Repeating a pattern of going negative hard and fast in close elections, LA City Councilwoman Janice Hahn went on the attack today with a 4-page negative campaign mailer against her leading opponent, Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
The mailer starts out with the word WARNING bolded in yellow against a black background, then goes on to say, "Beware of Debra Bowen's Negative Campaign! Unable to find anything positive to say and desperate to win at all costs, Debra Bowen has been falsely attacking Janice Hahn and Marcy Winograd!"
The mailer then goes on "remind" voters that Bowen was "a lifelong Republican until she changed registration before she ran for office", and lists a number contributions Bowen received in 1998 and 2000 from energy and health insurance companies. Hahn also goes out of her way to portray Winograd favorably in a contrast and compare section in the midsection of the piece.
Those are the basics. Now let's deconstruct this a bit.
First of all, this mailer isn't an independent expenditure from an outside group, it comes directly from the Hahn campaign, which means Janice Hahn not only knows about the mailer, she had to approve the content.
Secondly, it's highly misleading in some respects, and plainly false in others. Here's why.
It's just flat out weird that Hahn would claim Bowen was running a negative campaign against her and Winograd. Of the five campaign mailers I've received from Bowen's campaign so far, two featured Bowen's "Profile in Courage" award for her work as Secretary of State, one featured her endorsement by the Sierra Club, and two highlighted her 14 years of experience representing most of CA-36 in the CA state legislature. None even mentioned Hahn or Winograd. In debates and forums where all three candidates have appeared, Bowen rarely mentions either candidate by name.
There are only two times I can think of when Bowen ever came close to going negative (on Hahn, not Winograd). The first time was at the CA-36 endorsement meeting in April, when Bowen pointed out Hahn had endorsed Republican candidates - this after Hahn dinged Bowen for not being "a life long Democrat" (a charge Hahn repeats in her attack mailer). The second time was last Sunday during a Daily Kos interview, when Bowen was asked to compare and contrast her campaign contributions with that of her opponents. Bowen's campaign manager and press person have made similar statements highlighting Hahn's contributions from LA City Hall lobbyists, contributions the LA Weekly pointed out would actually be illegalif Hahn were running for LA City Council and not Congress.
But when it comes to Winograd, the only Democrat in this campaign to go negative on the candidate was Janice Hahn, who slammed Winograd in a letter urging Bowen to sign on to a pledge supporting Israel. In the letter, Hahn quoted Henry Waxman who said "In Marcy Winograd's vision, Jews would be at the mercy of those who do not respect democracy or human rights."
So what's really going on here?
From the very beginning, it was clear to Hahn (and anyone else paying attention to the demographics of this race), that it was in Hahn's best interest to rope Winograd into running. A Winograd candidacy would be more likely to pull support away from Bowen than it would Hahn, who is generally perceived to be Jane Harman's hand-picked choice to succeed her.
So Hahn issued a pro-Israel pledge, cornered Bowen into signing on to it, Winograd took the bait, and the rest is history. Since then, Winograd's most active supporters on the internet have consistently targeted Bowen in the primary, but not Hahn, since they see Bowen as Winograd's main competition. So by falsely claiming Bowen is running a negative campaign against Winograd, Hahn is doing what she can to fan those flames even more.
Hahn's mailer also tries very hard to imply that Bowen's congressional race is significantly funded by contributions from energy and health insurance companies. But if you look really, really hard you can see a disclaimer in teeny, tiny letters at the bottom of the mailer, revealing the contributions came from races 13 and 11 years ago.
Disclaimer or no, the information as presented is profoundly misleading - not a single person I talked to who had seen the mailer understood the contributions in question were from another race until I pointed out the fact.
