Politico: Lobby wars: Top 5 fights of 2011

Written by admin on December 26th, 2011

Gridlock plagued Congress this year, but that didn’t stop the multi-billion-dollar lobbying industry from duking it out over everything from credit card fees to smog rules.

In fact, a divided Congress, an unruly House Republican freshman class and a Democratic president not winning many friends on the Hill made for a unique environment for K Street to fight epic battles.

Some of the biggest lobbying battles of 2011 pitted mega-influencers against each other, cost millions of dollars, and even drove an arms race for talent on K Street.

Without further ado, here are POLITICO’s top five lobbying battles of 2011:

Politico

Big Banks v. Big Retail

The perennial fight over the fee banks charged on debit cards had long kept lobbyists in the green. But 2011 touched off one of the most intense lobbying battles in banking history, pitting Visa, Mastercard and others in the financial industry like JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America against retailers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target. At stake: more than $15 billion a year in fees banks charge retailers for allowing their customers to pay with debit cards. The banks engaged in an all-hands-on-deck lobbying offensive trying to delay or limit the new rules.

Against the odds, the retailers — lead by the Retail Industry Leaders Association — prevailed in a June. The nail-biter of a vote in the Senate allowed new limits from the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform law to be enacted limiting how much banks can charge retailers for using debit cards.

RILA’s Katherine Lugar said that the campaign “was a testament to the lobbying force that the retail industry has become particularly when large and small retailers are perfectly aligned. This powerful alliance will remain intact as we pursue credit reforms in 2012.”

AT&T’s Bid to Buy T-Mobile:

AT&T is no stranger to fighting battles on Capitol Hill. The company has one of the biggest in-house and contract lobbying teams, regularly using third party groups to try and sway public opinion — but the company couldn’t sway the Department of Justice to let its proposed merger with T-Mobile go forward.

AT&T spent nearly $16 million on its lobbying campaign and almost $2 million in campaign contributions in its bid to sell federal regulators on its proposed $39 billion deal. The lobbying campaign captivated K Street and expanded many firms’ bottom line as both AT&T and its opposition (including Sprint) engaged in an arms race of signing hired guns. AT&T’s effort — which included getting more than 70 lawmakers to sign on in support of the deal — wasn’t enough. In spite of its mega effort, AT&T was forced to drop its bid — costing the company nearly $4 billion in cash and spectrum as part of the deal’s breakup fee.

Supercommittee Courts K Street:

The supercommittee, tasked with cutting at least $1.2 trillion from the nation’s deficit, was the talk of the town this fall with K Streeters in the early days often getting more information on potential deals than staffers. But that quickly changed, as the committee went on lockdown.

As veteran K Streeter Gerald Cassidy, founder of Cassidy & Associates, told POLITICO this fall. “During my 42 years in Washington, this is the most closed-mouth committee that I have seen,” Cassidy said.

That didn’t stop the private sector and even state-level officials and other lawmakers from trying to get a word in to give their issues a leg up. Health care and the defense industry in particular amped up their lobbying campaigns — advertising, working members of the powerful panel and also lobbying key lawmakers in leadership. In the six week run-up to panels decision, nearly 200 companies and special interests reported they were lobbying the 12-member panel.

Of course, the supercommittee didn’t pull off anything heroic. But that doesn’t mean the lobbying has stopped. With health care and defense cuts slated to go into effect at the beginning of 2013, K Streeters are already eyeing opportunities to try and find a way to turn back the clock.

Smog Wars:

Greens and public health groups lost big in the summer’s bruising lobbying war over new smog standards.

The White House decision to punt on the long-anticipated smog rules in early September was a gift to heavyweight industry associations led by the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute and others that lobbied for months to kill tougher ozone standards.

The industry coalition met behind closed doors with EPA top brass, House Republicans and White House officials, and publicly warned that a stricter smog rule – estimated to cost up to $90 billion annually — would hurt both industry and President Barack Obama’s chances for reelection in 2012. They also appealed directly to Obama’s chief of staff Bill Daley, hoping to find a sympathetic audience in the former bank executive.

Environmental and public health groups including the American Lung Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Natural Resources Defense Council waged an aggressive lobbying campaign of their own to demand tougher rules. But their arguments about the health and environmental benefits of the rule weren’t enough to spur the administration to risk the political fallout of a new standard heading into an election year.

Business Bests Labor in Trade Brawl:

Businesses looking to boost international exports scored a major victory with the passage of three long-stalled trade deals opposed by labor unions.

Industry champions of the U.S. agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama included the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S.-Korea FTA Business Coalition, an umbrella organization representing hundreds of businesses. The businesses and the Obama administration touted the agreements’ potential to bolster exports by $13 billion – with $11 billion in Korea alone – and to create more than 70,000 jobs.

The three deals had languished since they were first negotiated under President George W. Bush, but were able to win bipartisan support in Congress after the Obama administration tweaked the agreements and linked them to the extension of a program that offers money to American workers who lose their jobs due to foreign trade.

Labor unions including the AFL-CIO and other critics fought against the deals, warning that the South Korea pact alone could displace 159,000 workers. Unions also criticized worker protections in Colombia, citing a high murder rate of trade unionists, and accused Panama’s government of neglecting worker’s rights while harboring money launderers.

Several unions broke ranks to endorse the Korea free trade deals. The United Automobile Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said they were encouraged by the increased exports of automobiles and meat.

 

Politico: Super PACs: The bad cops of 2012

Written by admin on December 22nd, 2011

The bad cops of 2012 are here.

Super PACs with ties to Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum launched a negative advertising blitz this month in Iowa that has let the candidates – with ties to the groups – stay above the fray while the outsiders do the dirty work.

