Ars Technica: “No lobbying,” says senator before taking movie biz lobby job

Written by admin on March 2nd, 2011

Former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) illustrates a distinction without a difference by accepting the MPAA’s top lobbying position while insisting that he will advocate  without lobbying.

Ars Technica

Former Senator Chris Dodd has a new gig—head of the motion picture industry’s main lobbying group, the MPAA.

The group has been looking for a new leader for quite a while, and in Dodd they found another long-term, high-level government official (former head Dan Glickman had served in Congress and as Secretary of Agriculture). But hadn’t Dodd said something about not going to work as a lobbyist once his Senate career was through?

Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald runs through the list:

In March of last year, he told The Hartford Courant that “he will not lobby, but, like [former Senators Chuck] Hagel and [Sam] Nunn, he may teach.” In an August article headlined “Dodd forswears a lobbying career,” The Connecticut Mirror quoted him as saying: “No lobbying, no lobbying.” That vow earned this praise from Public Citizen’s Craig Holman: “That’s excellent on Senator Dodd’s part.”

The Center for Responsive Politics, The Hill, and just about every other outlet commenting on the news noted the apparent hypocrisy.

Dodd can’t do “direct” lobbying of Congress for two years after leaving office, though he can oversee a lobbying shop that spent $1.6 million in 2010.

In the official announcement, Dodd said that he was “truly excited about representing the interests of one of the most creative and productive industries in America, not only in Washington but around the world. The major motion picture studios consistently produce and distribute the most sought after and enjoyable entertainment on earth. Protecting this great American export will be my highest priority.”

Don’t think of this as hypocrisy, as Washington’s revolving door in action; Dodd prefers to pitch it as the culmination of his life’s work

 

Los Angeles Times: Secret campaign ad financing in offing as FEC is deadlocked

Written by admin on February 28th, 2011

Senator Mitch McConnell (R – KY) doesn’t believe that campaign donors should be identified.  The Federal Election Commission is split 3-3 so there will be no enforcement of the disclosure laws already on the books and upheld within the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision.

The 2012 Presidential campaign is going to be a wild one.

Los Angeles Times

Last year, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court said for the first time that corporations and unions had a constitutional right to spend unlimited sums on campaign advertising so long as it was independent of candidates or parties. At the same time, the court reaffirmed an existing federal law, which says that “all contributors” of $1,000 or more to an “electioneering communications” fund must disclose their identities to the FEC.

The justices said they foresaw a new era of corporate-funded ads combined with “effective disclosure” so citizens and shareholders would know who was paying for the messages. “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said.

But many independent political groups, especially those dedicated to electing conservative candidates, have taken the position that the disclosure law does not apply to them because their donors are unaware of exactly how their money will be spent. Last year, outside groups that were separate from candidates and political parties spent $294 million on campaign ads, four times more than in 2006.

Their interpretation has been challenged before the FEC. By law, the agency is governed by a six-member board with three Republicans and three Democrats. The commission is deadlocked, casting the disclosure provision into limbo as it applies to independent political groups.

Last month, Democrats on the commission proposed stricter disclosure rules, but the commission split 3 to 3.

Defenders of tight campaign finance laws are sounding an alarm.

Last year was a practice run. Enforcement of the disclosure rules has collapsed. And unless the FEC is fixed, the American public will be in the dark as to who is buying the White House and Congress,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen.

Several liberal advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress recently saying the FEC should be investigated as a “broken agency.” They also sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to fire the FEC commissioners and appoint new ones who will “break the deadlock” and enforce the law.

Obama’s options, however, may be limited. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a fierce critic of campaign finance laws, has insisted on GOP commissioners who share his views. Theoretically, critics could take the FEC to court, but such a case would be difficult and probably drag on for years.

The three Republicans on the commission dispute the need for new disclosure rules. They argue that Democrats in Congress failed to win passage last year of the so-called Disclose Act, which would have forced groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to name top donors behind political ads.

“It’s not the job of an unelected bureaucracy to write a new law,” said Commissioner Donald McGahn, formerly a lawyer for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

On the other side of the issue, Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, said the FEC had a duty to enforce the disclosure law already on the books. “People have the right to know who is paying for these messages,” she said. “Eight justices of the Supreme Court upheld that part of the law.”

The deadlock over disclosure marks an ironic twist for the agency, considering its history. The downfall of President Nixon revealed not just political dirty tricks but also how the flow of secret cash had bought favors in Washington. In 1974, a reform-minded Congress adopted strict limits on the funding of campaigns, along with disclosure requirements. Congress created the FEC to enforce the new law.

