Inside the Defeat of Question 2: Rasky Baerlein

By now, just about everyone has shared their take on how the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, along with a coalition of many other organizations. helped get 51% of voters in Massachusetts to vote No on Question 2–the ballot measure that would have legalized physician assisted suicide in Massachusetts.  There has been much patting each other on the back publicly and privately.  BCI was hoping by now that others would have shared all of the key information., but alas, that has not happened. So, in the next few blog posts, we felt we should weigh-in to give you some some additional information you might not have been aware of.

For starters, we again commend Cardinal O’Malley, the team from the Boston Archdiocese, and all who worked on this effort for the win. There were actually two coalitions–the main and best-funded group was the Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide (whose strategy and campaign was led by Rasky Baerlein, and which included the Catholic Bishops along with other religious faiths), but there was a second key group, No on Question 2, (whose strategy and campaign was led by the Wayne Johnson Agency, and which included patient and disability rights organizations, Second Thoughts, Mass Citizens for Life, and others).  Given the dismal poll in September that showed we were behind 68% to 19%, the comeback was a major accomplishment. Cardinal O’Malley wrote a number of excellent columns in The Pilot, the television and radio ads produced by several different groups were well-done and effective, and the effort to move public opinion worked. We posted a number of times on why people should have voted NO, and we were delighted that the ballot measure was defeated. Here are a few of the articles on the topic that came out discussing the win:

O’Malley lauds defeat of doctor-assisted suicide bill (Boston Globe)

Boston Cardinal Lauds Rejection of Assisted-Suicide Bill (National Catholic Register)

Mass. voters say no to assisted suicide (The Boston Pilot)

Inclusion key in anti-suicide drive (The Washington Times)

Now that we have duly expressed accolades to everyone for their efforts that resulted in defeating Question 2, we need to look at the rest of the story. Lest everyone locally and in other parts of the country conclude the Massachusetts experience is the model for the future, we need to remove the rose-colored glasses and look at a few things that did not make it into the media coverage about the 51%-49% win for our side.

Bad Advice from Political Consulting Firm

First of all, while the political consulting firm, Rasky Baerlein, is busy congratulating themselves publicly on how they overcame the “insurmountable task” of convincing Massachusetts voters to vote No on Question 2 despite initial research showing most voters felt people should be able to make their own end-of-life decisions, somehow Rasky is forgetting to mention how it was their advice to stay silent until the last minute that left us in the precarious situation of being behind by 48 points a month before the vote. Though Cardinal O’Malley kept a regular stream of columns going in The Pilot, priests and lay people were asking all during the summer what was going on with the near-total blackout by the rest of the Boston Archdiocese on this issue until Labor Day–both in parishes and in the public discourse. Rasky Baerlein, who has an undefeated record on ballot questions, and who, coincidentally, is staffed by a considerable number of Obama donors and former Joe Biden campaign staff, told the archdiocese to hit the “pause” button on educational efforts–they had it all figured out.  It is explained in this excellent piece by Fr. Roger Landry:

Finally, we need to grasp why we were trailing 68-19 percent a month from the election and never make the same mistake again. Polls at the beginning of the year showed us trailing 43-37 percent. At the terrible advice of the political consultants advising the Church, however, we basically suspended all educational efforts until after Labor Day and even pulled superb educational materials from the Internet. The other side was able to advance its arguments when our side muted itself voluntarily. Few knew what was even on the ballot, not to mention why Question 2 should be defeated. Thanks be to God, we had just enough time to triumph at the end, but we should never have been down as much as we were. The Church’s educational efforts should be ongoing and never muzzled. And they should continue now all the more, because what we’ve just won is but one important victory in a much larger war in defense of human dignity.

He is absolutely right–we should never have been down by as much as we were.  The geniuses at Rasky Baerlein made that happen, with management oversight from none other than Terry Donilon and Fr. Bryan Hehir.  Then, to make up for their flawed advice and lack of an effective ground-game, in the final minutes of the ball game, we had to raise and spend nearly $5 million dollars for the “air cover”, media program and overhead fees.

Cost of the Campaign

It was important to win this one and not let the assisted suicide folks get victory in Massachusetts and New England beachhead.  But it cost a lot of money to win, especially because of the approach Rasky took, or failed to take.  From the Boston Archdiocese and related entities, the Boston Archdiocese contributed $250K in cash, plus $80K in in-kind donations, Boston Catholic TV contributed $1 million, and St. Johns Seminary also gave $1 million. Most agencies like Rasky charge about 10-15% in agency fees on top of any production costs–namely for research, creative development, website development, overhead/profit on media purchases and project management.  Of the total Committee Against Physician-Assisted Suicide expenses of $4.3M, records Rasky made a handsome $366K in agency profit for their work.  Oh by the way, did we mention how Rasky returned a $250K donation from the American Family Association merely because they are pro-family and support the centuries-old definition of marriage as the permanent union of a man and woman?   They did not want any controversy because AFA was seen as “anti-gay.”  Also, Rasky had spent nearly $600K before Sept 1 on something or other, without ever launching a single ad.

