Area Democrats Ramping Up For November Statewide Election
|State Sen. Benjamin Downing is the chairman of the party's coordinated campaign aimed to rally voters to the polls in November.|
RICHMOND, Mass. — County Democrats haven't forgotten the night Republican Scott Brown was elected to the U.S. Senate.
And they don't want anything similar to happen again.
|Some of the party's active volunteers, including Sheila Murray of the Berkshire Brigades at left, attended Sunday's event that was both a fundraiser for the party but also a rally for organizers to get out the vote.|
Neal Leads Congressional Race in Endorsements, Fundraising
|Clockwise from left: Richard Neal, Bill Shein and Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. face off on Thursday in a Democratic primary that will determine the winner of the newly drawn 1st Mass District. Neal, representative for the 2nd Mass District, has gained more endorsements and campaign money than the two Berkshires candidates.|
Neal has served the 2nd District in the House of Representatives since 1989, and is a senior member of the influential House Ways and Means Committee. Last year's redistricting announcement moved his native Springfield into the new 1st District, where Neal began introducing himself to new voters in Berkshire and Franklin counties at the beginning of 2012, following the anouncement in late 2011 that incumbent Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, would retire at the end of this term.
Neal officially entered the race in mid-May, filing triple the number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot at 7,340. Seventeen percent of signatures came from residents of Berkshire County, which trails a distant second behind Hampden County in district registered voters, at 18 percent compared to 63 percent in Hampden.
"The consolidation of Western Massachusetts is not a bad thing, it's a good thing," Neal told iBerkshires on one of his earliest visits. "I can assure people that I will vigorously represent the interests of the Berkshires with the same enthusiasm that I represent my district."
Nuciforo first declared his intention to run in this election in 2009 as a challenger to Olver, prior to the plan for the redistricting. Currently the Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds, Nuciforo served as state senator from Pittsfield from 1997 to 2006, and chaired the Joint Committee on Banks and Banking, which became the Joint Committee on Financial Services. Nuciforo launched his full-scale 2012 campaign with a bus tour in early February, having already begun building support among some local Democrats with events in Pittsfield and elsewhere over the previous months. Nuciforo became the first to turn in papers to appear on the ballot on May 3, with 2,249 signatures.
"This is going to be a watershed moment in American politics," Nuciforo said at one Pittsfield appearance, "because people in this country have felt more and more detached from the people who are supposed to be representing them. That's what this election's going to be all about."
Alford writer, humorist and political activist Bill Shein announced his intention to run in mid-January. Other than a 2004 parody campaign for president, Shein has never run for public office but did work on Paul Simon's presidential campaign in 1988 and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee after graduating from Tufts University in 1990. His op-ed column, "Reason Gone Mad," has won three National Press Club Award for Humor and appears in The Berkshire Eagle. Shein turned in 2,349 signatures to qualify on the ballot on June 4.
"In the Congress, I look forward to working with my new colleagues and reform activists from across the political spectrum to make vital changes in service of a democracy that works for all of us," said Shein in a recent statement.
Public endorsements for his opponents, in contrast, have been scarce. While Nuciforo's campaign has seen contributions from some local elected officials, including Pittsfield and North Adams city councilors, there have been no publicized endorsements. Shein was endorsed in June by L. Scott Laugenour of Lenox, Green-Rainbow Party candidate for 4th Berkshire District state representative.
The most significant disparity between the campaign of the Springfield congressman and his Berkshire-based opponents, however, is in fundraising and spending. Neal has spent just over $1.4 million in the race, according to his most recent FEC filings, with more than $2 million left remaining in his campaign fund. Nuciforo has raised a total of $242,209 in this election cycle, and spent $242,459, with a total of $100,620 left. Shein, whose campaign only accepts contributions of $99 or less, has raised only $20,035 and spent $14,710.
Funding has been a largely looming issue in the race, with Nuciforo and Shein repeatedly targeting Neal's large fundraising contributions from corporations and political action committees. Neal has maintained that donors do not influence his voting record in Congress.
On election day, Neal will vote at the Boys & Girls Club in Springfield, then host an election night results party at the Community Music School of Springfield at 8 p.m., to be followed by an expected "Thank You" breakfast in Pittsfield the following morning at Dottie's Coffeeshop.
