Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tim Cahill's self-defeating logic

Yesterday,  as yet another in a series of noxious emissions emanated from Tim Cahill's fund raising operation, Cahill released a web ad calling Charlie Baker a "special interest" because Baker has received campaign contributions from people who work in the health care industry.

This ground has been covered before.  Cahill's attack on Baker this week is a mere echo of an attack lodged earlier this year by Tim Murray, Deval Patrick's ankle-biting running mate, which boils down to this (from the Globe article linked above):
Baker’s campaign has raised more than $260,000 from employees of health care providers, other insurers, and related businesses in the health care sector, the Globe reported last month.
In the ominous terminology of Cahill's attack ad, this means Baker has "taken over $260,000 in campaign contributions from health care special interests."  Sounds bad!  But Baker's publicly-available campaign fund raising records tell a different story.  Far from a $260K influx from an "industry," that figure (which represents approximately nine percent of Baker's fund raising total, by the way) is comprised of hundreds of individual donations from Massachusetts citizens who work in or in proximity to "the health care industry."  In order to reach that $260K total, the Globe article cited in Cahill's ad included not only individual contributions from people who worked with Baker at Harvard Pilgrim, or who work for other health insurance companies.  It also included contributions from people who work for, among other things, hospitals, health clinics, accounting firms, a data storage company, and a PR agency that do business with the Commonwealth's major insurers.  In this health insurance version of the game "Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon," nearly anyone who functions within the Massachusetts economy is eventually tied back to "the health care industry."

But even if one buys the notion that Charlie Baker has received nine percent of his campaign contributions from people tied to "the health care industry," what is the conclusion that Cahill's consultants wish a voter to draw from that fact?

Remember, the vast majority of the individual contributions that make up that $260K - all of which come in increments of $500 or less - came from Massachusetts voters.  These are people with a stake in November's election that may include concerns relative to their workplaces, but who are also motivated by exactly the same issues that motivate anyone to contribute to a favored candidate: the economy, rising taxes and rampant spending, concerns about what the future here holds for our children.

Now contrast that to Tim Cahill's fund raising, which has been much in the news of late - and never in a good way.  Last week Cahill admitted to taking over forty thousand dollars in contributions in a single day from employees of an out-of-state firm that was bidding on a state contract worth approximately one hundred million dollars.  The very next day - the very. next. day. - Cahill's office awarded the contract to that firm.  The individuals who shipped Cahill that forty grand do not live here.  They do not care about our taxes and our spending and the rampant corruption on Beacon Hill.  They had only one, very very "special interest" in Massachusetts, an interest worth a hundred million bucks, and that interest was immediately addressed by Cahill's office.  And that whole mess is just one example of a pay-to-play pattern in the Treasurer's fund raising - a pattern that Cahill himself sought to shrug off when it was reported on the front page of the Boston Globe (the Globe later devoted an editorial to Cahill's rank fund raising practices).  As the Globe put it,
Cahill, in an interview, expressed no qualms about receiving campaign contributions from companies that have or want business from the treasurer’s office and the five agencies he oversees, including the pension board.
Now let's return to Cahill's attack on Baker this week.  According to the logic of Cahill's web ad, the fact that hundreds of individuals with ties, both direct and tenuous, to the health care industry in Massachusetts have chosen to make individual, uncoordinated contributions to Charlie Baker's campaign means that... what?  Charlie Baker is somehow beholden to "the health care industry?"  Okay...

So take that logic, and apply it to Cahill, who has admitted to routinely soliciting and accepting large, coordinated contributions from employees of out-of-state firms who do business with the agencies he oversees.  In at least one instance, forty grand in contributions from one such firm came in the day before Cahill's office granted the firm a nine figure state contract.  Following the logic of his own attack against Baker, what exactly does that say about Tim Cahill?

It is easy to understand why Cahill is seeking to cast Baker's experience in the health care industry as a negative.  It is the same reason Patrick/Murray have been trying to do the same thing.  They want to take one of Baker's primary strengths - his unique and extraordinary expertise in an area of the economy that is bankrupting the state - and turn it into a negative.  In the process, though, Cahill is keeping the focus on campaign finance, a subject area from which he ought to be running as fast as his disingenuous feet can carry him.  And he is also providing Baker with a continuing opportunity to talk about and highlight his health care expertise to the voters, something that will inure to his benefit in the long run.

You might be wondering at this point, why would Tim Cahill continue to focus on health care, an issue he knows next to nothing about, and fund raising, an issue that immediately strips away his flimsy "independent outsider" disguise and reveals him for the Beacon Hill incumbent that he is?  The answer is simple: Cahill does it because he has to.

This year in Massachusetts, finally, the voters are yelling "throw the bums out!"  They are not yelling "promote the bums to higher office!"  Cahill is a sitting, two term Beacon Hill incumbent, a life-long Democrat elected statewide twice with a (D) after his name on the ballot.  There is nothing wrong with that.  In an ordinary year in Massachusetts, all of that would serve him well.  But not this year.  This year, Cahill simply cannot run as who he is.  He needs to run as something he is not.  He needs to convince the Commonwealth's fiscally conservative voters to go for the pretender, when the real deal fiscal conservative, a guy with a long record of success in state government, local government, and the private sector, is right there on the ballot.  Cahill is like a salesman tasked with convincing a shopper to go for the cubic zirconium when the real diamond is available for the same price.  One wouldn't expect that poor salesman to make honest arguments.

Deprived of the ability to run on his own record, Cahill is left to try and tear down his opponent.  To succeed, he has to hope that the voters who see his web ad and listen to similar arguments on his behalf do not bother to follow their self-defeating logic to its inevitable end point.

Meanwhile, rumor has it there are still a handful of people in the Commonwealth who think it would be a good idea to put this guy in charge of the state budget.

2 comments:

  1. If Baker did such a great job while in healthcare why is it such a big topic? Premiums and costs didn't go down at Harvard or in Massachusetts in general, yet Baker profited greatly. Baker's record and friendships are legitimate areas of concern.

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  2. Thanks for the comment, 2AM group. Perhaps you should do your thinking during the day. I'm not sure what cause/effect you think exists between the prominence of the health care issue and Charlie Baker's (universally acclaimed) performance as head of Harvard Pilgrim (a non-profit, by the way, like every major insurer in MA)... but you may have noticed that health care has been kind of a big deal lately. Personally, given the importance of the issue, I'd like a governor who is a recognized expert. Charlie not only has his experience at HPC, but has also seen the issue from the state side, as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the 90s. Contrast that with Governor Patrick, whose preferred solution of late has been heavy-handed rate caps that will have the opposite effect to what he intended (except politically); and to Tim Cahill, whose experience with health care is limited to making a few Johnny-Come-Lately proclamations of doom to garner some cheap media attention, and then following those up by admitting that he has no proposals whatsoever to deal with the issue. Baker comes out of that comparison looking pretty darned good. As to his "friendships," I'll rely on my post above - no part of which you bothered to counter in any substantive way. Thanks again for the comment.

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