LEDERMAN: Using what you have: perks of incumbency

By   /   May 15, 2012  /   No Comments

By Ron Lederman | Ohio Watchdog

COLUMBUS — So you want to be a senator?

Ron Lederman

Ohio Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown might advise, and the facts we used to give that advice from Brown. Just for clarity’s sake, we’re giving the advice based on Brown’s experience.

News releases — and the media — are your friends

Put out bad information, and eventually you get caught. Kind of. But not before enough people see the first report and move on. So indulge in creative news releasing.
The truth hasn’t been a friend to either candidate this election, according to politifact.org, a website project of the Tampa Bay Times newspaper in St. Petersburg, Fla., that rates the truthfulness of things said by politicians. The Cleveland Plain Dealer works with the site on Ohio political claims. 
Brown has had 22 statements checked, and 16 came back “true” or “mostly true,” according to politifact.org.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel, the state treasurer and a Marine veteran from Lyndhurst, has a much more spotty record dealing in accuracy. Politifact.com says only four of 15 reviewed statements have been “true” or “mostly true.”
Still, while both campaigns have websites to push their version of the truth, only one comes with the backing of the U.S. Senate. Brown is taking full advantage of that.
Politifact said Brown’s contention that the average college grad leaves school owing $27,000 was only “half true,” because the first-term senator applied the number to too great a pool. Brown’s Senate website still maintains his original story.
Be everything to everyone 
People like partisan bickering they agree with. They like cooperation, too. Do both when either suits you.
Brown, ranked as the most liberal member of the Senate, has found an unlikely ally in the most unlikely of fights. He and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-District 4, and head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, a group of House members who push for conservative social and economic issues, are among the members of Ohio’s delegation trying to keep Ohio’s defense jobs.
However, they’ve been frequent critics of each other, as well. Jordan endorsed Mandel for Senate before Mandel even officially declared, and Brown was a frequent critic of the war in Iraq, which he voted against authorizing.
But Brown and Jordan are able to say they’re working for Ohio — and they’re both taking credit, getting accolades from local politicians and media.
“That’s the kind of thing that only the incumbent can do,” said Bill Angel, a political science professor at the Ohio State University-Lima branch in Jordan’s district. Angel also is a former chairman for the Allen County Democratic Party. “People like the jobs. People like bipartisanship.”
Speaking of free media
Talk and they write. You’re a U.S. senator, so what you say is newsworthy. Brown holds regular conference calls with Ohio’s political reporters. He will answer questions about anything during these calls, but he usually starts with a subject of his choosing.
Larger newspapers might press for more, but Brown fills a story hole for reporters who rarely cover Washington.
Spend, spend, spend … the taxpayer’s money
Earmarks are your friends. You can buy the people’s vote … with their own money. Recession? There’s no recession in Congress. Combine this tip with the free publicity local officials and the media will give you for showing up when you’re passing out their money, and you’re golden.
Brown added 74 earmarks in 2010 worth more than $121 million, according to opensecrets.org, which is run by Center for Responsive Politics to track the money in politics. He ranked 50th highest among 100 senators in the total sent home, but he’s working his way up. In 2009, Brown’s 107 earmarks worth $105.5 million ranked him 69th among the 100 senators. The year before, when he sent home almost $111 million with 62 earmarks, he was a paltry 71st best.
Use your name and office to collect money 
People will give you money because they agree with what you say on the stump. They’ll contribute to your campaign because they think it will open your door to them. How you spend it is up to you.
Former Republican U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, now Ohio’s attorney general, outspent Brown by almost $5 million in the Democratic-friendly 2006 election, opensecrets.org shows. Both candidates spent more than they actually raised.
But Brown built up a war chest in subsequent elections, running against underfunded Republicans in a safe House district. In 2004, for example, Brown spent about 80 times more than Republican challenger Robert Lucas — $601,435 to $7,518 — though Brown spent less than 60 percent of the money he raised that election cycle.
The pattern was the same in the previous three elections: Brown raised more than $1 million in each two-year period, while the most he spent was about $790,000 in the 2000 race, according to opensecrets.org. His well-funded opponent that year, Republican Rick Jeric, spent a whopping $28,276.
Higher office, more money 
You can raise a lot — by pedestrian standards — running as a House incumbent. But the real money flows to the Senate.
Brown’s political contributions were about average for a House member from 1992 to 2004, starting at about a half-million and going up to $1.1 million and change.
Brown brought in almost $9 million for his 2006 Senate run. He’s raised more than $12 million for this year’s election, opensecrets.org shows.
Granted, it’s an important race that either party could win, but Mandel had raised “only” about $7.3 million as of the last filing report.
Spend other people’s money
It might seem that we’ve covered this point, but there are so many ways you can spend other people’s money.
When you’ve got millions pouring in, grab the headlines by refusing the health-care coverage members of Congress receive, while the media ignore that you spent none of your own money on your campaign.
Again turning to opensecrets.org, Brown has had a respectable mix of individual contributions to go along with political action committee money. Even as the PAC money went from 44 percent to 51 percent of contributions in Brown’s past four House races, one number stated constant: Brown’s level of self-funding for his races was 0 percent.