Here's the recent TV ad run by the Taze Shepard campaign pointing out that Steve Raby's past history as a lobbyist and political consultant may not play well with voters:
It was followed up with a “Lobbyist Steve Raby” flyer on the same theme that hit our mailbox yesterday.
Here's the money quote from this ad: “How's that working out for you?” Let me translate for you:
How is the party of corruption image working out for Alabama Democrats? How has legal money laundering through PACs worked out for Alabama? How did Republican rule work out for the country? The clear implication is that sending Raby to Congress wouldn't work out any better.
Those are concerns that have frustrated many progressive Alabama Democrats for some time. This argument seems to have struck a nerve with Raby supporters. Television personality Jamie Cooper called the ad “the most negative ad I've ever seen in my life” during a recent interview with Raby. Partial transcript:
Raby: “Their last resort is just to make up stuff and start slinging it out there. …”
Jamie Cooper: “But I mean, that was downright dirty. But legal.”
Raby: “It's legal, but look, I don't have any gaming clients … ”
Jamie Cooper: “You're not what they said you were.”
Gloria Cooper: ” You're denying what they're saying.”
Raby: “Yeah. I'm just …”
Jamie Cooper: “Well, he ain't going to admit it.”
Raby: “If you believe everything in the ad they said … almost everything including that Mr. Walker's goats down the road from me is my girlfriend. I mean, it's just terrible.”
All I can say is that Steve Raby and the Coopers were obviously not watching television in September through November of 2008 when the NRCC ran this ad against former Democrat Parker Griffith.
This current line of argument should not come as any surprise to Raby, but it is his responsibility to convince Democratic voters that his history as a lobbyist and political consultant is not a negative factor. What the Republicans will do with that background in the fall makes Shepard's ad look like a lover's embrace. If Raby can't stand the heat in the primary, why should anyone believe he can stand up to the Repubican blowtorch in the fall?
Background and fact checking below the fold.
Raby should have expected an attack along these lines, and prepared for it.
The NRCC telegraphed its line of attack against him months ago:
Taxpayer-funded lobbyist: “Huntsville has two other lobbyists…Steve Raby…earns $75,000 a year as a special consultant who splits his time between Washington and Montgomery.” (Steve Doyle, “City rehires lobbyist,” Huntsville Times, 10/23/09)
Liberal: According to federal contribution records, Raby has donated money to some of the Democrat Party’s leading liberals: Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards and Obamacare author Max Baucus.
At the Madison County Democratic Executive Committee meeting 10 days ago, Raby was asked point blank if he expected the campaign to be negative.
I don't know. … There's a lot of public record on me for 25 years, so any of those things they can pick up and try to make something negative out of it I hope that whatever is done will stay focused on the public issue … It's politics and I knew that when I got into it. We anticipated, as ugly as this race was 2 years ago — I jokingly asked my wife if she wouldn't mind starting about July, just not ever watch television any more.
It was suggested that Raby needed to get out front and turn his lobbyist/political consultant background into a positive before his opposition defines it in a negative light. That's good advice. Raby was late to get into the race, and his first ad started defining him positively, but didn't sufficiently connect the dots on how his career, post-Heflin, is an asset in the job he's seeking. Then his second ad was more about kicking Griffith around than boosting himself, still leaving him vulnerable to being defined in a negative light — and that's exactly what Shepard's advertising is doing.
Fact checking Shepard's ad
As attack ads go this one is pretty tame and mostly true, pointing out that Raby is a lobbyist, he's currently doing work for the City of Huntsville, his PACs have received gambling money, have sent money to Larry Langford (currently serving time on corruption charges) and that Steve Raby personally contributed a lot of money to Republicans over the years. Those things are true. Rick Heartsill, the lobbyist who recently appeared before the federal grand jury inquiring into possible corruption regarding bingo legislation in Alabama, was Raby's business partner according to new stories dated 2003 and 2004. That may or may not be relevant, but it appears to be true.
As of early this year, Steve Raby or Stephen Raby was listed as the Chair of several Political Action Committees, or PACs (see online version here). Those are the Progress Alabama PAC, the Senate Majority PAC and the TN Valley Economic Development PAC. TheRealSteveRaby.com lists a number of contributions totalling $285,000 made to these PACS and one other, the Real Democrat PAC ($19,500) by obvious gambling interests.
A while back I delved into Steve Raby's contribution history using Opensecrets.org. His contributions to Republicans ($33,950 total) are detailed in this online spreadsheet. Raby's contributions to Democrats are here — $76,450 in total. I don't find “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to Republicans, but there are substantial amounts.
At the same Madison County Democratic Executive Committee meeting, Steve Raby tried to assure the audience that he is trustworthy and will not turn his back on his fellow Democrats. He also mentioned his support of former Legislator Sue Schmitz and speculated that the fact he has sent significant sums of money to both Schmitz and convicted Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford would be used against him at some point. Apparently he thought that point would be the general election, not the primary.
In 2003 and 2004 Raby listed his occupation as “Lobbyist” for two contributions that show up on opensecrets.org. The Shepard mailer says:
“Lobbyist Steve Raby won't own up to the truth …
… isn't that the last thing we need in Congress?”
I have to say, in Raby's appearance on Jamie Cooper's show, he seemed to be trying to imply that none of this was true, although we all thought he was a lobbyist, and even his supporters on this blog have referred to him as a lobbyist. His relationship to at least three PACs which handle (shuffle?) large sums of money is a matter of public record, as is his record of contributions to Republicans and, in at least one case, to both candidates in a single race — Josh Segall (D) and Mike Rogers(R) in AL-03.
This information is not going to play well in a year when voters are fed up with business as usual politics and insider deals. Raby needed to get ahead of this narrative and define himself early in a more positive light. Several people have told me he is a brilliant political strategist, but I'm waiting to see evidence of it in his own campaign.
As a Democrat, I'm pleased to get information like this out in the open in the primary campaign. If our candidates have chinks in their armor, let's find them now instead of in August when the Republicans stab them in a vulnerable spot. We didn't have this opportunity to vet a candidate in 2008 because Parker Griffith was the only viable candidate to step forward.
A contested primary, even a hotly contested primary, is a good thing.