12 Aug

Congresspeople refuse to meet each other half way, or at all

Making Congress work a little better, or at least not so miserably badly, would not be that difficult. Really, we just need to change the meaning of one word.

The word is “compromise.”

Right now, to too many people in Washington, “compromise” is defined as “sell-out.” Especially among Republicans, having your name appear in the same sentence as the word “compromise” can get you denounced on talk radio, swamped by a wave of furious phone calls and possibly getting a well-financed primary opponent. With Democrats, the stakes aren’t quite so high, but willingness to make a deal with Republicans can draw a truckload of Internet outrage – even if you happen to be president.

As a result, it’s a lot easier – and politically safer – to go home and announce proudly that since you couldn’t get everything you wanted, you went to Congress and did nothing. It’s good for your career, although dramatically bad for the country.

So Congress does nothing about long-term budget problems, immigration or health care reform – and warns the president not to do anything, either.

For the next two years, we’ll have a Democratic president, a Republican House, and a closely divided Senate. Either they all accept that they won’t get everything, or once again we’ll get nothing.

NOTE: This commentary appeared on KGW-TV Saturday, 8/9/14.

08 Aug

Oregon football gets a sniff of a new funding strategy

People complain sometimes that Oregon universities lack the research and innovation firepower of some of the other Pac-12 members, or of some of the other national institutions more highly ranked among research universities. But last week the University of Oregon boldly forged ahead in an area where none of the nation’s better-funded, statistically more impressive higher-education outposts had advanced:

The scratch-and-sniff football ticket.

The loyal Duck fan can now smell like it.

In the endless drive to get fans closer to the action, the ESPN-ization of sports, there are of course certain aromas that could intensify the experience. But this isn’t a move to bring fans into the locker room; it’s boldly going where none have gone before to explore new revenue real estate – located right in the middle of fans’ faces.

In the football season beginning later this month, Oregon football tickets will have a scratch-and-sniff option sponsored by Carl’s Jr., releasing its aroma all over Autzen. Universities all over the country have sold stadium naming rights, team uniform rights, athletes’ shoe rights. But now Oregon has shrewdly sniffed the air and monetized an additional image:

Smelling rights.

The only challenge is where to put the trademark.

A recent tweet from the university’s athletic department noted that the new move was in line with previous ticket redesigns adding texture, foil and holographs. Along with sight and touch, an Oregon football ticket is now aimed at an additional sense, smell.

“We wanted to have a sense of Autzen Stadium,” explained Oregon senior associate athletic director
Craig Pintens in an interview Monday, “and we realized we didn’t have a signature smell of Autzen Stadium.”

So Oregon IMG Sports Marketing, which “offers companies quality sponsorship opportunities centered around the positive image of Duck Athletics,” contacted Carl’s Jr., an existing Duck sponsor, and asked if the fast-food operation would like to expand its sponsorship.

“Originally, we wanted different scents on the tickets,” with a different aroma for each home game, Pintens told Marissa Payne of Washingtonpost.com, “but [the manufacturers] said if we did that, it would cause all the smells to mix and be a potpourri of yuck.”

Which is the world’s least favorite soft drink flavor.

(Still, it’s hard to believe that the high-tech designers at Nike, who for 2014 have given the Ducks a range of 16 jerseys, 13 helmets and potential permutations at the calculator level, won’t soon be able to isolate a Texas BBQ Thickburger from a Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake.)

For now, tickets will carry only the aroma of fresh-baked buns, which sports marketing blogger Joe Favorito describes enthusiastically as “something which can easily be turned into a promo in and around home games for those looking for some tailgating or pre and postgame snacks.”

In fact, Favorito speculates, incorporating sample tastes can’t be far off. You could add that the chip that allows the ticket to talk to you – possibly asking if you wouldn’t like to pick up something from the Duck Shop – is easy to imagine.
Soon, humanity could face the prospect of the first football ticket directed at all five senses.

In terms of the specific aroma sponsor, you can see a bit of the spiritual connection between Oregon football and Carl’s Jr. – fast offense, fast food. But as Andrew Theen reported in The Oregonian last month, Oregon, with an average ticket price of $154, has the ninth-most expensive tickets in college football. Duck ticket buyers might perhaps expect their scratch to unleash the aura of prime rib or lobster.

Or at least Dungeness crab.

Still, that doesn’t diminish the level of Oregon’s conceptual breakthrough, bringing football promotion to an organ – the nose – not previously involved in it.

“We believe we’re the first in college football,” says Pintens. “It’s something fun and innovative, and that’s what we’re striving for at the University of Oregon.”

The idea is clearly innovative, giving the sports world a whiff of an entirely new direction in sponsorship, something sought as desperately as a creative passing game. For the past decade, the Ducks have made a major splash in the football world with their option offense; they now have the possibility of a similarly dramatic impact with another burst of imagination:

The Oregon olfactory offering.

“One of the hallmarks of the University of Oregon is, we do set trends,” notes Pintens. “I’m sure there will be all kinds of different smells in college football tickets next year.”

