Your Emily's List dollars in action

Charlie Burr

Will Emily's List be successful in defeating Democrat Steve Cohen, one of the most progressive new members of Congress? We'll find out when polls close tonight in Tennessee's 9th Congressional District.

I cut my teeth working for Steve Cohen's campaigns in high school when he served in the Tennessee Senate. He's a great guy and a helluva legislator. As a transplanted Memphian, I will be very watching closely tonight.

Despite a strong record of constituent service, civil rights, and a 96 percent progressive rating from Progressive Punch, Congressman Cohen is being targeted by Emily's List, who has directed hundreds of thousands of dollars to challenger Nikki Tinker, a corporate attorney and former campaign manager for Harold Ford (see lower left blog ad from 21st Century Dems).

Let's take a look at the advertising Emily's List is funding:


Hmmm.. O.K., so the ad appears to have been removed. Anyway, it links Cohen with the KKK. Here's how The Tennessean described it:

Rep. Steve Cohen, a white congressman from a mostly black district, is linked to images of the Ku Klux Klan in a TV ad for his top African-American opponent in Thursday's Democratic primary.

The ad for Nikki Tinker juxtaposes pictures of Cohen, a statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and a hooded Klansman while asking, "Who is the real Steve Cohen?"

Cohen, a former state senator with a long record as a civil rights supporter, was elected in 2006 and is the first white member of Congress from Memphis in more than three decades.

To a person, every local Emily's List donor in Memphis I know thinks it was a terrible, terrible decision for the organization to wade into the muck here. Even local Memphian and long-time pro-choice activist Cybill Shepherd personally urged them to stay out. But no luck.

Keith Obermann's reaction to the campaign:

Emily's List is, of course, shocked... just shocked at the recent turn of events. Spare me. Everyone knew what this race was going to be about. And if Emily's List was unaware of the role Cohen's religion and race would play in the campaign before endorsing neophyte Tinker, well, that's a problem too.

Here's a flyer from earlier this year before Emily's List directed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the race:

You might think a flyer like that would keep Emily's List from primarying one of the most progressive incumbents in Congress. You might also think that Cohen's twenty-five year pro-choice track record would trump a challenger who only two years ago initially refused to answer if she supported abortion rights. But you'd be wrong.

Stay tuned. And, Nikki Tinker, you stay classy.

[Update -- Barack Obama has released a statement condemning the Nikki Tinker campaign tactics:

"These incendiary and personal attacks have no place in our politics, and will do nothing to help the good people of Tennessee. It's time to turn the page on a politics driven by negativity and division so that we can come together to lift up our communities and our country," Obama said in a statement released by his campaign headquarters in Chicago.]

[Update 8 p.m., by Kari. From the Memphis Commercial-Appeal:

With 168 of 208 precincts reporting, Cohen won 79.23 percent of the vote, greatly expanding his base of support from the 2006 Democratic Primary in which he won 31 percent of the vote on a crowded ballot. His closest challenger, attorney Nikki Tinker, received 18.68 percent of vote, more than six points fewer than the 25 percent she received in 2006.
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    Stopped donating to NARAL and Emily's list during the Kerry campaign. Both organizations have become inside the beltway organizations.

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    I've stopped supporting Emily's List because of their actions as of late.

    I find it ridiculous to go after a really good elected official just because he isn't the right sex, color, religion, etc. There are way too many bad elected officials we could be replacing instead.

  • matt (unverified)

    Wow, two very well respected women in Oregon politics that are not supporting E-List anymore. That's a really bad sign for E-List.

    Hopefully they get the message before all of their donors leave.

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    Both NOW and Planned Parenthood took a look at the record and actively supported Steve Cohen.

    This debacle is really about Emily's List and Emily's List only.

    Let me stress emphatically that Emily's List's eleventh hour statement distancing themselves from Tinker is as wholly unacceptable as it is disingenuous. The only thing that changed is that Tinker's ad brought to the surface what has been going on under-the-radar in the district for months.

