Archive for the ‘MI-7’ Category

Campaign finance for charlatans

December 15, 2007

It�s the clash of Congressman Club for Growth vs. Senator Slush Fund.

Forgive me for not being all aquiver.

Evidently, the 7th Congressional District has very bad karma, because so far, U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, and state Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Bedford Township, seem sure to face off next year.

And neither has the vision, experience or ethics to do the job at a time when the depressed district needs genuine leadership.

Walberg, as you�ll recall, sweet-talked the cabalistic Club for Growth lobby into shoveling more than $1 million into his 2006 campaign. How else could a Know Nothing state rep whose only accomplishment was voting no on everything topple a tough incumbent in the primary?

Timmy even needed bags of cash from the Club when squaring off in the general election against Sharon Renier, a chicken farmer with $1.03 in the bank.

Well, lots of politicians get creative to raise dough, but the preacher and his anti-tax CFG partners in crime might well have run afoul of the law.

Three complaints (now rolled into two) filed in 2006 with the Federal Election Commission claim Walberg illegally took $500,000 of Club-raised cash, the group failed to properly register its activities as a political action committee and both were in cahoots (no!), illegally sharing pollsters and consultants.

The lovefest�s lasted after the election, with Walberg and the missus in April enjoying a $3,332 Club for Growth junket to the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach and a cruise on a 170-foot yacht, CQ MoneyLine reports.

Because when you�re chit-chatting about cutting government to the bone, you gotta do it in the lap of luxury.

The FEC dismissed the grievances, but they’re being appealed. Walbots deny the allegations, sniffing it�s a sour-grapes plot by his foe, former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz.

What�s clear is CFG ain�t exactly the Boy Scouts. In September, the lobby agreed to pay $350,000 in civil penalties to settle a lawsuit the FEC itself filed in 2005, arguing the group should have registered as a PAC in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

As for Walberg�s character, there�s something vile about an alleged man of God rapturously crucifying his enemies, from the �embarrassingly liberal� Schwarz to the �radical� Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Schauer, beatified by the left, often gets a pass.

But in his quest to take back the Senate last year � which failed wretchedly � Gov. Jennifer Granholm�s lapdog dove headfirst into campaign finance quicksand.

Schauer served as chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, while his bombastic chief of staff, Ken Brock, took over as treasurer of the Senate Democratic Fund.

The fund raked in $440,000 above the legal limit of $20,000 per person � which the Dems don�t deny. Twelve senatorial candidate committees violated that, with Schauer as the worst offender at $187,000.

The moolah was instantly pumped into the campaigns of four key candidates, three of whom were trounced anyway.

For state races, this is a staggering chunk of change. The grievance is pretty cut and dried. When seven candidates got wind of the GOP�s Secretary of State complaint, they ostensibly demanded a refund. Marky-Mark did not.

A Schauer spokesman protests Republicans have done this before, so somehow it�s a-OK. Tom Lenard cites a 1995 SOS ruling that candidates can give till it hurts if they’re trying to advance their career. Problem is, the department, which is still investigating, notes that came before the $20,000 cap was set in 1996.

Democrats also argue a federal judge didn�t grant an injunction against the fund last year – but he didn�t buy the old SOS ruling, either.

Schauer�s not exactly a model of moral turpitude, having brazenly lied to his caucus to win the top post – and candidates he recruited for the 7th District – that he wouldn�t run himself. His slick Calhoun County machine reminds me of journalist Pete Hamill�s acerbic assessment of the New York Democratic Party as �young hustlers with blue hair, trying to get their hands on highway contracts.�

Both candidates play the part of the principled politician to the hilt � Walberg as the �ber-conservative, anti-abortion warrior and Schauer as the bright-eyed, progressive reformer. In reality, modest Mark takes his marching orders from the governor and reverend�s soul is the property of Club for Growth.

But wait, some of my liberal friends will yelp. You can�t be saying Schauer would be as bad as the anti-Christ.

Well, no, I reckon my 3-year-old godson could do the job just as well (he�s superb at following orders). Policy-wise, Schauer would be a step up if he could manage to pen press releases without lying about snaring money for the Battle Creek Airport that he voted against.

What I find revolting is that both swim the sewage of politics and don�t retch � they actually seem to feed off the stench.

It�s still early enough for other candidates to jump in. Lord knows, we deserve better.

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Schauer should sit this one out

August 18, 2007

Mark Schauer has rolled up his blue Oxford sleeves, ready to tackle Michigan’s paralyzing budget deficit.

He says Democrats are serious about solving the $1.8 billion crunch � unlike Republicans who keep reneging on solutions, like Lucy yanking the football away from poor ole Charlie Brown.

