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With Kaine v. Allen, senate messages aren’t shortchanged

Originally published in the Daily Press [1].

[2]On Sept. 30, we approached a critical fundraising deadline — the final quarterly deadline before the election. Campaigns will use the resulting metrics, like ‘donors’ and ‘dollars raised’, to convince the press and the public that they have the strength to sail to victory in November.

Tim Kaine thought it was an important deadline too.

In general, fundraising emails are meant to get supporters to reach into their pocketbooks and give freely. And, to do so, a candidate tries to look like the hero and portray the other guy as the villain.

Kaine’s emails were no different. His favorite tactic has been to use the bogeyman of outside money and interests acting nefariously and surreptitiously on behalf of his opponent, George Allen.

“The other side believes that they can make us all irrelevant with enough zeroes at the end of a check,” reads a Kaine fundraising email on the eve of the fundraising deadline. “They think that enough secret money can drown out the voices of individual Virginians….”

It doesn’t take long to discover that Kaine, through June 30 (the last data available), raised at least $1.2 million from California and New York and that only 47 percent of itemized donations to his campaign were from inside Virginia. That’s not exactly good news for a campaign trying to win in Virginia — especially when Allen raised 61percent here.

And, the website OpenSecrets.org, from the Center for Responsive Politics, reports that as of Oct. 1, outside groups had spent $5.8 million on behalf of Kaine, while Allen fares better at $8.1 million. The advantage is clearly with Allen, but it’s hardly the 3:1 spending advantage the Kaine campaign claims.

“In December, at the AP debate, Governor Kaine offered to reach an agreement with George Allen to keep these outside groups out of the race, he was not willing,” said Brandi Hoffine, Kaine spokeswoman. “In early spring, Governor Kaine offered George Allen the opportunity to limit the influence of these outside groups by requiring anyone advertising in the Virginia senate race to at least disclose their donors…that offer remains on the table, should George Allen change his mind. ”

At first glance, this proposal might appear to be a good idea; especially since we are being bombarded by campaign ads. Yet, it appears such an agreement would mean campaigns must coordinate with PACs, which is against the current law. And such a “compromise” also infringes on the ability of these groups to express their constitutionally granted, and Supreme Court upheld, right to speech.

There’s also a practical element that would make such an agreement difficult: neither campaign can possibly control anything an independent organization says or does.

The Allen campaign thinks Kaine’s proposal is nothing but politics.

“It is difficult to take Tim Kaine’s talk of transparency seriously when his campaign is heavily funded by union bosses, liberal environmental activists, and his Washington allies like Senators Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer,” said Katie Wright, Allen’s spokeswoman. “It is another Washington style gimmick that Tim Kaine learned as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.”

Perhaps it is. But, in the end, campaigns cost money and neither Kaine, nor Allen, appear to be lacking it. And we, the voter, will continue to be “informed” through Election Day.

My column runs every other Wednesday in the Daily Press Opinion pages [3]. Get your digital membership [4] today!

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