I’ll get to the obscenity in a moment.
A little background first. If you’re like me a few months ago, or if you’re like you today, you’d have likely not heard of Heather Beaven much. She is the Democratic Party candidate for Congress in Florida’s 7th district, running against John Mica, an 18-year incumbent. She runs a non-profit education foundation based in Flagler Beach. Some time back I had a chance to meet Beaven over lunch with several other people in Daytona Beach. She came across as bright, energetic, and to the right of Suzanne Kosmas, which is difficult to do without being a Republican.
Beaven wears what she calls her “New Testament Christianity” on her sleeve (she’s a Baptist). She is opposed to extending Medicare to all as a universal health care solution. She supports expanding existing, private-insurance schemes–essentially, the Obama package finally approved. She is more conversant in chamber-of-commerce-type pro-business-speak than labor interests. When welfare reform passed in 1997 the Republican governor of Kansas picked her to enact it in a state that hasn’t voted Democratic in her lifetime (she’s 41).
Vagueness, Not Issues
If you’re trying to get more specific than that, good luck, especially if you go to her website, which–in this year of endless national and local challenges–lists all of three issues, two of which are standard-issue bromides: “Inspiring learning and teaching” and “Ensuring our veterans are honored.” Really? Why not add “honoring our fathers and mothers,” too. “Investing in entrepreneurship and job creation” sounds promising, but the bullet points quickly shoot that promise down with more bromides.
I’m saying all this, mind you, as a liberal who’d like nothing more than to see John Mica replaced. Which is why the Beaven campaign as currently packaged and undeliverable is so disheartening. It’s not a serious campaign. It’s not a serious candidacy. Not even as the sort of campaign that’s conducted knowing all along that it’s a lost cause.
Those campaigns are important: every seat must be contested no matter what. It compels the opposition to fight, spend and dilute resources, putting in play more seats that would otherwise be walkovers. It’s also contemptuous of the democratic process to leave incumbents unopposed. So we should always be grateful for candidates’ willingness to put themselves in the line of fire, naive and no-chance candidates included.
But Beaven’s candidacy isn’t naive. This is the CEO of a statewide organization currently engaged in a $20 million fund-raising campaign. She knows business. She knows people. What she doesn’t seem to know is why she’s running, and why we should take her seriously. Her campaign is doing its best to make us not take her seriously. And doing so with lapses insulting to our intelligence, literally and figuratively.
“We’re #1. WTF?!?!”
One incident is emblematic of the Beaven campaign. On Jan. 26 she sent an email to her supporters with the following subject line: “We’re #1. WTF?!?!” WTF is the acronym for “what the fuck,” the juvenile but high-currency expression of 20-somethings, or older people who wish they were 20. It’s not the end of the world. But it’s certainly not the sort of expression you’d want associated with a campaign for federal office. Even less so the name it was attached to.
The email announced Lily Ledbetter’s coming campaign stop on behalf of Beaven. (Ledbetter is the woman behind the Fair Pay Act of 2009). The subject line wasn’t WTF’ing that. But you’d have had to scroll through a couple of items to get to the reason: the fact that Flagler was #1 in unemployment.
Fine. An error in judgment, if not quite of sentiment: the high unemployment rate is something to curse. Almost four hours later, Beaven sends an apologetic email explaining the lapse was “a reflection of an impassioned staffer who reacted too quickly to the horrific unemployment situation in Florida. That was clearly a mistake that should have never happened.”
Staffer was stretching it. Beaven doesn’t have a campaign staff. We’ll get to that one, too, in a moment.
Beaven is right. Mistakes happen. But this is where it gets interesting. And infuriating.
After getting the emails in question sent me anonymously last month (I wasn’t on her email list), I wrote Beaven on April 21 asking her a few questions about the email–who was responsible, whether she reviewed her emails before sending them out, how many she sent out on any given day, who her campaign manager was. No reply. I resent the email to a different address I found on her site, after some scrounging. No reply. I did hear from Frank Karabassis, who corrected a few entries on a campaign finance chart posted here.
Beaven and I finally spoke a week later.
She said she does manage all the content that is emailed under her name, “but it never dawned on me before that to ask what the subject line was going to be.” As for the staffer who sent it: “I’m not going to tell you his name, if that’s what you’re asking, but he was on my campaign with an organization called Blue Empire, a strategy consulting company.”
A campaign for elected office hiding its staffers’ identity isn’t a good sign.
Enter Blue Empire. And Exits.
