Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pombo in their Pocket

The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund just announced a new anti-Pombo campaign called Pombo in their Pocket.  They have produced an ad (which you can see here) and are raising $100,000 to air it.

Let me just say that I feel strongly ambivalent about this effort.  

On one level, it’s about damn time that a well-known environmental group finally stepped up to the plate and targeted Pombo.     

But on another level, I worry about the dynamic this sets up. The Pombo in their Pocket campaign will, if it’s successful, direct $100,000 to the nominally non-partisan Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.  That is $100,000 that will be unavailable to the Democratic nominee.  And let’s not forget that $100,000 probably represents 10-20% of the money that will be spent by Pombo’s opponents in this election.  

Because of tax and campaign finance law, the Pombo in their Pocket campaign will be legally barred from coordinating with Democratic campaigns.  Furthermore, my understanding is that the law bars these types of ads from even advocating for any particular result in an election.  So, if I am correct, these ads will of necessity attack Pombo without mentioning his opponent.  For example, the ad currently on the Pombo in their Pocket website ends with the line: “And tell Richard Pombo, ‘America’s heritage is not for sale.’”  It’s hardly a powerful argument for change.              

But even so, Pombo will almost certainly respond to these ads by tying his Democratic opponent to the DWAF.  If he follows his standard operating procedure, Pombo will paint the Democrats as little more than thralls of environmental groups, who Pombo will frame as fear-mongers out to demonize him solely to raise money.  This, even though the Democrats will not have the ability to ensure that DWAF is promulgating the most helpful message.  Importantly, nothing in the ads will actually advocate replacing Pombo with someone better.

The other concern I have relates to something Wes from Pombo Watch brought up in a comment to a previous post.  He wrote:

I was thinking about various political things this AM and came to the conclusion that there is a danger if the focus of being Anti-Pombo is only environmental. While one may look at the NY Times and Sac Bee editorials this weekend with some sense of glee, they still allow Pombo to invoke the "I am just your neighbor who is being picked on by those radical environmentalist and their society liberal friends." If Pombo is to be defeated, that can not be allowed to happen.

I agree with the analysis behind the comment.  And along the same lines, I’m worried that the DWAF campaign will have the effect of focusing the discourse too narrowly on Pombo’s environmental policies per se.  It is not that Pombo’s environmental policies are unimportant.  But rather, Pombo’s attack on the environment matter a whole lot more, at least in terms of electoral politics,  as symbols of his deeper problems—his extremism, his irresponsibility, his constant elevation of the interests of the powerful few over the interests of the American people—than as acts in and of themselves.  Unfortunately, an environmental group will probably be unable to speak about these issues in a sufficiently robust manner.  

So while I am grateful for the attention, I am also a bit wary about the efficacy of these ads.  $100,000 is a lot of money.  I’m not sure this campaign would be the best use for that money.      


Blogger Dave said...

Negative campaigns drive away the independents and leave the elections to the ideologues. It doesn't matter who sponsors the negative ads.

What needs to happen is that all this outside money gets spent on liberal framing, which is something else other than negating the conservative framing.

11:17 PM, November 01, 2005  
Blogger VPO said...

If it is any consolation, I heard that the Calif. chapter of the DFW was not too happy about this approach, which was generated from their DC headquarters. The Calif. DFW more or less had to follow along with it.

But I would not worry, it is another hit on Pombo. How effective, I am not quite sure. But it is another voice in the growing chorus, and just adds to the drumbeat to oust Pombo.

Also, I think the money against Pombo is unlimited. There is not a set amount that can be raised. The more extreme Pombo gets, the more people want to get rid of him, and that includes opening their checkbooks.

11:37 PM, November 01, 2005  

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