Just how much gratitude that will produce might be beyond anyone’s preseason forecast.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, Wednesday, 8/6/14

05 Aug

Huge outside political spending helps state economy, but not state politics

The Oregon Senate race is having some trouble making anybody’s list of this fall’s most hotly contested contests. But it’s finally making a contribution to the state’s economic development activities:

Recently, the multibillionaire Koch brothers’ political action committee, Freedom Partners, revealed a television buy of at least $3.6 million in support of GOP candidate Monica Wehby.

Normally, when an outside operation announces it’s investing that much in Oregon, it gets a nice press conference with the governor.

States are particularly welcoming when dealing with people with almost unlimited resources. The Kochs’ holdings are in the dozens of billions. Freedom Partners, a coalition of groups and people each kicking at least $100,000 to the cause, spent $256 million on politics in 2012, and the rate is rising. If they’re pleased with their U.S. Senate buy, maybe they’d consider investing in a few legislative seats.

Attracting sizable investments in local issues may not be as unlikely as it seems. In May, another Koch operation, Americans for Prosperity, spent heavily to defeat a Columbus, Ohio, zoo levy. Observers knew about their objections to Democratic senators; it wasn’t clear what they had against lemurs.

Increasingly, in states like West Virginia and Iowa and North Carolina, large outside independent spending is spilling into state judicial races, which in Oregon have been quiet, polite affairs, bringing hardly any money into the state at all.

But the recently announced Freedom Partners television buy gives Oregon a position in one of 2014’s major growth industries: independent political expenditures. We may not reach the position of states where outside TV campaign buys are becoming major part of the economy, but they show us what’s possible.

Thursday, the Federal Election Committee issued its July 31 report, showing outside Super PAC spending this year of $13,602,455 on the North Carolina Senate race; $11,642,371 on the Mississippi Senate race (all in two rounds of the Republican primary); and $10,656,197 in Kentucky. Oregon was 17th at $1,143,574 (just about all in the Republican primary) suggesting that the people running our state economic development plan really could be doing better.

And those numbers are clearly an underestimate. At the beginning of July, according to the Charlotte Observer, the North Carolina Senate candidates had already tracked more than $26 million in outside money spent on their race, including “Dark Money” groups who don’t have to list their contributors or report to the FEC. The New York Times calculated last week that compared with 2010, when North Carolina did not have a competitive Senate race, the total is literally 100 times greater.

Projecting that out through the three months remaining in the campaign, you can imagine a North Carolina Senate race that could begin to compensate for declines in the tobacco business.

Admittedly, this money – which by the end of this year is likely to come to about $2 billion – doesn’t go evenly into a state’s economy, going almost entirely to television stations. But, according to the thinking of trickle-down economics, the TV stations then spend the money on new cameras and helicopters and ties for the anchormen, and the money spreads out.

The announcement of the $3.6 million Freedom Partners buy expands the race’s impact on the Oregon economy. If the buy helps close the double-digit gap between Wehby and incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, the Senate race will bring in lots more money, including Democratic cash and probably some more Freedom Partners spending.

At that point, outside political money could actually affect the Oregon economy, although it would make watching Portland television in October kind of challenging.

There are also other drawbacks. In the first week of the Freedom Partners buy, in the second week of August, the organization will spend more than $600,000, more than either actual candidate has so far spent on television. This creates a race that runs way beyond the control of the people running for the job.

“It makes it harder for the campaign to control the message,” Will Feltus, a Republican media buyer, told the Times. “Somebody else can set the message agenda for the campaign.”

It’s also a particular kind of message, since the outside expenditure ads are overwhelmingly negative.

If a candidate wants to be heard in his or her own campaign, it takes a lot more time raising money, meaning less time talking to voters.

The Supreme Court insists that political spending can’t be regulated, because money is speech. But actually, political money can drown out political speech.

Even if it’s invested in the state economy.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian Sunday, 8/3/14.

04 Aug

Putting the political debate up for sale

The Supreme Court says government can’t regulate campaign spending because, “Money is speech.”

And with every election, it gets louder.

Last month, we discovered that the multibillionaire Koch brothers’ political action committee, Freedom Partners, will spend at least $3.6 million in support of Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby. It’s not clear that the money will be effective, but the Koch brothers don’t have to worry; Freedom Partners spent $236 million leading up to the 2012 election. They have essentially unlimited political money.

Meaning unlimited speech.

In the first week of the Koch buy, in August, Freedom Partners will run more than $600,000 in TV ads – more than either Oregon candidate has so far spent on television. That’s one of the problems in giving money unlimited speech – it tends to drown out the people actually running.

And Oregon’s not even considered a highly contested race. At the start of July, with four months to go, the North Carolina Senate race had already seen $25 million in outside spending.

Just about all independent spending has the same message; the other candidate is a jerk. If an actual candidate has a different message, he’s going to have to shout.

The Supreme Court says money is political speech.

Actually, money replaces political speech.

NOTE: This commentary appeared on KGW-TV Saturday, 8/2/14.