Oh, and he’s likely taking a stab at Congress. Not that raising $3 million to unseat an incumbent legislator will distract Schauer from his job as No. 2 in the state Senate.

Yes, everyone was shocked, shocked this month to learn Mr. Schauer wants to go to Washington. Ever since former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz fell to Tim Walberg in last summer’s bloody GOP primary, Dems have sounded an anguished cry: “If only Mark had run.”

Maybe that’s why his political machine didn’t do battle for Sharon Renier, the ne’er-do-well turkey farmer who last fall came within four points of beating Walberg anyway.

Schauer is now the Fred Thompson of the 7th District, undeclared but almost a lock to jump in. He’s got star power in a crowded field.

On paper, the Bedford Township senator is everything the Democrats would want: smart, attractive, experienced, hardworking and well-connected.

But here’s the problem.Michigan is facing its worst crisis in history, between the hemorrhaging auto industry, embarrassingly low college-graduation rates and a state government that lacks the dough to keep the lights on.

Schauer can’t possibly accomplish more for the state as a freshman congressman � one out of 435 � than as minority leader of Michigan’s upper chamber. He’s Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s go-to guy and the Dems’ strongest voice on budget matters.

Leaders don’t quit when the going gets tough. And make no doubt about it: Schauer will depart the Senate in spirit long before the 2008 election.

Running against Walberg and his unlimited Club for Growth war chest is more than a full-time job.

Right now, Schauer’s constituents need him in Lansing.Most disappointingly, the senator seems fixated on strategy, not issues. In an interview this week from Israel, Schauer ticked off the economy, Iraq war and health care as major campaign issues.

He spent some time blasting Walberg for voting no on the minimum-wage hike and claiming credit for W.K. Kellogg Airport funding he voted against.

But Schauer’s main argument was that he’s the most electable candidate � everyone has told him so. There was no vision, no real fire for working for Michigan.

It wasn’t the earnest voice of the small-town guy with that Ned Flanders mustache, who had run the Community Action Agency and upstart races for City Commission, state House and Senate because he wanted to serve.

It sounded like he’d swallowed the pill of politics as usual, fed by overweening advisers.

In the rush to defeat an ethically challenged congressman, politicians can’t abandon their own principles.

It’s fair to judge Walberg on how he’s slickly dispatched his enemies, like Schwarz and former state Sen. Jim Berryman.

But it’s also fair to judge Schauer on how he has treated both men, his friends during the past two decades.

When Berryman declared his candidacy in the 7th, Schauer was right behind him, swearing he’d never run himself. But he and his advisers abruptly decided Berryman didn’t collect enough cash and figured Schauer could do better.

Schwarz has mulled a run � possibly as a Democrat � and polling shows he’d beat Walberg by three points. He’s told Schauer he can’t run for office until he wraps up chairing a nonpartisan, state health care commission this fall, but his old chum says Schwarz has missed the boat.

Though he vowed he’d never run against Schwarz, Schauer said he’s now prepared to do just that.

The political game, as it’s played today, dictates Schwarz and Berryman bow out if Schauer gets in. That’s exactly what the senator’s advisers are smugly counting on.

But even if Mark Schauer now believes the politics-as-usual mantra, his friends don’t.Both are fighters. Berryman once debated Walberg 27 times in a state House race. Schwarz signed up for a stint in Vietnam and went back for more in the CIA.

If they think running for Congress is the right thing, they’ll do it.

The only thing Schauer can count on is the 7th District race will be an interesting one. And it just may make him long for the tranquility of jousting with the GOP in Lansing.

Walberg is no friend of free press

June 29, 2007

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg doesn’t like me and I don’t give a damn.

Neither should you.

Journalists and politicians often enjoy a testy, if not combative relationship; that’s nothing new.

They’re in the business of making themselves look good, raising cash and getting re-elected.The press is in the business of reporting the truth about officials’ voting records, platforms, finances and campaign ads.

Naturally, these goals often clash. As a result, Walberg and his staff refuse to answer my questions, provide information on his votes and inform me of his public events.

As an editor, I can’t even assign a reporter to cover something as simple as the Tipton Republican’s earmarks in the federal budget – as was the case last week – because I’m not privy to his press releases.

In short, I can’t do my job to inform the public – and you lose.

What you should care about is that the congressman doesn’t much care for you, either, because he is actively squelching your right to know.

Even more troubling is his hypocrisy. In a flowery, self-congratulatory column in last Friday’s Detroit Free Press, Walberg metamorphosed into the media’s biggest champion, sounding his support for the Free Flow of Information Act. It’s a federal shield bill for journalists, protecting us from prosecution if we won’t reveal a confidential source’s name.

But who will protect the press from Tim Walberg?

