Archive (2006)

Pork Between the Lines

WHAM-TV has a skeptical take on the impact of the one-year moratorium on earmarks in the 110th Congress. Both Randy Kuhl and James Walsh (NY-25) are quoted in the piece bemoaning the loss of funding for projects in the region. Kuhl believes that the earmarks are important, because "you have to have economic development".

WHAM's story features a list of earmarks. These include money for the Monroe County Water Authority and the Erie Canal, which causes WHAM to ask the question: why do these projects, which are ostensibly already funded by taxpayer money, need earmarked funding?

Though WHAM is unable to get the Water Authority's answer to the question, I'll offer mine: the earmark process is part of the machine politics practiced by majorities in both parties. Though "machine" usually refers to the ability of a political organization to turn out votes, it also refers to the interlocking set of relationships between local, state and federal officeholders. By using a combination of earmarks and regular funding to finance projects for the Thruway and Water authorities, legislators at all levels are able to assert greater control and to glean far more personal credit for even the most minor capital projects.

Instead of saying that "I voted for federal support of the Thruway Authority, and the Authority financed improvements to the park at your local lock", the legislator can say "I was personally responsible for the $115K needed to put a new playground in at Lock 42, because of my personal commitment to the children in my district." The difference is huge. By allowing Members of Congress to take credit for even minor projects in their districts, earmarks play a key role in personalizing politics and entrenching incumbents. Any idiot can vote for an appropriation for the Thruway Authority. It takes a special and powerful politician to personally obtain funding for a new park.

Louise Slaughter (NY-28) calls most of the earmarks "frivolous". Perhaps some are, but Walsh and Kuhl have a point: there's going to be some pain in the transition back to traditional funding. Whether that pain is something voters will hold against the Democrats, who cut out the earmarks, or the Republicans, who were responsible for letting them get out of hand, isn't clear to me. Based on this story, I think Walsh and Kuhl are betting that voters will resent the Democrats for taking away their pork.

Weekly Roundup

Precious little is happening in the 29th during the holidays.

In the euphemism watch department, Randy Kuhl was one of the signatories of a bi-partisan letter to Eliot Spitzer, urging him to support a "woody biomass" power generation plant near Ellicottville. "Woody biomass" is the shiny new name given to trees and branches: apparently "Utilizing Woody Biomass" sounds a lot more high-tech than "burning wood". According to a GAO report [pdf], it is cleaner than coal, but more labor-intensive and harder to obtain.

In the pork watch department, Kuhl announced still more Homeland Security grants to local fire departments.

Massa's Future

Eric Massa has been dropping hints about his future. Nothing definite has been said, but here are two recent indicators from secondhand sources:

  • In the preface to his Daily Kos diary yesterday, Mike Pridmore, who sometimes posts Massa's stories for him, mentioned that Massa had a conversation with Howard Dean this week where Dean encouraged him to run in 2008. Massa expects to make his decision in the first months of 2007.
  • A reader reports that he heard Massa speak publicly and mention that he's thinking about some kind of radio presence in the 29th, perhaps with a weekly commentary on one of the larger Rochester stations.

Both of these non-announcements are vague and inconclusive, but it's clear that, as promised, Massa is thinking seriously about a future political role in the 29th.

Funding: Sabotage and Self-Inflicted Wounds

Today's front-page story in the Washington Post details the funding mess left by the 109th Congress. The Republican's last spending authorization bill left just enough money for the government to run until Februrary, and only 2 of the 11 necessary appropriation bills were passed. Along with the Republican inaction, the Democrats' cancellation of earmarks will also leave a few useful programs without money in 2007.

Eric Massa and Rochesterturning have both written about this earlier, focusing on the cowardice and irresponsibility of the Republicans. While that's certainly the most important angle of the story, the Post coverage also shows why it's so hard to be a reformer in Washington. When Nancy Pelosi and Charles Rangel cut earmarks, they also cut $3 million for AIDS and homelessness in Pelosi's district, as well as $3 mil for the "Charles Rangel Center for Public Service" at CCNY. While we all might be able to do without the latter, the former is probably going to hurt a group of needy people. In both Pelosi's and Rangel's case, reform means taking a hit with constituents, something that's anathema to Members of Congress.

Weekly Round-Up

As 109th Congress becomes a memory, and the holidays arrive, not much is happening in the 29th. Here's the news of the week:

  • Randy Kuhl is proud of his vote for the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, which extended a laundry list of tax deductions. The bill passed with bipartisan support.
  • Kuhl was mum about his vote for the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which would require offering women undergoing abortions anesthesia for their fetus, if the fetus is more than 20 weeks old. The best evidence is that fetuses don't even have the structures to feel pain until much later in development, but these right-to-life votes are from the gut, not from the head.
  • A writer in the Nation magazine is shocked after watching Taking the Hill. That documentary showed that Eric Massa had to spend 4-5 hours per day cold-calling to raise funds. I understand the disgust, but not the shock, because that's how the game has been played for generations.

