Coakley’s bipartisanship

A Martha Coakley loss in today’s Massachusetts election will likely be interpreted as a repudiation of the current Democratic agenda and that of President Obama, in particular, and pundits will inevitably call for more bipartisanship on healthcare and other issues. It is interesting to note, then, that the Coakley campaign had strong Republican ties at its highest levels.

Coakley campaign co-chair Ralph C Martin II was a prominent Massachusetts Republican until recently. He served as the Republican District Attorney of Suffolk County throughout the nineties, and also chaired former Governor Mitt Romney’s Judicial Nominating Commission. He has been floated as a Republican candidate for Senator and Mayor in recent years, though he switched his voter registration from Republican to unenrolled in 2006. It’s unclear if he has since joined the Democratic Party.

The other Coakley co-chair, Barbara Lee, is one of Boston’s leading philanthropists and a major Democratic donor. Lee is the ex-wife of private equity titan Tom Lee, a Forbes 400 billionaire.

That an individual with Martin’s Republican credentials would co-chair a Democrat’s campaign for the US Senate is remarkable, and reflects the campaign’s chosen strategy: erect a big tent for high-powered Massachusetts elites and raise lots of money.

Coakley’s focus on big dollar donors brought in nearly 700 $2400+ donors through the primary; Brown counted less than 40 ($2400 is the maximum allowed contribution to one of a candidate’s accounts, primary or general). Brown has enjoyed a recent surge in fundraising, but his campaign was complaining about a lack of high-profile Republican support as recently as late December.

I had hoped to compare Coakley’s campaign co-chairs to Brown’s, but had trouble finding this kind of press release from his campaign.

Both Martin and Beth Boland, co-chair of Coakley’s finance commitee, are partners at Bingham McCutchen, one of Boston’s biggest law firms.

Ironically, both attorneys brag of winning battles against the Massachusetts attorney general’s office in their bios (Martin in a pension fraud case, Boland in a corporate governance matter). It’s unclear if they were facing Coakley or one of her predecessors.

Was the Coakley campaign divided against itself?

Furthermore, Martin is also a former chair of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The Greater Boston Chamber’s board includes many executives at healthcare companies, including three from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts alone. The US Chamber — also a client of Bingham McCutchen — has fought a fierce battle against the Obama administration’s healthcare plan, with major (covert) funding from the insurance industry.

Of course, members of Obama’s inner circle have also signed on with the Chamber to fight his administration’s financial reform proposals.

In more ways than one, the post-partisan makeup of Coakley’s campaign leadership reflects broader patterns within Obama administration and the Democratic Party nationally — something to keep in mind as the blame game begins.