Moments after we hang up, I get a call from a guy called “Evan” (“unknown” on the caller ID) who says he’s the one who sent out the email. He refuses to give me his phone number, says he’s no longer with Blue Empire, and doesn’t know how to get in touch with that consulting firm. Basic verification: If Beaven says she hired a consulting firm called Blue Empire that sent a man called “Evan” to work with her, verifying that Blue Empire exists, and that it did, in fact, contract with Beaven is the next step, especially when a consulting firm called Blue Empire is listed on Beaven’s campaign-finance reports as being paid $4,000 in March. For all I know at this point, “Evan” is a guy Beaven picked off the street and asked to give me a call to put questions to rest.
After hanging up with him, I get a call from a Ben Chao. (Beaven is obviously working her phones.) He describes himself as Beaven’s “media consultant.” He’s been paid $5,000 by the Beaven campaign through March. He says Evan is actually Evan Tanner, that he was Beaven’s “campaign manager from afar.” I ask him for Blue Empire’s number. He doesn’t have it. “Maybe Blue Empire is out of business,” he says, adding that his group and Blue Empire aren’t in partnership. No?
The Blue Empire website is just one page, as if it was put up hastily, with no addresses, no phone numbers, no names. A simple check through domain registrations reveals that Ben Chao put up the website on January 15. But Ben Chao has no idea how to get in contact with the group whose website he created.
Beaven said she contracted with Blue Empire in December. Chao clarifies: “Evan Tanner was working for, running Blue Empire, helping Heather’s race.”
While I’m on the phone with Chao, Evan Tanner, this time clearly identified as such on the caller ID, calls again. Good work, Heather. He gives me a third story: He created Blue Empire in January. He was Blue Empire. He disbanded it in March. “I failed with that email, and I failed with the company itself.” he said. “Bottom line is, I was like, what the fuck.”
Habits are hard to break.
Chao says he’s known Tanner for years and let him work out of his Nashville office. What office? Chao’s outfit is called Chao Strategy Message and Media. he has a website, too (and a better-looking one than the imperial version) that chants: “We beat Republicans for a living.” If only. But he doesn’t give me a street address. Chao, who’s worked with a few campaigns around the nation, doesn’t give me an address. Here we go again.
That’s the sort of entourage running Beaven’s campaign: amateurish, opaque, pointlessly furtive.
“Political tax evasion”
Last month on her Facebook page Beaven gushed that she’d crossed the $100,000 threshold. Yet she won’t hire a campaign manager, which could help straighten all these things out. Beaven says she has no staff, because her operation is too small to afford one. You could say: “That sounds like political tax evasion.”
Those aren’t my words. They’re those of Ben Chao, Beaven’s media consultant. He spoke them two years ago when he was running Democrat Bob Tuke’s Senate primary campaign in Tennessee. Chao was being critical of Tuke’s opponent, Mike Padgett, who only hired consultants–the way Beaven is hiring Chao, the way she hired “Blue Empire.” (Campaigns are like businesses. When they hire staff, they have to pay payroll taxes, including unemployment insurance.)
It’s not just the WTF email, the absence of a message, or a general sense of carelessness. Beaven’s website is shoddy, too. Two weeks ago the home-page link to press releases was dead. Its fix-up now lists nothing more recent than Feb. 2. The photo link still brings up an “under construction” notice. The last event scheduled under the events tab dates back to March 11. Her blog hasn’t been updated since March 6. Links to her newsletter brought up each document with computer formatting that didn’t bother deleting the “Dear [[First_Name]]” coding that showed the stuff to be cut-and-paste work from email blasts. (At last check that looked like it’d been fixed.)
The contact link brings up a form for you to fill in–not phone numbers, not emails to contact directly. There’s not a single phone number on the entire site. (You’ll find [email protected] on inside pages, but my email went unanswered and unacknowledged. One phone number, 386/956-6920, appears on pdf documents required for campaign contributions, and contributors.) That doesn’t scream transparency. It screams catch-me-if-you-can opacity. Beaven is obviously not hiding: she’s far more active on her personal Facebook page and her campaign’s Facebook page, though I don’t know if it’s accessible to people beyond her 771 friends (I’m among the 771).
Even there you should beware the information you glean. A Tuesday posting has almost more errors than it has words: “In November 2009, China owned $789 billion in U.S. Treasuries (33%), making it the largest owner.”
A simple check of the Department of Treasury’s monthly tabulations shows that in November, China held $929 billion. That was 25 percent of Treasuries held by foreign interests only, not 33 percent, and not 33 percent of all Treasuries, but 7.2 percent of the national debt, and 11 percent of the public debt, which excludes the $4.5 trillion the federal government owes to itself (the Social Security Trust Fund is owed about four times more than China is.)
Obviously, the Beaven campaign has a lot more than a Facebook posting to worry about. Unfortunately, John Mica is not among those things right now. To bad for us liberals in this year of renewed Republican ascendancy, and too bad for Beaven, who surely is better than this.