The blitz is a blatant example of a game cropping up across the country, where candidates like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, and even Barack Obama, have gotten to stay classy, while ads bashed their likely opponents. And observers predict this will be the norm in 2012 – where official campaigns get to stay high-brow, while deep-pocketed outsiders go negative.

Politico

“You won’t see many puppies, rainbows and unicorns in super PAC ads,” said Brian Walsh, president of a GOP super PAC focused on congressional races. “You don’t win a fight with a hug and smile. You start throwing punches and don’t stop swinging.”

In recent days, a super PAC with ties to Romney spent $2.5 million on a barrage of attack ads painting Newt Gingrich with a palette of dingy colors: as hypocritical, weak on key conservative issues like abortion and tainted by Washington politics.

Gingrich was livid, his outrage boiling over while campaigning Tuesday in Iowa.

“We’ve got to understand these are [Romney’s] people, running his ads, doing his dirty work while he pretends to be above it. He can demand that every ad be positive,” Gingrich said. “I think these guys hire consultants who just sit around, get drunk and write really stupid ads.”

For his part, Romney has distanced himself from the super PAC world, even saying on MSNBC on Tuesday that the groups should be eliminated. But he dodged a question about whether he would give in to Gingrich’s demand to call for Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting him, to stop running the attack ads.

“I’m not allowed to communicate with the super PAC in any way, shape or form,” Romney said.

A series of recent federal court decisions allowed super PACs to raise and spend unlimited sums of money in support or opposition to political candidates — so long as they don’t directly coordinate with the candidates or their committees. This arms candidates with deniability many prize.

Super PACs for an array of candidates have cropped up and already gone negative in their advertisements.

In an ad this week, a pro-Rick Santorum super PAC, Red, White & Blue Fund, flashes images of Barack Obama, Gingrich, Romney, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Michele Bachman before asking, “who’s the true conservative you can really trust?”

It’s happening at the congressional level, too, with super PAC Rethink PAC this autumn spending $156,000 on advertisements against Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), blasting him as a pawn of Wall Street and acting against the interest of working people. Those ads could give a boost to Warren, his Democratic opponent for the Senate seat and the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

And a liberal super PAC ran ads in New Hampshire and Iowa to remind voters about some of Romney’s more progressive views and the fact that he speaks French, Slate reported earlier this month. An ad from American LP featured Romney welcoming viewers to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in French.

Romney has recently drawn fire from the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, which has made more than $306,000 worth of independent expenditures bashing the former Massachusetts governor.

The flipside of the negative ads is they leave candidates more room to run positive ads on their own behalf.

“In many ways, it provides candidates with the opportunity to create the contrast and to tell their own story and gives them a little bit more flexibility to do so, particularly earlier in the campaign,” Walsh said.

Outside groups have long run negative advertisements. But the proliferation of super PACs with close ties to candidates is unlike anything ever seen in presidential politics.

“We’re just seeing it at a whole other magnitude, and you also have groups here that may be in this fight because of a particular candidate, rather than a particular issue,” said Ken Goldstein, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Media analysts and super PAC leaders say the committees will be running more negative advertisements than ever before, thanks to the new campaign finance landscape.

“I’m certain campaign managers and political strategists will be looking at the content of advertising that is currently in place while they’re making their strategic decisions,” Walsh said. “And if there is one entity already carrying a negative message, that’s going to affect their decision-making process.”

If 2012 election cycle has proven anything, anti-coordination safeguards are barely relevant.

Take the Atlas Project, a Democratic consulting firm, which recently created a website through which independent organizations may post campaign intelligence and campaigns may view it — all while skirting regulations barring coordination between such entities. The practice, organizers say, is legal.

Rick Perry’s presidential campaign, meanwhile, appeared to use footage from commercials produced by the pro-Perry super PAC Make Us Great Again, drawing complaints from campaign finance organizations but nonetheless occurring.

In another test of anti-coordination rules, many super PACs themselves are run by candidates’ former staffers and associates.

Make Us Great Again is run by former Perry hand Mike Toomey. Pro-Barack Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action – it’s slammed Romney this autumn through independent expenditures while Obama himself has hovered leagues above such fray — is run by former White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney.

Former Gingrich aide Becky Burkett is president of the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, and on Wednesday former Gingrich press secretary Rick Tyler joined as its senior adviser.

Restore Our Future is led by former Romney campaign advisers Carl Forti and Charles Spies.

And in the case of Our Destiny PAC, a super PAC that supports Republican presidential long-shot Jon Huntsman, Huntman’s father has provided much of the funding for it.

The pro-Perry Make Us Great Again super PAC and pro-Huntsman Our Destiny PAC have primarily produced ads that laud their candidates of choice instead of tearing down opponents.

Both Perry and Huntsman are lagging in polls, and super PAC attack ads would likely do little to help their increasingly imperiled campaigns. But both super PACs have shown they have significant resources – Make Us Great Again has spent nearly $2.5 million this autumn, Our Destiny PAC nearly $1.9 million – meaning they possess plenty of firepower if they choose to get nasty.

Concern persists among some Republicans that super PACs will have an eroding effect on candidates, with their negativity turning off voters and messages doing more harm than good.

For one Republican presidential candidate, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, the situation is beyond unseemly.

“Super PACs threaten our freedom. They allow a few special interests to dominate in some of these early states, and we don’t even really know who’s behind them,” said Roemer, whose quixotic campaign will only accept donations of up to $100 and has no independent political committee supporting it. “They’re having a powerful, powerful effect. And we don’t even know how powerful they’ll get.”