    And everyone knows it.

    Emily's List made a clear calculation that Cohen's race and religion would make him vulnerable. That's what this campaign is about and that's what the thousands of checks from around the country funded.

    I am frankly amazed that Emily's List will probably get away without having to take any meaningful responsibility for their central role in this low-life campaign.

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    Reminds me of the Human Rights Campaign -- who endorsed Tom Campbell (among others, including Gordon Smith and D'Amato), a Republican in California BEFORE they even knew who the Democrat was going to be. Not cool.

  • Wend (unverified)

    used to think Emily's list was cool...

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I was a regular contributor to Emily's List until this year when they decided that the gender of the candidate was the only thing that mattered. The rabid attack tactics of their president was the frosting on the cake.

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    FYI, via Swing State Project: "Over in TN-09, Steve Cohen has grown his lead to 32,000 votes with 80% in."

  • Barry J (unverified)

    Well Charlie Burr - I do believe that the answer is NO. Emily's List is embarrassed really badly tonight. Friends here in DC confirm that they've really harmed themselves nationwide with this endorsement and the subsequent 80-20 victory enjoyed by Steve.

    Man, he's come a long way since that first primary in 1996 against Jr. huh?

    Barry Jackson

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    Kristin, this is off-topic but needs to be said. In 2008, so far, the Human Rights Campaign is neutral in the U.S. Senate race in Oregon.

  • LT (unverified)

    No organization is ever any better than the leadership and the decisions made by the group. Who is running EMILY these days, anyway?

    Poorly thought out endorsements (esp. when done by a small group of smart-alecky insiders) can hurt the endorsing organization for years or even permanently.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)

    One of Tinker's commercials rails Cohen for being in our churches?

    Great! Democrats are now fielding anti-semitic candidates -- or at least a candidate who would stoke anti-semitism to win an election.

    Every single national Democratic party head should have unloaded on Tinker, not just her "incendiary tactics."

    What she did should have been absolutely unacceptable in this party! It should also have been widely announced to Tennessee voters that Tinker would receive absolutely no national support in the general if she did win the primary.

    It should have been made known that she made herself a complete pariah by stoking the flames of religious intolerance in order to win an election.

    I'd have like to have seen a much stronger response from Obama.

    Charlie's appropriately appalled, and his reaction here should have been echoed loudly and quite forcefully by the big boys in Washington.

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    Barry J! Great to hear from you! And congratulations on a HUGE victory tonight.

    Ah... 1996. That was fun though, wasn't it? I'm thrilled to see a slightly better conclusion this evening.

    Go Steve! Get Goin' with Cohen!

  • Pat Malach (unverified)

    Way to go Tennessee!!!!!!!!!

    I guess the voters there sent a LOUD message.

  • ellie (unverified)

    That is unspeakably appalling.

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    This is the part of 'big tent" that I have a great deal of trouble dealing with in my own mind. I just don't get it. I hope EL has to suffer a bit for this call.I know it won't mean anything to the Tinker campaign but I did email them about their rancid, rotten and rank campaign tactics.

    Congrats to Cohen for such a solid win.

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    Pat, you're absolutely right about how horrible and appalling her ad was.

    Every single national Democratic party head should have unloaded on Tinker, not just her "incendiary tactics."

    That said, it's better to focus on what she said - not who she is. That's how you stop racism.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    This from Daily Kos: "Nikki Tinker was trounced today in the Democratic primary in TN-09. With 89% of precincts reporting, incumbent Steve Cohen leads Tinker 79% to 19%."

    Not only is Emily's list humiliated and disgraced in this defeat, but also Harold Ford of the DLC who backed Tinker. I hope this signals the demise of both Emily's List and the DLC.

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    The important thing here is for people to understand that Emily's List's position is damage control, spin, and a fairly transparent attempt to avoid responsibility for the campaign they financed.

