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Kathy Sullivan: Who is going after Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and why?

June 10. 2013 4:42PM

Mike Biundo’s recent opinion piece attacking Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is a classic example of the way in which the lines have been blurred between political consultants, 501 (c) 4 organizations taking advantage of their tax- free status to engage in significant political activity under the guise of “issues advocacy,” and secretive big money.

The information about Biundo at the end of his column describes him as the founder of RightOn Strategies, and the campaign manager for Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign. What it does not disclose is that Biundo also serves as the spokesman for Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, a 501 (c) 4 non-profit organization that has hired RightOn Strategies as a consultant for an undisclosed amount of money. Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire not so coincidentally is running a $110,000 television campaign that also is attacking Sen. Shaheen. In other words, Biundo has a financial interest in attacking Sen. Shaheen, one which he did not disclose in his column.

In the piece, Biundo included himself among Granite Staters who he described as being very passionate about the issues facing “our families, the state and the country.” It would have provided more transparency if he had mentioned that, unlike the overwhelming majority of Granite Staters, he is paid to be passionate by a group taking advantage of the tax laws to hide who is paying for the attacks on Sen. Shaheen. The reader might be more skeptical of the opinion being expressed if these intertwined financial relationships between the writer, his political consulting company, the “non-profit” running anti-Shaheen ads, and whoever is paying for those ads were disclosed.

Saying where the money came from to pay for Biundo’s services and the anti-Shaheen effort would have provided the readers with valuable information. Is it someone who is interested in running for the United States Senate against the senator? Or is it some out-of-state, right-wing special-interest group that is trying to encourage Republican candidates to run, as no credible Republican candidate has stepped forward? We do not know the answer to the question of who is paying for Biundo’s services because Citizens For A Strong New Hampshire does not have to disclose its donors. The tax system and the political contributions systems are rigged so that those with money and an agenda, whether right, left or purely economic, can have the cowardice of their anonymous convictions. That needs to change.

Given the financial ties of Biundo’s company to the anti-Shaheen effort, it is not surprising that his column was inaccurate in several respects. For example, he said you might hear the name “Sen. Jeanne Shaheen” and ask “Senator Who?” The fact is, Sen. Shaheen is the best-known and best-liked of the four members of the New Hampshire congressional delegation. In an April poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, Sen. Shaheen received a 59 percent approval rating, nine points higher than Sen. Kelly Ayotte. That poll was taken before a vote against expanding background checks earned the Republican senator the sobriquet “NRAyotte” and a plunge in popularity. A subsequent poll from New England College gave Sen. Shaheen 61 percent approval, compared to 48 percent for Sen. Ayotte.

Biundo also made the inaccurate claim that Sen. Shaheen is not accessible. Just two days after his column ran, Sen. Shaheen appeared at a live, televised town-meeting-style event at St. Anselm’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics. As for Biundo’s statement that Sen. Ayotte is always accessible, he must not have read state Sen. Jeb Bradley’s admission that he purposely screened out questions relating to guns at an Ayotte town hall.

Biundo also stated that unlike Jeanne Shaheen, Kelly Ayotte has been a fighter on issues that New Hampshire believes in, like protecting the Second Amendment and opposing the Internet sales tax. The reality check for Biundo and Sen. Ayotte is that while New Hampshire supports the Second Amendment, it also supports universal background checks. A poll in May by Dartmouth College showed that 76 percent of registered voters support universal background checks for the purchase of firearms in New Hampshire. He also neglected to mention that Sen. Shaheen and Sen. Ayotte both opposed the Internet sales tax.

As the 2014 election campaign starts to heat up, there will be more pundits writing columns, groups pretending to be grass-roots organizations running ads, and political consultants making money off the process. We should start insisting on full disclosure of the financial relationships of all those involved.

And no, I am not being paid to have this opinion.

Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1999-2007.

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