Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Deep Pocket

Dear Readers,

Those developer’s pockets must be HUGE! How do they walk around with all those politicians in them? However big they are they must be terribly crowded. “Dammit, Steve, get your elbow outta my FACE!” “Shut up, George, you won’t even endorse me!’

Which brings us to incumbent County Council At-Large member George Leventhal - Takoma Park’s own, or in many minds, Takoma Park’s disowned.

Though he is not likely to lose his seat, George Leventhal is getting a good bashing in this campaign, even in his home-base. Neighbors for a Better Montgomery PAC has been a typical basher. For instance their “County Council Can-Can”, a political cartoon web-animation, portrayed Leventhal and other council members as being bought and sold by developer interests.

More recently a mailer from the same group shows an unflattering row of mug shots of councilmembers Leventhal, Nancy Floreen, Steve Silverman, Mike Knapp, and MIchael Subin. The bold-faced headline reads “WARNING! Developer-funded County Council candidates.”

So, is this fair, dear Readers? Or is this another one of those “gotcha” issues that so depressingly characterize just about every political campaign ever run?

Gilbert suspects there is a gray area here, that it is not simply a matter of politicians being in various pockets (and how does one reside in both the utility and developer pockets at the same time, anyway?) Alas there are no gray-areas in politics. Except here at granolapark, Dear Readers!

On an expedition into the previously unexplored gray area deep inside the developer’s pocket a granolapark associate interviewed councilmember George Leventhal about the charges in the Neighbors Pac mailer. He asked Leventhal just how contributions come to be made, what inspires contributers to donate, and what is the process? Are there meetings with shadowy, pocket-flapping figures who say “And if you pledge to support more sprawl and highways, Georgie-boy, I’ll write out a fat check right now!”?

For the record, Leventhal disputes the PAC’s allegation that he gets 56% of his contributions from developer interests. He notes that Neighbors PAC includes union donations to get that high percentage.

He says also that these folks are grinding an ax. They have not forgiven him for being part of the anti-Blair Ewing “End Gridlock” slate in 2002. Blair Ewing ran against Doug Duncan for County Executive in that election on a strong antidevelopment platform. Though Leventhal’s record has been strong on constituent service and though he is praised by some local environmental interest groups, the old Ewing camp has not forgiven him for being part of “End Gridlock.”

Leventhal stresses that he is NOT on any slate this year and that he has not endorsed any other candidates. He decries not only the Neighbor PAC attempt to lump him in with Silverman, Floreen, and friends, he rejects the attempt by The Committee for Responsible Growth PAC, which endorses those same candidates, to do the same.

But, enough of the usual political charge/countercharge and positioning/distancing, let's get into the “gray area.”

Leventhal tried to “peel away some of the layers,” as he put it, on a subject usually depicted in good vs. evil, 2-dimensional terms.

Publicly financed elections would be better, he says, but as the rules are now, every politician has to raise money to reach constituents.

Any successful politician, says Leventhal, including those such as U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, a hero and champion of the county’s progressive liberal wing, spend a great deal of time raising money for “communication” with their constituents. Communication is a nice word for campaign advertising, in Leventhal’s case advertising in the form of mailers, such as the ones procreating in your mail box right now as you read this.

He said he can’t make the process of fund raising appear clean and good to anyone who isn’t familiar with the realities of election campaigns. Politicians who are making such a fuss about it are being opportunistic, representing the connections between donor and politician to be more sinister than they really are. [continued at " granolapark]


Blogger CommonGood said...

I read your whole entry and thought it was useful and thoughtful. The only thing that I would add to the gray area is that if there is a pattern where someone votes on, or proposes legislation that financially benefits a donor, that should be of great concern. There are many states that have made this a crime, even when there is no evidence of a quid pro quo. It's enough that the possibility exists. That's how it should be in Maryland. Just because it's not illegal (yet) in Maryland, doesn't make it right or ethical. And when you have such huge sums of money involved, as in Silverman's $2.2 million plus warchest, that makes the whole thing even more unseemly. When large sums of money, particularly from one special interest group (developers) has the potential to turn an election, we should all be very, very afraid.

9/05/2006 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger Schnee said...

All you need to do is look through the list of contributors to Leaventhal's campaign and you'll find numerous builders, developers and building contractor firms on the list. They give him money because he has been favorable towards them with legislation or they hope he will be in his next term, should he get re-elected. Meanwhile, Subin received lots of contributions from law firms....you do the math.

9/06/2006 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger OnBackground said...

I found your post, as I generally do, well written and informative. But I'm surprised at your naivete!

Surely none but the most idealistic among us, and few businesses fall into that category, give to politicians unless we expect to see a return on our investment. While I doubt that anyone offers George Leventhal or others bribes or otherwise makes clear implications that they will give him money if he supports them, few should doubt that only those who give special interests what they want (often at the public's expense) get the special interest money. It's that simple.

It is hardly "gotcha" politics when public interest groups point out how money influences politicians.

Raising funds from the general public is hard and requires getting out and talking to average voters. That's good. Getting big checks from special interests in exchange for access is easy, but it's not what we want from our politicians.

The problem with politicians like Leventhal (also Duncan, Silverman, Floreen, etc.), who consider special interests their "constituents" and raise huge chunks of their money from developers is that they don't necessarily listen to the average citizen as much as to those businesses with fat checks in hand. That's not fairness, that's buying influence.

I don't know about others, but I don't care whether Leventhal, Silverman, Duncan, Floreen, etc. ran together four years ago, what I care about is what they did in office and what they'll do over the next four years on the Council. The County Council should serve residents and taxpayers of this community first and most importantly.

9/06/2006 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, everyone's talking about what special access for campaign cash means in this election. According to one local blogger, apparently it means that Councilmembers Silverman and Knapp take secret meetings with developers that are against the rules (see http://mocoprogressive.blogspot.com/2006/09/silverman-and-knapp-hold-secret.html). Hey Gilbert, still think there's nothing wrong with taking big bucks from big business?

9/06/2006 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Gilbert said...

Gee, Gilbert seems to have hit a progressive sacred cow!

Let's double back and hit it again!

The point of the post, other than engaging in Gilbert's favorite sport, devil's advocacy, is that [shock horror] liberals are not above simplistic, selective-editing, "gotcha" politics. It's more complicated and nuanced than some of you make out when a politician takes a campaign contribution. And maybe it's not quite so sinister! Omygawd, Gilbert just ran over the sacred cow AGAIN - and with a BULLDOZER this time!

Your Rebel Without A Cow,

- Gilbert

9/06/2006 06:08:00 PM  

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