A press release signed by retired state senator Sheila Khuel, current state senator Fran Pavely, Assembly member Betsy Butler and a number of environmental leaders in the district, slammed Hahn for the deceptive mailer,
We recall that you introduced Measure O establishing an oil extraction tax; after that, you received $24,000 from oil and gas companies, including Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Conoco Phillips, Tesoro and Warren E & P. Was that the reason you ultimately changed your mind and voted against placing the measure on the ballot? Perhaps because, as the Los Angeles Times has reported, about half of your money comes from "lobbyists, developers, and others doing business with the city", the person that “we can’t trust” to do the right thing, isn't Debra Bowen, but Janice Hahn?
We urge you to stop your deception immediately as a matter of principle.
As the press release points out, Hahn's tactic is likely an attempt to neutralize the recent spate of stories that have appeared here, in the LA Weekly, and the LA Times, listing over $300,000 in contributions and independent expenditures Hahn has received this year, in this race from LA City Hall lobbyists and developers, the nuclear industry, oil companies, medical malpractice insurance PACs, and rent control opponents.
But will it work?
It didn't work for Hahn last year when she went negative during the Lt. Governor primary race against Gavin Newsom. Largely because Newsom - who beat Hahn 55% to 33% - had been in the public eye long enough that voters had mostly made up their minds about his persona. When Hahn tried to paint a picture of Newsom that went against what voters already had in their heads, it just didn't stick.
I think that's likely to be the case with Bowen.
Let's start with Hahn's assertion that that Bowen was "a lifelong Republican until she changed registration before she ran for office". Well, that's not likely to stick because, A) It's horrible grammar, B) Bowen became a Democrat is 1984, 8 years before she would run for public office and, B) because Bowen has an 19-year record of elected public service as a pro-choice, pro-civil liberties, anti-oil drilling environmentalist Democrat behind her.
As an assembly member, then later as a state senator, Bowen was famous for keeping lobbyists at arm's length. When Bowen was still a freshman in the state assembly, the LA Times took notice,
Bowen also is trying to keep some distance from lobbyists. On her office door is a sign that says she accepts no gifts--and she has been known to send staff members running down the hall to return gifts as simple as a single flower. She sees lobbyists as an information resource, but is wary of them. "The scariest thing for freshmen," she said, "is figuring out whom you can rely on, whose analysis you can trust, because you can't do everything yourself."
When Enron ripped California off for billions, Bowen didn't hesitate to go after them as chair of the Senate Energy Committee, pressing for criminal charges against Enron executives who refused to cooperate with the committee's investigations.
And, most famously, as Secretary of State, Bowen defied both Deibold and the entire California political establishment when she decertified $45 million worth of flawed voting machines.
In other words, the picture most voters have in their heads of Bowen isn't the one Hahn is trying to paint for them.
Conversely, Hahn also has a track record in the public eye. And it's one that's easy to associate with the dysfunction of LA City Hall and it's insular, lobbyist culture.
In fact - whether it was withdrawing her support for Measure O, an oil extraction tax one of her campaign contributors,Warren Resources (and other big oil companies based in her district) opposed, agreeing to act as an impartial mediator for yacht-builder Gambol Industries in their dispute with the Port of LA without first disclosing she had received $12,000 in campaign contributions from the company, or helping to nullify a $600 million LAX food concession contract, to the benefit of a client of lobbyist Ek & Ek, a firm which has donated tens of thousands to Hahn's campaigns in the past, and most recently $13,000 to her congressional campaign - Janice Hahn is the candidate with a demonstrable record of acting in the interests of her campaign contributors.
But so what? Asked the LA Weekly in a recent story about Ek & Ek and their relationship with Hahn,
Hahn....has previously said that such relationships don't influence her decision making.
"If I don't know by now that the public depends on me to review all of the information before me and make the best decision for the city of Los Angeles, then I shouldn't be in this job," she told the L.A. Times last fall.
She might as well have been quoting Jesse Unruh, the late Assembly speaker, who famously said, "If you can't take their money, drink their booze, eat their food, screw their women and vote against them, you don't belong here."
Of course, the key element is "voting against them." Hahn hasn't done much of that lately.
That paints a pretty clear picture. Wether or not it paints the same picture of Janice Hahn that voters in CA-36 may already have in their heads remains to be seen.