Lobbyists: "We're Tired of Bribing Lawmakers"

Gerald Cassidy, an uberlobbyist in DC, had a remarkable statement a few weeks ago.

Cassidy says his blog entries won't back specific policies favored by his clients. He instead plans to share his opinions on larger political issues. He says he intends to push for public financing of political campaigns to rebuild public trust in government and for more government oversight of hedge funds.

Cassidy isn't the only frustrated lobbyist who just wants to make the case for his clients on the pure merits of the issue.  In general, you hear a lot of chatter that lobbyists don't like being hit up for cash all the time by their politician colleagues.

There's a grand bargain in here somewhere, with a possible deal to get rid of excessive and ineffective ethics laws constraining behavior rather than dealing with the incentive problem in political campaigns.  Public financing has some interesting adherents.

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Public Financing Bill Hits Senate

Big news today - a bill to provide public financing for Congressional elections was introduced by Dick Durbin and Arlen Specter.  Here's how it works - if you get a certain number of people to give you $5, then money is unlocked for a campaign based on your district, the media market, and/or population size for various states.  If you face a wealthy opponent who self-funds, more money is unlocked to balance out the terrain.

A few weeks ago at PFAW's Young Elected Officials Network, I talked to one legislator in Arizona who told me about how Arizona elections changed from 1998 onward based on the new public financing system.  It didn't help Democrats or Republicans, but it changed who ran and won in primaries.  On the right, business-backed moderates lost primaries as a populist base became more important.  On the left, the number of minorities and women running increased, though mostly they didn't win.  The right was successful at understanding the system first, and capably organized to take full advantage of it from 1998-2004.  At this point, Democrats have caught up.

This system on a Federal level will lead to a lot more challenges, much more diversity in who runs for office both racially and economically, and will increase the number of poor and middle class people in office, proportionately.  I don't think it's going to privilege Democrats or Republicans, but it will in all likelihood privilege outsiders and those with a populist base more than those with media and various insider connections.  

Jerome's hopefully going to come on and argue against this bill, and we can have a debate this week.

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Fix Campaign Financing Forever For $50?

First, a snip from the article that raised this question:

Salon.com
How to fix campaign financing forever for $50

A radical proposal by two Yale professors goes far beyond any reform envisaged by Feingold or McCain.

By Farhad Manjoo

...But reforming the system doesn't have to be a pipe dream. In fact, there's already a plan out there that would work. The proposal, which was outlined a couple of years ago by Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres, two professors at Yale Law School, is nonpartisan, constitutional and completely contrary to nearly every orthodoxy in the campaign finance reform movement. Think of it as the best campaign finance reform proposal you've never heard of.

The first part of the Ackerman-Ayres plan calls on the government to give every voter $50 to donate to candidates running for federal office. The second part will sound almost as crazy, until it sounds brilliant: Make all campaign donations secret, so that nobody -- especially political candidates -- knows where any citizen's money is going. Anonymous giving means no quid pro quo.

To understand what's so truly inspired about this proposal, you first have to understand what's wrong with today's laws. The current regulations were put in place to counter the abuses uncovered during the Watergate investigation, things like the Committee to Re-elect the President's maintenance of secret slush funds for dirty tricks. They mainly limit how much money individuals can donate to candidates and how much candidates can spend to win office. In return for abiding by spending limits, politicians get public matching funds -- that is, money from the government -- to mount their campaigns.

