sussman to get greater political power by using his economic power.
It would be easy for the columnist to write off the omission of Sussman as irrelevant to her column had she maintained a strict focus on the 2012 U.S. Senate election. However, Fried takes opportunity to discuss the 2010 Maine Senate elections, the 2011 same-day voter registration election and several large national GOP donors who are not currently engaged in the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Maine. By doing so, and ignoring Sussman’s long-standing influence in Maine and national politics, Fried exposes a sharp bias, and a deliberate intent to mislead readers.
One simple example of this bias and intent to mislead is the fact that Fried uses her column to target a political group that donated $250,000 to support the repeal of same-day voter registration in 2011, while ignoring Sussman’s contributions of $418,000 to “Protect Maine Votes”,ii the PAC that supported reinstating same-day voter registration. Targeting a donor to one side while ignoring a much larger donor to the opposite side is a clear attempt to misrepresent the issue.
Another fact ignored by Fried in her apparent effort to only target conservative political donors is that a recent report by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections showed that Sussman has been the single largest contributor to legislative leadership and caucus PAC’s over the past decade, contributing $379,000 in that time period.iii
Interestingly, because Sussman’s contributions have been disbursed to liberal and Democratic leadership and caucus PAC’s, such as those that support Democratic party Maine House and Senate candidates, Cynthia Dill, who is noted in Fried’s column as decrying the Citizens United decision, is, whether direct or indirect, the only U.S. Senate candidate who has also been a beneficiary of Sussman’s massive financial support, as both a candidate for Maine House and Senate in the political party which itself is the major beneficiary of Sussman’s political contributions. Again, Fried leaves this unmentioned in the column.
In addition to his $379,000 in donations to leadership and caucus PAC over a 10-year timeframe, Fried also ignores Sussman’s total PAC donations of more than $3.45 millioniv in the same period of time. Fried’s insistence on ignoring Sussman’s contributions, which are by far the largest and most impactful in the state, while targeting others who have contributed less exposes a sharp bias and a deliberate intent to mislead readers.
Further, in the same section of the column, Fried attempts to tie the political group that contributed $250,000 to support the repeal of same-day voter registration to the Koch brothers, Charles & David Koch, who are often targets of liberal and progressive activists. However, Fried did not provide a source to substantiate her statement that, “Michigan-based American Justice Partnership” is “an organization tied to Charles and David Koch.”
Because of Fried’s failure to provide a source for this statement, Media Accountability Project did attempt confirm the claim that AJP is “tied to Charles and David Koch.” Our search led us to a left-leaning website called SourceWatchv, which provides a wiki on AJP. SourceWatch, which is a left-leaning collaborative resource run by the Center for Media and Democracy provides a tenuous connection at best between AJP and Koch Industries, which is that Koch Industries is a member of the National Association of Manufacturers, to which SourceWatch says AJP is an affiliatevi. By using the same standard applied by Fried, one could also claim that AJP is tied to Campbell Soup, Caterpillar, AT&T, Volvo, Verizon, Sony and a host of others.vii
Until Fried provides additional background for her claim, this deliberate and unsourced attempt to target a prominent liberal bogeyman should be viewed with skepticism.
Fried also ignores critical background in her exploration of money in politics as it relates to the U.S. Senate race. In 2008, Charlie Summers ran unsuccesfully for U.S. Congress against now Congeresswoman Chellie Pingree, who is now the wife of Donald Sussman, previously identified in this report as the single largest overall contributor to political action committees in Maine. In the 2008 election cycle, Summers was on the receiving end of Sussman’s financial influence as Sussman and employees of his firm Paloma Partners contributed more than $100,000viii to Pingree, Summers’ opponent.
In fact, while Fried frames Summers as the only candidate who may support the influence of political action committees in politics without providing evidence, she fails to disclose that he is the only candidate that has been directly opposed by Sussman’s significant financial influence.
Faulty Premise On Obamacare Statement: In an aside from the general thrust of Fried’s column, she also takes opportunity to deride calls for the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare as simply “judicial activism.”
The Supreme Court is currently considering the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, with the most high profile argument being whether the federal government can compel, by law, all American citizens to purchase health insurance which Fried calls “Obamacare” in her column. Fried’s assertion that calls for the Supreme Court to review the ACA aka. “Obamacare” is nothing more than judicial activism is essentially a statement of belief that the Supreme Court has no place in considering any laws passed by elected officials.
Here is Fried’s statement: “Although it’s a staple of Republican rhetoric to decry ‘judges who legislate from the bench,’ this contradicts calls to overturn Obamacare and other laws passed by elected officials.”
Without further explanation, this statement seems to assert that any law passed by “elected officials” is, by virtue of being passed by elected officials, constitutional. Such an approach would remove a critical check in the balance of powers of the United States Government, and it flies in the face of the mission of the U.S. Supreme Court.ix
Misleading correlation: Near the closing of her column, Fried attempts to make a correlation between past statements by certain members of Congress and current opposition to a specific piece of legislation, the DISCLOSE Act.x This is misleading. Support of disclosure of political contributions and opposition to the DISCLOSE act are not positions that contradict one another.
In fact, this speech by Mitch McConnellxi, one of the elected officials targeted by Fried, lays Fried’s attempt to claim hypocrisy bare. In it, McConnell explains that his opposition to the DISCLOSE Act is because, in his opinion, the DISCLOSE Act picked winners & losers, exempting the unions of government contractors and unions with government contracts, but not the contractors themselves. It also applied to various businesses, but not their unions, or to international unions.
McConnell also highlights his opposition to the DISCLOSE Act because it was brought up for consideration in Congress with just six days notice, with no hearings, studies or mark-up. Far from being what Fried claims, McConnell’s opposition is clearly far departed from simple opposition to disclosure.
Fried’s claim that bipartisan consensus in favor of disclosure has “vanished” is FALSE. It again exposes a sharp bias and an intent to mislead readers. As a political scientist, Fried certainly knows that it is a common occurrence for members of Congress to support the general goals of a piece of legislation yet oppose the specifics of a particular bill because they see them as impractical, unfair or fundamentally flawed. That is the case in this instance, despite Fried’s attempt to represent it as something else entirely.
In conclusion, this Pollways column exhibits a sharp bias while attempting to represent itself as a detailed analysis of political spending.
It fails to inform readers of the largest financial influence on Maine elections, Donald Sussman.
It attempts to draw connections without providing background to prove those connections.
It misrepresents the positions of elected officials on political campaign disclosure.
It misrepresents the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the Affordable Care Act, or as the author calls it, “Obamacare”.