Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"Pro-fiber groups spent $300,000 to get out vote"

The Advertiser today posts a story on the cost of the fiber battle. This is one of those stories that seems pretty clear the first time you look at it but which, on further examination, gets pretty murky. Some of it is real murk, due to confusion, and some of it is simple incompleteness. The incompleteness clouds the issue, and frankly, makes the story a touch misleading. Fiber 411, which has not filed the legally required PAC paperwork, put into the mail two very expensive, deceptive fliers [Link] which, while they have oddly not been reported on in the media, were the talk of the town in the last days of the campaign. Fiber 411 spent a lot more money with a lot more uncertain sources than has been reported to date. This report should really have noted that.

The gist of the story:

Pro-fiber forces spent more than $300,000 on television advertisements, yard signs and flyers promoting passage of the Lafayette Utilities System fiber-to-the-home project. That includes $200,000 spent by LUS, a municipal utility system owned by its customers, the citizens of Lafayette.

"I think it's very reasonable when you consider the cost of political campaigns nowadays and the necessity of the media," said City-Parish President Joey Durel. "My concern was the cost to this community of losing the election. That would be a cost that would be immeasurable

The first thing a mathematically inclined reader is likely to notice is that the cost numbers in the headline ($300,000) and the numbers in the sidebar (which add up to $369,849, about $370,000) don't match. The likely explanation is that the cost of the election ($65,000), which really should not be assigned to LUS, appears as its cost in the sidebar. A reasonable person might assign those costs to Cox, BellSouth, and Fiber 411. This is the second vote on this project; the first, by the council, was also an overwhelming approval and this additional vote was a creature of those folks' obstructionism.

The first thing a politcally astute reader is likely to notice is that this is by no means a final accounting. It should be pretty accurate for LUS, but for the PACs a final accounting has yet to be done and much of the money is always saved for planned buys in the final days. I'd expect the totals to be higher and for most of the money to have been spent.

The first thing a cynical reader is likely to notice is the absence of any cost assigned to the campaigns run by BellSouth and Cox or any realistic questioning of Fiber 411's informal "accounting" to the Advertiser. About BellSouth and Cox--who knows what they will actually report? The laws allow a lot of real costs to be hidden if you own the media. All those good neighbor ads (with faux Cajun and Creole accents cut in) that ran incessantly on Cox are likely to be written off as self-promotional. You know and I know that we never saw such ads before the battle heated up. They were part of the campaign and if you had to buy that time (which Cox, of course, does not) it is expensive. Certainly the Advertiser knows that BellSouth, at least, paid real money for those full page reprints of an editorial from its sister publication, The Times. It would have been nice to have seen some acknowledgement of the incumbents' largely unmeasurable costs in this campaign.

The murk around Fiber 411, though, is really thick. They say they've filed PAC paper work but I can't find it on the ethics board site. The idea that they didn't spend real, reportable money on yard signs and fliers is just not possible--the flyer had a "paid for" line on it. Where did all that money come from and how much was it really? Who did the automated phone calls? The spam emails?

Just because all this went unreported by our media and was ignored in this article, does not mean these things did not happen. We all know they did. It is OUTRAGEOUS that no article about the intense disinformation campaign in the final days has appeared.

For the record, this site will be posting a series on the deceptive campaign waged by the incumbents and their allies – not only so it won't be forgotten but so the rest of the nation and those that come after us in this fight will not be misled as to how this campaign, and especially the last days, were fought and finally won by the people of Lafayette.

1 comment:

GumboFilé said...

John,

For differing reasons we might agree that we would have preferred it not have been spent, but if I were on your side (I know, BIG "IF"), I would consider $300K (or $370K or $400K) a good investment for the electoral validation it secured. $300K is about a quarter percent of the amount of the bond issue.

David