Democracy can be a tough nut to crack. But it gets so much harder in this day and age if you have neither the power nor the money that your opponent can muster and use to keep you at bay.
This was the lesson Nate Kleinman learned this week in his bid to challenge Representative Allyson Schwartz for the Democratic nomination in the Pennsylvania 13th Congressional District.
Kleinman is a human rights activist and political organizer within the Democratic Party. He has worked for President Obama and Joe Sestak in his failed U.S. Senate bid. He is also considered the first Occupy Wall Street political candidate. But he really had no chance against the very well-financed, very well-connected Schwartz.
Allyson Schwartz, currently serving her fourth term, has always been a savvy fund-raiser, and is reported to have in excess of $2.3 million in her war chest. Her only Republican challenger is Joe Rooney, a former U.S. Marine fighter pilot and current resident of Ardsley.
Schwartz’s funding for the 2011-12 election cycle came primarily from large individual contributors (57%) and Political Action Committees (38%), only 3% came from small individual contributors. Her biggest corporate and association sponsors include Comcast Corp, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Her top industry support comes from lawyers, health professionals, pharmaceuticals and insurance companies.
Not exactly residents of the 99% …
You would think that with all that fire power behind her, the last thing Allyson Schwartz needed was the appearance that she was insensitive to the interests of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Yet when it came to Nate Kleinman, Allyson Schwartz went for the throat. She could out spend, out fund-raise, out network, and out wait just about any in-party challenge with one hand tied behind her back. Not to mention the difficulty such an insurgent Democrat faces in getting any form of support from within The Establishment of the DNC when running against such a successful incumbent.
Challenging the validity of nomination petition signatures (required to qualify to appear on Election Day ballots) has become a regular tool for suppressing political opposition. It’s the quick and dirty way to score a knockout; yet it rarely works to the satisfaction of the petition challenger.
The petition challenge has become one of the accepted political practices with which I have a problem. When did it became acceptable to silence opposition in the public square? It smacks of fear for open debate. It makes a candidate look petty, aloof, and overbearing. But as bad as that looks, it gets even worse when the conqueror decides to machine-gun the life rafts.
And this is the part of the Kleinman episode that makes Allyson Schwartz look ruthless and more than a little afraid.
Last week, Kleinman decided to withdraw his name from the ballot as a formal challenger to Schwartz’s Congressional seat. Instead he decided to continue his candidacy by seeking to win the April 24 primary via write-in ballots.
As if Democracy wasn’t already hard enough.
The reason Kleinman decided to throw his lot with the Hail Mary of write-in ballots is the tortured hell that Schwartz’s campaign intended to put Kleinman through just to keep his candidacy hidden from the Democratic voters of the PA 13th. In a move reminiscent of Richard Nixon-esque dirty tricks, the Allyson Schwartz campaign pushed the nominating petition issue to the extent that Kleinman, who has no real political organization, would have had to spend weeks of his own time sitting down with Schwartz’s rather ample campaign staff to go over each and every individual petition signature to prove their validity or to rehabilitate questionable entries.
In other words, keep Mr. Kleinman penned up in a conference room, off the street, out of the public’s view, and away from any potential media attention.
And just when Nate Kleinman was standing there like a deer in the headlights, the Schwartz campaign pulled out the napalm by filing a claim that would have required Kleinman to pay the legal costs incurred by the Schwartz campaign! “It’s a legal option for the campaign to request that Nate Kleinman pay legal fees,” says Rachel Magnuson, Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s Chief of Staff.
And since Kleinman’s “campaign war chest” totals just $10-15,000., as compared to Schwartz’s $2.3 million, it’s not hard to see what that move was all about. It was an attempt to threaten Nate Kleinman with personal financial retribution for having dared to challenge Lady Allyson of the 1%!