And while super PACs must almost immediately report independent expenditures they make, they may wait weeks, even months, to report who’s funding their efforts.

But some notable partisans say they’ll prove to be a most useful tool once fully turned against Democrats.

Paul Lindsay says the National Republican Congressional Committee, for one, “welcomes the assistance of any organization that supports our goal of expanding the majority — what we’re focused on is what we can focus on.”

In that regard, are independent political organizations helping Republicans more than they’re hurting them?

“Yes,” Lindsay said.

Like it or not, independent groups are “going to be around for a while in this form, and they’re elevating their game,” said Rick Wiley, the Republican National Committee’s political director.

“They’re getting to the point where they know what they’re doing, and a lot of times, they’ll provide air cover for us,” Wiley said. “It’s very welcome. It’s great, in fact.”

 

 

Los Angeles Times: Gingrich, Romney rip super PACs while reaping benefits

Written by admin on December 21st, 2011

Leading GOP presidential aspirants Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have decried the role of high-spending super PACs in recent days, while their close friends, donors and former staff push these newly created political committees to the forefront of modern campaigning.

LA Times

Welcome to the 2012 campaign, where these new groups that can raise donations in unlimited amounts are acting as surrogates for candidates, in some cases outspending the candidates and the political parties.

In Iowa on Monday, Gingrich took aim at super PACs of his opponents, who have been bashing him in broadcast ads and fliers. “It would be nice if candidates were responsible for the things being done by the people who know them personally, who are trying to help them get elected,”

Gingrich said, clearly referring to Romney’s super PAC, which has been advertising heavily in Iowa: “It’s very disappointing to see some of my friends who are running putting out so much negative junk.”

Close former advisors to Romney have organized and managed the Restore Our Future super PAC that last week announced a $2.4-million ad campaign in Iowa. In an interview Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Romney said he has nothing to do with that group, even though former advisors run it and once appeared at an event for the organization.

“My goodness, if we cooperate in any way, shape or form we go to the big house,” Romney said. He then added that campaign finance rules have made a “mockery” of the political system and called for the nation to “get rid of these super PACs.

Even as Gingrich was complaining about super PAC activity, his longtime advisor, Rick Tyler, was planning to join one of two Gingrich super PACs, Winning Our Future. Tyler has advised Gingrich since 1999 on religious and political issues, serving as a spokesman for Gingrich after he left Congress. In joining the new super PAC, Tyler reunites with another colleague from the Gingrich private sector years, Becky Burkett, who directed fundraising for Gingrich projects, working with Tyler.

NBC News reports that the Our Destiny PAC, a super PAC backing Jon Huntsman, has a new ad out that pushes his credentials as a “consistent conservative.” The super PAC is also running full-page ads in New Hampshire newspapers touting Huntsman as “more conservative than Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich combined.”

Meanwhile, Democratic-oriented super PACs, though outspent, continue to organize. Priorities Action USA, a committee supporting President Obama, has broadcast more than $300,000 worth of ads criticizing Romney.

 

Forbes: 29 Companies That Paid Millions For Lobbying (And Didn’t Pay Taxes)

Written by admin on December 14th, 2011

Forbes Magazine’s story on Public Campaign’s report on corporate spending.  The report also details the campaign contributions made by the corporations.

Forbes

Thirty large U.S. corporations paid more money to Congressional lobbyists than they paid in taxes from 2008-2010, according to a new report from Public Campaign, a purportedly non-partisan corporate watchdog organization that seeks to reduce the influence of big companies in politics. The report names 30 profitable companies (only one of which paid federal corporate taxes during the period analyzed), with lobbying expenditures ranging from $710,000 to $84.4 million.

The worst offender, according to the report, is General Electric. The company – which drew fire earlier this year when its lack of taxes came to light – spent over $39 million on lobbyists in 2010 alone, to firms like Federal Policy Group and Capitol Tax Partners. The energy giant avoided paying any U.S. taxes, and indeed received tax rebates totaling over $4.7 billion over the three years studied.

PG&E spent the second most on lobbying among the corporations named. In fact, it topped GE’s 2010 totals, spending nearly $45.5 million on lobbying last year. From 2008 through 2010, the company spent just under $79 million on lobbying.

Only one of the companies named in the report paid income taxes during the period analyzed, although even that company paid a tiny fraction of the standard corporate tax rate. FedEx paid $37 million in taxes – good for a tax rate of 1%. During that same period, FedEx spent $50.8 million on lobbying.

The Public Campaign report, which utilizes data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Citizens for Tax Justice and SEC filings, also contains details on corporate campaign contributions and executive compensation. Honeywell had the highest total Federal campaign contributions (from Political Action Committees and employees to candidates and party committees) during the three year period, contributing $5.1 million to Federal campaigns. Honeywell also ranked second to General Electric in compensation paid to top executives in 2010.

The list of the 30 corporations that paid more for lobbying than they paid in U.S. federal taxes follows. To read the full report, including executive compensation and political contributions, click here.

All figures below in millions.

