April 28, 2006

Campaign Ads and Pork

Carroll Andrew Morse

A dueling round of political ads has appeared on the Rhode Island airwaves. The Chafee campaign's new TV ad can be seen here. The advertisement names "environmental cleanups paid for by polluters and not taxpayers", "ending deficits with a strict pay-as-you-go plan", being "named the most fiscally responsible Senator in the nation" (presumably by the Concord Coalition), and an endorsement "by the US Chamber of Commerce for his pro-growth agenda" as reasons to re-elect Senator Chafee.

The Club for Growth is also running an ad, which can be seen here. Citing three specific Senate votes (vote #170 from 2001, vote #196 from 2003, and vote #130 from 2004), the CfG ad says that $1,300,000,000,000 is "how much higher taxes would be if Lincoln Chafee had his way". The ad also claims that Senator Chafee "pushed for $48,000,000,000 dollars in wasteful spending", providing a reference to spending data from the National Taxpayers Union.

As noted below, Senator Chafee has made a recent stand against pork spending. The Senator voted to rescind some questionable appropriations attached to the Defense, Global War on Terror, and Hurricane Recovery Supplemental Appropriations Bill, displaying a fiscal conservatism that extends beyond mere deficit hawkishness (to understand the difference between true fiscal conservatism and mere deficit hawkishness, click here). Senator Chafee has also signed a letter to the President sent by 35 Republican Senators pledging to sustain a veto on the supplemental spending bill if the total amount appropriated exceeds what was requested by President Bush...

We are seriously concerned with the overall funding level in the Senate-reported bill, and the numerous items that are unrelated to the Global War on Terror or emergency hurricane relief needs. Should the final bill presented to you exceed the total amount you requested, forcing you to veto the bill, we will vote to sustain your veto.
These actions show a positive evolution in the Senator's position towards pork spending. Last October, Senator Chafee told the Projo that pork was not an important issue (h/t Patrick Casey)...
The day may come where all of us are going to say we are not going to add any more earmarks onto appropriations bills," Chafee said. "In the meantime, there are many worthwhile projects and in the grand scheme of things, it is not a significant part of the budget."
And the Laffey campaign has wasted no time in pointing out some of Senator Chafee's pork-friendly votes from the past, including his vote in support of the infamous bridge-to-nowhere...
Senator Chafee also has a long track record of voting for outrageous pork projects including $223 million for Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" (Senate Roll Call Vote #262) (10-20-05), $98 million for an animal disease center in Iowa (Senate Roll Call Vote #118) (04-03-03), and $1.85 million for Cornell University's viticulture consortium (Senate Roll Call Vote #215) (11-20-04).
Viticulture, for those unfamiliar with the term (like I was until I looked it up on dictionary.com) is the cultivation of grapes.

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Well, according to some blog commenters these ads are an indication of the status of the race. Chafee's ads are positive and upbeat. CFG's ads are negative and foreboding. Front-runners never go negative on the air, only those who are losing go negative, right? That's what was said when the national GOP called Laffey bizarre while Laffey's ads were up.

Don't worry, I don't really believe that. That happens when you have third parties like Bush/NRSC and CFG involved. They tend to go negative regardless of who is winning.

The Lincoln Chafee is "too liberal" for RI line reminds me a lot of the Nancy Mayer-Jack Reed ads when Reed was attacked by the NRSC for being liberal. Mayer's people begged the NRSC to get them off the air, but it didn't work.

Here are my other thoughts-
Chafee's ads are well-done. They were effective last cycle and they look good again, although I think he's using a different consultant from 2000 (Kerry King, if you're reading this, you might want to find out who Chafee is using).

Chafee has to be nuanced about his record. On the one hand, Chafee needs to be viewed as fiscally responsible, yet he also needs to communicate to the local and cities and towns what he has done for them. It's a not an easy message to communicate, but the wording of the ad is the right message, fiscally responsible but looking out for Rhode Island.

CFG's ads are professional, yet cookie-cutter. You can replace Chafee's name with Olympia Snowe and run the ad in Maine. For CFG's purposes, it works because the ad is transportable, so they can run one basic ad, change the voice overlay and closing picture and use it anywhere. The "liberal" schtick has backfired in the past in RI and may further portray Laffey as a conservative without broad appeal.

