AP photos, design by Jennifer Levesque
Late last year, Andrea Nuciforo, a Democratic candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat, released a statement explaining how he would build his agenda as a member of Congress. His method, described in a nine-point list, included a focus on collaboration; the candidate vowed to “listen to other points of view,” to “consult with experts and practitioners,” to “include citizen input.”
But Nuciforo’s campaign, it appears, took that spirit of inclusiveness a bit too far. On Aug. 9, one of his rivals for the seat, fellow Democrat Bill Shein, released a statement accusing Nuciforo of “massive plagiarism” in a number of his campaign position papers.
Shein’s release points to large portions of the position papers on Nuciforo’s website—including the statement describing the candidate’s method for developing his agenda—that appear to be lifted from other sources, including other political campaigns, all of which were publicly released before Nuciforo’s. They include statements from John Edwards 2008 presidential campaign; a document released last year by Alan Khazei during his since-aborted campaign for senator from Massachusetts; position papers from Stacey Lawson, a Democrat running for Congress from California; and a 2011 document from the non-profit Tax Policy Center.
In some cases, Nuciforo’s position papers appear to be reworked versions of statements from other candidates. In the most glaring examples, entire portions of his statements have apparently been lifted from the other sources almost verbatim, with minor word and punctuation changes. One such example: A Nuciforo position paper on women’s rights read, in part, “The decision about whether to become a parent is one of the most important life decisions that a woman can face. She should make it with her family, her doctor, and in the context of her religious and ethical values. Government officials and politicians should not make the decision for her. Nuciforo supports a woman’s constitutional right to choose. As a state senator, Nuciforo earned a 100 percent voting record with both NARAL and Planned Parenthood. As Congressman, he will protect and defend the right to choose and fight to reverse the damage done by right-wing ideologues.”
Compare that to the almost identical language in an Edwards’ position paper from several years earlier: “The decision about whether to become a parent is one of the most important life decisions that a woman can face. She should make it with her family, her doctor, and in the context of her religious and ethical values; government and politicians should not make the decision for her. John Edwards supports a woman’s constitutional right to choose. As a senator, Edwards earned a 100 percent voting record with both NARAL and Planned Parenthood. As president, he will protect and defend the right to choose and reverse the damage that has been done by President Bush’s anti-choice agenda.”
It’s not unusual for candidates to have similar agendas, or even to use similar language, Shein told the Advocate. But what Nuciforo has done, he continued, amounts to “a wholesale construction of a campaign based not just on the proposals but the words of others.”
Nuciforo’s actions, Shein wrote in his press release, are “dishonest and wrong.
“Mr. Nuciforo’s massive plagiarism represents an ongoing fraud against the people of the First Congressional District,” Shein said.
In response, Nuciforo released a short statement in which he accused Shein of “resort[ing] to the desperate politics of a desperate campaign” and said he stands behind the ideas of his campaign. The statement did not address the specific examples released by Shein comparing Nuciforo’s papers with those of the other candidates.By the evening of Aug. 9, several hours after Shein’s press release, all the position papers referred to in his statement had disappeared from Nuciforo’s website.
The following day, Nuciforo’s campaign blamed the copied papers on an unnamed former staff member. A few hours later, a Nuciforo spokesman backed away from that statement, now telling the Springfield Republican the campaign was taking “full responsibility” for the papers.
Shein, a Berkshire political writer and activist, will face Nuciforo, a former state senator and current Middle Berkshire register of deeds, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Richie Neal in a Sept. 6 Democratic primary. Because there are no Republican or third-party candidates in the race, the winner of the primary becomes the de facto winter of the general election.
Shein said he first became suspicious about the provenance of some of Nuciforo’s campaign statements after reading his nine-point agenda strategy, posted on Nuciforo’s website under an “Issues & Values” category.
“Like a lot of people, I pay attention to politics and campaigns,” Shein said. (In fact, he probably pays closer attention than most, given his years as a political writer and activist. Since 2004, he’s written a political humor column for the Berkshire Eagle; the column’s been on hiatus since Shein announced his congressional campaign early this year.)
When he read Nuciforo’s methodology statement, Shein said, “Some things looked familiar to me.” Specifically, Nuciforo’s list reminded him of “The Khazei Principles,” a similar statement released by Khazei during his recent Senate campaign.
Khazei’s principles took the form of a 10-point list, to which Nuciforo’s bears a strong resemblance. A few examples:
From Khazei: “Consult with the world’s best experts and practitioners.”
From Nuciforo: “Consult with experts and practitioners, including people in academia, business, non-profit and the professions.”
Khazei: “Develop programs to invest and grow what works and stop wasting money on what doesn’t.”
Nuciforo: “Stop wasting time, money and energy on ideas that cannot possibly advance.”
Khazei: “Know what it costs and how we are going to pay for it. … Ensure we can measure cost and the benefits.”
Nuciforo: “Understand the costs and benefits. No plan makes sense unless we know how much it costs, and understand how we are going to pay for it.”
Khazei: “When necessary, build a movement to get it done.”
Nuciforo: “Build the consensus necessary to get it done.”
On their own, the strong similarities between Khazei’s and Nuciforo’s stated principles might be explained away as an uncanny coincidence. But in other examples uncovered by Shein, the similarities are much stronger.