“Government waste, fraud and abuse are breaches of public trust, and we must not punish reporters who bring such indiscretions to light through confidential sources,” he writes.

Amen. And that’s exactly what I did when I incensed Walberg by investigating Federal Election Commission complaints against him (same as I did for those against his rival, former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, R-Battle Creek.)

That’s what I did when I broke the story that Walberg refused to fire his campaign aide, Daniel A. Coons, even after finding out he pleaded guilty to abusing his foster son. That’s what I did in reporting Walberg’s goal to stockpile enough funds so Schwarz wouldn’t take him on in 2008.

The difference is, I never used anonymous sources. The Enquirer has a practice against that. I used court documents, affidavits, FEC records and in-depth, on-the-record interviews.

The proof was there in black and white. But Walberg decided he didn’t like the truth, so he took his toys and went home.

When Walberg does deign to answer media requests, his idea of openness and accountability is to have his press secretary, Matt Lahr, e-mail Orwellian, canned responses that never answer the question.

Example: “What does Rep. Walberg think of being challenged by (Scio Township Democrat) David Nacht?”

Answer: “The congressman is focused on tax relief, Great Lakes restoration and education reform.”

Walberg has an obligation to communicate with you, his constituents, and the best way to reach the most people is through the media. But apparently, he believes that communication only has to flow one way.

When I asked about the public’s right to know in my final conversation with Lahr, he chillingly replied: “The congressman’s concern is getting out his message.”

To do so, Walberg has to hope for a complacent, overworked media that will regurgitate his press releases and won’t check his facts, question his rhetoric and examine his performance. Sorry, sir, you won’t find any journalists like that at our paper.

He knows that, which is why he and his aides start singing the tired song that the liberal media is out to get him. Yes, people of all political persuasions pile on the press, but it’s also true that the shrillest voices in the last decades have come from the far right.

It’s a surefire way for pols to play to the base – which is how Walberg squeaked into his seat in the first place. And it’s something journalists often shy away from saying, lest we prompt conservatives to belt out another chorus against us.

Well, bring it on.

With all the time Walberg spends stonewalling the press, you have to wonder what he’s doing to earn $165,200 of your money each year and why he’s so tight-lipped about it.

But we journalists will keep asking questions, because we owe it to you, the public. As your employee, Rep. Walberg owes you answers.

Which is something he might want to consider, since he’s up for a big job evaluation next fall.

Walberg: Another conservative bites the dust

June 9, 2007

Tim Walberg is a liberal.

It is with heavy heart that I write these words about our congressman because I never thought I would.

When the good reverend rode into the Capitol on his Harley-Davidson Road King, he vowed to stop the pervasive problems of gays getting hitched every five seconds, guns being ripped from the hands of law-abiding toddlers and abortions being performed at the rate that McDonald’s sells Big Macs.

That’s why he had to oust that big lib Joe Schwarz, who was masquerading as a Republican, but as all true patriots know, secretly carries the title of general secretary of the Communist Party USA.

But alas, it seems the Washington ethos has corrupted the man who seemed incorruptible, the Rev. Walberg.

And what’s worse, he and his supporters are trumpeting his tarnished values on his Web site, press releases and blogs.

Consider Walberg’s:

� Newfound quest to clean up pollution in the Great Lakes. Lest we forget Rush Limbaugh’s take on environmentalists as watermelons: green on the outside, red on the inside.

� Honoring of a British abolitionist for Black History Month. Next thing you know, he’ll back down from his noble comments comparing wartorn Baghdad to the crime in black-dominated cities like Detroit.

� Support of Liberian refugees coming to America. Did his backing from the virulently anti-immigrant Minutemen last year mean nothing?

� Attacks on George W. Bush’s pride and joy, No Child Left Behind. You’re either with our president or against him, Tim.

� Vote to dismantle the domestic spying program. There’s dancing in the Arab Street, for the terrorists have won.

What happened to the important issues of his campaign? Walberg knew creating jobs in a depressed Michigan economy wasn’t where it was at. In debates last fall, he said Congress shouldn’t give Michigan a hand. And he paid no heed to his struggling constituents, scoffing at the idea of upping the minimum wage.

“Fifty dollars an hour? A hundred dollars? Why stop there?” Walberg sputtered in righteous indignation. Back then, he knew the idea of compassionate conservatism was bunk.

He knew that guns, gays and abortion are the fundamental issues of our time and talked of little else on the stump. So where is this kinder, gentler Tim coming from? Is this the little boy who dreamed of being a forest ranger while frolicking in the wooded acres of Chicago’s south side, as he recently told a beltway reporter?

