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Tags: Jay Townsend

Chuck Schumer’s Bad Week: Part One of Five



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There is no incumbent Democrat Senator running for reelection this cycle who appears more politically bulletproof than Chuck Schumer of New York.

Still, for an unstoppable political juggernaut, Schumer’s not drawing unbelievable numbers in polls among likely voters. In September, he’s garnered healthy 58 percent in Rasmussen, but 54 percent in Quinnipiac and Survey USA. That’s on par with GOP challenger John Boozman’s numbers in Arkansas.

New Yorkers know the publicity-minded Schumer and know what they think of him; then-Sen. Jon Corzine, a New Jersey Democrat once tartly joked, “Sharing a media market with Chuck Schumer is like sharing a banana with a monkey. Take a little bite of it, and he will throw his own feces at you.”

Schumer’s challenger, businessman and West Point lecturer Jay Townsend, needs an issue to shake up the race, to get New Yorkers to take a second look at the brusque, pugnacious Schumer and reevaluate whether they want to give him another six years. Something like… the questions surrounding Chuck Schumer’s phone call to the SEC about the Bernie Madoff investigation.

Whistle-blower Harry Markopolos is a bit of an odd character; he is, however, credited as the man who sniffed out Bernie Madoff’s fraudulent methods long before anyone else did.

In his book, Markopolos writes, “I was told, by a government agency, for example, that New York Senator Charles Schumer called the SEC at some point to inquire about the Madoff investigation.”

Later, he says that SEC inspector general David Kotz inquired about the call: “Kotz’s questions made it obvious that he was trying to discover whether his agency was simply incompetent or it was also corrupt. He asked a lot of questions about possible interference in the investigation, ranging from asking me if I knew anything about the phone call supposedly made by Senator Schumer — I didn’t — to the possibility that Madoff had bribed team members.”

Later in the book, Markopolos flatly states that Schumer made the call: “Only Senators Chuck Schumer, who had made a phone call to the SEC, and Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, returned. Schumer took over the questioning.”

The response from Schumer’s office doesn’t shed much light on the matter:

“The Senator would never make a call that could potentially interfere with an investigation, and he absolutely did not in this case,” Fallon wrote me in an email. “As Senator Schumer has said in the past, the country owes Mr. Markopolos a debt of gratitude for his valiant efforts to prod the SEC to uncover the Madoff fraud, but on this, someone gave him wrong information.”

A report by the SEC’s inspector general found no congressional interference in the Madoff probe.

In his book, Markopolos appears to suggest that what Schumer’s office would consider a routine bit of constituent service can have a chilling effect on a federal investigation: “There is absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing on Schumer’s part at all, zero, an no suggestion that there was any intent on his part to interfere. Senator Schumer apparently made the call on behalf of his constituents. The problem is that the SEC is funded by Congress, so its employees are particularly sensitive to congressional inquiries. So for a middle-level SEC employee with ambitions, any case in which an important politician is involved is a case he or she wants to stay away from. It’s a lot safer to go after small potatoes.”

So a call was made, but Schumer’s office is absolutely certain that a call made by the third-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, who sits on both the Finance and Banking Committees, on behalf of a constituent to the Securities and Exchange Commission, had absolutely no impact on the investigation whatsoever.

Mmm-hmm.

Well, it’s not like Schumer would have incentive to help Madoff

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Monday led a long list of officeholders and groups expected to give up more than $430,000 in political contributions from Bernie Madoff and his family.

“My money, I’m returning,” Schumer said. The $6,000 Madoff gave him over the years would be sent to charity, he said.

The $100,000 Madoff donated to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, run by Schumer until last month, should also be returned, but “that is their decision,” Schumer said.

Ah.

Who did Chuck Schumer call? How close was that SEC official to the Madoff investigation? What did Schumer ask, and what did the SEC official tell the senator? We’ve never gotten answers to these questions. Bernie Madoff is the poster boy for Wall Street criminality, and the U.S. senator closest to Wall Street called the federal agency looking into him and asked someone something about the investigation. Yet this has never really caught on as an issue.

Well, no point the New York press looking into this; no point in the NRSC putting up a quick web ad or buying some ad time in the upstate markets. Schumer’s reelection is guaranteed, right?

Right?

Tags: Chuck Schumer , Jay Townsend

The GOP’s Empire State of Mind



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Well, New York is either seeing a big Republican surge . . . or it isn’t.

