Monday, October 19, 2015


Here is a trend we picked up on a bit during last year's elections.  More and more candidates are spending more and more of their campaign efforts on suing one another.
Disqualification attempts, requests for injunctions against inflammatory ads, not to mention Derrick Shepherd’s repeated — and thus far unsuccessful — efforts to persuade various state judges to strike down the constitutional provision preventing him from running for the Legislature have combined to ensure that if there’s been a lot of newspaper ink spilled about a race, there’s a good chance the story was coming from the courthouse at 200 Derbigny St.

“It does seem like they’re going to the courts more often, particularly on these political ads,” said Ed Chervenak, a political scientist at the University of New Orleans.

“It’s something that’s becoming more and more a part of local politics,” agreed Scott Sternberg, a lawyer who has defended candidates from challenges to their right to run. “We’ve seen more suits (this year) than I can remember seeing.”

The season started with a spate of disqualification attempts right after qualifying in early September.
It's hard to say whether this is really the "new thing" in local politics. The opening of a whole new front in legal expenses could become yet another barrier to participation for all but the most well financed candidates. But time will tell in that regard.

Anyway since the courts as a means of political intimidation, notice what Chervanak says here. 
Like the Roberts-Congemi suit, those claims ended with all sides agreeing to pull the ads in their original forms and declaring victory. In the Senate race, Labruzzo agreed to soften the language of his allegations, some of which were based on claims from a political blog.

Sternberg, whose firm has not handled any of the disputes that wound up in court this year, said he thinks the trend toward more litigation is rooted in a couple of factors. First, there’s more information generally available on the Internet to circulate about opponents and use for rebuttals than there was years ago. Also, he said, the concept of having supported a tax increase is more generally accepted as a particularly poisonous allegation.

“The things that they’re throwing around are really hot-button issues,” he said.

Chervenak said candidates need to be careful about where they get their information. Political blogs “may not be the best sources for the most accurate information, and I think that’s getting them in trouble,” he said.
Sure, sure, it's all the fault of "the blogs" as if every single individual talking about politics on the interenet is doing exactly the same thing. Apparently a campaign isn't responsible for whatever dirt it wants to spread so long as it leaks out through a sympathetic blogger or perhaps even through a fake social media account created by a staffer.  Once it's "out there" on the internet, it's something "the blogs" did.

It's 2015. We really should understand better that the internet is just a tool and not the cause of the unreliable things that some people use it to say.  A guy lied to me once. Let's stop paying attention to the English language. The blog you're reading right now gets all of its information from what it reads in the newspaper. Maybe that's even worse.

In the context of political campaigns spawning frivolous lawsuits left and right, though, everybody needs a scapegoat when the lawyer gun is pointed at them.  We saw this play out a little over the weekend when Gambit ran with and then quickly backed off of a story about David Vitter's hookers when "new inconsistencies came to light."

But having read Jason Berry's original post, Gambit's gleeful flogging of it, and Gambit's subsequent retraction, I'm having difficulty identifying the inconsistencies which would not have "come to light" to Clancy Dubos well before he ran with it . Especially considering he and most of New Orleans had been aware of this "bombshell" waiting to drop for many months now.

Even I knew something like this was coming. And, remember, all I know about anything is what I read in the papers. An insider professional publisher like Clancy would have had ample time to review and contextualize the relevant information before running it up the flagpole.  So what happened here?

I've spent some time this season cautioning people about the wisdom or lack thereof of harping too much on David Vitter's hookers during the primary.  In the first place, it's mostly sleaze for the sake of sleaze.  This makes it an attractive story for self-promoting tabloid TV journalists like our friend Derek Myers here. But it doesn't do much to inform voters about how their choice in the upcoming election will affect the future of the state.

In the second place, it's bad strategy.  By that I mean it's bad strategy for anyone interested in electing John Bel Edwards rather than one of the three Republicans.  This goes a bit beyond the scope of this post so I'll elaborate later. But suffice to say for now, a Governor Edwards would be a significantly different result from any of the other three possibilities which are more similar to each other than any is to him.

Still, not everyone wants John Bel to be Governor. Gambit has endorsed Jay Dardenne, for example. Whenever Berry has said anything at all about a preference, he's professed agnosticism.  However, many other political types who I keep track of on the internet do prefer Edwards. And these people have been far too enthusiastic about going after Vitter all month. I don't understand this.

