Was Coffingate A Fundraising Stunt?

I know a little something about coffins. And I know when I’m being lied to.

An email arrived in my inbox this afternoon from Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s baby-brother, Congressman Russ Carnahan (D-Missouri). In this email, Carnahan pledges to not be intimidated by Coffingate, and then asks me for money. This email may be the most despicable yet of the campaign season. After a brutal 48 hours of press retractions about an incident regarding a coffin placed near his house, Carnahan is attempting to hustle money for intimidation that did not occur.


Carnahan provides a link to a piece in Politico – the very piece that was suggested to Politico reporter Jake Sherman by a Carnahan spokesperson, (and subsequently corrected). Here is some text from his email.

They’ve tried every dirty trick in the book to block critical reforms that will stop insurance companies from rejecting children with preexisting conditions or denying care to those who are sick. Try as they may, we will not be intimidated.

Help me send a message that threats and extreme tactics will not work. Please contribute $100, $50 or even $25 right now to help me fight back against those who will stop at nothing to block health care reform for Missouri families….

It must be hard to get good help these days. At the center of the controversy is Sara Howard, Congressman Carnahan’s spokesperson for his re-election campaign. Howard comes from SEIU, where she spent a number of years learning the ins and outs of labor-press relations.

Among those lessons was the use of race-baiting flyers that accuse Republicans of hosing down Southern blacks to prevent them from voting. Howard defended the use of this flyer in 2004, when she worked at the Missouri office of Americans Coming Together. The flyer was placed in urban neighborhoods with the intention to foment resentment in the black populace, which, at the time, was showing insufficient enthusiasm for John Kerry. This is the background Carnahan found appealing in his campaign staff.

Howard was hired just days before the August Townhall, the same one where SEIU “purple shirts” assaulted Kenneth Gladney, and just days after a memo from HCAN’s Margarida George layed out the strategy for combating an energized Tea Party. Howard’s hiring was unique, in that Carnahan had suffered a series of humiliating public gaffes, and St Louis became the first of many cities where SEIU bused in supporters to townhalls, controlled the entrances and the format, hushed protestors, and in some cases, used physical intimidation. Her hiring was either extremely timely, or designed to bring SEIU into Carnahan’s corner.

Mission accomplished.

In September, Ed Martin filed for the Republican primary to get the chance to challenge Carnahan in the 2010 Congressional election. Initial fundraising reports showed Martin outraising Carnahan in that quarter, a stunning turn of events considering Carnahan is a member of the House Leadership. In the fourth quarter, Carnahan did beat Martin in fundraising, but only after a third of his total came in the door in the last three days of the quarter.

With the unpleasant press from the townhalls, the national uprising against the healthcare bill, rumors about the $90 million in stimulus funds given to the Carnahan family business, poor fundraising totals, and embarrassing gaffes like a staged gun range photo that was shopped to the local paper, Carnahan’s campaign must have been in a cold sweat. What would be the best way to drive money?

How about inserting a coffin into the conversation?

Starting Wednesday night, three days after the mock-funeral and prayer-vigil was held, Sara Howard began confirming the story to reporters about a coffin left on the front lawn of Carnahan’s home. Later stories would be changed to “placed near the family home” instead of left on the lawn, and the mock-funeral was moved back to Sunday instead of Wednesday. But the basic story repeated by the AP, UPI, and hundreds of local papers was the use of a coffin as a political threat against Carnahan. The timing of the story coincides with alleged threats to other members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. Only Carnahan seems to be crass enough to pretend he did not take the coffin as a threat and also use it for fund-raising.

CoffinMarch24thHere is Howard’s original story as reported Wednesday night. Note it says the coffin was left in the front lawn on Wednesday. A second version says it was used in a protest Sunday, (but only worth taking to the press on Wednesday). A third version states Carnahan does not see the coffin as a threat, but instead asks for civil discourse.

As we now know, the coffin was a stage-prop. It was covered with an American flag, and the protest itself was covered by local television station KSDK. The coffin was not left on any lawn, but instead was used and then taken back to the garage of a St Louis Tea Party organizer.

Knowing this, Carnahan still sends out a fundraising request painting himself as a victim, citing a story he planted in the national press three days after the incident occurred. He must have been so frightened he couldn’t call the press for three days.

If this entire story was not an attempt to create a fake Joe Wilson fund-raising moment, it has become one. Carnahan is now part of a group on the liberal fund-raising site ActBlue called Congressional Victims of American Terrorists. $2 has been donated so far. What makes this a farce is that Sara Howard told a local television station that Carnahan did not feel threatened by the funeral.

Carnahan press secretary Sara Howard told KMOV this morning that the Congressman did not take the mock funeral as a threat, but did say that this “kind of rhetoric and behavior has absolutely no place in civil discourse.”

Let us recap. Facing bad fundraising news, Sara Howard plants a story in Politico, which had to be corrected, then confirms the story with Missouri reporters, before changing the story and stating there was no threat. This was followed by a clumsy fund-raising email asking for money so Carnahan could continue to not be intimidated by the non-threatening coffin that was not left on his lawn.

Maybe the threatened feeling has to do with the end of his political career. Now that’s some justice I can get behind.


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