This may seem like a sensible approach, but Ackerman and Ayres suggest that it is fundamentally flawed. Capping how much money people can give to candidates only invites ways to get around those limits. Getting around the limits has become a huge Washington business, employing battalions of lawyers and lobbyists. Limits simply don't limit much -- every election sees more private donations to candidates, and more money spent on campaigns.

~~~~~~~~~~ Jump! ~~~~~~~~~~

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Community Interview: Stern's Responses

Ok, I had time to get Andy's answers to most of your questions.  I have a lot of video, so I'm going to put responses up in batches of three over the next few days.  I really enjoy getting your questions, which are pretty tough, and asking them on your behalf.  David Donnelly gets the first question, because he was the one who asked me to put Andy on video answering his public policy question.  

A few administrative points - if you can't watch these video clips, it's probably because they are still uploading to Youtube.  Wait a minute or so and try again.  Also, if anyone has a bit of time and would transcribe one or several or these answers and stick the transcriptions in the comments, that would be really helpful to MyDD readers who are on dial-up.  None of these answers are longer than one minute so it shouldn't take much time at all.

Public Financing

Do you support public financing and the bill that Dick Durbin is going to introduce?

Accountability Within Unions

Here's one from yitbos96bb :

What kind of checks and balances do you place on local union leaders to keep them from giving sweetheart deals to management instead of fighting for the working rights of local members as has been seen in the past by some local officials of other unions?

I accidentally screwed up and forgot to ask him the second part of the question, which was this: "When negotiating a deal, do you only try to look out your members, or do you attempt to create a deal that is beneficial to both management and union members?"

I'll answer it based on spending the last three days traveling with Stern and meeting SEIU officials.  Andy feels very strongly that putting the companies SEIU negotiates with at a competitive disadvantage is a very bad idea.  Every local union leader I've talked to over this trip echoes this idea, talking of collaboration and making their workplace more efficient.  You should read 'A Country that Works', which he just wrote.  Cathy Glasson, President of Local 199 in Iowa, has a great and short video on this point.

Supporting Republicans in New York State

This next question was from John Nicosia:

I would ask why the SEIU, and other unions in general, support the Republican Party on occasion.  Specifically, they are a huge donor to the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in New York State, with there money helping in the special election coming up next week.  How does that promote union interests when the Republican Party, both in NY and outside, usually drag their feet on workers issues if not outright working against them?

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Ending Legalized Bribery

You may have noticed a discussion of public financing on MyDD over the last few months.  A system of public financing of elections iis set up and working in a few states - Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine.  And while it's too soon to judge Connecticut, the system does work in Maine and Arizona.  David Donnelly of the excellent group Public Campaign has come on to MyDD and blogged about the issue and answered questions about the efficacy of the systems currently in place, which is incidentally why federalism works.  We can test things out in the states before scaling them.

Here's why I've been blogging about public financing. Tom Hamburger and Janet Hook of the LA Times have written an excellent article about the business lobby and the Democrats in Congress (if you like their work, send them nice email - tom.hamburger@latimes.com and janet.hook@latimes.com).

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi terrified the oil industry late last year when she outlined her priorities for the new Democratic majorities in Congress. Within the first 100 hours, she promised, they would "roll back the multibillion-dollar subsidies for Big Oil."

Last week, however, when Pelosi (D-San Francisco) won House approval of the much-touted bill socking it to the oil companies, it turned out to be considerably less drastic than many in the industry originally feared. Out of an estimated $32 billion in subsidies and tax breaks that the oil companies are scheduled to receive over the next five years, the final House bill cut $5.5 billion.

It's not just oil: From one end of the House Democrats' "first 100 hours" agenda to the other, businesspeople and their lobbyists have found success amid the fear in dealing with the new Congress.

Surprising as it might seem in view of the Democrats' public rhetoric, business groups are getting their telephone calls returned. And they're getting plenty of face time with the new House and Senate leaders.

Thanks to this access, the oil industry fended off many features it considered most objectionable in the proposed energy bill, and the big pharmaceutical companies had success keeping some provisions out of the new House Medicare drug bill.

And, while the House was passing its minimum-wage bill, small-business lobbyists were working the Senate to win tax breaks for their clients in the Senate's version of the bill.

"There was a lot more anxiety initially because of not knowing what was going to transpire," said Stuart Roy, a member of the prominent Washington lobby shop DCI Group and once an aide to Tom DeLay when DeLay (R-Texas) was House majority leader. Now, Roy said, "the anxiety level is down."

Robert Reich is very unhappy with the 100 hours agenda, and it's hard to refute his claims.  Perhaps Reich has the weary attitude of a man who has seen Democratic leaders enact very bad policies under the guise of progressive populism.  The signs are unmistakeable that this is a real danger going forward.  For instance, front-runner Hillary Clinton's senior health care advisor Laurie Rubiner came from the Republican side of the aisle, and Rubiner's health care solution, as written in the Atlantic, begins with "Believe it or not, there is a politically appealing way to achieve universal health-care coverage: simply require all U.S. residents to buy insurance, with government help if necessary." If I became incredibly cynical, I might believe that Senator Clinton is going to make subsidies to the health insurance industry one of two priorities for her Presidential run.  I assume her PR will be better than that, of course, and dress it up as 'insurance subsidies for kids'.

I'm not as cynical as Reich, and I believe that Nancy Pelois will be a great Speaker. The Democrats in Congress need help, though, in order to really legislate a progressive agenda. It's not enough to get them elected, or even to support good policies. We have to get rid of the pressure that compels them to spend much of their time begging for money for the wealthy.

The structural rot here is that politicians have to raise a massive amount of money to be reelected.  We're not talking netroots amounts, we're talking in the hundreds of millions, and pretty soon, billions.  That amount of money can only come from (a) corporate interests and (b) really rich people.  So Hillary Clinton, to pick a random politician, is now in the top echelon of recipients of health care industry cash of all politicians.  And she's the top Democrat in the race for President.

Though I'm picking on Senator Clinton, it's not really her fault that the game is rigged this way.  Well it is a little, since changing the game isn't her priority and she's a stahhh.  The problem is the gobs of money required to run for office, which immediately consigns large segments of the population to being unable to run for office.  This includes lots of those fighting Dems we talked about in 2004, many of whom didn't have the connections to raise all the money, but given the chance to organize instead of fundraise from rich people could have put a lot more seats in play.  

Public financing is the only solution to this problem.  It works, pulling the incentives out of the system towards corruption and subsidies for corporate elites.  It is a structural solution to the pressure Pelosi feels to bring business lobbyists to the table, even though they have stolen from the public for at least a decade.  We should get behind it.  And members in Congress who think that it's the obviously correct solution, but don't believe it's possible to enact, should reconsider their position.  It won't be enacted without leadership, but it can and will be done.

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