Forrester's riches may no longer be assetIt's nice to see a Repug squirming over this stuff for a change.
His insurance business threatens his funding and focus on Corzine.
Having fueled his unlikely political rise, the personal wealth of Douglas Forrester could now undermine his drive for the New Jersey governor's office.
The millionaire Republican's campaign was in limbo last week as he defended himself against questions over whether he violated a state law that bars the owners of insurance companies from contributing to political campaigns.
The controversy, coupled with revelations that he built his fortune largely through government contracts in New Jersey, has abruptly turned Forrester from aggressor in his race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon S. Corzine to a candidate mired in political damage control.
At every turn in recent days, Forrester's attempts to discuss policy or criticize Corzine were obscured by questions concerning the nature of his insurance business. Increasingly nervous Republicans fear those questions will be an ongoing distraction, if not a crushing blow, to his campaign.
Independent analysts also say the issue could become a major liability for the Republican.Perception equated with reality in this case.
"This has the potential of robbing him of his central campaign theme, that he is the voice of change who will take on the politics of business as usual in Trenton," said David Rebovich, who teaches political science at Rider University in Lawrenceville.
Voters, Rebovich added, "will see endless commercials about how he made his fortune off of government contracts, and the perception will be that he is something of a hypocrite."
Forrester spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester dismissed those assertions, saying people "will see through any charges as a desperate attempt by the Corzine campaign to muddy the waters.""Desperate attempt by the Corzine campaign," huh? Hey, he's leading, lady, and your guy is going to sink fast over this mess. You tell me who's "desperate".
Forrester has said legal advisers assured him that he is exempt from the New Jersey law, intended to curb the political influence of insurance companies and other regulated industries, because he licensed his company, Heartland Fidelity Insurance, in Washington, D.C.Yeah, I read about this before. The D.C. "office" is a tiny suite with 8 people in it. Your basic "front" company, actually (referred to this way again later in story); doing that is a common tactic for many business trying to get a tax break and sneak through loopholes in insurance regulations. Even though everybody does it, let's just be honest, OK?
But Forrester has acknowledged that employees who negotiate and administer the contracts work out of the New Jersey offices of his health-benefits company, BeneCard Services Inc. In addition, most of his insurance clients are in New Jersey - primarily municipalities, school boards, and other public agencies.Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!
Forrester is seeking a quick ruling from the state Department of Banking and Insurance on his assertion that Heartland is an out-of-state company, placing him outside the law that bans political contributions.Forrester also got a bunch of dough from a fundraiser attended by Karl Rove. Frank Lautenberg said Forrester should give back the money because of the Plame affair and Rove's remarks about liberals. Lautenberg is right, but good luck waiting for that to happen.
But the department responded with a request for detailed records of Forrester's businesses, a move that could deny him the "quick and definitive clean bill of health" that Rebovich said Forrester needed and instead cloud the status of his campaign spending indefinitely. And Assembly Democrats, in labeling Heartland as little more than a "front" company, said they may hold legislative hearings, which would further inflame the matter.
A worst-case scenario for Forrester would leave him unable to continue underwriting his campaign and force him to raise millions of dollars quickly, a highly improbable task less than three months before Election Day.
Forrester and the Republicans, for example, raised only $300,000 at a fund-raising event featuring Vice President Cheney last month in Princeton.
(And only a Repug or a very rich Dem would preface a figure like $300K with the word "only".)
"Game, set, match," one state Republican leader said in assessing Forrester's chances under those conditions. "It would be sheer chaos." The official, who requested anonymity, noted that any money Forrester could raise would be dwarfed by the millions to be spent by the wealthier Corzine.OK, I have to tell you that I'm not the biggest fan of Corzine either, since everyone can see what he wants to get out of this campaign (besides the governor's job). However, Corzine has been a good soldier for the DSCC, though he's a carpetbagger in his own right also (not in the same league as Forrester, though, not by a longshot).
Forrester spent $11 million in winning the GOP nomination in the spring and has been expected to spend an additional $15 million to $20 million on the fall campaign.
Election experts noted that federal courts, whatever the circumstances, are reluctant to deny a candidate's right to finance his own campaign.
More likely, they said, Forrester would be cited because of the $244,000 he has contributed to Republican candidates and organizations since he formed Heartland in 2003. Those Republicans could be forced to return the money, which would be a political embarrassment for Forrester.
At best, Forrester could continue funding his campaign - but at a great political cost. Disclosures about his business are weakening his claim that he is the reform candidate, according to Rebovich, at a time when he is scrambling to catch up in the polls.
"Even if he's found to be legally right due to a technicality, it's the kind of parsing that gets politicians in trouble with the voters," Rebovich said.
Democrats also plan to accuse Forrester of escaping some New Jersey taxes by licensing part of his business in Washington, a potentially damaging line of attack in Corzine's anticipated barrage of television commercials this fall.
The furor has all but eclipsed reports concerning Corzine's $470,000 loan to a state union leader with whom he was romantically involved. Corzine later forgave the loan to Carla Katz, president of the state chapter of the Communications Workers of America, when their relationship ended.
Those revelations disrupted Corzine's campaign for days, and Forrester had hoped to capitalize before his own business came under scrutiny.
Sylvester, speaking for Forrester, said the Corzine campaign was attacking the Republican's insurance business "to distract from Corzine's relationship with the head of the largest [employee] bargaining unit in the state."
However, here is the main point I want to make (and hence the title of the post).
Never, NEVER underestimate the ability of the Repugs to raise money. Even if Forrester loses in court and has to give up the $244K he raised through his insurance company, he will find a way to raise outside dough and make this a horse race (what do you think Scumbag Santorum is doing right now?).
I hate to point that out, but that's the depressing reality.
Update 8/19: Welcome to the Friday Fights (Forrester reeks more and more from this stuff...you have to register).