The ad does force Chafee to respond with his own ads to push a message of fiscal responsibility and Chafee's signing of the letter against pork spending may be a sign that he feels vulnerable on this issue.

While CFG's ads are not the best, CFG can justify its effectiveness given Chafee's signing of the letter. This alone should give CFG a tangible accomplishment to take back to its contributors so that the $$$$ keeps flowing.

Posted by: Anthony at April 28, 2006 4:48 PM


The fact that the CfG ad is “negative” is largely a function of the current campaign finance laws.

If a political advertiser says anything at all suggesting that you should vote FOR the candidate they support, the ad becomes an in-kind contribution and subject to limitation. But if they stick to talking about the positions taken by a candidate they oppose, then there are virtually no limits.

That’s why the “call the Senator’s office” schtik is inserted at the end of the ad like the CfG ad. It allows the advertiser to claim “we’re didn’t people to vote for one candidate or the other, we’re just encouraging them to express themselves on an issue”.

The result is a system where nearly unlimited amounts of money can be spent on negative advertising, while positive advertising is harshly restricted. It’s another reason why the campaign speech regulations in this country are in need of a major change.

Posted by: Andrew at April 28, 2006 5:52 PM

I couldn't agree with you more.

Posted by: Anthony at April 28, 2006 7:11 PM

I actually agree with both of you. Very scary.

Anyway, good observations all around. CFG ads and those of any other issue oriented group basically always have to be "negative," because that's what the current campaign finance laws allow. As long as the laws provide those kind of incentives, you're probably not going to see "Please call so-and-so's office to tell him what a great job he's doing." It's a classical example of good intentions ("campaign finance reform" providing unanticipated incentives.

Anthony, couldn't agree more about the contrast between Chafee's and King's ads. At least Chafee appears to have spent some money on his; not bartered potatoes.

Posted by: Will at April 29, 2006 12:54 AM

The CFG ads are effective for the primary because "liberal" is a bad term with Republicans and conservative independents, so is wasteful spending, and voting against the Bush tax cuts. I do agree using the term liberal is of very limited vaule (if not a negative) in the general election.

The Chafee ad is nice, and would be great for the general election. But it's message does not motivate voters for a primary. It also reflects the difficulties of Chafee's position. He doesn't use the term fiscal conservative but instead fiscally responsible. He wants to appeal to fiscally conservative Republicans but not alienate moderate indepedents who needs desperately to turn out in the primary.

What is much more interesting is that Chafee has switched from the pro-pork side as shown at the time of the bridge to nowhere (and justifying it) to voting with porkbusters as shown by his votes this week. I think this reflects his concerns with primary voters. Even Jack Reed is starting to vote agaisnt pork, so pork busting must be appealing to some extent with general election voters.

Unfortunately for Chafee, his switch on pork will look to be the result of election year politics, and to some extent hamper his ablites as incumbent to brag about bringing home bacon.
Laffey was ahead of the curve on the pork issue in the fall of 2005.

Posted by: Fred Sanford at April 29, 2006 10:12 AM

I agree with Fred and think the recent CFG ads will do some damage to Chafee among Republicans planning to vote in September.

Posted by: Chuck Nevola at April 29, 2006 2:47 PM

I don't think the CFC ads will make a difference with Republicans in terms of helping sway voters, but I do think they will help CFG keep Laffey's base energized.

I'm willing to bet that Republican base voters will go for Laffey by a 55%-45% margin with most of these votes already decided.

The remainder of the election will be determined by the unaffiliateds that choose to vote in the GOP primary.

Chafee needs to work the unaffiliateds and hope for high turnout. Laffey needs to keep his base motivated and hope for low turnout.

Posted by: Anthony at April 29, 2006 5:12 PM

Fred, I think Chafee has always been fiscally conservative on the spending side. That's why the Concord Coalition likes him so much.

As a challenger, Laffey can not talk about what he has done for Rhode Island. He can only criticize the status quo and attack "pork barrel" spending.

As an incumbent, Chafee can talk about what he has done for various communities in the state, but needs do so in a way that doesn't make him seem fiscally irresponsible.