Sir, I know you grew up in the ’60s. But it’s time to put that hippie persona to rest. We elected you to round up immigrants in a rickety pickup and ship ’em back. We sent you to Washington to pass a whopping 23 percent sales tax on consumers in your “fair tax” plan. We voted for you to kill the Department of Education because, as you said, a nation of 300 million people does not need a federal system.

Perhaps it’s time for a true Republican to stand up against this turncoat in next year’s primary, finally reclaiming the 7th District for family values. I know it breaks Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment � “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican” � but Walberg already hurled that imperative out the window in 2006 with his ad assassination of Schwarz.

No, I won’t be launching timwalbergisaliberal.com. I’ll leave that to the multi-millionaire cabal known as Club for Growth, which poured almost $1 million into Walberg’s last campaign, even as it was being investigated by the feds for doing so. A principled conservative lobby, I know its officials will rat out a Red when they see one � just like they did with Schwarz.

I had hoped Walberg’s aide who still hosts a local, right-wing radio show would have been horrified by the betrayal and outed him by now, but perhaps Chris Simmons’ sweet federal paycheck is prompting him to keep his silence.

Why has thou forsaken us, Rep. Walberg?

A cynic would say you’re terrified of the next election since the Democrats have taken back Congress, topped the polls and vocally targeted your seat.

A cynic would note you still preach traditional social issues to evangelical churches and conservative groups, but you turn on the limp-wristed, lefty charm when appealing to the more than 50 percent who didn’t vote for you last year.

But I have faith in you, reverend. I know that though you’ve lost your way in the cesspool that is our Capitol, you’ll return to the warm embrace of the conservative clan before the 2008 election.
You’re going to need buckets of cash to survive this skirmish, after all. And they’re the only ones who are going to fill your collection plate.

Accurate reporting miffs Walberg, staff

April 21, 2007

Truth is, I was dying to read about U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg’s Black History Month legislation, even though the press release didn’t arrive until March.

But alas, I’ve now been stripped of the privilege of at least 23 Walberg e-mails clogging my inbox each day. That means, loyal Enquirer readers, that I may not be able to apprise you of the Tipton Republican’s valiant scraps to lower taxes, protect traditional marriage and restore the Great Lakes.

It seems a recent story hit a nerve. Not when I quoted Walberg insisting Iraq is just as safe as the body armor-free streets of Detroit. That was kosher.

This was the remark by Walberg that his handlers didn’t want you to read:”Our goal is to make a real strong (financial) showing in the first quarter, so people like Joe Schwarz back off.”

Well, he didn’t. And the specter of Schwarz, whom the conservative preacher edged out in the 2006 GOP primary, still seems to be breathing down his neck.

Schwarz, 69, has returned to his surgical practice and is playing coy, saying he’ll decide this summer whether to take another stab at Congress. The Battle Creek native has been busy with stuff like investigating the Walter Reed Army Medical Center as a member of the blue-ribbon Pentagon panel.

But he clearly remains the No. 1 threat to Walberg’s job security.

My punishment from Fort Walberg was swift and severe.”I took you off the (media) list,” his spokesman, Matt Lahr, informed me this month, “because the congressman has decided he will no longer talk to you.”

That hurt. Congress’ 423rd most powerful member and I have been through a lot together since last year’s venomous, cash-chucking race. Walberg even posted some of my stories on his campaign Web site, which was even better than seeing them hang on my mom’s fridge.

Once, a grandmotherly supporter mistook me for the 56-year-old’s trophy wife. Good times.

But I soon dabbed my eyes with extra-absorbent Puffs Plus. This isn’t the first time Walberg’s posse has tried these ham-handed tactics with reporters.

It’s not personal. It’s just a bad public relations move, typical of a staff composed of 20-something “Jesus Camp” counselors who almost managed to lose the general election to Sharon Renier, a chicken farmer with $1.03 in the bank.

They’re not ready for primetime.

“So what about the public’s right to know?” I asked the Walbot.

Replied Lahr: “The congressman’s concern is getting out his message.”

Take that, voters. Walberg will tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it and who can tell you.

It’s little wonder the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made him one of its top targets for 2008. Conventional wisdom says a Republican can’t go down in the 7th District.

But evidently, Walberg’s lackluster, less than 50 percent showing in November � losing Calhoun, Eaton and Washtenaw counties by clear margins � has inspired the Dems to take a real crack at the seat for the first time in decades.

You’d think the former Moody Bible fundraiser would spend a lot of time mending fences in the areas he lost � say, Battle Creek. But he’s mostly hung with his Bible-belt brethren down in Lenawee and Hillsdale counties.

Who knows what Walberg’s strategy is, especially when he’s still spitting out troubling racial remarks about Detroit even after he garnered ridicule ’round the globe.”