Nuciforo will cast his vote at Capeless Elementary School, and will be gathering with supporters to watch results at Mazzeo's Ristorante, 1015 South St., Pittsfield starting at 7:30 p.m. Shein will vote at Alford Town Hall, with his election night meet-up at Gypsy Joint in Great Barrington beginning around 7 p.m.
Shein Plans $2 Potluck Fundraiser
On Friday, first lady Michelle Obama will visit Western Massachusetts to attend a series of fundraisers for the president's re-election campaign. First is a $2,500-per-person event in Springfield. Then a James Taylor concert in Pittsfield, where the least expensive ticket goes for $125 (the most expensive is $10,000).
Finally, on Friday evening, Gov. Deval Patrick will host Mrs. Obama at a $20,000-per-person fundraiser at his Richmond estate. Twenty people will attend, and the event will raise $400,000. That's right: $400,000 from just 20 people.
That our Democratic Party and its candidates have come to rely so heavily on money from those who can afford such amounts, as well as large checks from the corporate PACs and lobbyists who represent interests we should be fighting against, is simply unacceptable. For too long, that money has narrowed the agenda in Washington, shifted policymaking to the right, and left us with a democracy, economy, and environment in crisis.
Over the last quarter-century, rank-and-file Democrats have been told by party leaders and longtime Democratic incumbents that our party needs to raise corporate money, and accept large checks from lobbyists and wealthy individuals, if we're to win elections.
But don't worry, we've been told, because all that money won't impact the Democratic Party's ability to stand up for working people, create a fair economy, do what's necessary on the environment, or advance the political reform that will make our democracy work for everyone.
Well, it hasn't turned out that way.
American democracy is rotting from the inside, drowning in corporate money, lobbyist money, and large checks from a tiny fraction of our society. Compared to other major democracies, voter participation here is shockingly low. Our economy is unfair, unjust, unworkable, and unsustainable. And on the environment, catastrophic climate change becomes more likely with each passing day, yet the massive action required to address it is not being discussed in this election year.
This way of doing things simply can't continue.
I'm running for Congress because we need Democrats who will speak out against this unacceptable status quo, and not offer the shrugs, excuses, and rationalizations so common among those incumbent Democrats who refuse to do anything to change it.
That's why on Friday evening I will host a few friends and supporters at my house for a "$2 Per Person Pot Luck Dinner for Democracy." Each attendee will bring a dish that serves four-to-six people, so we should be amply fed while discussing how to advance public financing of elections, universal voter registration, jobs programs to put unemployed Americans to work right now, a freeze on all foreclosures, increasing taxes on the wealthy and global corporations, and massive action on climate change that begins by passing the "Save Our Climate Act" to put a price on carbon pollution.
Of course, to raise $400,000 at just $2 per person would mean inviting 200,000 people to the modest house I rent in Alford. The last time we had that many people over (for the "Seinfeld" finale, maybe?) we were cleaning up for weeks. I vowed never to do that again. So this time we're keeping it small ...
While everyone understands the need to raise money for campaigns, it's long past time to elect Democrats who know we have to radically change our campaign-finance system. And fast. We simply can't continue down this road of a "democracy" funded substantially by a narrow, wealthy, and corporate elite – a problem that existed long before the Citizens United decision.
Indeed, we've already gone too far down that road. The results are painfully obvious to millions of struggling American families who lost jobs, homes, and retirement savings in the latest economic meltdown and who know the response from Washington has been wholly inadequate. They don't have $125 or $2,500 or $20,000 to donate to a political candidate.
In my view, ideas and candidates should sink or swim on the merits, not how much money is behind them. That's the promise of public financing of elections, and that's why I will champion that necessary reform, and many others, in the United States Congress.
Shein Challenges Neal on Campaign Statements
Shein took issue with remarks made by the incumbent 2nd Massachusetts U.S. representative in two interviews that aired on Friday, one on WGBY public television and one on WAMC public radio.
During an interview on WGBY's "Connecting Point," Neal stated that both Shein and Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., Middle Berkshire register of deeds, first entered the race against retiring U.S. Rep. John W. Olver.