If you are interested in electing Edwards, choosing to attack Vitter on this point at this time is a bad idea. It's not difficult to see why. Ever since mid-September, most of the major polls released indicate that Edwards can beat Vitter in a runoff. This doesn't mean it would be a cinch.  But what they all show him ahead. One of them puts him over 50%, in fact.  When asked, neither Angelle nor Dardenne supporters even say they prefer Edwards to Vitter as a "second choice" candidate.  But Edwards matches up poorly in a runoff scenario vs either of the other Republicans. He has a chance to beat Vitter. He can't beat the others.

In any case, Edwards will definitely be in the runoff regardless, so what we're looking at this Saturday in the Governor's race is basically a Republican primary. The choices are two Republicans who will probably win the runoff or one Republican who might lose.  Anyone dropping any "bombshells" this week has to be aware of this. If you are a publication, like Gambit who is already pushing Jay Dardenne, this is your moment to jump in and help spread the frag pattern.  No time to sit around worrying about "inconsistencies."

One of the largest PACs active this year has been something called  "GumboPAC."  It is managed by former state Democratic Party chair Trey Ourso. (I'm pretty sure he is an Ourso of THE Oursos but will need confirmation from someone.) In any case, he's an established player in establishment Louisiana Democratic Party politics. (Read: oil people and their money.)  But GumboPAC isn't backing John Bel Edwards. Instead, it has adopted the slogan and mission statement "Anybody But Vitter." You may have seen their big purple billboards along the nearest highway. 

We first read about GumboPAC when Clancy Dubos giddily announced its existence in the pages of Gambit back in May. Clancy didn't bother to tell us anything about the people running the PAC.. although he almost certainly knew.  Instead he preferred to amplify GumboPAC's call for us to "imagine" things about Vitter.
If Vitter thought he could run for governor without having to face that scandal again — and those same questions — he clearly was wrong. He was able to dodge them in the immediate aftermath of the scandal (by hiding) and again in his 2010 Senate re-election campaign, when he deflected voters' attention by running an anti-Obama campaign. That was easy when his main opponent was a Democrat, but this time he also faces two major GOP rivals. It won't be so easy to blame everything on Obama this go-round.

Or will it?

Vitter campaign spokesman Luke Bolar told The Advocate that the Gumbo PAC campaign is "more politics as usual from liberal Obama Democrats and their allies."

It will be interesting to see if that old deflection works again. At some point, Vitter will have to answer for his "serious sin." After all, it wasn't Barack Obama who was dialing up hookers from Capitol Hill — while preaching "family values" back home.

Meanwhile, the Gumbo PAC video suggests there is much more to come. It concludes, "Just imagine the things you haven't heard about ... yet."
Just imagine what those things might be! 

Later on in the campaign, we noticed that GumboPAC had donated $5,000 to a PAC supporting Jay Dardenne's campaign... saying it was for "research."  I have no idea what that means, exactly. But since GumboPAC and Clancy like it when we use our imaginations, it might be fun to ask just how much it cost to buy Wendy Ellis out of her "exclusivity contract" with Hustler. I know, I know, that's wildly speculative. But "just imagine!" Anyway, one week after this transaction was reported, Gambit endorsed Dardenne.

Again, I'm not responsible for where your imagination might take you. I'm just throwing it "out there."  It was okay to imagine things back in May because some people in a super PAC (who Clancy chose not to name for some reason) put it in an ad. And it was OK to stoke the imaginative fires once again during the final week of the campaign when Gambit helped Jason throw his "bombshell" revelation that Wendy Ellis was willing to say things on the record.

On the other hand, there is that problem of elevated litigiousness among candidates these days.  Luckily, as with their reporting on GumboPAC, Gambit figured out a way to have it both ways.

First, they ran the story making sure to praise and credit "independent investigative blogger Jason Brad Berry" with having put it together. Next, retract the story the very next day in a "Shocked SHOCKED" fashion and then leave Jason out to dry implying all of this is because, as Chevernak says, "political blogs may not be the best sources of information."

Well we'll see about that.  Like we said earlier, most political blogs (like say this one here) do not claim or attempt to be primary sources of information.  But Jason has a pretty decent track record of digging up things a lot of media pros aren't willing to touch without at least some plausible insurance against reprisal.

But, as I've said before, nobody really cares about David Vitter and his hookers.  On the other hand, a lot of people care about who gets to be the next Governor of Louisiana. And how those interests motivate those people's decisions to "imagine" what might be fit to publish and when is the real reason to watch any of this.

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