Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Mannix freely mixes business, politicking

That's the headline on today's Oregonian "exposé" on Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kevin Mannix, which has been discussed and predicted several times by Coyote over at Northwest Republican.

After reading through it twice, my impression is that most of this is, to quote a famous playwright, much ado about nothing. While it is not without its damaging sections, this is mostly an attempt by the Oregonian to create a negative image of Mannix just 17 days before ballots are mailed to Oregon voters for the May primary.

The story makes clear its intentions in the fourth paragraph when, after talking about a donation that went from a donor to the state GOP to Mannix within hours, it says "whether Mannix did anything improper is debatable." It does go on to say that Mannix was investigated and cleared in 2002 for a "similar . . . episode," but the "debatable" term leaves an open question. The reporter could have moved former Democratic Secretary of State Phil Kiesling's quote -- that the monetary move was "probably legal" -- from the very last paragraph of the story to the top. Instead, it called it "debatable," thus creating a question where there really wasn't one.

For starters, let's look at the amount of money this story discusses: $838,000 over the last 10 years. That seems like a lot, but it breaks down to about $7,000 per month for things like office rent, employees, and services from his law firm. Over that same period, the story says, Mannix raised almost nine million dollars for his campaigns for governor & attorney general, along with other political causes -- so $838,000 is less than 10 percent of that total. (Though I might add that if this were a Democrat candidate we were talking about, $838,000 would probably seem like a bigger deal, so I'm willing to dismiss this point.)

Second, let's look at some of the information sources:
  • Darryl Howard, former executive director of the state GOP, who resigned (he says) or was fired (Mannix says) and has since gone to work for a Mannix opponent, Ron Saxton.
  • The Money in Politics Research Action Project, which the story calls "nonpartisan." Look through its press releases, and you get a pretty clear picture about the group's idea of "nonpartisan."
(I should point out however, that other sources include former state chairman Perry Atkinson, State Rep. Derrick Kitts, Mannix himself, and contribution records.)

Third, let's look at a typical media double standard. A central theme of this story is Mannix's relationship to businessman Loren Parks, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mannix over the years, including $375,000 in the final days of the 2002 campaign for governor. A quick check of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's campaign contributions shows a $120,000 contribution from the SEIU union just 10 days before the 2002 election, a $76,299 donation from the state's education union just 16 days before that election, and a $50,000 donation from the AFSCME union just five days before election day.

The Oregonian story said that Parks' donations "reignited criticism of the close ties between the two when only a razor-thin margin separated Mannix from" Kulongoski. However, I don't see the Oregonian examining Kulongoski's cozy relationship with public employee unions, which donated almost $885,000 to his 2002 campaign.

Having said all that, as I stated above, it's also clear that there are some damaging sections to this story. They include:
  • An allegation that Mannix was paid a 70 percent commission on donations for a West Coast meeting of Republican leaders. The story says, "Mannix initially was emphatic that there was never any deal to pay him commissions, calling the idea 'ludicrous.' He later said he would not dispute [Republican national committeeman Solomon] Yue's recollection of the arrangement." Yue is quoted as saying he approached Mannix with the commission idea, and state executive committee member Bob Avery said he remembered that some party members were "upset" with that arrangement. That's not a good flip-flop.
  • An allegation that Mannix, with almost $700,000 in campaign debt after the 2002 election, failed to repay the debts for a year and then requested a reduction in the debts his campaign owed to 11 companies. This paragraph, interestingly enough, is only found in the print version of the story: "Mannix offered a deal to 11 firms: Cut their bills, and the rest would be paid in full. Otherwise, small monthly payments would ensue. Seven firms agreed to the arrangement, giving up as much as $10,000 apiece." Could that be construed as a sort of coercion?
  • Claims that while Mannix was the party chairman, the state GOP paid almost $40,000 to his legal secretary for 20 months of work, despite the fact that current chairman Vance Day said he has no secretary and knew of no party chairman besides Mannix who did.
The bottom line, for me, is that this story provides a clear example of Mannix's tin ear when it comes to his image. In politics, perception is extremely important, and the perception that Mannix has created through his financial wheeling and dealing is one that -- regardless of whether everything is true -- will hurt him and, possibly, the state GOP.

If you want another clear example of his tin ear, just visit his website. On it, you will find a countdown to the election. No, not the primary election. The general election. Could it be that Mannix has been listening to his own rhetoric for so long that he thinks his close call with Kulongoski in 2002 entitles him to a pass in the '06 primary? Could it be that Mannix has been thinking so much about 2006 that he has given insufficient thought to the impact his finances will have on his future political career?

Even if Kevin Mannix gets past Saxton and Jason Atkinson in the primary, you can bet that Kulongoski and his cohorts will milk this for all it's worth.


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