Company Profits Taxes Paid Lobbying
General Electric $10,460 -$4,737 $84.35
PG&E Corp $4,855 -$1,027 $78.99
Verizon Communications $32,518 -$951 $52.34
Wells Fargo $49,370 -$681 $11.04
American Electric Power $5,899 -$545 $28.85
Pepco Holdings $882 -$508 $3.76
Computer Sciences $1,666 -$305 $4.39
CenterPoint Energy $1,931 -$284 $2.65
NiSource $1,385 -$227 $17.47
Duke Energy $5,475 -$216 $17.47
Boeing $9,735 -$178 $52.29
NextEra Energy $6,403 -$139 $9.99
Consolidated Edison $4,263 -$127 $1.79
Paccar $365 -$112 $0.76
Integrys Energy Group $818 -$92 $2.45
Wisconsin Energy $1,725 -$85 $2.45
DuPont $2,124 -$72 $13.75
Baxter International $926 -$66 $10.45
Tenet Healthcare $415 -$48 $3.43
Ryder System $627 -$46 $0.96
El Paso $4,105 -$41 $2.94
Honeywell International $4,903 -$34 $18.30
CMS Energy $1,292 -$29 $3.48
ConLway $286 -$26 $2.29
Navistar International $896 -$18 $6.31
DTE Energy $2,551 -$17 $4.37
Interpublic Group $571 -$15 $1.30
Mattel $1,020 -$4 $2.81
Corning $1,977 -$4 $2.81
FedEx $4,247 $37 $50.81
 

CBS News: Money talks, but real money thunders

Written by admin on December 12th, 2011

It’s clear enough — or should be by now — that the electoral process has been occupied by the 1%; which means that what you hear in this “campaign” is largely refracted versions of their praise, their condemnation, their slurs, their views, their needs, their fears, and their wishes.  They are making money off, and electing a president via, you.  Which means that you — that all of us — are occupied, too.”   Tom Engelhardt

CBS News

….as President Obama hustled around my hometown, snarling New York traffic in the name of Campaign 2012.  He was, it turned out, “hosting” three back-to-back fundraising events: one at the tony Gotham Bar and Grill for 45 supporters at $35,800 a head (the menu: roasted beet salad, steak and onion rings, with apple strudel, chocolate pecan pie, and cinnamon ice cream — a meal meant to “shine a little light” on American farms); one for 30 Jewish supporters at the home of Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, for at least $10,000 a pop; and one at the Sheraton Hotel, evidently for the plebes of the contribution world, that cost a mere $1,000 a head. (Maybe the menu there was rubber chicken.)

In the course of his several meals, the president pledged his support for Israel (in the face of Republican charges that he is eternally soft on the subject), talked about “taxes and the economy” to his undoubtedly under-taxed listeners, and made this stirringly meaningless but rousing comment: “No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, we’re one nation.  We’re one people. And that’s what’s at stake in this election.”

Outside his final event, Occupy Wall Street protesters saw something else at stake, dubbing him the “1% president.”  The end result from a night’s heavy lifting: $2.4 million for his election campaign and the Democratic National Committee, nowhere close to 1% of what they will need for the next year.

These were the 67th, 68th, and 69th fundraisers attended by Obama so far in 2011, or the 71st, 72nd, and 73rd.  (It depended on who was counting.) In either case, we’re talking about approximately one fundraiser every five days, a total of 6% of the events in which Obama took part in this non-election year.

Think about that.  You vote for the president to spend some part of 20% of his days raising money for his own future from the incredibly wealthy.  Or put another way, the Washington Post now estimates that if you add in the non-fundraising, election-oriented events that involve him — 63 so far in 2011 — perhaps 12% of his time is taken up with campaign efforts of one sort or another; and this is what he’s been doing 12 to 24 months before the election is scheduled to happen.

New York being the home of… gulp… Wall Street (1%! 1%!), Obama doesn’t exactly have it to himself.  Mitt Romney was heading into town on December 14th for his own rousing round of four fundraisers. One at the Waldorf Astoria will be hosted by — you can’t be balder than this — four JPMorgan Chase executives, including James B. “Jimmy” Lee, Jr., the vice chairman of the company and the “banker who battled the Obama administration over the restructuring of Chrysler LLC.”  And oh yes, Romney leads Obama in funding support from billionaires, 42 to 30 (with Rick Perry taking third place at 20).

In the 2008 election, JPMorgan employees gave $4.6 million to the candidates of their choice, coming in behind only Goldman Sachs and Citigroup on The Street.  Now that, I would say, is actual electoral power.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that the voting that matters most takes place at those fundraisers, not in the booths where, billions of dollars in attack ads later, the usual hoi polloi pull the handles on electoral slot machines. 

Their bread, our circus

In ancient Rome, the emperors provided the capital’s inhabitants with “bread and circuses.”  Ever since, that combination has been shorthand for rulers buying off the ruled with the necessities of life and spectacle.

In Rome, that spectacle involved gladiatorial and other elaborate games of death that took place in the Colosseum.  In this age, our rulers, the 1% whose money has flooded the electoral cycle, are turning the election itself into our extended circus.  This year, a series of Republican televised “debates” have glued increasing numbers of eyeballs to screens — and not just Republican eyeballs, either.  Everyone waits for the latest version of a reality show to produce the next cat fight, fabulous gaffe, late-night laugh line, confession, denial, scandal, or plot twist, the next thumbs up or, far better, thumbs down on some candidate’s increasingly brief political life in the arena.

Think of it as their bread and our circus.  Who can doubt that, like the crowds of Rome once upon a time, we await the inevitable thumbs-down vote and the YouTube videos that precede and follow it with a kind of continuing bloodlust?  The only problem: however strange all this may be, it’s not, at least in the old-fashioned sense, an election nor does it seem to have much to do with democracy.  The fact is that we have no word for what’s going on.  Semi-democracy?  Unrepresentative democracy?  1% democracy?  Demospectacracy?

Of course, we still speak of this as a presidential election campaign, and it’s true that 11 months from now more than 60% of the voting age population will step into polling booths across the country and cast ballots.  But let’s face it, if this is an election at all, it’s certainly one stricken with elephantiasis.  Once, as now, a presidential race had primaries, conventions, campaigning, mudslinging, and sometimes even a few debates, but all of this had limits.  In recent years, the limits — almost any limits — have been disappearing.  Along the way, the process has expanded from an eight-month-long affair that most voters only began to attend to sometime in the fall of election year to a perpetual campaign, perpetually discussed, reported on, and displayed.

