Politics ain’t beanbag, and all that.
Still, there is plenty to dismay even a practiced skeptic in the cynical attack ad being run by shadowy supporters of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and Treasurer Steve Grossman.
In the ad, paid for by a super PAC called Mass Forward, mothers whose children were killed in gun violence criticize gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Martha Coakley for failing to support a one-a-month limit on gun purchases.
It is painful to watch, and not just because of those grieving mothers holding pictures of their dead sons. It is also manipulative and so selective about Coakley’s position on guns that it’s highly misleading.
Now, it is mystifying that Coakley doesn’t support limiting gun purchases, which research shows reduces gun trafficking. “There is no good public policy reason not to limit bulk sales,” says John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence.
Yet, overall, Coakley has been stellar on gun control, scoring an F from the NRA.
But you’d never know that from this spot.
And thanks to the US Supreme Court and its Citizens United decision, we have no idea who has been pouring hundreds of thousands into this campaign on Grossman’s behalf. Mass Forward’s officers include Grossman’s friends Barry and Eleanor White. But the PAC refuses to say who is bankrolling the operation. I knocked on the Whites’ door last week, seeking more information, but no one answered. If others see them around Newton, I hope they’ll deliver this message: They’ve done a great disservice to their fellow citizens.
In an interview last week, Grossman called Citizens United “maybe one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court . . . has ever made.” Yet he refuses to disavow the ad because, he says, “it is entirely factual and accurate.”
He knows better. By taking one narrow issue and ignoring Coakley’s broader record on guns, the ad leaves the distinct impression that this white attorney general is in league with Second Amendment absolutists — and cares little for grieving black women.
A guy who means what he says about Citizens United would say: I oppose this kind of shadowy politics no matter whom it benefits. Instead, Grossman blames Coakley, for refusing to sign a People’s Pledge (Coakley’s campaign says the fault lies with him). He also calls her “hypocritical” for accepting money from groups like Emily’s List in her 2010 Senate run, as if that were somehow the same as nameless moneybag types pouring money into a race.
Neither criticism changes this fact: Grossman is the only candidate whose supporters have jumped into the super PAC mud so far.
Grossman says he has had no conversations with the Whites — who held an event for him at their home last year — about the super PAC. He adds that, because of the rule prohibiting coordination between a super PAC and a campaign, he has no idea if the funders are close friends, or even family members.
Actually, this whole episode shows how meaningless that rule is: The PAC is made up of, and almost certainly funded by, people very close to the candidate. Formal coordination might not exist, but it was hardly needed in this case. The one-gun attack is the same one Grossman has been pushing for months now.
What we have with this ad is a full-blown corruption of democracy. And we’re going to see way more of it, perhaps even from Coakley supporters, if she makes it to the general election. There are 24 super PACs registered in Massachusetts. Most state only vague purposes. Some are clearly aimed at the race for governor.
State legislation passed late Wednesday requires that super PAC donors be revealed within a week of their first expenditures. So we’ll soon know who is behind Mass Forward. That’s great news, but only to a point.
We’ll now be able to see who is stealing our democracy. But we still won’t be able to stop their doing it.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.