Editorial: Democracy takes yet another hit

Last modified: Friday, September 05, 2014
If you are looking for examples of how money in politics is perverting democracy, a recent TV spot targeting Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is a good place to start.

On Aug. 26, Ending Spending Action Fund, a conservative super PAC founded by former TD Ameritrade CEO Joe Ricketts, began airing an ad titled “Cronyism,” which claims that “Shaheen’s wealth has surged while in public office.”

“News reports,” the ad states, “raise questions about Shaheen’s family profiting from her votes in Congress.”

Those claims just don’t hold up under scrutiny.

In the matter of Shaheen’s supposedly surging wealth, the ad used data from opensecrets.org, which reported that Shaheen’s net worth climbed from $3.4 million in 2008 to $5.4 million in 2012. But as factcheck.org reported last week, the current figures – based on Shaheen’s most recent financial disclosure statement in May 2013 – place her net worth at $2.7 million. That amounts to a 21 percent decline since she was elected to the Senate.

Brian Baker, the president of Ending Spending, defended the data on which the ad is based, telling politifact.com that only assets, not liabilities, should be taken into consideration. The problem, of course, is that the very definition of net worth is total assets minus liabilities. To discount liabilities in determining personal wealth is nothing more than manipulation of statistics.

As for the “family profiting from her votes in Congress,” the truth is something other than what the horror movie voiceover would have you believe.

It’s all about breast cancer research.

According to a June 24 article in the Boston Globe, Shaheen’s husband, Bill, had a financial stake in a federally funded breast cancer research program through his role as an adviser to a company called Ultrawave Labs Inc.

In 2009, Ultrawave received $78,000 in federal stimulus money, the Globe reported, and lobbied “both houses of Congress and several government agencies, including the Department of Defense, on breast cancer funding, dovetailing with the senator’s own work to support the Pentagon’s breast cancer program.”

The supposedly self-serving vote the ad refers to is the nearly $820 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was approved in February 2009 by a 60-38 vote in the Senate. Factcheck, however, points out that the $78,000 for Ultrawave wasn’t earmarked until four months after the Senate signed off on ARRA.

This isn’t the first political ad to manipulate data, and it certainly won’t be the last. But that doesn’t mean voters should throw up their hands and say, “What are you gonna do?” Instead, they should demand that those who wish to represent them stop playing them for fools.

Candidates from both parties rely on the perception of separation between themselves and ads paid for by outside groups attacking their opponents. It allows them to wear a halo while perched above the fray.

Following Wednesday night’s 2nd Congressional District debate, state Rep. Marilinda Garcia said, “I’m not allowed to communicate with any organizations running ads against him (opponent Gary Lambert) even if I wanted to.”

That’s the real problem with these ads: They encourage flight from accountability.

Anybody who cherishes the Founding Fathers’ vision for America should understand that this brand of politics has no place in a more perfect union.