The primaries, for instance, have been on a forced march toward ever-earlier dates. Iowa’s — actually a “caucus” — is now on January 3rd of election year and the first official primary, New Hampshire’s is on January 10th.  (Over the years, it’s repeatedly had to move its date forward from March to hold onto that status.)  This time around, the “debates” leading up to the primaries began last May; previously meaningless party “straw polls,” covered as monumental events by hundreds of reporters, accompanied them; the first of a World War I-style barrage of attack ads was launched in the same period, and the opinion polls on various constellations of likely (or unlikely) candidates — what Jonathan Schell once called our “serial elections” — preceded everything, accompanied by endless media speculation about them.

It’s an ever-expanding system, engorging itself on money and sucking in ever larger audiences.  It’s the Blob of this era.  In fact, the next campaign now kicks off in the media the day after (if not the day before) the previous election ends with speculation (polls soon to follow) handicapping the odds of future candidates, none yet announced.

The perpetual campaign

Once upon a time, the perpetual candidate — former Minnesota governor Harold Stassen was the classic example — proved a kind of running joke.  No longer.  Now, the president himself essentially begins his campaign for a second term almost as soon as he enters the Oval Office.

Similarly, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the media-anointed Republican nominee of this electoral cycle, has in fact been running for president since at least 2006.  It’s been his only real “job” since leaving the governorship in 2008.  In his life, he is now the embodiment of the perpetual candidate, and yet even those who make him the butt of endless TV jokes don’t find that fact strange or particularly worthy of comment.

Everywhere you care to look, the expansion of the presidential race is evident.  In the fall of 1948, in an election he was supposed to lose, Democratic President Harry (“give ’em hell”) Truman barnstormed the nation by train, decrying a “do-nothing Congress.”  By comparison, President Obama has been out this fall — the equivalent of 1947 — on what is clearly the campaign trail denouncing his own version of a do-nothing Congress.  And that’s only a start when it comes to turning election “year” into Election Life.

On money, the sky’s the limit.  In 2000, the total federal election season cost $3 billion; in 2008, more than $5 billion, of which an estimated $2.4 billion went into the presidential campaign.  With the Supreme Court having made it easier for outside money to pour in, thanks to its Citizens United decision, funding for campaign 2012 is expected to pass $6 billion and could even top $7 billion.  The Obama campaign, which raised $760 million in 2008, is expected to pass the billion-dollar mark this time around (with money already pouring in from the financial and banking sector on which candidate Mitt Romney is also heavily reliant).

TV advertising alone, which topped $2.1 billion in 2008, is expected to reach or exceed $3 billion this time around.  These are, of course, staggering sums.  Already the attack ads, mostly on the president, mostly from the sort of Super PACs that Citizens United let loose in the land, are zinging away far in advance of any previous presidential campaign season.  According to the Washington Post, $23 million worth of attack ads have come and gone, half of that from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads And as one analyst quoted by the New York Times put it, “These dollar figures we’re talking about now are going to seem quaint in a few months.  And they’ll seem really quaint in eight or nine months.”

For comparison’s sake, back in 1976, in the era when pundits were first beginning to write about presidential elections as perpetual campaigns, the total spending of presidential candidates Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter was $66.9 million.

This inundation of money has also meant an inundation of lobbyists.  President Obama officially refuses to take campaign contributions from lobbyists. The New York Times recently reported, however, that 15 of his top “bundlers,” who give their own money and solicit that of others for the campaign — none registered as federal lobbyists — are “involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies,” and they are raising millions for him.  A June report from the Center for Public Integrity concluded: “President Obama granted plum jobs and appointments to almost 200 people who raised large sums for his [2008] presidential campaign, and his top fundraisers have won millions of dollars in federal contracts.”

And the 2012 Republican field of presidential contestants puts Obama in the shade.  They seem determined to campaign cheek to jowl with as many lobbyists as they can corral.  More than 100 federal lobbyists have already contributed to Mitt Romney’s campaign, while Rick Perry has evidently risen to candidate status on the shoulders of Mike Toomey, a former gubernatorial chief of staff, friend, and money-raising lobbyist whose clients “have won $2 billion in [Texas] state government contracts since 2008.”  And that’s only scratching the surface.

In the meantime, a national machinery has been set up to staff that perpetual campaign.  By early October (again 2011, not 2012), according to the New York Times, the Obama campaign had opened offices in 15 states, had paid employees in 38 states, and had a Chicago headquarters with a paid staff of 200.  Thirteen months before the actual election, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee had already shelled out “close to $87 million in operating costs.”  At this point, there is no Republican equivalent, as the many Republican candidates are still involved in the struggle for the nomination, while Obama, as vulnerable a president as we’ve seen in our time, miraculously lacks even a symbolic primary challenger.

Money talks

At the heart of the ever-expanding presidential campaign sit the media, especially television — especially those ads.  In 1996, when Republican Robert Dole ran against President Bill Clinton, the two camps spent an estimated $113 million for ads, almost all for television.  In the 2008 election for all federal offices, $2.7 billion went into television advertising.

This year, when the media is feeling the pinch of hard times, $3 billion dollars in prospective TV ads must look like manna from heaven.  In fact — though no one in the media ever writes about it — this has to represent one of the great conflict of interest stories of our time, maybe of all time.  The pundits, commentators, reporters, and news announcers who once again seem so intent on convincing us that this will be the election of the century are essentially drumming up business for the owners of their networks or cable stations who will profit handsomely, even staggeringly, from the dollars that those glued eyeballs bring in.