Fred Wertheimer, an advocate of tight election laws who played a role in creating the FEC, said he despaired of what it had become. “This is the worst I’ve ever seen it. It is by far the most dysfunctional and inoperative agency in Washington,” he said.

 

Politico: White House meets lobbyists off campus

Written by admin on February 25th, 2011

Politico reports on the White House’s curious relationship to lobbyists.

Politico

Caught between their boss’ anti-lobbyist rhetoric and the reality of governing, President Barack Obama’s aides often steer meetings with lobbyists to a complex just off the White House grounds — and several of the lobbyists involved say they believe the choice of venue is no accident.

It allows the Obama administration to keep these lobbyist meetings shielded from public view — and out of Secret Service logs kept on visitors to the White House and later released to the public.

“They’re doing it on the side. It’s better than nothing,” said immigration reform lobbyist Tamar Jacoby, who has attended meetings at the nearby Jackson Place complex and believes the undisclosed gatherings are better than none.

The White House scoffs at the notion of an ulterior motive for scheduling meetings in what are, after all, meeting rooms. But at least four lobbyists who’ve been to the conference rooms just off Lafayette Square tell POLITICO they had the distinct impression they were being shunted off to Jackson Place — and off the books — so their visits wouldn’t later be made public.

Obama’s administration has touted its release of White House visitors logs as a breakthrough in transparency, as the first White House team to reveal the comings and goings around the West Wing and the Old Executive Office Building.

The Jackson Place townhouses are a different story.

There are no records of meetings at the row houses just off Lafayette Square that house the White House Conference Center and the Council on Environmental Quality, home to two of the busiest meeting spaces. The White House can’t say who attended meetings there, or how often. The Secret Service doesn’t log in visitors or require a background check the way it does at the main gates of the White House.

 

Associated Press: Defense industry titans conduct lobbying blitz to win contract for air refueling tankers

Written by admin on February 23rd, 2011

The lobbying battle for the $35 billion contract to replace the aging refueling planes has been “some of the fiercest and costliest lobbying that Washington has ever seen.”

AP via Alabama Live

In the past year, Boeing has spent $5 million on print advertising to promote its version of the tanker and EADS has shelled out $1.7 million to boost its prototype, according to Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which typically monitors advertising for political campaigns.

On top of that spending, the two companies have put ads on drive-time radio and the Washington subway system.

Among the dozens of lobbyists for the two companies are former lawmakers, one-time senior Defense Department officials and former congressional staffers who labored behind the scenes for the committees that oversaw the military and its budgets.

Boeing, which also builds commercial aircraft as well as other defense components, spent $17.9 million on lobbying in 2010 and $16.9 million in 2009. EADS spent $3 million in 2010 and $2.98 million in 2009. While the numbers, compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, reflect the companies’ overall spending on lobbying, the tanker was a top priority during that time.

“The lobbying aspect is just one component of a massive and sustained influence effort by both of these companies,” said Dave Levinthal, communications director for the center.

 

Los Angeles Times: Obama tech dinner: Company spending figures for D.C. lobbying, campaign contributions

Written by admin on February 22nd, 2011

The Los Angeles Times reports on the corporate campaign contributions from the recent technology companys’ dinner meeting with President Obama.

Los Angeles Times

According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and noted by the Sunlight Foundation, 6 of the 11 companies represented by their respective CEOs on Thursday night spent millions of dollars last year lobbying federal lawmakers in Washington D.C. through employees and political action committees.

And 10 of the 11 companies and their employees contributed financially to Obama’s 2008 campaign for President.

Only the Westley Group, a Menlo Park venture capital firm, spent nothing on both lobbying in D.C. and Obama’s presidential run — though Twitter did spend zero on lobbying and gave just $750 to Obama.

Stanford Univeristy President John Hennessy accounted for the 12th seat at the dinner table. Stanford donated $448,720 to Obama’s 2008 campaign and spent $370,000 on lobbying in 2010.