I think there are two ironies in this campaign. The first is that Laffey attacked Chafee for not supporting President Bush and gave that as one of his reasons for running. Instead Bush endorses Chafee over Laffey and now we have Chafee supporting the administration and Laffey attacking the administration.

The second irony is that Chafee is recognized as by the Concord Coaliton for his Pay as You Go approach to taxing and spending. Despite this, he gets criticized as a pork barrel spender, which leads to him talking about the various RI spending projects.

It's been a strange campaign and will no doubt get stranger.

Posted by: Anthony at April 29, 2006 5:21 PM


Chafee's record on spending is terrible. The vote against eliminating the Bridge to Nowhere was bad. But did you forget that back in December 2005 Chafee voted against cutting the budget deficit by $40 billion, it was a 50 to 50 vote needing the VP to break the tie. This guy is not a fiscal conservative. He is not a deficit hawk. A fiscal conservative would have voted to cut spending on that vote. Chafee doesn't when he has the chance. PAYGO means PAY more taxes, GO spend more money. The Concord Coalition is not conservative...this has already been pointed out, on this blog, repeatedly to you by others. You really need to get better materiel.

By the way, go on the Laffey website, I didn't see Laffey mention Bush or Chafee at all in his annoucement speech. But Laffey has opposed all along pork barrel spending (unlike your guy) even if other Republicans, including the President, is ok with it.

Oh, thanks for your insight on the primary. It is as wrong as your anaylsis of the 1994 Republcian Governor primary. Yes, Chafee needs high turnout to win...general election level turnout where Democrats can vote....that's why he may run an independent. Hey he almost left the GOP in 2001 and 2004.

Wow, you are so wrong, and boring. The Chafee camp needs better people to come on this blog. I really think you should stick to electability filibusters and character attack diatribes. That's your strong suit.

P.S. Why do you obsess so much that you need to make more than one pro-Chafee comment an hour? I know you are not getting paid by Rove or the unions to this since your comments are so bad, easily refuted, and irrelevant.

Night, night.

Posted by: Fred Sanford at April 29, 2006 8:05 PM


The goal of the Concord Coalition is to make sure that outrageously massive government spending today doesn't endanger garden-variety massive government spending tommorrow.

The Concord Coalition rates Jack Reed in the top 20 in their ratings of "fiscally responsible" Senators, while most other groups who do similar ratings put Senator Reed into their "hold on to your wallet with both hands if you see him walk into the room" category. Do you consider Jack Reed to be "fiscally conservative" or even "fiscally responsible" becasue he wants to raise taxes high enough to cover large amounts of spending as well as the deficit?

Posted by: Andrew at April 30, 2006 12:44 PM

The difference between the Concord Coalition and other groups such as the National Taxpayers Union is that Concord rates officials by a weighted system--you get more points for the "right" vote on an important issue versus simply adding up the right vs. wrong votes and using that percentage.

The bottom line is that the Concord Coalition wants to make sure we don't spend more than we have--and that is a fiscally responsible perspective.

Fred, the "bridge to nowhere" is a red herring talk point. Everyone knows Stevens put it in the budget and he was holding up the entire United States budget unless his pet bridge for Alaska was included, and deep down you know it too. It's convenient for challengers to attack the project, well, because the bridge is in Alaska and who the heck cares about Alaskan voters?

I stand by my comments on the Almond race. He won by increasing voter turnout and didn't exactly light up the boards with town committee endorsements.

I know you think that only the right and left wings can be drawn out in primaries. I disagree. I think unaffiliated, civic-minded voters will vote in primaries as well. You seem to think that conservatives and liberals are stronger in their beliefs than moderate voters and are the only voters who show up to primaries. If that were the case, we would have nothing but conservative and liberal candidates in office, because no moderate would ever make it through a primary.

I disagree. While conservatives will always play a strong role in GOP primaries and liberals will always play a role in Democrat primaries, I think voter turnout is heavily based on the publicity surrounding an election and I believe this election will be one of the highest profile (if not the highest profile) election the state has ever seen. That will draw alot of unaffilated voters into the Senate, which helps Chafee not Laffey.

In the end, time will tell.

Posted by: Anthony at April 30, 2006 7:15 PM

You are not answering the questions.

Do you think Jack Reed is a fiscal conservative?