So Fox, for instance, is now a constant debate central for Republican candidates and is, in turn, pulling in advertising at a rate ahead of the 2008 campaign cycle.  “Like CNN, MSNBC and others,” writes Dan Hirschhorn of Ad Age, “Fox News is set to benefit from the proliferation of third-party political and issue advocacy groups including Super PACs and 527s, which can afford national airtime and are gearing up to be major players in 2012 politics.”

And like any reality show, for this one to succeed so far ahead of its appointed season, you need the constant drama of contestants being ushered on and off stage, of spectacular rises and no less spectacular collapses.  Hence, the stories of Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, which (if you were of a conspiratorial mind) might almost seem too good (or bad) to be true.

So far, the media’s election blitz has proven remarkably successful.  The audience for the very first Republican debate of 2011 almost doubled the audience for the first Republican debate of the 2008 campaign.  And as this round of debates has gained steam, it has nearly doubled its own initial numbers.  Meanwhile, the media version of the election campaign is visibly becoming a too-big-to-fail juggernaut.  In the process, it seems that we, the citizens, the viewers, have been given an election life sentence.  Our job is to sit and watch while the action happens elsewhere.

It’s true that, on November 6, 2012, Americans will enter voting booths and choose a candidate for president, and that makes this an “election.”  But thinking of it that way won’t get you far.  It’s also true, that, on January 20, 2013, a newly elected president will step into the Oval Office.  What any of this has to do with democracy, as opposed to spectacle, influence, corruption, the power of the incredibly wealthy to pay for and craft messages, and the power of media owners to enhance their profits is certainly an open question. Think, at least, how literally the old phrase “money talks” is being updated every time you hear the candidates, or see their ads, or get a robocall from one of them, or receive a geo-targeted mobile ad of theirs on your iPhone or Android.

It’s clear enough — or should be by now — that the electoral process has been occupied by the 1%; which means that what you hear in this “campaign” is largely refracted versions of their praise, their condemnation, their slurs, their views, their needs, their fears, and their wishes.  They are making money off, and electing a president via, you.  Which means that you — that all of us — are occupied, too.

So stop calling this an “election.”  Whatever it is, we need a new name for it.

 

Washington Post: Super PACs herald a punishing campaign season

Written by admin on December 9th, 2011

The flood of spending continues.

Washington Post

Millions of dollars in political advertising from independent groups supporting the Republican presidential candidates are adding another element of unpredictability to an already ­topsy-turvy nomination contest.

A group backing Mitt Romney, known as Restore Our Future, on Thursday launched a $3.1 million advertising campaign that will run in Iowa in the next three weeks. Earlier this week, Make Us Great Again, a group supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry, reported spending $577,000.

The spending underscores the rapid rise of “super PACs” and their prominence in the 2012 campaign: the $1 million spent so far by independent groups in the GOP primary is four times greater than it was at this point in 2008, according to ad tracking data from Kantar Media.

But all of that independent spending also can mean that voters are getting hit with a lot of different, and sometimes confusing, messages. That stems in part from campaign laws that ban independent groups from coordinating their strategies with the candidates or their campaigns.

“You’re going to have many more players involved,” said Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar’s political ad tracking group. “And when you have more players involved, you can have different strategies and different agendas, even among friends.”

Off message

The ad campaign by Restore Our Future, for example, did not line up neatly with Romney’s evolving campaign message.

On the same day that Romney unleashed a pointed attack on rival Newt Gingrich, the Restore Our Future ad made no mention of the former House speaker, focusing instead on criticizing President Obama as a “community organizer” and “law professor” with no record of creating jobs.

“Mitt Romney turned around dozens of American companies and helped create thousands of jobs,” the ad says, referring to Romney’s time as co-founder of the Bain Capital private equity firm.

The message was similar to the Obama-focused theme that Romney has been sounding throughout his campaign, but far different from the new focus on Gingrich.

Restore Our Future’s treasurer, Charlie Spies, said in a statement that the ad, which also shows background on Romney, highlights the candidate’s “proven track record when it comes to creating jobs, turning an economy around without raising taxes, and taking businesses from bust to boom.”

The group appears to be just one step behind Romney’s campaign. Late Thursday, a 60-second spot attacking Gingrich surfaced on the Internet, but it was quickly removed from YouTube.

Outspending candidates

In some cases, super PACs are spending more on the airwaves than the candidates they are aiming to help.

Jon Huntsman’s campaign hasn’t run any ads, but his super PAC has spent $493,000 on television through the start of this week, according to estimates from Kantar, which don’t include local cable and radio advertisements. The super PAC has reported more than $1 .3 million in total spending to the Federal Election Commission.

Romney’s campaign has spent only $157,000 on ads through Sunday, according to Kantor’s estimate, a rate far lower than the $3.1 million campaign planned by Restore Our Future.

 

 

Financial Sense: Interview with Director Francis Megahy

Written by admin on December 8th, 2011

Financial Sense

Director Francis Megahy joins Jim on Financial Sense Newshour to discuss his film on the lobbying industry in Washington DC. Politicians now spend more than 25% of their time fundraising, while the number of lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000. Registered lobbyists have spent over 13 billion dollars in the last six years alone.

Veteran documentary director Francis Megahy, who now lives in the US, began his career in British television, as a writer and director, working on documentaries for the BBC and ITV networks. Later he wrote and directed top-rated television series and television movies. Megahy has made more than forty documentaries for British television channels.