I think Lenawee County got (the meaning),” he sniffed at a recent Adrian town hall meeting.

Guess we folks in Calhoun County just aren’t in the loop. Maybe the strategy is just to ignore us in hopes we’ll go away.

How he did it

August 15, 2006

By Susan J. Demas
Jackson Citizen Patriot

Tim Walberg warms up a Jackson crowd like the folksy preacher he is, working the microphone like it’s an extension of himself.

Sporting a William H. Macy hangdog look, he revels in spinning his story. There’s Sue, his wife of 32 years, his blue-collar upbringing on the mean streets near Chicago and the values of his industrious immigrant grandparents.

“From SVEE-den,” he tells a group at Gilbert’s Steak House, with perfect Scandinavian pitch.
It’s all about the personal touch.

Walberg, 55, has pressed enough flesh, dialed enough phones and kissed enough babies throughout the 7th District to deserve an elbow brace after his decisive win Tuesday over U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz in the GOP primary.

“It’s all been worth it,” the former state lawmaker said this week, a sated smile spread across his face.

He is a consummate campaigner. That helped put him over the top, experts say. “Walberg enjoys campaigning,” said Craig Ruff, senior fellow with Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants. “One never gets the sense that Joe Schwarz does. He enjoys governing.”

Ed Sarpolus, pollster for EPIC/MRA, said Schwarz deserves the blame for not running an effective grassroots campaign, a la Walberg.

“(Schwarz) was not visible in the district. He wasn’t everywhere he should be,” Sarpolus said. “Tim Walberg was.”

Now Walberg’s name is known nationwide. Analysts hail the defeats of Schwarz, R-Battle Creek, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., as the death knell for moderates in both parties.
“This was a statement race,” agreed Walberg campaign chief Joe Wicks. “I think it does raise Tim’s profile in Washington.”

In the GOP-stronghold district, the smart money in November is on Walberg against Democrat Sharon Renier, a Munith organic farmer.

Money and morals

Campaigning counts, but other reasons abound for the Tipton pastor’s Republican primary rout. Analysts sum it up in five words:

Money. Abortion. Gays. The base.

Clocking in at more than $3 million, the race smashed campaign spending records for a Michigan congressional primary.

The biggest player was Club for Growth, a Washington-based lobby pushing for a flat sales tax and privatizing Social Security.

The conservative group pumped more than $1 million into Walberg’s victory — its biggest advertising investment this year.

Many of the district’s almost 500,000 voters wouldn’t have known Walberg’s face otherwise.
“This seat was bought and paid for by out-of-state money,” said Matt Marsden, Schwarz’s chief of staff.

“There’s an element to that,” said Rich Robinson, Michigan Campaign Finance Network executive director. “But I have to believe the voters picked who they’re most comfortable with.”

Club for Growth has racked up a 9-2 record this election cycle.

Executive Director David Keating says the nonprofit group is just good at getting the message out, noting Schwarz outspent Walberg 2 to 1.

“It would be nice if we could buy a seat,” Keating said. “But it’s impossible, of course.” What Walberg’s marketing machine did do was whip up the Christian-conservative base.
Since November, he has beaten the drum on hot-button social issues.

“I am 100 percent pro-life,” Walberg has told crowds from Coldwater to Columbia Township. “I believe in traditional marriage: one man, one woman.”

The base responded — and how. Walberg trounced Schwarz 2 to 1 in Hillsdale and Lenawee counties.

That proved insurmountable for the incumbent when only 17 percent of voters turned out. When Schwarz went on TV to concede the race, his voice was drowned out at Walberg’s victory bash at Daryl’s Downtown.

Shouted supporters: “Praise the Lord!”

Political priorities

Walberg has done this before.

Almost a quarter-century ago, the then-31-year-old minister knocked off moderate James Hadden, R-Adrian, in the 1982 state House primary. Walberg went on to serve 16 years in Lansing.

“My opponent was the odds-on favorite with the backing of Gov. (William) Milliken and the party leadership,” Walberg recalled.

Ken Brock went toe-to-toe with Walberg while working on the campaign of his 1988 foe, former state Sen. Jim Berryman, D-Adrian.

“Tim doesn’t pull any punches. He’s willing to fight it out and doesn’t hesitate to go negative,” said Brock, now chief of staff for state Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek. “But he seems like a nice guy you wouldn’t mind having a burger with.”

If he heads to Washington, Walberg said he’ll have a laser-like focus on slashing spending and taxes. That’s how he’ll help spur job growth in Michigan and across the country, Wicks said. His boss’ dream job is on the Ways and Means Committee.

Not everyone is convinced Walberg will deliver for the district as a tight-fisted conservative in the mold of former U.S. Rep. Nick Smith, R-Addison.

