Saturday, April 26, 2014

Reflections on a Campaign

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I have spent a lot of volunteer effort behind attempting to get Shane Osborn elected to the U.S. Senate.  I think that we're going to win, but the race is close and it's easy to imagine either Shane or Benjamin Sasse winning.  As recently as a week or so ago I thought that Sid Dinsdale or Bart McLeay winning was not out of the question, but I think the chances of either one winning must be relegated to the remote.  (I evidently underestimated Sid as he has gained traction since this was written.)

Sid has floated between 9 and 13 percentage points in every poll I've seen and Bart is in the mid single digits.  Osborn and Sasse appear to each be in the low 30's with Osborn having a nose out in front and the undecided vote in the 20's.  Theoretically it's possible that the undecideds could all break for Sid and vault him into contention, but as a practical matter that's not likely to happen.  Barring some cataclysmic event in the last two weeks, it seems more likely that the softer supporters of Sid and Bart will probably want to cast the most meaningful vote they can and start to drift toward Osborn or Sasse.

Of course, the easy punch line to any discussion along these lines is to moan about what a dirty, underhanded business it is.  To be sure, there has been some of that.  However, it's not surprising that candidates and their teams who have invested well over a year of effort and millions of dollars want to win.

As I said in my post of the same title, I don't really have a problem with "Negative Campaigning."  Some of it is admittedly pretty cheap.  Because I'm in the Osborn camp, I'll give you my two favorite examples.  A third-party ad, run by a Super PAC solely funded by Sasse's great uncle, breathlessly accused Osborn of "wasteful spending" while Treasurer.  The "wasteful spending"?  It was two instances of the Treasurer's office taking the entire team (about 50 people) to an inexpensive local restaurant for a team-building lunch and to share ideas.  The total tab?  A bit over $600 per lunch (between $12 and $13 a person).

The State Auditor didn't think those expenditures were justified.  I don't know what the state guidelines are on this sort of thing, but in any event the State Auditor -- Mike Foley, a candidate for Governor -- made a public statement to the effect that Shane had run a tight ship, saved the taxpayers money and generally done a good job.

The Sasse camp bristled at an Osborn ad that was aimed at at Sasse's claim to being a "Washington Outsider."  The ad says that Sasse spent "nearly a decade" as a Washington bureaucrat.  His time in D.C. in government jobs appears to add up to a bit under 7 years, so I suppose one can debate whether that adds up to "nearly a decade."  The Sasse campaign also complained that some of his time shouldn't fall into the "bureaucrat" category.

A few days ago, because the "bureaucrat" ad is having some effect, Sasse's campaign manager attempted to analogize Sasse's time in D.C. to Osborn's time in Florida, where Osborn was stationed when he was with the Navy.  (He immediately returned to Nebraska after being honorably discharged.)  This claim didn't gain much traction, as even people with a limited knowledge of the military realize that you generally don't get to pick where you are stationed.

But anyway, my point is not really to discuss the details of the claims and counterclaims.  I have faith that most voters will be able to sort through them and make an informed choice.  Short of factually false claims ("Shane Osborn is married to 10 different women." "Ben Sasse engages in ritual sacrifice of puppies in his spare time."  "Sid Dinsdale steals ATM envelopes and uses the cash to his own benefit."  "Bart McLeay has been disbarred."  To be clear, these are all FALSE claims.) the First Amendment allows for robust debate.  It may not always be pretty, but it beats any known alternative.

The other subject that generates much handwringing is the role of money in politics.  To borrow a line from Sasse in the last debate, the amount of money donated to political campaigns in the U.S. last year was slightly below the amount spent on potato chips, so in the grand scheme of things it's not quite what people think it is.  But, yes, money is absolutely essential to getting a candidate's message out.

Any attempt to regulate the amount given is doomed to failure.  Motivated donors will find some way to spend money to support the candidates of their choice.  As I've said, all I'd really like is some reasonably transparent way of knowing where the money came from, but even that may be impossible.

I'll be a little relieved when the primary rolls around two weeks from Tuesday.  But it has been a very worthwhile experience.

1 comment:

  1. I have faith that most voters will be able to sort through them and make an informed choice.

    What are you, some sort of Conservative?

    [T]he amount of money donated to political campaigns in the U.S. last year was slightly below the amount spent on potato chips....

    There's a clear hint here: Pringle for President.

    I'd really like is some reasonably transparent way of knowing where the money came from....

    Elections have consequences, but really only if they're confirmed by repeated elections. And repeated.... It's necessary, especially in the environment we've accreted, to advise an incumbent--even the rookie incumbent--"you didn't do what you said you'd do/we hired you to do. You're fired," and elect a new one. Repeatedly until we get a set of representatives who understand for whom they work. This also would have the happy side effect of breaking lobbyists' power and the cascade effect of breaking a large source of extraneous funding for the electeds.

    But even in that idealized world, for whom does an elected official work? In the Federal House, for instance, even were we to follow the Constitution and a Representative works for his 30,000 citizens, whose instructions should he follow? We're stuck, in the end, with his judgment, not his willingness to do what he's told.

    But he should be stuck with his promises.

    Finally, anonymity is critical to free political speech. I agree it'd be useful to know where the money comes from, but in the end, how can we learn that without violating that essential anonymity? Along these lines, Rasmussen has a frightening poll result.

    Eric Hines