Rep. Brad Sherman savors his victory on election night after a hard-fought… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
In the era of "super PACs" and secretive political contributions, the webs woven by outside political groups can be so tangled that it's a wonder they don't confuse even the darkness-loving arachnids who spun them. But the story behind a mailer sent by an outside political group to boost the campaign of Rep. Brad Sherman is such a masterpiece of cynical manipulation that one can't help but admire it -- in much the same way you might admire the elegance of a black widow just before she pumps the body politic full of venom.
As a result of redistricting, combined with California's new open-primary system -- in which the top two vote-getters of either party end up in run-off elections -- Sherman found himself in a brutally hard-fought and very expensive contest against fellow Democratic Rep. Howard Berman. Both men had distinguished records in Congress and had served the San Fernando Valley well -- in Berman's case, as a 30-year veteran and former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But when their districts were merged, the newly redrawn map contained more of Sherman's former territory than Berman's, which might help explain the result on Nov. 6: Sherman ran away with 60% of the vote.
But the hard feelings from the campaign, during which the two candidates nearly came to blows at a community debate, continue to haunt Sherman. In particular, according to Politico, he's paying the price for a mailer backing his campaign produced by a political action committee with one of those generic names that leaves its true leanings and support completely murky: Californians for Integrity in Government.
With the Democratic vote split between the two candidates, both were seeking to appeal to Republican voters by gathering endorsements from local and national GOP figures. After Berman announced the support of Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Sherman trotted out the endorsements of several local GOP politicians.
The PAC mailer applied the icing to this cow-pie cake, picturing Berman along with several prominent -- but highly unpopular among Republicans -- Democratic members of Congress. "Maxine Waters, Barney Frank and Barbara Boxer all want you to vote for Howard Berman," read the mailer, referring to, respectively, a local African American congresswoman who has faced an ethics probe, a high-profile Massachusetts lawmaker who is openly gay and California's liberal junior senator.
According to Politico, Sherman was raked over the coals by California's congressional delegation on Wednesday, with some members denouncing the Californians for Integrity in Government mailer to his face. Rancor from his own party over the ad might cost Sherman a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, even though he has repudiated it and pointed out that he has no control over campaign messages from outside groups.
That's a tricky conundrum for Sherman, but more interesting is the question of who, exactly, is behind Californians for Integrity in Government? From the content of the mailer, one would suspect a group of wealthy Republicans, perhaps akin to Americans for Responsible Leadership, the shadowy Arizona group that contributed $11 million in an attempt to defeat Proposition 30 and to pass Proposition 32 on the November ballot, and that appears to have ties to the infamous Koch brothers. Not so.
Californians for Integrity in Government received 15 donations in 2012 exceeding $200 each, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but by far its biggest backer is the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which kicked in $225,000. This is a union representing more than 65,000 carpenters in six states, including California, and in the past its political contributions have gone overwhelmingly to support Democratic candidates. In other words, it's a group allied with such union supporters as Waters and Boxer.
So this is what the rise of outside political spending has wrought: A Democratic-leaning union paying for a campaign ad attacking its own allies, in order to make another Democrat look more conservative than he really is. The pro-Sherman PAC is a black widow in housefly's clothing.