“I think the people in the district lost,” said former state Rep. Clark Bisbee, R-Jackson, who ran against Schwarz and Walberg in 2004. He backed Schwarz this year.

“You have someone who all they care about is balancing the budget, even if the district goes to hell.”

Walberg demurs when asked how long he’d like to spend in Washington if elected, vowing to “serve as long as there’s fire in my belly.”

But he does plan to take time outside the Beltway, tooling around on a new motorcycle.
So, is that a metaphor for Walberg’s ideology?

He laughs softly: “I guess it is.”

A battle of a lifetime

August 7, 2006

By Susan J. Demas
Jackson Citizen Patriot

Church bells clanged in Battle Creek, trumpeting the turning point in America�s triumph over Hitler in World War II.

D-Day, June 6, 1944.

First grade teacher Roma Cook sat sobbing at her desk. That�s a sight one student never forgot as he stitched up soldiers in the lonely thrush of Vietnam and thwarted a communist coup in Indonesia in the 1960s.

�All the traffic stopped,� the now 68-year-old U.S. congressman recalled. �Miss Cook was crying her eyes out � she must have had hundreds of students serving in the war at the time.

�We still talk about it.�

He was 6 then. His name is Joe Schwarz.

Tim Walberg wasn�t even a glint in his steelworker father�s eye back then.

But 13 years later in 1957, the future Michigan lawmaker had an epiphany of his own, squirming in the pine pews of the First Baptist Church outside Chicago.

The Rev. Loren Anderson took to the pulpit, cracked the bible and unexpectedly opened his young parishioner�s eyes.

�He said, �There are no grandchildren in heaven�,� recalled Walberg, now 55 and living in Tipton. �Just because you�re from a Christian family, it�s not good enough.

�At that point I knew I couldn�t barter with God and had to take the chance of salvation that Christ gives.�

That day, his future as a passionate preacher, anti-abortion activist and evangelical fundraiser was sealed.

Walberg became a born-again Christian. He was 6.

The battleground

Flash forward to the heat-soaked days of August 2006.

Armed with his pedigree as a surgeon, state senator and CIA spy, the centrist Schwarz is wrapping up what is by most accounts a successful stint as a freshman congressman.

Walberg – a religious right icon with a reputation for never having met a tax cut he didn�t like as a legislator – is hurdling back into the political fray.

The two men, whose paths seemingly would never have crossed, are locked in a fiery clash for their political lives in the 7th Congressional District GOP primary Tuesday.

But it�s bigger than that. It�s bigger than Michigan.

Short of Sen. Joe Lieberman�s fight in the Connecticut Democratic primary, analysts are calling the $3 million race the most critical in the country.

Even President Bush is watching this one, having given his blessing to Schwarz.

�It�s a battle for the heart and soul of what a Republican looks like in this district and in the nation,� said Jeff Williams, vice president of Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants.

Right now Schwarz is public enemy No. 1 for one band of right-wingers. Pat Toomey, president of the free-market lobby Club for Growth, said they�re hunting the rookie lawmaker this election season because he�s a RINO � Republican in Name Only.

The Washington-based group, which the Federal Election Commission is suing, has pumped more than $1 million into Walberg�s mission by bundling cash and airing ads lambasting Schwarz as �outrageously liberal.�

In turn, Schwarz has brandished the big guns of the GOP, hyping his endorsements by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Michigan Gov. John Engler and House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

It�s all made the race too close to call.

In the seven-county district of about 650,000 people, rural Branch, Hillsdale and Lenawee are likely to fall for Walberg. Eaton, Calhoun and Washtenaw are considered Schwarz strongholds.

That leaves Jackson County, which cast one-quarter of the ballots in the 2004 primary. The party leadership remains split.

�Jackson is the heart of the matter,� said Bill Ballenger, editor of �Inside Michigan Politics.�

Quiet confidence

Walberg looks every inch a preacher, from his rod-straight hair glowing with gray to his polished loafers and immaculate navy suits.

But behind the pastoral exterior lies a motorcycle fiend who tools around on his 2002 Harley-Davidson Road King, professing to be like �Elmer Gantry. I like exciting things.�

Walberg pauses, stressing he�s not lusty or corrupt like the fictional reverend � just a fierce competitor.

He�s been waiting for this race. Praying for it. Starting on Aug. 3, 2004, when Schwarz beat Walberg and four other conservative contenders in the primary to replace U.S. Rep. Nick Smith, R-Addison.

Proud of his nickname of �Mr. Congeniality� in a16-year run in the statehouse, Walberg was the only candidate who refused to endorse Schwarz last time. He said it was a matter of conscience; he couldn�t boost an abortion rights nominee who stood against a federal amendment banning gay marriage.