Company Lobbying (2010) Obama campaign contribution (2008)
Apple $1,610,000.00 $92,141.00
Google $5,160,000.00 $803,436.00
Facebook $351,390.00 $34,850.00
Yahoo $2,230,000.00 $164,051.00
Cisco Systems $2,010,000.00 $187,472.00
Twitter $0.00 $750.00
Oracle
$4,850,000.00 $243,194.00
Netflix
$130,000.00 $19,485.00
Stanford $370,000.00 $448,720.00
Genentech $4,922,368.00 $97,761.00
Westly Group $0.00 $0.00
 

ABC News: Lawmakers Rally Lobbyists in ‘Call To Arms’ For Upcoming Spending Fight

Written by admin on February 8th, 2011

Democrats have unlikely allies in their battle to resist Republican led budget cutting;  the lobbyists who represent interests having their funds reduced.

ABC News

As Congress prepares to make deep spending cuts, an army of lobbyists is gearing up to fight back.

In an e-mail obtained by ABC News, a top staffer for the key Senate Appropriations subcommittee called for a meeting of lobbyists and interest groups that would be affected by expected cuts to the Labor and Heath and Human Services budget. The Jan. 24 meeting was attended by approximately 400 people, sources told ABC, and served as a “call to arms” for those determined to fight Republican budget cuts.

“One thing everyone should be able to agree on now is that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that a higher [Labor, Health & Human Services] allocation improves the chances for every stakeholder group to receive more funding,” the committee staffer for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, wrote in an e-mail inviting people to the meeting.

The meeting is in contrast to the rampant calls all over Capitol Hill to cut federal spending. For instance, a recent proposal from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., called for an 83 percent cut in funding for the Department of Education.

 

New York Times: Press Poses Wrinkle for Critics of Campaign Ruling

Written by admin on February 7th, 2011

The New York Times poses an important question about our First Amendment rights in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case.

Would limiting the political speech of corporations result in the limiting of the Press?

New York Times

In the year since the Supreme Court handed down its 183-page decision in Citizens United, the liberal objection to it has gradually boiled down to a single sentence: The majority was wrong to grant First Amendment rights to corporations.

That critique is incomplete. As Justice John Paul Stevens acknowledged in his dissent, the court had long recognized that “corporations are covered by the First Amendment.” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, listed more than 20 precedents saying that.

But an old and established rule can still be wrong, and it may be that the liberal critique is correct. If it is, though, it must confront a very hard question. If corporations have no First Amendment rights, what about newspapers and other news organizations, almost all of which are organized as corporations?

The usual response is that the press is different. The First Amendment, after all, protects “the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Since “the press” is singled out for protection, the argument goes, media corporations enjoy First Amendment rights while other corporations do not.

But the argument is weak. There is a little evidence that the drafters of the First Amendment meant to single out a set of businesses for special protection. Nor is there much support for that idea in the Supreme Court’s decisions, which have rejected the argument that the institutional press has rights beyond those of the other speakers.

There is a practical problem, too, especially in the Internet era. Who, after all, is “the press”? Anyone with a Twitter account?

Consider this telling exchange between Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and a lawyer for the Obama administration at the first of two arguments in Citizens United. The lawyer, Malcolm L. Stewart, said Congress had the power to regulate corporate speech about political candidates under the First Amendment.

“Most publishers are corporations,” Justice Alito said. “And a publisher that is a corporation could be prohibited from selling a book?”

It was a hypothetical question, but it cut to the core of the meaning of the press clause of the First Amendment. There was a lot of back and forth, and other justices jumped in. In the end, though, Mr. Stewart gave a candid answer.

“We could prohibit the publication of the book,” he said. (The government backed away from that position at the second argument, but not very far.)

Mr. Stewart could have given a different sort of answer, one he hinted at it but did not embrace.

“The First Amendment refers both to freedom of speech and of the press,” he said at one point. “There would be a potential argument that media corporations, the institutional press, would have a greater First Amendment right.”

In his dissent, Justice Stevens called that question “interesting and difficult,” and he did not quite embrace special protection for the institutional press either. “One type of corporation, those that are part of the press, might be able to claim special First Amendment status,” he wrote.

Justice Antonin Scalia reviewed the historical evidence in his concurrence.

“It is passing strange,” he wrote, “to interpret the phrase ‘the freedom of speech, or of the press’ to mean, not everyone’s right to speak or publish, but rather everyone’s right to speak or the institutional press’s right to publish. No one thought that is what it meant.”

In a 2008 book, “Freedom for the Thought That We Hate,” Anthony Lewis, a former Supreme Court reporter and columnist for The New York Times, reached the same conclusion. “The amendment surely meant to cover both oral and written expression,” he wrote, rather than “a specially protected institution.”

The Supreme Court’s decisions interpreting the press clause have also said that the institutional press has no special status.

