In the latest issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, which went online early this morning, I have an article about the Nebraska Senate race. In a nutshell, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is trying to give a boost to one of the candidates due to some disagreements with outside conservative groups. This is problematic because there are two solid candidates in the race and it's an open primary -- and voters tend to resent meddling by the national party. Despite the intervention of the national GOP, both men in the race are running against "the establishment" and trying to claim the mantle of conservative purity.
The revelations in the article appear to have spooked Nebraska Senate candidate Shane Osborn, who appears to be attempting to preempt the revelation in THE WEEKLY STANDAD that the securities firm he is a partner in is profiting off of TARP, the $400 billion taxpayer-funded bailout program.
Osborn--who is being funded by lobbyists aligned with the Senate Republican leadership--has long been trying to paint the other contender, former Bush administration Health and Human Services official Ben Sasse, as lacking in conservative bona fides because of favorable things he's said about Medicare Part D, which conservatives criticize as an unfunded entitlement.
In the course of reporting all of this, I noted that Shane Osborn has his own issues with conservative purity. He says he's opposed to all government bailouts, yet he's the chief marketing officer and a partner in a firm, Academy Securities, that got a contract from the Treasury Department last year to sell a billion dollars worth of GM stock. Osborn says he's only licensed to sell municipal bonds and the compensation structure at the firm is such that he doesn't profit off of the GM sale. As far as I can tell, Osborn's connection to TARP was a new revelation.
So imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to see a story in Politico headlined, "Ben Sasse aided firm implementing Obamacare." Sasse has run hard against Obamacare, so the idea that he'd help implement it is potentially damaging. Here's the crux of the allegations:
Sasse provided early “strategic advice” to former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt’s health care consulting firm while the firm pitched itself to clients in early 2010 to help implement the Affordable Care Act. Sasse is listed, along with his photograph and biography, as a “senior advisor” under the heading “Leavitt Partners team” in PowerPoint presentations from April and May 2010 in which Leavitt’s firm sold its Obamacare expertise. ...
The extent of Sasse’s involvement with Leavitt Partners is unclear — both the Sasse campaign and Leavitt’s firm insist he was never paid by the firm. But two former Leavitt managing directors recall appearing with him on company-sponsored panels. And a Leavitt official said the firm used the “senior advisor” designation “very loosely, but only in order to avoid confusion with our clients.”
Sasse and Leavitt have until now denied the Senate candidate had any involvement in Leavitt Partners.
This story is a classic example of what political hacks and reporters like to call an "oppo dump," shorthand for the opposition research files on rival candidates that are peddled to reporters. Bear in mind, there's typically nothing wrong or unseemly with giving information about candidates to reporters, so long as it's true.
But in this case, it seems to be a classic case of campaign gamesmanship. The Politico reporter seems to be under the impression that the connection between Sasse and former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt's firm hadn't been reported "until now." That's not true. In fact, this same exact story was reported by the Washington Post back in November:
Sasse was listed by Leavitt Partners in an April 2010 PowerPoint presentation as a "senior advisor" to the firm. Sasse's campaign disputes that he ever worked for the firm and emphasizes that its candidate wasn't involved in implementing the exchanges. "Ben Sasse has never worked for Leavitt Partners or received a dime from Leavitt Partners for any work, etc.," Grassmeyer e-mails The Fix. "We cannot control what some intern may have mistakenly put in a PowerPoint or on a tent card from three years ago."