What Rasky Does Not Know they Do Not Know

Rasky thinks they know web marketing and social media.  They pitched the archdiocese on that and spent a small fortune of around $115K just building a website. Someone needs to tell them they know next to nothing in this area.  Dozens of people who visited the website of the Committee Against Assisted Suicide wrote to BCI and asked, “What’s with this?”  Why should someone “sign the petition”?  It was a citizen’s ballot initiative–for crying out loud, what was a petition for?  To give to whom?  It was stupid–just ask people to sign-up for an email update list.  “Tell a friend”?  OK, I upload all of my friends names and then I have to compose my own message too?  What good is that?  People sent email messages to the contact email address and told BCI they never got responses.

BCI could go much further, but will pause for now.  In our next installment, we will discuss the risks facing us after the win, where there were pitfalls, and how and where we really won the battle. In the end, we won, and that was most important. But if we intend to learn from the past so as to do better in the future, we need to take off the rose-colored glasses and look at the cup from the vantage point of being both half-full and half-empty.  More next time.

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20 Responses to Inside the Defeat of Question 2: Rasky Baerlein

  1. Mr. D says:

    Now if only the bishops would get serious about stopping the radical left Democrat party before the attempt to create a godless utopia gets too far out of hand.

    Or are they part of the problem?

  2. jbq2 says:

    Mathew, Mark, Luke and John have been replaced by a P.R.firm. There are no longer any pulpits to preach from.

  3. Carol says:

    John Kelly of Second Thoughts can hardly be given enough credit for all of the work (on very little money) that he did. He put forth the secular, progressive argument from the beginning. He also worked with the umbrella group MADPS, although he would help out other groups.
    MADPS (largest subgroup MCFL) spent about $600,000 with another PR firm and largely paralleled the CAPAS group (RCAB backed).
    Very happy that we do not have physician assisted suicide. Hate to see Rasky Baerein making so much money. Comment on $250,000 returned to AFA — why is the Catholic Church not considered equally as pro-family as AFA?

  4. James says:

    “”he near-total blackout by the Boston Archdiocese on this issue until Labor Day”
    Not quite true. Maybe this particular PR firm was silent. But Cardinal O’Malley, himself, was outspoken about this issue as far back as January of last year–with archdiocesan distributed pamphlets and videos. I remember watching a video against DPS during a homily in early summer of this year. And it wasn’t the first of the year. He truly deserves more credit for raising the issue early and hitting it hard.

    • James, thank you for the feedback. Valid point. Cardinal O’Malley wrote columns in The Pilot regularly through the summer and had recorded his homily, played earlier in the year. He recorded another message in the fall But The Pilot has limited readership, the archdiocese had no parish-based educational campaigns underway and there was nothing done in the public square to shape or impact the public debate and formation of public opinion for many months. During that time, public opinion moved strongly in favor of Q2 as our opponents has nothing countering them. As an aside, where was the Mass Catholic Conference and James Driscoll, the $100K-plus exec director of the Catholic Conference? Did he do anything on this effort? BCI can find little to no evidence of his personal contribution of effort to the campaign.

      So, yes, Cardinal O’Malley did his part on an individual basis. But it is not clear to what extent he and his team (including MCC and Rasky) rallied the troops before the two months prior to the vote, leaving us in a very precarious situation which was almost unrecoverable.

      Thanks again for your feedback.

  5. Anonynous says:

    It is scandalous beyond a doubt and more than pathetic that that Rasky company turned down a $250K donation from the American Family Association. The AFA is a good organization that has much in common with the Roman Catholic Church. Given what the the AFA teaches and believes as well as the work they do, it would be a great place for true authentic ecumenism to take place and grow. Not here in the Archdiocese of Boston, though. We have bosses, managers and politicians running our archdiocese and parishes. Shepherds? Not too many. And it’s getting worse instead of better. They make new auxilliary bishop(s), push paper, form new committees, say all the right words, congratulate one another and do precious little else. Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  6. Objective Observer says:

    Fighting for the defeat of the ballot question, I get. Matter of fact, I think the entity that brought it home for most people was the Mass Medical Society’s opposition.

    Assuming all the MA dioceses contributed and benefited (ads ran in other dioceses), that makes sense. But…

    Why did the seminary contribute to the campaign? How long does it take the seminary to raise $1,000,000.00? That does not seem an appropriate stewardship of its resources, given its purpose as an accredited graduate school of Theology. As adult faith formation, I can understand the seminary lending some measured financial support, such as lending its faculty for videos or underwriting the printing of brochures.

    But why such a large sum from the seminary? Is it possible that the seminary has so much money it doesn’t need that $1 million? The seminary is not RCAB — it is a completely separate entity. Frankly, that’s why I have given to the seminary in the past.