Massa Documentary Airs Tonight

Reader Rich writes to remind us that the documentary "Taking the Hill", which followed five veteran/candidates, including Eric Massa, airs tonight from 9-11 on the Discovery Times channel. On Time/Warner Cable, this is channel 512. Discovery Times (not Discovery) is also available on satellite services. You can watch a preview here.

Missing Numbers

Alert reader Clark writes to point out that the two previous money numbers posts didn't include a major expenditure by the National Republican Campaign Committee. It looks like the FEC hasn't finished posting updates to the national committees. I'll correct those posts after those numbers have posted. Only the spending numbers will change, and it may turn out that Kuhl and allies outspent Massa by a tiny margin.

Quantifying Massa's Accomplishment

Fundraising Graph

To understand the accomplishment reflected in the final money numbers, let's compare the 29th to the other close races in New York. These are races where an incumbent was defending his office, and the margin of victory (or loss) was in single digits. In both fundraising and spending, Eric Massa outdid his peers. Not only was Massa the only challenger to out-raise and out-spend his opponent, the others weren't even close.

The chart at the right illustrates the fundraising achievements of the group. The bars show the difference in spending between the incumbent and the opponent. For example, in NY-26, Tom Reynolds' whopping $4.2 million represented 64% of the $6.6 million raised in that race. Jack Davis' $2.4 million, most of which came from his own pocket, is only 36% of the total. The graph shows the difference: Reynolds out-raised Davis by 28%.

The line on the chart shows the Cook Political Report Partisan Voter Index. For example, NY-25 is D+3, which means that the district is on average 3% more Democratic than the nation as a whole. As you can see, at R+5 (D-5), the 29th is the toughest district of the group.

2006 Close Race Spending

The spending story is similar. This graph shows the gap in spending between the two contestants in each race. As with Friday's post, I added third-party spending to the mix. Again, the incumbents far outspent challengers in all races except in the 29th. NY-20 was the next closest, where Sweeney and his allies outspent Gillibrand by 12%. As with the previous chart, the red line represents the Cook Partisan Voter Index for the race.

All of the challengers in this study were well-funded, and some raised and spent far more than Massa. In absolute terms, Davis, Gillibrand and Hall (NY-20) out-raised and outspent Massa, but each of those challengers participated in races where the "cost of admission" was much higher. Massa was the only challenger who paid more that the cost of admission, and the race in the 29th was close because of it.

The underlying data for this study is available as a pdf.

News of the Week

News in the 29th has returned to a dribble of pork and local issues. Here's what's happened in the last couple of weeks:

  • Randy Kuhl was in Wellsville to present a "Price is Right" check representing a $200K HUD grant to the Alfred State University branch campus there.
  • Kuhl and Shumer both annouced continued cooperation in the cleanup of a former nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northern Cattaragus County.
  • Kuhl continues to announce grants on his site. His pork mojo is so powerful that he can see grants happening in the future, like this one, which is dated December 29th.
  • Finally, Kuhl's long-time spokesman, Bob Van Wicklin, joined the Navy Reserve.

Final Money Numbers

2006 Fundraising - Click to EnlargeThe FEC has released the final money numbers for the 29th. Eric Massa out-raised and out-spent Randy Kuhl by small margins. When third-party contributions are added to the mix, Massa and outspent the Kuhl campaign by almost $200K.

The graph at the right shows the contributor mix for the campaign. Massa raised a little over $1 million from individual contributors. Kuhl's largest contributors were Political Action Committees, and he raised almost $1 million from them. The "other" category in this graph represents contributions from party and also from the candidate. Massa contributed $41K to this campaign, and loaned it another $56K, which has since been repaid.

2006 Spend - Click to EnlargeFor the spending picture, I lumped third-party expenditures with candidate expenditures. The main third-party expenditure was the $139K spent by to attack Randy Kuhl. I show that as an expenditure for Massa, though technically MoveOn is a third party.

I'll post later on the significance of these numbers, since it's not often that a challenger out-raises and out-spends an opponent in a race like this, especially in a supposedly "red" district. Keep in mind one important point when interpreting the charts: Massa ran a two-year campaign, since he declared his candidacy in November, 2004. So even though he did out-spend Kuhl, he did so over two years. Kuhl didn't being to spend seriously on his campaign until Summer, 2006.

Federal Voting Panel: Electronic Machines A-OK

A group of technologists on a federal advisory panel deadlocked on a proposal to require paper trails on electronic voting machines. Even though experience shows that paper trails are better than nothing, those voting against paper trails cited the need to replace voting systems as one of the reasons for rejecting the proposal.

This is a classic case of throwing good money after bad: once an expensive system is purchased, the pressure to retain and enhance -- rather than replace -- that system is overwhelming. It is critical that New York chooses the right voting technology the first time, because second chances are almost non-existent in government technology procurement.

A Little Snub

Governor-Elect Eliot Spitzer went to Washington yesterday to meet with the New York Congressional Delegation. Only the Democrats showed up. Randy Kuhl didn't make it because of "very late notice" of the meeting.