Do you think a fiscal conservative would vote against cutting the budget deficit by 40 billion?

Hint. The answer should be no to both questions.

Posted by: Get Real at April 30, 2006 8:20 PM

Anthony, et al:

No offense but all this back and forth nuance this and nuance that of your take on the primary battle is a pile of crap.

The average voter in this state wants the govenrment out of their pocketbook, is sick and tired of the totally outrageous spending habits of DC insiders and will make their choice loud and clear in September and November.

Laffey is the only guy in the race with an ounce of common sense and the guts to stand up to the powers that be and actually change things.

Are you so focused on your own navels that you've somehow missed this?

Get real.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at April 30, 2006 9:54 PM

Thanks everyone, Anthony included, for the emphasis on why we need to get rid of Chafee.

1. He receives top honors from an organization (Concord Coalition) who's charter is to protect (not freeze, not cut, not reform) government spending. The "fiscally responsibile" designation is a deception. I'd call it dishonest.

2. There's no way of getting around it, Chafee voted against cutting spending and in favor of humongous pork projects. The deception here is that, because of Chafee's way of doing business, Rhode Islanders pay for billions in egregious pork projects around the country through excessive income taxes while he brings home a few hundred grand here and there to boast about in an election year. If he were an effective Senator, he would be able to bring federal dollars to Rhode Island through the normal appropriations process and not have to deal with the devil in the earmark game. I'd call that dishonest too!

3. PAYGO is merely a scam to ensure the growth of Government is perpetuated through higher taxes. It encourages the growth of spending because it contains a mechanism to cover it with increased taxes. It is deceiving to promote PAYGO as a conservative program. Dishonest!

4. Sen. Chafee claims he is working hard from Rhode Islanders. This may, ironically, be the only thing he's being honest about. Since he hasn't a clue about what work is, he probably thinks being ranked in the bottom tenth of the entire Senate in terms of the number of bills sponsored, is an impressive record. A closer look at the bills he sponsors reveals a very narrow focus on superficial environmental niceties, like commemorating the Audubon Society's anniversary.

Anthony doesn't realize you can't deceive people forever.

More importantly, it is not one's own view of one's own "hard work", but rather accomplishments that allow one to keep one's job. In Chafee's case, his resume and his record are empty. His ads only seek to deceive.

Thanks in great part to Mayor Laffey's accomplishments during the last four years, his reforms, his radio and Television programs, his op-ed pieces and award-winning web site, all addressing Rhode Island's problems with sound solutions, Rhode Islanders are beginning to know better.

Posted by: Stretch Cunningham at April 30, 2006 10:17 PM

Joe, you are mistaking your personal beliefs as that of the "average voter in this state". They're not.

If your views were held by the majority of Rhode Islanders, we would have an overwhelming majority in the RI General Assembly. We don't. Look, I'd love to see the GOP get a majority in the General Assembly. But it's not going to happen in the near future.

I think it is foolish to lose the GOP majority nationally just because you happen to think that a state that voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry will somehow elect Steve Laffey to the U.S. Senate. Laffey can't even unite Rhode Island REPUBLICANS much less unaffiliated voters and Democrats.

Yeah, I've heard the schtick about what he did in Cranston when Democrat voters in a near-bankrupt city voted for him. The rest of the state isn't nearly as deseperate. Desperate people take desperate measure and that describes Cranston voters in 2002.

Oh and Fred, please read today's Projo that back ups my previous point about this race being a high profile race with strong turn out. I don't know if I agree with the quote that "it will cause citizens to unholster their TV ...and pave the streets of Providence with yard signs", but only the most politically tone-deaf would say there won't be heavy turn-out among unaffiliated voters.

Of course, those in the hardcore Laffey camp (and are there any other supporters but hardcore in the Laffey camp?) often see only what they want to believe.

Posted by: Anthony at May 1, 2006 9:04 AM

It might also be a good read to look at the ramifications of what will happen if we do lose the Senate.

Leahy as chair of the Judiciary Committee, deciding on Supreme Court nominees. Kennedy chairing the health committee. It could set the conservative movement back to the 70's. Thanks, Steve Laffey. I'm so glad you put your principles above your self-interest.

