Andy Harris: receiving shots like a front-runner?

In almost every political campaign, the people who are leading the pack get a whole lot of carping from those behind the lead dog. Two recent events are shots across the bow of the Andy Harris Congressional campaign. One misses the mark but the other could be a heat-seeking missile.

I actually alluded to this in a post on fellow candidate Robert Banks this morning, but yesterday Baltimore Sun columnist Laura Vozzella led off her thrice-weekly effort with allegations that Harris’s campaign is behind a flyer purportedly distributed by a group called “Progressive Marylanders for Social Justice.” The pink flyer details the “wedding” of David Gilchrest, Wayne’s brother, to his longtime partner. Vozzella then ties this into another dirty trick thought to be at the behest of Andy’s 2006 State Senate campaign, late-night robo calls from a phony group called “Gay and Lesbian Push” that advocated voting for Andy’s then-opponent Pat Foerster.

Unfortunately, aside from Vozzella’s word we have no evidence that these flyers were widely distributed in the district. Somebody’s gotta know where they came from but at the moment it looks like a baseless charge that happens to tie in with other earlier allegations.

On another, possibly more serious front, the campaign of fellow State Senator E.J. Pipkin provided me with this press release:

Pasadena attorney James Braswell filed an official Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint against the Andy Harris for Congress and the Club for Growth.

“It is time to take a stand for truth and rule of law against Andy Harris and the Club for Growth,” said Braswell. “Their behavior is disgusting to voters of the First Congressional District, but more than that, it is illegal. Clearly, Andy Harris displays a lack of integrity by his flagrant disregard of campaign laws.”

The Club for Growth has been attacking Eastern Shore Senator E.J. Pipkin and Congressman Wayne Gilchrest to benefit Baltimore Senator Andy Harris in the race to determine the Republican nominee for the 1st Congressional District.  Last week, the Club for Growth announced that they would be spending $250,000 in media over a two-week period. Instantaneously, the Andy Harris for Congress initiated a direct mail campaign. The negative and misleading attacks were nearly identical.

Both groups use the same negative message at the same time.  Federal election law does not allow coordinating activities between the Club for Growth and Andy Harris’ campaign. 

The Club for Growth has funneled money from all over the country into the 1st Congressional District to benefit Andy Harris. Federal Election laws are very strict and limit the amount that any individual can donate to $2,300 and any PAC to $5,000.

“The Andy Harris for Congress campaign and The Club for Growth have had a cozy relationship for several months,” said Pipkin for Congress campaign manager Mike Brown.


(Brown) adds, “What we have here is a group of ‘win at any cost’ extremists that have chosen to ignore the law. The people of the 1st District deserve to know that Andy Harris and his staff of amateurs are willing to distort, deceive, outright lie, and break the law if necessary. In the end Republican voters will see through them and remember that E.J. Pipkin fights for the taxpayer.”

The complaint asks the FEC to look into the dealings of both Andy Harris and The Club for Growth. 

Braswell isn’t a totally neutral observer, as you can see here. He also ran unsuccessfully in 2006 for a House of Delegates seat. 

On the other hand, the Club For Growth PAC has seen more than its share of political controversy already. They’re no strangers to the Federal Election Commission.

It just so happens that the outfit was involved late last year with another race that interested me, a special election in my former stomping grounds of Ohio’s 5th Congressional District. There were also accusations of campaign wrongdoing in that race, one on which the Club For Growth PAC spent at least $266,000 in supporting runner-up State Senator Steve Buehrer against the eventual GOP nominee and seat winner, State Rep. Bob Latta.

It may be a first, but I have to hand it to my old hometown paper the Toledo Blade as reporter Joshua Boak wrote a good summary of the charges, including this passage:

The possibility of an FEC investigation is the latest twist in a brutal race tainted by hostile ads and aggressive tactics that already have led to hearings by the Ohio Elections Commission.

By selectively dissecting each other’s records, Mr. Buehrer and Mr. Latta are battling over who is more committed to lowering taxes, limiting government, and upholding conservative values. An FEC inquiry might cause the battle to spill past the Nov. 6 primary election.

A former FEC lawyer said the incident with Mr. Hooser may lead to suspicions, but the complexities of establishing the definition of “coordination” makes proving a case difficult.

“It’s complicated because it’s been subject to court challenges and in some ways unresolved,” said Allison Hayward, who is now a law school professor at George Mason University in Virginia. (Emphasis mine.)

Boy, does that race sound like the First District or what? And according to a September article in The Hill, the Club For Growth has become quite active in the political arena for the 2008 campaign, weighing in on a number of races. They’ve been a leading critic of GOP Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, for example.

While the overall aim of the group is good, it sounds like a dangerous pattern is developing here as far as the Club For Growth and its associated PAC is concerned, including an FEC lawsuit contending illegalities in the Club’s election activities from 2000-2004 (The Club For Growth responded here.) Unfortunately, it affects the person in the race with whom I happen to agree the most but it’s important to look at all sides and do a little digging sometimes in the effort to inform voters.

In this case, Pipkin may have a point. But questions do remain on just how strong the pro-taxpayer record Pipkin claims to have really is. It’s not just cutting taxes – I’d like to see a little more emphasis on the spending side as well.

Crossposted on Red Maryland, because it’s important stuff.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

6 thoughts on “Andy Harris: receiving shots like a front-runner?”

  1. Actually, I don’t think Pipkin has a point. It’s almost routine for the folks targeted by the Club for Growth to complain to the FEC about collusion between it and the candidate its supporting. It’s perfectly legal for a group to place independent ads in favor of a candidate; it’s illegal for that group and the campaign to coordinate activities. Campaign finance laws are so complicated and murky, however, that it seems harder to follow them than to accidentally break them.

    In the end, it sounds like Pipkin’s folks are simply trying to raise an issue they know will not be resolved by the primary election.

  2. With all due respect Michael, the Braswell suit is neither serious nor likely to cause a problem for either Andy or the Club For Growth. Let’s assume that the Pipkin suit (and we all know that Braswell is merely a shill) is true. Go try and prove coordination. Criminal Conspiracy is far easier to prove since (at least in some states) you don’t have to prove that one party knew what the other was doing. This is precisely what you have to prove in this type of case.

    As for the Club’s legal problems, that too is a non-issue. By and large the media won’t give it too much coverage because most of the 527 groups caught up in the FEC net are liberal groups and the media doesn’t like to attack them.

    Even if there is merit, these types of suits are heard long after the election is over.

    Take care.

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