    Whose idea was it to use seminary funds? Did John XXIII Seminary also use its funds for this purpose?

    • Objective Observer, BCI agrees with your concerns. We will post more about some of the expenses and contributions in a separate post. In response to your final question, a report of contributors shows that Blessed John XXIII Seminary did not use its funds for this purpose or make any contributions to the campaign.

      • DBP says:

        …because Blessed John XXIII is a NATIONAL seminary, not a diocesan seminary, and therefore not under the control of the Chancellor. I can’t believe that anyone is surprised about the financial sleight-of-hand that “allowed” St. John’s to “contribute” a cool million to the PR wizards at Rasky. This kind of slick chicanery has been going on forever at the good ol’ RCAB, whose motto appears to be, “non attendunt quod homo velum.”

      • DBP says:

        …actually, “Post velamentum ei quicquam attendunt non” (which I believe means, “Pay no attention to the man behind the screen”)

  7. Objective Observer says:

    Thank you, BCI. The $1500 for a foursome at the St John’s Golf Tournament seemed steep, but worthwhile to educate our seminarians and build good will for the seminary. Now you’re telling me that the seminary can drop $1,000,000.00 to help fund a political ad campaign, and I’m thinking it’s pointless for anyone to donate to the seminary.

    • parishpal says:

      To: Objective Observer

      St John’s Seminary is trying to be……
      “CATHOLIC”. [edited by BCI] Your $1500.00
      was well worth it.

      • Parishpal, We ask that readers please avoid personal attacks or insults to other readers. It is OK to disagree, but please do so in a respectful way. Our read is that OO was merely observing that $1M spent on an issue advocacy campaign by the seminary is not what most seminary donors expect their contributions to go toward. Save your ire for our next post. You will understand more on Wednesday.

  8. parishpal says:

    BCI—After Christmas, would you be willing to
    run a conversation on catholic education?
    How to strengthen schools and use resources wisely?

    For example, in 2009 the Globe reported at least 75%
    of masters prepared (reg & special ed) failed the math portion of test: Result–given 5 years to improve.

    LA TImes ran an article: Female teachers may pass on math anxiety to girls. By Karen Kaplan

    It was recently reported that the nations SAT scores are at a 40 year low.

    Does this suggest nuns without Masters Degrees accomplished more fifty years ago?

    This is not to hurt or upset anybody.
    But, is it time to question whether the best individuals to teach in catholic schools simply be practicing catholics with an aptitude for and Bachelors degree in their field? Perhaps if a young student graduates with a BS/BA, they can teach for a couple of years, return part time and earn a Master’s Degree in a subject specialty
    versus a vague degree.

    The other advantage is a student with less educational debt would probably be happier, not to mention the opportunity cost of missing one or two years of work for this additional costly degree.

    Thank you

  9. They'llBeBack says:

    You won 51 to 49? Wait till next election, or until the MA Supreme Court rules that “assisted suicide” is a RIGHT guaranteed by the 14th amendment, or until Cardinal O’Malley arranges w/the president of the hemlock society to call in on a radio talk show so that he can say the Church no longer objects to assisted suicide because it costs too much money to fight these election battles the way Cushing teamed w/that American Family Association Planned Parenthood to legalize contraception in the 60s (y’all spent how much in the waning days? Are you SURE where the money went?).

    http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=812

  10. [...] our last post, “Inside the Defeat of Question 2″, we talked about defeating Question 2 (physician assisted suicide) from the perspective of the [...]

  11. Michael Walsh says:

    The question that has not been satisfactorily answered: “why did a large block of Left rank and file vote no on question 2″? In my town the most liberal precincts narrowly voted against 2. These people are not persuadable by natural law arguments and they loathe the RC Church. They happily voted for pot and voted in favor of a stealth town tax increase and a nonbinding socialist question. I’m perplexed by this (partially) sane voting behavior from this segment of the loony Left.

    • Michael, The ballot measure was very flawed. A logical review of the proposed ballot measure would reveal that. You will note that Victoria Reggie Kennedy wrote an op-ed piece opposing it that was widely circulated, the Boston Globe editorial page was against it, the Boston Herald was against it, and a host of other “influential” people who looked closely at it all weighed in and found it smelled bad. Perhaps the people who are normally not persuadable by natural law arguments and hate the Catholic Church were either swayed by like-minded people who opined in the mass-media against it, or they saw or heard an ad on the radio or TV or heard from a friend or family member who swayed them based on logical arguments. Imagine that!

    • Anonymous Catholic says:

      I understand that polls showed people on our side of this issue loved the Rasky ads. However, it was the ad, “Fine Print”, by Wayne Johnson agency which tended to move liberals.

      Since our side could not have won without liberal votes, that particular ad capped all the other fine work to bring us over 50%.

  12. Parishpal says:

    Please see dailyjobcuts.com for various catholic schools
    around the country that need help. This is more than a
    “Boston” issue.

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