�It�s about the issues,� Walberg said. �And Joe Schwarz is a liberal.�

That�s won over voters like Sue Hudson, 53, who said gay marriage and abortion are the lynchpin of the campaign.

�Some issues are non-negotiable with me,� said Hudson, a school paraprofessional from Coldwater. �You could always count on the Republican Party to stand strong, but Schwarz sold us out.�

Walberg harkens back to his college days at Chicago�s Moody Bible Institute, a traditional island in a sea of sex, drugs and rock �n roll. The violent protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention made him cringe since he championed the Vietnam War, though he obtained a student deferment in 1970 and never served.

�There was chaos everywhere,� Walberg recalled.

That all changed in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, the man Walberg modeled his political career after. He�s fond of quoting the former president, who was actually quoting Winston Churchill:

�Some men change principle for party. And some men change party for principle.�

While red-meat social issues fire up the base, Walberg said smaller government is his �No. 1 priority.� He wants to make Bush�s tax cuts permanent, repeal the prescription drug benefit Medicare Part D and replace income taxes with a national sales levy of 23 percent.

Walberg has raised about $650,000 – impressive for a challenger, but still less than half of Schwarz�s war chest.

Still, the pastor says he�s �very confident� he�ll avenge his defeat two years ago. What he won�t say is whether he�ll back Schwarz if he falls short again.

Bristled Walberg: �The key question here is, �Will Joe Schwarz support me in the general election�?�

Venerable veteran

Schwarz was soaring in Blackhawk helicopter over Fallujah in April, face-to-face with the man whose life he tried to save five decades earlier.

That was back when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, and Schwarz was a young CIA spy sent to bust him out. The mission failed, but the two veterans struck up a deep friendship years later.

After checking in with U.S. troops fighting in Hilla and Ramadi, the pair dined with King Abdullah in Jordan to plot long-term Middle East policy.

Schwarz saw his national profile rocket after maneuvering McCain�s stunning upset over Bush in the 2000 Michigan presidential primary.

�We didn�t do too bad,� Schwarz said, grinning.

That helped spur the native Michigander�s own maverick run for Congress in 2004. Then and now, Schwarz has won a big boost from McCain hitting the stump for him.

The $1.5 million clogging his campaign coffers- mostly from political action committees � also has helped his cause.

With his professorial bifocals and plainspoken pitch, Schwarz is a man as comfortable quoting Rudyard Kipling as he is rooting in the bleachers for his beloved University of Michigan football team.

�Go Blue,� he�s known to chortle to kids on the campaign trail donning a U-M shirt.

Like McCain, the doc says exactly what�s on his mind. The health care system? �Broken.� North Korea dictator Kim Jong-Il? �A whack job.� Abortion? �Not an issue.�

Calling himself a �classic conservative,� Schwarz supports the president�s tax cuts, tougher immigration measures and wiping out the estate tax.

Yet Schwarz contends Walberg has turned the race into a sideshow of �God, guns and gays.� The congressman points out he is a Roman Catholic personally opposed to abortion, has the National Rifle Association�s endorsement and voted as a state senator to ban gay marriage.

He hammers at campaign themes of creating jobs, bolstering national security and cutting health care costs. That�s struck a chord with voters like Roger Warren, 66.

�Joe knows about national security and border security, having served himself,� said the Vandercook Lake retiree. �He doesn�t put all his eggs in one basket like Walberg.�

Ballenger and other pundits say the incumbent should have scored easy political points by veering right on social issues. But Schwarz said that�s not his style. This is:

�Make up your mind, listen to your conscience, use your experience and never pander.�

Day of reckoning

What will the GOP look like Wednesday? Will it hit the note of �one big tent� as in the 1990s? Or will it swerve further rightward?

That�s the bigger question for voters than simply punching the ballot for either Schwarz or Walberg.

That�s not good news for Saul Anuzis, state Republican chairman, who doesn�t want to see his party deeply divided before red-hot governor and U.S. Senate races this fall.

�It�s not a good use of our resources and efforts to go against another good Republican,� said Anuzis, who endorsed Schwarz despite ideological differences.

Schwarz takes the broad view that the GOP will persevere � and so will he. He notes the party survived severe growing pains post-Civil War and in the 1960s.

Not surprising for a man who still talks of D-Day, whose prize possession is a signed set of Samuel E. Morison�s 15-volume �History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.�

�I am a gentleman of a certain age. Age is all about perspective,� Schwarz said. �It�s the difference of practical experience over ideology. Which is what this campaign is about in many ways, isn�t it?�

For Walberg, the race is a crusade for what the GOP stands for. He�s as sure of this as he was when he took Christ into his heart at a Chicago church almost a half-century ago.

