Compare this ad run by Scott Brown in January, responding to those scurrilous hatchet ads thrown all over the airwaves by Martha Coakley's campaign and her union allies...
... with this web as pulled together hastily by Tim Cahill in response to the Republican Governors Association's independent, hard-hitting ads that started running across the Commonwealth yesterday.
Notice any, um, similarities?
This is what Tim Cahill is paying his high priced team of out-of-state consultants to do? Create low-budget parodies of Scott Brown ads?
On a symbolic level this actually has some ironic resonance. First Cahill tried to fool the voters by dressing up like an "independent." Now he's trying to fool them by dressing up like Scott Brown! Both ploys underestimate the voters, and that's putting it kindly.
Of course, it's easy to understand why team Cahill decided to go this route. He needed to respond to the RGA broadside, and he did not have very many options to do so. The RGA ads are tough - no doubt about it. (You can check them out here). But unlike Coakley's against Brown, they are factually accurate. The toughest of the charges leveled in the RGA ads - that Cahill's office has become notorious for "pay-to-play" contracting - has already been made in the pages of both the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe (which included a handy chart), and by the Globe's editorial page, which noted a month ago that "Cahill donations raise [the] specter of pay-to-play government."
Cahill cannot deny the core of those pay-to-play allegations, having famously admitted to the Globe in response to its investigation of his shady fund raising practices that, "he and his campaign aides routinely seek contributions from... companies that have or want business from the treasurer’s office and the five agencies he oversees, including the pension board." In his own words, "We sometimes just sit there and brainstorm . . . Who can we call? Who are the people that we think can raise money?"
The best Cahill could do on the substance of the RGA ads was to (again) trot out Michael Travaglini, the chair of the state's Pension Reserves Investment Management board, to defend the process through which the pension board supposedly awards state contracts. If that name sounds familiar, it should - Michael Travaglini is brother to Robert Travaglini, former Massachusetts state senate president and for most of the Romney Administration the most powerful Democrat on Beacon Hill. In other words, if Cahill's designated defender Michael Travaglini were any more of a Beacon Hill insider he'd fold in on himself and implode - which creates something of a problem for Cahill's continuing, wholly disingenuous effort to re-brand himself as an independent outsider.
Anyhow, in response to the RGA ads, Michael Trav told the State House News that all proposed bids to the pension board are "reviewed by PRIM staff, an Investment Committee, and ultimately must be approved by a nine-member PRIM Board of Trustees. No one in the process is aware of political contributions made to Tim Cahill."
Got it? Ok. Now turn off the blowers, let common sense drift back into the room, and consider the first few paragraphs of the Globe's March investigative report:
They came in batches, nearly 250 checks, most for $500, from real estate lawyers, property managers, and realtors in far-flung states, all dedicated to the election of state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill.
The contributions, almost all of them deposited on three separate dates in 2002, 2003, and 2005, total more than $100,000 — part of the $3 million war chest that Cahill is now tapping for his independent run for governor this year.
Nothing obvious connects Cahill to these donors, whose companies are based in such states as Texas, Missouri, Florida, and Colorado. But an extensive Globe review of Cahill’s aggressive fund-raising practices uncovered the common link: Michael A. Ruane, a Boston investment manager who employs those firms to handle the vast real estate holdings he has bought for his investors — and who counts the Massachusetts pension board as one of his clients.
Since Cahill became the board’s chairman in 2003, Ruane’s investment management firm has been allocated $500 million in pension funds to invest — and has earned $34 million in management fees.
In fact, the largest one-day infusion of Ruane-connected campaign donations, $40,250 from business associates and their relatives in 12 states, was deposited on Aug. 13, 2003, a day before the Pension Reserves Investment Management board voted unanimously to give Ruane’s company $100 million to invest.
Now consider that scenario from another perspective. Pretend you get a campaign solicitation on behalf of, I don't know, the Treasurer of North Dakota. Or Georgia. Or wherever. Do you fire off a check? Now change the scenario just a little bit and pretend that your business (or your spouse's business) has a huge, nine-figure bid pending before an agency administered by the Treasurer in question. Say you write that check, as do a whole lot of your colleagues, and the next day (the NEXT DAY!!) your firm is awarded said contract.
What's your take-away from that experience? Do you assume that overnight your firm's bid was "reviewed by PRIM staff, an Investment Committee, and ultimately... approved by a nine-member PRIM Board of Trustees," and that "no one in the process [was] aware of political contributions made to" the Treasurer? Or do you assume something just a little different? Do you assume, perhaps, that there's a price to be paid to "play" in that state?
None of those questions are really questions, of course. As a wise old man once said, "Duh."
All that is why Cahill and his allies are unable to respond to the substance of the hard-hitting RGA ads that started running against him yesterday. He's reduced to masquerading as Scott Brown in a hilariously transparent (and pretty awkward) way, complaining about "negative" campaign ads, and dishonestly blaming Charlie Baker for the tone of ads that Cahill knows full well Baker had nothing to do with (the RGA is a 527 federal political committee - Massachusetts law strictly prohibits any coordination whatsoever on ads like the ones currently running).
As to the "negativity," there are people who will be turned off by that. But there is an important difference between the "your mother wears combat boots" variety of negative ads, and negative ads that convey important information. It is hard to argue that widespread and credible allegations of pay-to-play contracting within a candidate's office is not relevant information for the voters to have. And it's hard to imagine how that relevant information could be conveyed in a "positive" way.
A lot of people will wonder about the accuracy of the charges leveled in the RGA ads, especially since Cahill cannot refute them specifically. Some of these people will take a moment to do a Google search. That Google search will turn up the Globe investigation, the Wall Street Journal article, and countless others. Those voters will determine that while the RGA ads may be aggressive, they are also accurate.
And then they will conclude that Tim Cahill is about as "independent" as Michael Travaglini's brother. And that his similarity to Scott Brown starts and ends with his sweater.