Inside the Defeat of Question 2: Rasky Baerlein

November 25, 2012

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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