    Again, nothing in what national media discovered in the last 48 hours should come as any surprise to those watching the campaign waged on the ground. Emily's List was obviously aware of the tactics exemplified in the flyer above when choosing to play in this race. What's shocking about Tinker's ad but not the anti-semitic flyer from months earlier?

    The sad reality is that Emily's List saw an opening and apparently were comfortable benefitting from it. Duly noted.

    But this is not the type of behavior you can waive away with a press release a few hours before polls close.

    My outrage here is two-fold: One, these tactics would be rotten anywhere, but antagonizing race relations in Memphis takes on an added level given that city's history with the civil rights movement. Two, Steve Cohen's career is defined by standing up for politically difficult votes that take on an extra dimension given his religion. So, this shit's nothing new. For example, when Steve served in the Tennessee Senate, he was THE ONLY one in the entire Senate chamber to vote against a bill requiring public facilities to hang the Ten Commandments. This was in the early 90s. As a Jewish state Senator, it's not hard to see how this would hurt politically.


  • Pat Malach (unverified)

    "it's better to focus on what she said - not who she is. That's how you stop racism."

    Well, having someone say "we don't like your 'incendiary tactics'" seems like rather weak tea for something we all seem to agree was "horribly appalling."

    Instead, how about: "We don't like your 'incendiary tactics,' or politicians like yourself who will resort to anything to win. Anti-Semites, or those who would stoke intolerance to win an election are not welcome in this party."

    I think pariah was the right word. You know, personal consequences for personal behavior -- not just words. That's how you stop it.

    I'm hoping that was part of the message Tennessee voters sent tonight. It's the message the party leaders should have sent right away.

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    Emily's List has recently been in the news. Its challenge to the federal rules restricting use of "soft money" in federal campaigns was rejected by the U.S. District Court in D.C. Here is part of a press release by Democracy 21, one of the entities that opposes Emily's List in the case. I cannot say who is right and who is wrong.

    Federal District Court Judge Kollar-Kotelly Upholds Important FEC Regulations Restricting Soft Money in Federal Campaigns Friday, August 01, 2008 A federal district court in Washington, DC yesterday rejected a challenge brought by EMILY's List against two key regulations issued by the Federal Election Commission to restrict the use of soft money in federal campaigns by federal political committees and other groups, including 527 organizations. The decision, by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, upheld an FEC regulation that requires contributions to comply with federal contribution limits when they are received by a federal political committee or other group, including a 527 organization, in response to a solicitation that indicates the funds will be used to support or oppose the election of a federal candidate. The court also upheld a regulation that requires federal political committees to spend at least 50 percent "hard money," or federal funds, on voter drive and generic campaign activities, and administrative expenses. EMILY's List had challenged both regulations on First Amendment grounds, and as contrary to the Administrative Procedures Act. "This is another important court victory in the effort to ensure that funds spent to influence federal elections comply with federal campaign finance laws," said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT), Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center filed a joint amicus brief in the case in defense of the FEC regulations. Lawyers for Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center represented the amici in filing the brief, to which Judge Kollar-Kotelly made numerous references in her opinion. "The reasoning underlying the contribution solicitation regulation played a central role in the enforcement actions taken by the FEC against a number of 527 groups for massive illegal expenditures in the 2004 presidential election," Wertheimer stated. "In upholding the contribution solicitation regulation, Judge Kollar-Kotelly has provided strong backing for the FEC use of this regulation in enforcement matters relating to contribution solicitations by 527 groups in the 2008 federal elections," according to Wertheimer.
  • LT (unverified)

    EMILY's original intent was good (among other things, a way for women in states with no appealing candidates to contribute money to women candidates in other states and there was a time they ran an excellent campaign school back in the days when not a lot of women held major office ) but it has become just another bureaucratic fundraising operation which believes it speaks for a large group of people.

