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

Thursday, 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

The President speaks out on lobbyists

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

The President’s statement:

“I think the public ought to know the extraordinary exertions being made by the lobby in Washington to gain recognition for alterations of the bill.

Washington has seldom seen so industrious or so insidious a lobby.  The newspapers are being filled with paid advertisements calculated to mislead the judgement of public men, not only, but also the public opinion of the country itself.

There is every evidence that money without limit is being spent to sustain this lobby and to create the appearance of a pressure of public opinion antagonistic to some of the chief items of [this] bill”

See the news here

Some things never change.

Washington Post: Judge fights in Iowa, Illinois signal new era for retention elections

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

The Washington Post reports on how the flood of campaign cash is affecting more than just the legislative races.

Is the politicizing of judicial races in our best interests?

Washington Post

What was unusual about the Illinois race is that it was uncontested. Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride was on the ballot alone, part of a regular election asking voters whether they want to keep him. These “retention elections” are held every decade for state Supreme Court justices in Illinois.

Kilbride faced opposition from a pro-business group, the Illinois Civil Justice League, that urged voters to oust him over of a string of civil decisions it found objectionable. But Kilbride responded, mobilizing the political and monetary might of Illinois Democrats – including unions, trial lawyers and the party itself – to withstand the group’s challenge.

After raising more than $2 million, Kilbride kept his job with 66 percent of the vote, meeting the 60 percent threshold required by Illinois law to stay in office. But he complained bitterly about being forced to turn into a glad-handing politician, something he considers inappropriate for a judge.

Even if Illinois provided the most expensive retention election this year, it certainly wasn’t the most controversial – or consequential. That occurred in Iowa, where voters took the nationally unprecedented step of ousting three of seven Supreme Court justices after a well-funded opposition group, Iowa for Freedom, attacked the justices over their ruling last year to give constitutional protection to same-sex marriage in the state.

Observers on both sides of the Iowa election agree that its result will reverberate in courts far beyond Des Moines. “The impact on sitting judges is tremendous,” says Alexander Bryner, the former chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court. “Once we have a result that gets rid of sitting judges because they decided a politically unpopular issue, the message sent to all judges on the bench is, ‘Be careful.’ “

Whether that is a good thing, of course, is a point of debate. Supporters of an independent judiciary say that judges must not become beholden to majority will, but many others believe that courts – particularly in states that do not hold head-to-head elections – have accumulated more power in recent years than initially intended

USA Today: Supreme Court to hear Ariz. campaign finance case

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

The Supreme Court wades back into campaign finance.

USA Today

The case to be heard in early 2011 would be the first campaign-finance case since the justices’ divisive ruling last January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. By a 5-4 vote, the court struck down federal limits on corporations’ independent spending in political races as an infringement on First Amendment speech rights.

The new dispute pits similar speech rights in elections against a state’s interest in limiting the potentially corruptive effect of campaign money. It specifically tests the constitutionality of a state “trigger matching funds” provision that tries to equalize resources among candidates by providing extra public subsidies to candidates who face wealthy, privately financed rivals.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a non-partisan group that supports campaign-finance regulation, said Monday that many states abandoned such trigger fund programs after the high court in 2008 struck down a federal regulation that favored candidates who faced millionaires who financed their own campaigns.

Wertheimer said resolution of the case could have limited national repercussions if the justices focus on the trigger-funds provision. Yet he and other election law analysts, including professor Rick Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the ultimate decision could be more significant if the majority more broadly undermines public financing laws adopted nationwide to reduce the threat of corruption in races.

The Arizona law, which was adopted by ballot initiative in 1998 and took effect in 2000, covers candidates for state office who agree to relinquish their right to raise unlimited private money and instead collect certain qualifying contributions to be matched by public financing.

NPR: Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

NPR reports on how many states laws are written for the legislators by a little known organization in Washington DC whose backers are undisclosed in large part.

NPR

The largest prison company in the country, the Corrections Corporation of America, was present when the model immigration legislation was drafted at an ALEC conference last year.

ALEC’s Bowman says that is not unusual; more than 200 of the organization’s model bills became actual laws over the past year. But he hedges when asked if that means the unofficial drafting process is an effective way to accelerate the legislative process.

“It’s not an effective way to get a bill passed,” he says. “It’s an effective way to find good legislation.”

The difference between passing bills and “finding” them is lobbying. Most states define lobbying as pushing legislators to create or pass legislation. And that comes with rules. Companies typically have to disclose to the public what they are lobbying for, who’s lobbying for them or how much they are spending on it.

If ALEC’s conferences were interpreted as lobbying, the group could lose its status as a non-profit. Corporations wouldn’t be able to reap tax benefits from giving donations to the organization or write off those donations as a business expense. And legislators would have a hard time justifying attending a conference of lobbyists.

Bowman says what his group does is educate lawmakers.

