If you live in Maryland you'll probably have seen Ben Cardin's amusing attack ad "Its nice that Michael Steele likes puppies" whether you want to or not. Its taken a while for Steele to respond (perhaps too long for someone who continues to trail Cardin by about ten points in the polls), but tonight I got to see Steele's response... about 3 times in the same ad break.
It contained a rather stunning claim:
Wow - that sounds bad! Illegal behaviour is definitely not acceptable to me as a liberal, whether or not the person involved shares my political beliefs or not. But is what Steele claims the truth?
The substantive claims in Steele's ad are that:
- Operatives working for Ben Cardin obtained Steele's credit report by hacking;
- Said operatives stole (i.e. obtained illegally) Steele Social Security number;
- and that they plead guilty in federal court to the above deeds.
Of these three claims it turns out that none of them are actually true. Yes, there is (or was) a scrap of truth in there originally, but its been as heavily distorted as Bush's claims about Iraq. The Washington Post's John Wagner covered the case back in March 2006.
- Yes, Steele's credit report was obtained fraudulently, but not by any one on Ben Cardin's campaign. It was instead a researcher working for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in DC who obtained Steele' credit report without authorization (presumably by using an online service like freecreditreport.com I presume, the reports don't say how). No nefarious computer "hacking" involved. So charge number one is false.
- But what about the stolen (identity theft!) Social Security number? From Wagner's article we find this: "Personal finances were considered fertile territory for researchers looking into Steele, who acknowledged financial difficulties when he ran for statewide office in 2002. Sources familiar with the episode said Steele's credit report was obtained with the use of his Social Security number, which was found on a public court document. [emphasis mine]". So no theft.
- OK, but they plead guilty right? Well... the researcher involved plead guilty to a misdemeanor, and the charge will be dismissed in a year. They certainly didn't plead guilty to hacking and theft, as Steele's ad implicitly implies. Neither the DSCC's director of research (who along with the researcher had resigned, in deed the resignations drew the FBI's attention in the first place) nor the DSCC itself were charged.
But it gets better... Cardin's ad strategy is simply to make Steele look (a) ineffectual (which Steele's puppy ads only help solidify) and (b) like another rubber-stamp republican toadying up to Bush.
So what is Steele's great rejoinder against attacks of this type? What proof will he show of his resolve and independence?
Now he says I'm in the President's hip pocket.
Listen to me Mr. Cardin: I think for myself.
Wow - that was convincing! Remember, Steele is the guy who was happy to criticize Bush when he thought it was off the record, but didn't have the guts (or sense) to stand by it after his comments were released and attributed to him in the press.
[I've just discovered Oliver Willis' excellent blog on Maryland politics, lots of great stuff to read through if you're interested.]