    Sometimes groups outlive their usefulness and become more about turf battles and inside-baseball politics than anything else. Now that there is a woman Speaker of the House and there has been a woman who came close to being nominated for President (and there are female US Senators of both parties large enough to be a power bloc in the Senate if they so chose ) maybe it is time to disband EMILY. There is a decades-old debate about whether voters act as individuals or as members of groups. If the EMILY and DLC-endorsed candidate got less than 20% of the vote, there is a message in there about the power of voters to think for themselves.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    I conceived a dislike for E-list quite some time ago when I discovered just how they operate and think - sex organs trump all. Their roster of support and their mouthpieces' statements make clear the kind of organization they are. Tinker is not an aberration, simply an extension of unprincipled funding mechanisms.

    I'd kept myself quiet about them because they hadn't quite plumbed these depths, now they have. I don't mind the idea of an organization reserving its funding for a specified group, assuming there is some sort of principle behind the actual funding.

  • Plhut (unverified)

    All that needs to be said to give this story the typically Blue Oregon, can't-buy-a-clue ending:

    Emily's List Endorses Kate Brown

    Who should get Earl's money?

    Earl gave money to Cowan, Emily's List pick AFTER this:

    Wayne Scott: Insulting Oregon's Firefighters and Police Officers

    Unfortunately, Senate Bill 400 didn't pass. SB 400 picked up just 30 votes - and like all bills, it needed 31 to pass. Despite years of promising support for the bill, the House Republican leadership managed to twist the arms of enough previously-supportive Republicans to deny a majority.

    The vote was almost entirely party line - though Scott Bruun (R) joined the Democrats and voted in favor;and Jean Cowan (D) joined the Republicans and voted against.

    Funny thing, about those last two connected items, it was none other than Merkley propagandist Kari Chisholm that castigated the Republicans for their action but came up with Earl's little stunt and then touted Cowan. Very nice, typically Blue Oregon.

    It's just all about getting power right Kari, Jeff and Carla? Just like Emily's list cynically (mis)-calculated here.

    What I want to know Charlie is when you are to quit being just another hypocrite hanging around in the BO orbit and put your actions where your mouth is and sign off the false progressive community that is BO?

    And oh yeah, Kate Brown, just got $5K more from Emily's list 3 days ago, bringing her total take from Emily's List in this election cycle to $20,000, $15,000 of that to run against pro-choice Democrats in the primary.

    Can we expect her to return it and denounce Emily's list? Here's the rest of the people we should watch to see if they have a shred of personal integrity (totals for 2008 election season):

    Diane Rosenbaum $1000 Regan Gray $4500 Jackie Dingfelder $2000 Linda Brown $5000 Cyreena Boston $5000

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    Plhut: Do you the reject the notion on linear history? You got your years in the wrong order, man.

    The whole Earl Blumenauer contest thing was in 2006 (you know, when Cowan was not running unopposed). She then voted against SB 400 in 2007. Cause and effect work best when arranged in a straight line.

    Or maybe Kari has a Flux Capacitor. That is sooooo like Teh Evil Mandate Machine.

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    Why was the flyer deleted from the post?

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    Sorry to be off-topic again, and respond so late, but yes, you're right about this election. I was referring to a previous election.

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    Kevin, the flyer is still in the post. The KKK ad was unavailable yesterday while I was posting this. However, the "our churches" ad is now available. I'm posting it now as a follow-up.

    Plhut: As you seem to be a Republican, you should be pretty happy with where Emily's List is investing their members' money. Spending $750,000 on Nikki Tinker during the past two cycles is money spent to bloody fellow progressive Dems, not take on anti-choice Republicans. Getting involved in 2006 was unfortunate, but whatever. Taking on a sitting pro-choice progressive in 2008, now that's a pretty big gift to Republicans in a year where they could use every break they get.

  • Plhut (unverified)

    I willingly concede the fact that Cowan actually voted for SB400 AFTER Blumenauer's donation in the campaign and there was a mistake in that. And in the haste to round up info I mis-remembered the history and made an incorrect statement about Kari supporting her in the context of Blumenauer's stunt AFTER that vote.