Arguing against:

The Siena Research Institute found [Democrat gubernatorial candidate Andrew] Cuomo beats [Republican Carl] Paladino 57 percent to 24 percent among registered voters. Conservative Party nominee Rick Lazio is backed by 8 percent, while 10 percent are undecided.

Further arguing against:

A new poll finds Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand maintaining double-digit leads over their Republican challengers. The Siena College poll released Thursday found Gillibrand leading Republican Senate candidate Joe DioGuardi by 57 percent to 31 percent. Schumer has a wider lead over Jay Townsend, 63 percent to 30 percent.

But I would note that these polls are of registered voters; the shocking ones from Quinnipiac and SurveyUSA are of likely voters.

A Washington Republican points to interesting local results in November 2009 as a possible omen. I wrote at the time:

NASSAU COUNTY

Republican challenger Ed Mangano is, as of this writing, not quite the next Nassau county executive. But he leads Tom Suozzi by 353 votes after a weekend of absentee and affidavit ballot counting, a process of counting that is expected to extend past the Thanksgiving holiday.

A county-executive race doesn’t dominate the headlines the way a presidential race does, but Suozzi entered this race the heavy favorite. In a county with more registered Democrats than Republicans, in a state where the GOP is supposed to be dead, an incumbent with a huge fundraising advantage ought to be able to win in his sleep. Perhaps that is a good way of describing what Suozzi attempted; he finished the race with perhaps $2 million in his campaign war chest unspent.

Mangano’s message was nothing fancy; he was a local who pledged to eliminate government waste. As in New Jersey, locals are furious about high property taxes, and in a slumping economy (the local unemployment rate in October was 7.2 percent, compared to 5 percent a year earlier) the general mood was frustration that government was taking more but delivering less. Suozzi had spent earlier years criticizing state government and running a “fix Albany” campaign (part of his failed bid for governor in 2006); Mangano jabbed that Suozzi was “so busy trying to fix Albany, he forgot about Nassau County.”

In the end, Republicans were more motivated to vote than Democrats were; Newsday found turnout in traditional GOP areas was 32 percent, while it was 22 percent in traditionally Democratic neighborhoods.

WESTCHESTER COUNTY

Rob Astorino is supposed to be the kind of Republican candidate who can’t win in the northeast anymore. He ran a fairly explicit campaign emphasizing fiscal conservatism, depicting the county’s management as wasteful, bureaucratic, inefficient, corrupt, and out of touch. He hammered his rival, telling voters that the incumbent county executive, Andy Spano, “raised your taxes almost 60 percent in the last seven years alone. Mr. Spano has ballooned the annual budget by $1 billion in the past 12 years, from $800 million to $1.8 billion per year. He spends more than 87 nations do, and you pay for it.” Intriguingly, while the pro-life Astorino didn’t put his faith or social views front and center, his conservative bona fides are impeccable:  He is a radio host and program director for the Catholic Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio and hosts a Thursday-night program with Cardinal Edward Egan, the former archbishop of New York.

Astorino shellacked the three-term Democrat, 57 percent to 43 percent, in a county where Democrats have nearly a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration.  This is a county where Al Gore and John Kerry carried 58 percent of the vote, the county Bill and Hillary Clinton call home. It may be a bit self-serving, but Spano contends that his defeat reflects voters’ anger at Democrats at the state and national level. “It has nothing to do with me, as far as I’m concerned,” he told the New York Times. “They’re mad at Albany, and Washington.”

A big problem for all of the GOP’s statewide candidates will be money; New York is among the most expensive states to run in. One Republican worried that Gillibrand has a big war chest that she’s going to be putting to use the next six weeks, while DioGuardi doesn’t have much in the bank. “Anything is possible in this environment but he needs to raise money fast,” he said.

UPDATE: Brian Walsh, NRSC Communications Director: “Since being appointed by David Paterson, Kirsten Gillibrand has blindly rubberstamped her party bosses’ out-of-control spending and debt in Washington, and it’s clear that, just like the rest of the country, voters in New York are fed up with the Democrats’ reckless spending agenda.  So the message to voters from our candidates in New York is the same as our other Republican candidates across the country which is that ‘if you support the bailouts, support a $13 trillion debt, support government health care and support tax increases in a recession than vote for Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer. But if you believe we need to restore accountability and responsibility in Washington than vote for Joe DioGuardi and Jay Townsend.’  It’s clear this message is resonating and we intend to carry it forward in New York and around the country right up until November 2nd.”

Tags: Andrew Cuomo , Carl Paladino , Chuck Schumer , Jay Townsend , Joe DioGuardi , Kirsten Gillebrand

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