Posted by: Anthony at May 1, 2006 9:11 AM

Anthony, so I guess what you're saying is, let's accept mediocrity. We can't do any better, so let's not even try.

The "Majority" you so desperately want to preserve is afraid to stand up to the democrats on judicial nominations, on immigration and on pork barrell spending.

What Laffey will bring to the U.S. Senate is the strong voice Rhode Island and the country deperately needs...not the weak and acquiescing one we have today.

We need to STRENGTHEN the majority, not just accept the status-quo. Attempting to preserve it with Lincoln Chafee may be attractive to him and his supporters, but it offers no gain for the hard working people of Rhode Island.

...and if you don't think people around the state are fed up with the status-quo, just stay where you are in Chafee H.Q., blogging all day. The Laffey Volunteer Army will take care of the rest.

Posted by: Warbucks at May 1, 2006 10:38 AM

Your comments are indicative of what's wrong. You talk about having people to stand up to Democrats on judicial nominations. We were able to get Roberts and Alito on the bench because we have the majority. Forget standing up to the Democrats, right now we have the ability to put our own people on the Court. That will go away if we lose the majority.

You talk about immigration. Steve Laffey's views on immigration are more liberal than Chafee's anyway. How does that help?

I agree with you on pork barrel, but once again, it doesn't do any good if we lose the majority. We've already seen movement on the part of the Bush administration to correct this, which can be difficult since we're funding a war at the same time.

Sure we need to expand the majority, but we need to do it strategically. Taking a safe Republican seat and turning into a likely Democrat seat isn't how you build, it's how you destroy.

I'm not going to write anything about the Chafee HQ comment, because I've responded to it so many times. It's seems that's the only thoughtful thing that the Laffey camp can say back to the 70%+ percentage of Rhode Islanders who say they're not voting for Steve Laffey.

Time will tell, but I don't want to hear any Laffey people complain if the Democrats take control, raise taxes and put liberal justices on the Supreme Court. You reap what you sow.

Posted by: Anthony at May 1, 2006 10:55 AM

Anthony is always a treat.

I have never said the Laffey-Chafee primary would be low turnout. Your assumption that independents who would vote in a Republcian primary will strongly support Chafee over Laffey is wrong. As you know, Laffey got independents to vote for him in 2004 primary in truly record numbers. The highest Republican turnout was 1994 Governor's race (which you refuse to analysize correctly regardless of ProJo articles you could review). That race was just as high profile as this one. That race had only 45,000 votes.

You need to recognize that there are 70,000 Republicans, most of whom actually vote. There are tens of thousands of conservative independents who voted for Bush since Bush got 170,000 RI votes in 2004. These voters will strongly support Laffey by a wide margin.

In contrast, Chafee can really only count on the small group of liberal independents some of whom will vote for him, and some will vote for Laffey because he is perceived as the weaker candidate. (I remember you saying on this blog a few months ago the rumor that if Whitehouse was not in danger Democrats would vote for Laffey in the primary). Can't wait. The "civic minded" vote (that made me laugh by the way) is an asterik. If it was large, we would have more civic minded legislators in the General Assembly.

Simply put, the odds are against Chafee overcoming Laffey's big advantage with Republicans and Republican leaning independents. There are simply not enough indepedents who would be willing to show up in a Republican primary and vote for Chafee. (I think you should stick to making your Laffey electability arguments for the general election.)

On immigration, read the Projo last week, Laffey is not for amnesty while Chafee is (Kennedy Bill). I think Chafee is more liberal on this issue than Laffey.

Very few pundits believe that the Democrats will take the Senate in 2006 (I think even Whitehouse said that the Demos weren't likely to take the Senate in 2006 in a Baskt column) so I think if we lose this seat, we will not lose the Senate majority. If it came down to Chafee's vote to retain the majority, I would not be surprised to see Chafee pull a Jeffords, he almost did that back in 2001.

When you get your last word in, will you explain how a fiscal conservative votes against cutting the budget deficit by 40 billion like Chafee did back in December 2005?

Keep on spinning.

P.S. I think I know why you feel the need to post more than one pro-Chafee comment in an hour. Is it because one of your insider Chafee pals calls you after you post to remind you that you forgot to mention a Chafee talking point?

Posted by: Fred Sanford at May 1, 2006 9:11 PM