 

Bloomberg: Romney-Gingrich Rival Campaigns Woo Lobbyists to Help Pay Bills

Written by admin on December 8th, 2011

The lobbyist-bundlers represent clients big and small, from Indian tribes to General Electric Co. and drugmaker Pfizer Inc. The health-care and financial industries are represented by the biggest proportion of the group, followed by energy, technology and telecommunications, according to records filed with Congress.

The Republican presidential candidates benefiting from their fundraising have all pledged to repeal new regulations to rein in the financial industry and to do away with the health- care law that expanded insurance coverage.

Bloomberg

Republican presidential front-runners courting an anti-Washington mood among their primary voters are counting on Washington lobbyists to pay their bills.

Tonight, the hosts at a $1,000-a-head event for Newt Gingrich, being held two blocks from the White House, include former Louisiana Representative Robert Livingston, Kenneth Kies, a leading tax lobbyist, and Clint Robinson, Research In Motion (RIMM)’s vice president of government relations, according to a copy of the invitation.

The three are among more than 60 lobbyists raising money for Gingrich and Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Together, they represent almost 500 companies, associations and interest groups that will be affected by the next president’s policies; Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) alone has six of its outside lobbyists raising money for Republican candidates.

“The clients are the ones who are winning here,” said Craig Holman, who presses for stricter campaign finance laws at Public Citizen, an advocacy group based in Washington.

Elite Class

Lobbyist fundraisers are an elite class of donors because they use their influence with friends and clients to drive donations to a candidate. Overall, registered lobbyists and others working for policy groups or law firms that lobby donated more than $500,000 through Sept. 30 to candidates running for president, with Romney taking in $206,550, more than anyone else, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.

While President Barack Obama’s campaign doesn’t accept contributions from registered lobbyists, he has taken in $84,459 from non-registered employees at firms that lobby.

Former House Speaker Gingrich is in need of fundraising help after vaulting to the lead in national polls. At the end of the third quarter, he had raised $2.9 million, compared with $17.2 million for Texas Governor Perry and $32.6 million for former Massachusetts Governor Romney. Gingrich also had $1.2 million in debt.

Occidental Grill

The event at the Occidental Grill & Seafood restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue tonight had 16 hosts as of last week. Livingston, who at one point in 1998 was slated to succeed Gingrich as House speaker, counts Verizon among the clients who have paid his firm $6.5 million so far this year.

Livingston said his motivation to help Gingrich raise money isn’t about business. “I have eight grandkids and I want them to grow up in a decent, healthy, wonderful country,” he said.

Lobbyists Sam Geduldig and Drew Maloney are among the more than 75 hosts who agreed to raise at least $1,000 for Romney as part of a Dec. 14 “young professionals” event featuring Romney’s son, Tagg. Individual tickets are going for $100.

And Dirk Van Dongen and Jade West of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, which has spent $319,646 to lobby this year, have helped Perry ease into Washington, with a meet-and-greet in October and a Sept. 27 $1,000-a-head kickoff fundraiser for which hosts raised at least $10,000.

“You use your personal time to do it,” Van Dongen, president of the association, said in an interview. “You tend to support a candidate because you have a relationship to begin with or there’s something about the candidate from a policy or ideological point of view with which you more highly identify.”

Bundler Disclosure

When lobbyists bundle donations through events or phone solicitations that add up to more than $16,000, campaigns are required to disclose their names and amounts raised, though only on a quarterly basis. As of Sept. 30, Romney listed eight lobbyists — including Maloney — who had raised almost $1 million combined. Perry listed one, Dan Brouillette, who had brought in $77,000. Gingrich had none.

Romney acted early to line up top Washington fundraisers. Spencer Zwick, Romney’s national fundraising chairman, invited lobbyist Rick Hohlt to meet him for drinks in March 2010 at the Willard Hotel.

“He just wanted to tell me about the campaign and, ‘Would I be interested in helping?’” Hohlt, who runs his own firm, said in an interview. “It’s one thing if the guy just walks onto the field. It’s another thing saying, ‘Why don’t you play with us and here’s why.’”

GE to Pfizer (PFE)

The lobbyist-bundlers represent clients big and small, from Indian tribes to General Electric Co. and drugmaker Pfizer Inc. The health-care and financial industries are represented by the biggest proportion of the group, followed by energy, technology and telecommunications, according to records filed with Congress.

The Republican presidential candidates benefiting from their fundraising have all pledged to repeal new regulations to rein in the financial industry and to do away with the health- care law that expanded insurance coverage.

Verizon, which has spent $12.3 million through Sept. 30 on lobbying, pushed to weaken Internet rules proposed by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Stakes are High

“There’s a lot at stake in the White House race this year in a way that is different from what was at stake in the past,” said Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. “That’s stimulating much more fundraising activity out of interests who are concerned about the direction of government policy.”

Spokesmen for Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE (GE) and New York- based Verizon and Pfizer all said that the partisan political activity of their outside lobbyists had nothing to do with them.

“We don’t know who they are, we don’t know what they’re doing and it’s not an issue we pay attention to,” said Edward McFadden, a Verizon spokesman.

Even so, such activity helps a lobbyist’s client roster, said Rogan Kersh, a public policy professor at New York University.

“Bundling checks or other high-profile fundraising can earn invitations to White House parties, occasional meet-and greets with presidents or top staffers,” Kersh said. “That appearance of proximity can carry great weight.”

 

NPR: Gingrich’s Health Care Consultancy: Is It Lobbying?

Written by admin on December 5th, 2011

“If you’re studying something, and you come to conclusions, and you advocate for a particular position, that’s advocacy,” says Thurber. “That’s lobbying.”