“ALEC allows a place for everyone at the table to come and debate and discuss,” he says. “You have legislators who will ask questions much more freely at our meetings because they are not under the eyes of the press, the eyes of the voters. They’re just trying to learn a policy and understand it.”

Much about ALEC is private. It does not disclose how it spends it money or who gives it to them. ALEC rarely grants interviews. Bowman won’t even say which legislators are members.

Is it lobbying when private corporations pay money to sit in a room with state lawmakers to draft legislation that they then introduce back home? Bowman, a former lobbyist, says, “No, because we’re not advocating any positions. We don’t tell members to take these bills. We just expose best practices. All we’re really doing is developing policies that are in model bill form.”

So, for example, last December Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce sat in a hotel conference room with representatives from the Corrections Corporation of America and several dozen others. The group voted on model legislation that was introduced into the Arizona legislature two months later, almost word for word.

New York Times: Congress Rethinks Its Ban on Internet Gambling

Friday, July 30th, 2010

The NY Times reports on one of the groups profiled in ‘The Best Government Money Can Buy?”.

Story here: (NYT registration may be required)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/29/us/politics/29gamble.html?scp=1&sq=internet%20gambling&st=cse

Opponents, who only four years ago, when Congress was controlled by the Republicans, secured a law that banned the use of credit and debit cards to pay online casinos, said they were aghast. “People sometimes resort to drastic things when they are strapped for cash,” said Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, who called the new proposals “unfathomable.”

Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who leads the Financial Services Committee, has been the legislation’s champion.

“Some adults will spend their money foolishly, but it is not the purpose of the federal government to prevent them legally from doing it,” Mr. Frank said.

The committee’s top Republican, Representative Spencer Bachus of Alabama, noting the passage of far-reaching changes in financial regulation this month, said that “after all the talk last year about shutting down casinos on Wall Street,” he was incredulous that members would vote to “open casinos in every home and every bedroom and every dorm room, and on every iPhone, every BlackBerry, every laptop.”

Mr. Bachus said lobbyists had spent “tens of millions” to overturn the 2006 law. “They’ve had quite a bit of success in turning votes,” he said.

Supporters of legalization said fiscal considerations played a role in their thinking. “I was looking for the money,” Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, said in an interview. He sponsored the companion measure to allow taxation of Internet gambling; he wants to dedicate the money to education.

Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, said in an interview that the money was an attractive source of financing for other programs. “We will not pass an Internet gaming bill,” Mr. Sherman predicted. “We will pass a bill to do something very important, funded by Internet gaming.”

He added, “Forty-two billion dollars over 10 years has an effect.”

The legal status of online gambling has long been murky. The Justice Department asserts that the Wire Act of 1961 prohibits it, but prosecutors have largely left individual gamblers alone.

To crack down on the activity, a 2006 law — inserted at the last minute into an unrelated bill in one of Congress’s last actions before Democrats took control — banned financial institutions from transmitting payments to and from gambling operators.

In the same year, the authorities arrested David Carruthers, a British online-gambling executive, as he changed flights at a Texas airport. He was sentenced to 33 months in prison for racketeering. Last year, the authorities ordered four banks to freeze the accounts of online payment processors that owed money to some 27,000 people who had used offshore poker sites.

But the enforcement actions have barely put a dent in the industry, experts say. Gamblers have used online payment processors, phone-based deposits and prepaid credit cards to circumvent the ban. By some estimates, American online gambling exceeds $6 billion a year.

Today, any American with a broadband connection and a checking account can engage in any form of Internet gambling from any state,” Annie Duke, a professional poker player, testified in May on behalf of the Poker Players Alliance, which hired a former Republican senator from New York, Alfonse M. D’Amato, to lobby for the bill.

New York Times: 24 States’ Laws Open to Attack After Campaign Finance Ruling

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

The New York Times points out consequences for states after the Supreme Court decision/

Story here: (NYT registration required)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/23/us/politics/23states.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Montana is one of the states that will probably be affected. It has one of the nation’s oldest campaign finance laws, approved by voters in 1912 after a copper baron, William A. Clark of Butte, bribed members of the State Legislature to get a United States Senate seat.

Chris Gallus, a former lobbyist and a lawyer who represents business interests in Montana, said his clients would most likely challenge the statute if it were not stricken.

States that can expect to see the biggest and most sudden influx of money are those — like Ohio and Florida — where it is relatively expensive to run campaigns and where races are competitive, said Ray La Raja, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He predicted corporate spending would increase in states where control of state governments hangs in the balance.

The ruling left many state lawmakers frustrated and uncertain how to proceed.

“It’s absolutely outrageous and we’ve got to find a way to deal with it,” said Michael E. Gronstal, the Senate majority leader in Iowa, where lawmakers were exploring how they might keep at least some of the restrictions on political expenditures in the current state law.

The decision could also affect pending trials, like that of Mr. DeLay, who was charged in 2005 with criminal violations of state campaign finance laws and money laundering.