My congressman: A one-time shining star, now tarnished by reality

My new Democratic congressman, who barely bested an entrenched Republican, has disappointed. Rep. Eric Massa, NY-29, has parted with his most cherished, pre-election promise. He has gained power; now, like all members of Congress, he wishes to keep it. Now he’ll take the “tainted” money other politicians do and fabricate a specious reason for doing so.

Flip, from 2007:

I promise that when I am elected to Congress, I will always put the American public above everything else. Unlike 99.9% of Congressional Candidates, I have never accepted a single cent of Corporate PAC money … [emphasis added]

Flip, from 2007:

I believe if you’re going to talk about campaign finance reform, you have to be willing to do it to prove your point. And I did and I would not be able to look myself in the mirror if I took money from ExxonMobil. My opponent gets over 70% of his money from PACs… Of all the issues we face, the core issue has to be campaign finance reform because nothing will change til we get the Board Room out of the voting booth. [emphasis added]

Flop, from 2009:

I’m not going to go to the working families of the 29th Congressional District and ask them to fund a congressional campaign when my opponents aren’t willing to do the same thing. I believe in playing on a level playing field [emphasis added].

Rep. Massa argues that he must accept corporate PAC money because the GOP does. He hides behind the “level playing field” argument. Why now? He beat the GOP incumbent without it. His only announced Republican opponent, Corning Mayor Tom Reed, has yet to be offered serious money from the National Republican Congressional Committee — which heavily funded the incumbent he defeated.

Rep. Massa knows the GOP wants this seat back. He wants a fat war chest and he wants it fast to deter any serious GOP challengers (and, perhaps, a Democratic primary one). That’s what incumbents do. That reflects his swift, dramatic shift from principled challenger to Beltway insider.

To disguise this, he suggests he does not want to return to hitting up district voters who are hard-pressed economically, “the working families,” as he labels them.

But that argument is disingenuous. He didn’t depend heavily on the “suffering middle class,” those he now says he wishes to protect from being dunned for contributions.

Federal Election Commission records, aggregated by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, show that Rep. Massa raised $2,151,657 for the 2008 election cycle, $600,000 more than the GOP incumbent. He did not rely as heavily as he claims on the “suffering middle-class” district residents: His top 29 contributors gave him nearly $680,000. And ActBlue contributed nearly half of that. The list of these 29 contributors is dominated by labor unions ponying up $10,000 each.

Sliced another way — by industry totals— $1,292,621 of his total $2.1 million came from the usual suspects of campaign finance: Democratic and liberal organizations; leadership PACs; retired individuals; other candidate committees, lawyers and law firms; industrial, building trade, public sector and transportation unions; the securities and investments community; real estate and health professionals; and others.

As of the June 30 FEC quarterly filing deadline, Rep. Massa has raised $515,119 for the 2010 election cycle. More than half — $284,975 — has come from PAC contributions. His leading contributor is, again, ActBlue, with $73,000. The list of top industries for 2010 is similar to that for 2008. Those industries have given $310,772 so far.

Rep. Massa will need much more than the $2.1 million he raised for 2008. The national GOP wants that seat. And 2010 will be the year that New York state loses one seat in the House due to redistricting. Rural districts like the 29th are always convenient targets to be cut. If the 29th gets whacked, he’d have to run against, perhaps, longer-term New York congressional incumbents. Perhaps that influenced his change of financial heart.

Rep. Massa has said that he would not take corporate PAC money from harmful interests, such as cigarettes and Big Oil. Perhaps he’ll post a clear definition of “harmful” on his re-election website — if and when he announces for 2010.

Congress is taking a vacation from its hard work of fixing health care (yes, sarcasm intended). All the members are town-halling like mad, trying to divine the will of the electorate. Which Rep. Massa will tour District 29 this month?

This one, from June 2007:

I believe that we also need to address the problem of lobbyists in Washington, and as such, I do not accept Corporate PAC money. Thus I am reaching out to all of you to support my grassroots campaign. I am asking for 1000 people to step up and donate $100 to my campaign so we can tackle the issue of global warming in Washington. I need you to join me. Together, we can change the world.

Or this one, from February 2009:

[GOP critics] want to attack me for taking legitimate political action money that they are taking 10 times more of. I don’t quite get why the pot is calling the kettle black.

photo credit: Esquire

6 replies »

  1. If I might state what I think is obvious to most of us here, you can’t expect an individual to make a lot of difference when the SYSTEM is rigged for failure. Massa is what he is, and we’re stupid to believe any pol’s shining white virgin spiel until the system is fixed.

    Of course, can’t fix that system without individuals willing to take a stand. How perfectly infernally Catch-22y, huh?

    Great piece, Denny. For what it’s worth, I share your frustrations. Let’s hope this makes its way back to Massa’s peeps….

  2. Sometimes i wonder what would happen if our brave politicians stopped protecting the working class families of America? Can you imagine the chaos? And considering the sorry state of those families right now, without the benevolent protection that they currently receive it would be a sad nation…probably turning to cannibalism as we slowly revert to our hunter-gatherer past.

    The only thing standing between us and the total collapse of civilization is our general misrepresentation.

    Sam’s right. It’s a fine piece of calling Massa out.

  3. I’m not in love with Massa’s change of position here, but here are two things to consider:

    First, Massa’s only taking money from corporations that have presence in the district. This might seem like a small detail, but there’s a real tendency for long-established MoCs to serve two masters: their constituents and out-of-district special interests.

    Second, Massa’s already shown that taking a contribution doesn’t buy his loyalty. He got $5,000 from Time-Warner Cable, yet he led the fight to stop broadband caps that TWC was planning for Rochester.

  4. Rottenchester: Thanks for the detail. But from my POV, it’s merely the difference between a venial and a mortal sin. I appreciate your comment.

  5. To paraphrase JFK: He may be a politician, but he’s our politician. At least so far.

  6. Denny, if it makes you feel any better, my representative lives on C Street and he refuses to discuss it or move. He gets real angry when asked about his accommodations and says, “I only rent a room there.”