Political science scholar James Thurber of American University says more of the same in “The Best Government Money Can Buy?”

NPR

In between his speakership and his presidential candidacy, Newt Gingrich built a network of organizations to promote his causes — and himself.

Informally known as Newt Gingrich Inc., those entities have flourished. But questions linger, especially about two of them: the Gingrich Group, a for-profit consulting firm; and a unit of the Gingrich Group called the Center for Health Transformation.

The Gingrich Group doesn’t do the shoe-leather lobbying that’s covered by the federal disclosure law. Yet the Center for Health Transformation, one of its big projects, illustrates the kind of Washington activity that lies beyond the reach of the lobbying law — activity that still can look an awful lot like lobbying to outsiders.

A ‘Think-And-Do Tank’?

The Center for Health Transformation isn’t a think tank, and it isn’t a lobby shop. Defining just what it is isn’t easy.

“They want to say, ‘Well, isn’t that lobbying?’ No,” Gingrich told Sean Hannity of Fox News last week. “That’s called being a citizen. As a citizen, I’m allowed to have an opinion.”

The center’s CEO, Nancy Desmond, told NPR: “We have actually had people refer to us as more of a ‘think-and-do tank,’ because it’s not about just thinking about things; it’s actually doing them.”

The Center for Health Transformation doesn’t have clients; it has members — 93 last year, accounting for about $6.9 million in annual dues.

One charter member from 2003 is HealthTrio, a firm that provides systems for electronic medical records.

Back in 2003, Gingrich testified to a Senate committee about the need to move from paper records to digital systems. He singled out one visionary for praise: the head of HealthTrio, which runs an electronic health record program for Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

In 2004, the center brought HealthTrio executives to Washington to meet with congressional leaders and with the secretary of health and human services. It also recommended that the Congressional Budget Office change its standards so that switching to electronic records would look better on agency budgets.

HealthTrio and the Center for Health Transformation also took their case to state governments. And HealthTrio has the center educate prospective clients.

HealthTrio doesn’t regard this as lobbying, says Dave Syposs, a vice president of the firm. “We looked for them as not a lobbying vehicle but more of [an] educational and informational vehicle for us,” he says.

It wasn’t even lobbying, he says, when the center arranged those visits with congressional leadership.

“Our owner, Dr. Malik Hasan, has had, certainly, opportunities to meet with several of the senators and congressmen through his own personal introductions and through some of the members at the Center for Health Transformation,” Syposs says.

And the Center for Health Transformation’s Desmond says Gingrich was always a valuable asset in meetings — but not because of his political clout.

“Obviously, because Newt is such a well-known person, and beyond that he’s so incredibly intelligent,” she says, “it’s helpful to have him as part of the discussion.”

Among those who have puzzled over the Center for Health Transformation — and just what kind of creature it is — is political science scholar James Thurber of American University.

“If you’re studying something, and you come to conclusions, and you advocate for a particular position, that’s advocacy,” says Thurber. “That’s lobbying.”

But ultimately, Thurber says, the center has been simply a vehicle for Gingrich.

“I think that it was a love of Newt to push for health care reform, and he used it to pursue that love or interest, but also used it to make a great deal of money,” he says.

Desmond says the Gingrich Group, including the Center for Health Transformation, grossed nearly $55 million over the past nine years.

Gingrich’s own financial disclosure statement, filed this summer, says that he stepped down as chairman of the Gingrich Group in May. His one continuing tie: He still serves on HealthTrio’s advisory board.

 

Rep. Jason Murphey: Want to limit lobbyist power? Shrink size of government

Written by admin on December 1st, 2011

REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond in Oklahoma.

Edmund Sun

I really enjoy watching political documentaries. I recently watched “The Best Government Money Can Buy.” This documentary does a great job showing the considerable influence of lobbyists over the development and implementation of policy. It also clearly demonstrates some of the constitutional and practical barriers to various proposals designed to limit the power of special influence.

In actuality, this documentary, no doubt like many similar pieces of literature and video designed to expose the influence of special interests, actually offers little in the way of a solution. After watching this movie, a person could become depressed and conclude that nothing can be done.

The courts have made it clear that political contributions should be treated as free speech and providing them will always be the constitutional right of the donor. So, while it is important to bring transparency and openness to these contributions, there are important boundaries that government should not cross in limiting who can give to a political campaign and who cannot. This frustrates many who see the problem but are unable to provide a solution.

I believe there are two solutions to reducing the influence of lobbyists and big money in politics while still complying with the important constitutional free speech protections.

The first method is to elect citizens legislators who simply do not accept contributions from groups that have lobbyists. This is tough, because, while there are legislators who courageously refuse the hundreds of dollars of personal gifts from lobbyists, I have never encountered another legislator who refuses the thousands of dollars of political contributions from the groups that have lobbyists. This solution may not seem so practical but I do believe that in the future more and more candidates for office will take the pledge to refuse these contributions. As long as I have been an elected official, it has been my goal to set the example of how this can actually be done.

I believe that the ultimate way to limit the influence of special interests is the all-too-often not talked about solution of limiting the size of government. If government had not intruded into every aspect of life then the ability of the powerful, rich, special interests groups to influence power would be limited. Put simply, the reason so many invest so much into government is because they seek to leverage the power of the government to work for their interests.

I find it curious that the same groups who decry the power of the wealthy and their influence over politics oftentimes suggest that the solution to the problem is to expand the size and scope of government. Expanding the size of government additionally empowers those who have the wealth to buy influence with the politicians that control the government.

Ultimately, the way to empower the average individual is to reduce the power of government over his life. This puts the individual back in charge of his own destiny and takes away the ability of others to control him