His suspicions raised by the Khazei/Nuciforo overlap, Shein kept a close eye in Nuciforo’s campaign website, looking for other signs that the candidate might have lifted positions and statements from other candidates. “I suppose that’s the journalist in me,” Shein said.
He found numerous examples. They include large portions of Nuciforo’s positions papers on women’s, veterans’ and seniors’ issues which appear to be copied from Edwards’ presidential campaign. In the papers regarding veterans’ affairs, Nuciforo’s statements echo strongly Edwards’ in both wording and ideas. His women’s-issues paper mimics Edwards’ almost verbatim. There are also multiple similarities between Nuciforo’s position paper “Security, Dignity and Choice: Protecting Older Americans” and a 2007 Edwards paper called “Security, Dignity and Choice: A Declaration of Independence for America’s Seniors.”
In addition, Shein discovered that portions of Nuciforo’s “Protecting the Environment” position paper mimic a position paper released in April by Stacey Lawson in her campaign for California’s 2nd Congressional District. (She lost the party primary in June.) And a Nuciforo paper released in July as part of a five-stop campaign tour around the district, called “An Eight-Point Blueprint to Restore Economic Justice in America,” appears to borrow heavily from an economic paper released by Lawson, called “Making More in America,” three months earlier.
In addition, Shein pointed to several paragraphs in Nuciforo’s blueprint on the importance of the federal Superfund program that closely mirror a 2011 document produced by the Tax Policy Center, a non-profit project of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution.
(See sidebar Tale of the Text for a comparison of some excerpts from Nuciforo’s position papers and those of Edwards and Lawson.)
Nuciforo’s initial response, in its entirety, read: “Rather than advancing his own candidacy, Mr Shein has resorted to the desperate politics of a desperate campaign. Voters in the new 1st [Congressional District] deserve better.
“I stand fully behind the progressive ideas I have put forth in this campaign. The truth is that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Like all policy makers, the ideas advanced by our campaign have been developed and advanced by like-minded Democrats.”
The next day, Nuciforo campaign spokesman Patrick Tool offered a different take, telling Springfield Republican reporter Robert Rizzuto that the blame lay with a former staff member. “We feel that all responsibility rests with the person who is no longer with us,” Tool said. Later that evening, Rizzuto reports, Tool called the paper again, this time saying, “We’re taking full responsibility for the oversight as a campaign and have made changes to the website to reflect that. The responsibility rests entirely with us.”
Links to all the papers referred to in Shein’s release can be found at: http://www.billshein.com/nuciforo_s_massive_plagiarism_is_an_ongoing_fraud
Neal, a 23-year incumbent with a $2.6 million campaign war chest, holds the clear edge in the upcoming primary. In their campaigns, Shein and Nuciforo have both touted their progressive credentials, particularly in contrast to Neal’s voting record and his campaign finance reports, which are fat with donations from corporate lobbyists and political action committees.
In contrast, Shein’s campaign has vowed to accept no donations of more than $99 and no donations from PACs, lobbyists or executives of corporations that employ lobbyists. As of June 30, he’d raised $18,302.
Like Shein, Nuciforo has criticized Neal for his many PAC and corporate donors and noted that his own campaign—which has raised $232,865—has taken no PAC money, only money from individual donors. In an interview with the Advocate prior to Shein’s press release, Nuciforo repeatedly emphasized the “great contrast” between himself and Neal, including whom they’ve taken campaign donations from and how that’s affected their positions. “Congressman Neal has spent the better past of 20 years advancing the Wall Street agenda,” Nuciforo said.
A review of Nuciforo’s campaign-finance records show, however, that the individual donors who’ve contributed to his Congressional campaign include numerous lobbyists, corporate attorneys, and executives from investment firms, mortgage lenders and pharmaceutical companies. Throughout the campaign, Shein has criticized Nuciforo for decrying the influence of corporate money on the political system while accepting money from corporate interests, as he’d also done during his time in the state Senate.
When Nuciforo announced his intent to run for the 1st District seat in 2009, the incumbent at the time was Rep. John Olver. Since then, Olver has announced his plans to retire, and redistricting has dramatically reshaped the district’s boundaries, moving Neal, of Springfield, from what used to be the 2nd District into a newly drawn 1st.
Nuciforo’s ambition to serve in Congress, Shein suggested, came first; then he began developing a campaign platform based on the shape of the new district, the opposition and the political mood of the moment. “That’s politics as usual,” Shein told the Advocate in an earlier interview. “That’s not new, but to me that’s part of the problem. I’m not crafting a message to fit the mood.”
Instead, Shein said, he’s focused on the same issues that he has throughout his career as a writer and activist. As he put it in his recent press release: “During this campaign I’ve advanced the issues and ideas that I’ve written about for many years: Getting corporate money out of politics and reforming our democracy; transforming our economy to make it fair, durable, and firmly rooted in our local communities, and the need for massive, urgent action on climate change.”
Those are the kinds of issues—not candidate plagiarism—that he’d like to focus on now, Shein told the Advocate. “I’d much rather this hadn’t happened,” he said. “There are many other important things to talk about.”