    However, no one said anything about cause and effect because that wasn't the point. (It wouldn't make any sense here anyway even if those chronological details were correct --- Blumenauer gave her money and that caused her to vote AGAINST SB400? Kari supported her and that caused her to vote against the position he advocated?) The real question really was about the lack of judgement and venality of the Blue Oregon usual suspects and the kind of Democrats they support. In your own way, you've helped make the case with your off-the-point mark about linear history:

    Are you actually trying to imply here that at the time Blumenauer pulled his politically self-serving grandstanding stunt that somehow Cowan wasn't that type of person who could turn around in her first session right after the election and vote against SB400 as she did, even as that was an issue Kari said had been an issue in the making since how many years before she ran and during the 2006 election cycle?

    Back to your misguided point about linear history: Once her true colors were on the record, Nutty Early and lead Blue Oregonians like Jeff, Kari, Carla didn't exactly do much to remove her and try to set things right, now did they? Is it more important to you that those who just put a "D" after their name win, rather than it is to actually stand up for the Democratic values that we profess to believe?

    The real issue here is about the lack of character integrity that has become endemic in our Party that is at the root of the decline of our Party since 1980, and that we see too often on this blog. That goes right down to the kind of arguments we read in support for Merkley who, with the help of the DSCC, made it the theme of his primary campaign that it was more important to win than it is to be a Democrat with integrity as he repeatedly attacked Novick for calling out Democrats who had and continue to betray the values of Democrats.

    Which leads to the final point you conveniently side-stepped: Are you going to call here for Brown and the rest to publicly repudiate Emily's list and return ALL money they were given? And that we as Democrats should repudiate those candidates, unless and until they do change their ways?

  • Appolinariy (unverified)

    —ъемки с закрытого конкурса стриптиза, смотреть в онлайне. продолжение следует... Contest of the striptease- Miss Runet 2008- 12 best beside pole

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    Nikki Tinker is a full-blown disappointment. I understand that she probably could have won that district if she had kept her nose clean on the attacks.

    These election results also provide a necessary insight to the progress of race relations in this area of Tennessee. There was a time - and in some parts still is - when there was no reasonable way that African Americans and those of the Jewish faith would get along. Besides the whole, "Jews killed Jesus" BS, there also seems to be the constant battle of which minority group has it worse. The fact that this community supported Cohen speaks volumes for honest discussion and progress in places where it isn't expected.

  • Pat Malach (unverified)

    "The fact that this community supported Cohen speaks volumes for honest discussion and progress in places where it isn't expected."

    Go Tennessee, go

  • LT (unverified)

    Plhut | Aug 8, 2008 8:44:31 AM

    Do you live in Portland or an area with a volunteer fire department? Could this SB 400 debate possibly be an urban/rural issue where a rural rep. might have gotten lobbying from rural areas where it could have an adverse affect on the local finances?

    I don't know the whole story, but I do know that over the decades sometimes coastal legislators have voted in ways that annoyed Democrats from more populated parts of the state.

    And what does SB 400 have to do with EMILY anyway?

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    LT, I've not followed Emily's List closely, and don't have any basis to dispute or agree with your characterization of the state of their organization in your first post, I don't think the U.S. has basic issue of adequate representation by women in government knocked by any means. We are way behind a lot of countries, including a lot of less developed countries, in that respect, in terms of women in national legislatures (our state legislatures may be somewhat better than Congress, though maybe varies by state?).

    That may be an artifact of parliamentary systems in which candidates are chosen by the party rather than any kind of primary election.

    Are there any states that choose congressional or senatorial candidates by caucus rather than primary? I wonder if gender distribution differs, if there are.

    Has Emily's List always favored a single female candidate in primaries (as in Kate Brown's primary), or did they at one point back multiple female candidates in a primary?

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