There is no precedent supporting laws that attempt to distinguish between corporations which are deemed to be exempt as media corporations and those which are not,” Justice Kennedy wrote in Citizens United. The decision lifted restrictions on corporate spending in candidate elections.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, has reviewed the historical evidence. The bottom line, he said, is this: “If ordinary business corporations lack First Amendment rights, so do those business corporations that we call media corporations.”

 

New York Times: Justice Thomas’s Wife Sets Up a Conservative Lobbying Shop

Written by admin on February 6th, 2011

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) believes that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagen should recuse herself from upcoming cases on health care according to his interview in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Hatch has no comment on whether Justice Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from causes on behalf of which his wife is lobbying.

New York Times

Virginia Thomas, the justice’s wife, said on libertyinc.co, a Web site for her new political consulting business, that she saw herself as an advocate for “liberty-loving citizens” who favored limited government, free enterprise and other core conservative issues. She promised to use her “experience and connections” to help clients raise money and increase their political impact.

Ms. Thomas’s effort to take a more operational role on conservative issues could intensify questions about her husband’s ability to remain independent on issues like campaign finance and health care, legal ethicists said.

Justice Thomas “should not be sitting on a case or reviewing a statute that his wife has lobbied for,” said Monroe H. Freedman, a Hofstra Law School professor specializing in legal ethics. “If the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, that creates a perception problem.”

Ms. Thomas’s founding of her own political consulting shop, Liberty Consulting, was first reported Thursday by Politico, which said she had begun reaching out to freshmen Republicans in Congress.

The move comes a few months after she gave up the top spot at Liberty Central, a conservative Web site that she founded in 2009 and that has strong links to the Tea Party movement.

An anonymous $500,000 donation to start up Liberty Central came from Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate investor and Republican financier, Politico reported.

Mr. Crow, reached by phone Friday, would not say whether he was the source of the money. “I disclose what I’m required by law to disclose,” he said, “and I don’t disclose what I’m not required to disclose.”

 

Fox News: GOP Seeks to End Public Campaign Financing

Written by admin on January 28th, 2011

Fox News reports on GOP efforts to end the public financing option in election campaigns.

Fox News

Congressional Republicans are targeting public financing of presidential campaigns, citing deficit worries and calling the current program “welfare for politicians.” Democrats, though, charge it’s an attempt by the GOP to further increase the influence of big donors.

Taxpayers can now choose whether to have part of their bill go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund — $3 for individual income tax filers, $6 for joint returns.

Ending the program would take $617 million away from candidates over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan number-crunchers at the Congressional Budget Office. The money would instead go into general revenue of the federal government.

The CBO estimates that ending the program would immediately result in $195 million — the amount left in the fund at the end of the 2008 election cycle — going toward the ever-growing deficit.

The House voted Wednesday 239-160, with 10 Democrats supporting the measure, to nix the program, which was part of a slate of reforms enacted after the Watergate scandal.

 

CNN Money: Washington is for lobbyists, not entrepreneurs

Written by admin on January 27th, 2011

CNN Money on the lack of a real business culture in Washington DC.

CNN

A hot Silicon Valley startup recently ran a discussion thread entitled: “What stops Washington, DC from becoming a startup hub?”

There are lots of reasons, but I think it comes down to culture and priorities.

For all its talk of change, Washington intoxicates people with the power of “bigness.”

President Obama asks the head of GE to be a “jobs czar,” even though entrepreneurial companies — that is, new companies — have been responsible for almost all new job creation since 1980, according to U.S. Census data. GE has dumped 34,000 workers in the U.S. since 2000. Still, it was able to borrow billions from the Federal Reserve in 2008 as part of the bailout at rock-bottom rates — at a time when small companies found themselves completely cut off from the credit markets.

What would be acceptable behavior in Silicon Valley just doesn’t cut it in status-conscious Washington.

My neighbors are firmly convinced that I must be unemployed. I don’t wear a suit. I “work” from home a lot. My daughter’s classmate’s father called me the other day and asked if maybe I wanted to do some consulting for him.

Venture capital is scarcer here, too. There are only a handful of VC firms in our area, compared to the hundreds that fill Silicon Valley. It makes sense. Washington is a region where capital can better be deployed starting a lobbying firm or bidding for government contracts.

Lobbying alone was a $2.6 billion industry in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. All that spending just sucks the oxygen out of the room for people trying to do true entrepreneurship.