The dust has more or less settled on the 2014 elections, but there is no shortage of Monday morning quarterbacking taking place. It’s a lot of information to absorb here in New York State. A closer Look at Governor Cuomo’s numbers produced this fine story from ( excellent new hire ) Bill Mahoney at Capital. It was preceded by this great piece from Ken Lovett. But another interesting plot line, which gets less notice, is what exactly happened in the State Senate. Democratic hopes were high earlier this year that a solid slate of candidates would not only pick up seats potentially on Long Island, but incumbents would hold their seats in the Hudson Valley and Rochester. I’m not breaking any news here to tell you that none of that happened.
When elections don’t go the way people had been told to anticipate them going, it’s easy to lay blame. Fair enough. And certainly Democrats did a lot less complaining in 2012 when the team did quite well. But a handful of Democratic insiders who worked on various losing campaigns this past cycle have started to question the methodology of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and their preferred vendor in many instances, The Parkside Group.
Parkside as of the last filing pulled in about $3.6 million this year. Primarily their services include direct mail, television ads, Polling and cards or literature. Sources say that in many instances Parkside representatives made clear to the candidates that if they do not use their services, they will not be receiving DSCC money. Sometimes that was made clear in the form of a threat, other times it was demonstrated through pulled support. The case many Democrats point to is Justin Wagner who ran the last two cycles for the seat currently occupied by Republican Senator Greg Ball. Wagner wouldn’t sign on to Parkside, and as a result he got limited help from the DSCC. Even though that was an open seat and a potential pickup for the Democrats.
Another oft cited example by Democrats is Adam Haber who ran against Republican incumbent Jack Martins on Long Island. Haber spent close to $2 million, much of it his own money. That’s far more than any other Democrat. Roughly $393,000 of that went to Parkside. Insiders say polls never really showed Haber within striking distance, but that did not stop the DSCC or Parkside from taking his money. Lots of it. Parkside also did Haber’s ads, and according to the last filing took $300,000 for them. But in one example of what some call sloppy management, Cablevision was forced to pull one of those ads off the air because it failed to meet a basic requirement. That’s some amateur hour nonsense, according to one insider. Ultimately Haber lost by 12 points.
According to the last filing with the New York State Board of Elections, which was filed 11-days before the election, the DSCC spent $52,100 money on Wagner, $318,391 on Haber. But the DSCC and Parkside both contend that that December 1 post-election filing will show more money was spent by the DSCC on Wagner than on Haber.
When it comes to canvassing, this is not actually a service that Parkside provides directly. Instead, candidates were told ( by Parkside ) to go with Grassroots Solutions, which is indeed a reputable national firm. But some candidates complained that their pricing was “inflated,” so they ended up using The Working Families Party to help get out the vote. Other complaints were that Parkside was not very involved in terms of giving direction. They should have been “showing candidates a path to victory.” But instead offered “very little ancillary knowledge of the individual districts.” In one case a candidate reached out to Red Horse Strategies, a Parkside competitor, and was told if they go with another consultant that candidate “was no longer in the program.” Yeeeesh. This program sounds like something dictated by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
Finally, there were charges that Parkside “acted in their own self interest rather than what is best for the Senate.” With DSCC Chairman State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens acting as “an account manager for Parkside.” And if any Chairman was coming out of dramatic losses such as these, he or she “shouldn’t be in a job any longer.” Ross Barkan wrote this piece about DSCC leadership earlier this month.
Supporters of the DSCC and it’s current arrangement with Parkside counter that much of this is “sour grapes.” Candidates sometimes don’t like being told scarce resources are being diverted elsewhere. There is a finite amount of money that needs to apportioned appropriately according to the best ability for Democrats to hold or pick up seats. As for charges that prices for mail are “inflated,” they claim that is just flat out false. The prices are cheaper than their competitors and Parkside never takes a retainer…unlike other consultants. No one denies that Harry Giannoulis and Evan Stavisky of Parkside are good friends with Gianaris. But, Parkside has been doing work for the DSCC since 2000 which is long before Gianaris was even in the Senate. It took on the bulk of the DSCC consulting work after the 2008 election because people complained that the DSCC was spending “too much money on multiple consultants, and no one could keep track.” The old system eventually led to the DSCC being in debt. “Operations need to be streamlined,” they say.
As for specific allegations about say, polling, supporters of Parkside say polling needs to be centralized in order to ensure a consistent result. And they push back against the notion that other consultants weren’t used this election cycle. They claim close to $4 million was spent by the DSCC and candidates on other consultants.
In a statement, Mike Murphy a Spokesman for the Democrats said,
“This blog post is a work of pure fiction as anyone that knows how to use a computer can easily figure out. In fact, it is demonstrably true that DSCC paid numerous different vendors for campaign mail as well as for other services, and DSCC-supported candidates also used a variety of different vendors. The Parkside Group had no role in field operations and in fact DSCC-supported candidates used multiple different vendors for field operations. The Parkside Group has worked for DSCC for almost 15 years and has won races in many of these districts including in places Democrats had never won before. Almost all mail was paid for directly by DSCC, not by the candidates’ campaigns and out of all the vendors used The Parkside Group was the most reasonably priced. In a world where the public dissemination of anonymously-sourced items has become more commonplace, there still must be some minimum level of standards, and this reporting falls far short.”
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