The three men are vying for the Democrat nomination to fill Olver's seat in the Sept. 6 primary. With no other challenger, the primary will determine the outcome of the November election.
"These candidacies were based upon John Olver being the congressman," said Neal, of Springfield. "I frankly think John did a terrific job in the 1st Congressional District, and the decision that was rendered to challenge John Olver escapes me. Only to discover that they were then placed in a Hampden County-based congressional district."
Though Nuciforo indicated his intention in 2008 to run for Congress in the Berkshires this year, Shein first announced his intent to run on Monday, Jan. 16, of this year.
Olver announced in October 2011 that he would retire at the end of his 10th term.
The state Legislature voted in November to redraw the districts in a way that merged parts of the former 1st District with Neal's home territory in the 2nd District and reduced the number of congressional districts from 10 to nine.
"I decided to run after realizing that Western Massachusetts was in danger of no longer having a bold, outspoken progressive voice in the Congress next January," said Shein in a statement over the weekend,
"someone who champions fixes to our democracy, fairness in our economy, and urgent action on climate change and other environmental issues."
Olver, citing Neal as "a great friend and partner in the House," endorsed him in his run for the newly redrawn district in February.
Shein also objected to another statement by Neal, which aired on WAMC on Friday, regarding how his campaign is financed.
"The fundraising that I've done is very similar to President Obama, Senator Kerry, and Elizabeth Warren, and much of the rest of the congressional delegation in Massachusetts," Neal told WAMC, in regards to ongoing discussions about the role of money in this election.
"President Obama's campaign committee does not accept a single penny from political action committees or registered lobbyists," responded Shein in a statement. "By comparison, Rep. Neal raises most of his money from PACs and lobbyists, and regularly attends fundraisers thrown specifically for him by corporate lobbyists."
Regarding comparison to Warren's campaign against incumbent Scott Brown for U.S. Senate, Shein says "only 2 percent of Elizabeth Warren's $15.8 million raised has come from PACs — and just 11 percent of her small total of PAC contributions are from corporate interests. By comparison, in this cycle, Rep. Neal has raised fully 76 percent of his money from PACs, with an eye-popping 94 percent [of this portion] from big corporate PACs."
Representatives for Neal reached on Tuesday declined to comment on Shein's statements.
Money has been an issue of heated debate throughout the last few months of campaign talk surrounding this congressional race. All three candidates on the ballot released campaign financing reports for the first quarter of 2012 in late April, demonstrating a continued considerable lead in funds for Neal over his two
Neal raised a total of $122,875 between January and March, compared to $42,493 for Nuciforo and $11,235 for Shein, but the latter candidates pointed to distinctions in the breakdown of income. A majority ($101,250) of Neal's quarterly gain came from committees and PACs, from whom his opponents say they will not accept contributions.
Nuciforo pointed out that he outraised Neal 2 to 1 in individual contributions, while Shein, who only accepts donations of $99 or less, touted his more than $11,000 in unitemized individual contributions (under $200) over Neal's $4,125 in this small donation category.
Neal, Shein, Nuciforo Post Quarterly Fundraising Reports
According to campaign finance reports, the incumbent, Neal, raised $158,278 in individual contributions compared to Nuciforo's $140,696. However, Neal also raised $636,700 from political action committees whereas Nuciforo has raised nothing. For the first time in the recently released quarterly reports, Bill Shein posted an income of $11,221 - all from individual donations.
The net cash — minus disbursements — for each candidate is Neal with $2.4 million, Nuciforo with $133,000 and Shein with $5,700.
In the first quarter of 2012, Neal raised $122,875, $21,625 of which came from individual donors. Nuciforo raised $42,493, all from individual donations.
The contrast is expected from Shein, who has based his platform against lobbyist influence. Shein and Nuciforo, both from the Berkshires, have recently been taking shots at the incumbent for taking those contributions. However, Nuciforo also has been criticized for taking the same type of funds during his time as a state senator.
Neal, of Springfield, is a 12-term incumbent representing the 2nd Mass District. Redistricting has placed him in the 1st Mass, which is currently represented by U.S. John W. Olver. The retiring Olver has thrown his support to longtime colleague Neal. Nuciforo, of Pittsfield, announced his intention to run for U.S. representative in 2009. Shein is a writer and activist from Alford.