In the final days, he whispers to himself the words that guide his campaign, Acts 20:24:

�But these things don’t count; nor do I hold my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to fully testify to the Good News of the grace of God.�

Follow the money: GOP primary a battle of fundraising

July 24, 2006

By Susan J. Demas
Jackson Citizen Patriot

Barry Fry has never shaken hands with Tim Walberg and can’t punch a ballot for him.

But the retired businessman from New Jersey didn’t hesitate to scribble $513 in checks to the Tipton Republican, who has banked about $600,000 in his quest to unseat U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, R-Battle Creek.

Why?

“(Walberg is) endorsed by the Club for Growth,” explained Fry, 63, referring to the political group that advocates lower taxes, expansion of free trade and other conservative positions. “He’s going to Washington, and what he does has an awful lot of impact on all of us.”

The 7th District GOP primary on Aug. 8 has vaulted into the national spotlight, pitting a moderate freshman congressman endorsed by President Bush against a conservative pastor.

The Washington-based Club for Growth has bundled more than $400,000 in donations to Walberg, a former state lawmaker who touts he has never voted for a tax hike.

Schwarz isn’t hurting for money, either. Almost 60 percent of the lawmaker’s $1.25 million is from political action committees, with GOP leadership and health professionals topping the list.

“Rep. Schwarz is a valued member of the Republican Congress and we support him fully,” said Brunson Taylor, spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Roy Blunt’s Rely on Your Beliefs PAC, which donated $9,999.

But Schwarz isn’t taking any chances. He has also tapped U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who have hit the campaign trail trumpeting Schwarz’s pedigree as a physician, Vietnam veteran and former CIA operative.

Power of the people?

Walberg has money. Schwarz has even more — and plenty of political muscle, too.
So where does that leave the voters of the 7th District?

Out of the loop and out of luck, says Rich Robinson, executive director for the Lansing-based Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“You have people contributing to someone they couldn’t pick out of a police lineup,” Robinson said. “That has a way of taking away the power of the local constituency.
“It’s hard to square that with democracy.”

Seat for sale?

Walberg has managed the rare feat of mounting a serious challenge to a well-known incumbent, thanks to an aggressive fundraising effort.

That’s where Club for Growth’s national network of 36,000 members kicks in. Since 1999, they have funneled tens of millions of dollars to pro-business candidates, including U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Brad Smith in the 2004 7th District GOP primary.

“If I go to Congress and lower taxes, reduce pork-barrel spending and kill the tax codes of the IRS,” Walberg said, “you can say, ‘Yep, I’m bought and paid for by them.’ “

JoeSchwarzIsALiberal.com also is Club for Growth’s brainchild, as is a corresponding TV ad campaign that’s dominated the airwaves for several months.

“They’re a big player,” said Albert May, George Washington University communications professor and campaign finance expert. “They’re a very aggressive organization in the use of the 527 (tax-exemption) vehicle.”

That’s landed the group in hot water. The Federal Election Commission sued Club for Growth last year for not registering as a political committee and is awaiting a judge’s ruling.

Schwarz’s team filed an FEC complaint Thursday, claiming Walberg’s campaign broke the law by hiring a Club-for-Growth pollster.

The incumbent also contends Walberg’s campaign finance reports filed last week are missing $100,000 in expenses. Walberg’s campaign manager, Joe Wicks, said staff will submit a new report including items accidentally omitted.

Homegrown support

Schwarz has a not-so-secret weapon come Election Day, his spokesman says.

Three-quarters of Walberg’s war chest is filled from out-of-state donors — compared to 13 percent of Schwarz’s funds.

“Ours come from the people of Michigan,” said Schwarz press secretary John Truscott. “They’re the people who know him best, who live in the neighborhoods and who he constantly tries to help.”

Schwarz’s financial power base comes from Battle Creek, Ann Arbor and Marshall. Walberg’s top three donor areas are Adrian; Naples, Fla.; and Pittsburgh.

The challenger fires back that Schwarz’s numbers are puffed up by in-state PACs, making him beholden to special interests such as unions. Two percent of Walberg’s funds come from PACs.

Americans for a Republican Majority, former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay’s PAC shut down this month by the FEC, shelled out $10,000 to Schwarz.

The congressman’s camp dismissed criticism.

“Joe Schwarz does what he thinks is right for the people of the district,” Truscott said. “People know that.”

Both candidates agree that spending has spun out of control. Yet both keep squeezing donors for more cash during the home stretch.

“I hate the fact that I’ve had to raise $600,000,” Walberg said last week. “But that’s what you have to do to clearly get the message out.”