Tuesday, December 30, 2014

NH Republican Jim Rubens' remedy for bipartisan political corruption

Concord Monitor

My Turn: A remedy for bipartisan political corruption

‘A rare bipartisan success” crowed the Wall Street Journal on passage of the $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” spending bill, supported by House and Senate leaders John Boehner and Harry Reid, President Obama and the New Hampshire Congressional delegation, other than Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.
The bipartisan success is that Congress was once again able to duck its core obligation to craft a fiscally sustainable budget, adding another several hundred billion dollars to the nation’s credit card. Another bipartisan success is the gargantuan incumbent protection amendment snuck into the 1,603-page bill just hours before the House voted on the bill without reading it.
The amendment protects incumbents because a single donor and spouse can now give up to $3.1 million over each two-year election cycle to the national political party committees. The two parties and the entrenched incumbents they nearly always protect will now have even bigger war chests to fend off challengers. A small number of big-money donors with their usually narrow, self-serving agendas have now gained hammerlock control over our already bought and paid-for Congress.
Apologists claim that the mega-donor incumbent protection amendment is needed to offset the burgeoning mega-donor super PACs, ostensibly not controlled by the two parties. Having lost my primary against party-backed Scott Brown, I can testify with certainty that most super PAC money hews to the preferences of party leaders in the House and Senate.
Here’s a juicy detail about the amendment for those who think Congress and the special interests feeding at the public trough have in any way been reformed by the 2014 elections. The amendment was drafted at the request of Reid by Marc Elias, the same Perkins Coie attorney who successfully argued for the super PAC loophole before the Federal Election Commission. And the amendment specifically permits mega-donor contributions for any type of party legal work, for which Perkins Coie has collected more than $40 million since 2000.
There is an even darker side to the ever-more-corrupt relationship between favor-seeking donors and cash-hungry parties and their incumbents. The mega-donor-incumbent (M-I) complex has made Washington unresponsive to the needs and wishes of the American people.
It is well established that industrial monopolies suppress competition, consumer choice and product innovation, and stifle economic growth and material progress.
With passage of the cromnibus incumbent protection amendment, the M-I complex is doing the same to Washington politics. The monopolization of campaign money by the two parties and their aligned super PACs has made it more difficult for insurgent, challenger and non-establishment candidates to communicate with voters. The media tends to ignore candidates unable to win the mega-donor “money primary.” This is how the M-I complex suppresses debate about disfavored and uncomfortable issues and positions. So, voters hear little about the hard choices needed to balance the budget, about regulatory capture of fiscal and monetary policy by Wall Street, or about national security alternatives to endless war.
To revive healthy political debate, bring choice back to voters and address our nation’s challenges before they bury us, here is a three-part alternative to the present system of corruption.
∎ Enact a public elections finance system for candidates voluntarily opting out of the current corrupted money system. Each two years, every voter is given a $50 tax rebate voucher assignable to and spendable only by in-district candidates for Congress or president. As shown in Maine, which has a state-level public elections finance system, candidates and elected officials preferring to focus on all of their constituents have the financial incentive to do so.
∎ Require searchable, real-time online reporting of all contributions to any candidate or organization engaging in campaigning for or against candidates, legislation or regulatory activity. While disclosure can suppress paid speech, there is a stronger and offsetting public interest in knowing about real or perceivable conflicts of interest involving public money or the public trust.
∎ Remove all political spending and contribution limits. Attempts to limit private political spending have failed and the First Amendment protects the right of wealthy and well-organized people to speak using as much money as they wish.
(Jim Rubens is a businessman from Hanover and a 2014 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Unworthy OGR oversight of health insurers' bailout

This is a continuation of yesterday's entry Projecting Palmer: Oversight and Government Reform.

In July of this year, the  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued this report: ObamaCare’s Taxpayer Bailout of Health Insurers and the White House’s Involvement to Increase Bailout Size.

Below is the conclusion of the report:
IX. Conclusion
While the President’s rhetoric during the debate leading up to ObamaCare’s passage was
largely critical of insurance companies and inconsistent with his Administration’s closed door relationships with health insurers, ObamaCare contained key provisions to increase insurance company profitability. In addition to providing health insurance companies with a mandate that individuals purchase their product as well as providing expensive subsidies for people to purchase coverage in exchanges, ObamaCare provided several other competitive advantages for insurance companies offering ObamaCare-compliant coverage in health insurance markets. This report discussed two of these provisions: ObamaCare’s Reinsurance program and ObamaCare’s Risk Corridor program.
In 2014, through ObamaCare’s Reinsurance program, nearly 191 million Americans are
forced to pay $63 each to subsidize lower premiums for ObamaCare-compliant policies. In addition to the large payments insurers are scheduled to receive through ObamaCare’s Reinsurance program, most insurance companies currently expect to receive an additional bailout, funded by taxpayers, for their ObamaCare-compliant plans. Based upon the information obtained by the Committee, it would not be surprising if taxpayers end up bailing out companies that offered ObamaCare-compliant plans on the exchanges about $1 billion in 2014 alone. Additionally, Professor Chandler testified that his models show that taxpayer liability through the Risk Corridor program is “most likely in the billions of dollars,” meaning taxpayer exposure could be even greater.
Due to political pressure from the plethora of news stories about individuals losing their health insurance coverage last fall, the Administration issued their so-called transitional policy, which allowed non-ObamaCare compliant plans to be renewed for an additional year. In order to ensure that insurers that offered ObamaCare-compliant coverage were not harmed by the Administration’s unilateral action, the Administration increased the generosity of the Risk Corridor program.
In March 2014, after the Administration suggested that it would implement the Risk
Corridor program in a budget neutral manner, insurers and their lobbyists threatened that forcing budget neutrality on the program would mean much higher premiums in exchange plans in 2015. In early April 2014, the Administration attempted to clarify the Risk Corridor budget neutrality with Valerie Jarrett communicating to an insurance company CEO that the Administration had delivered 80 percent of what the insurers sought. However, the Administration was not finished making the Risk Corridor program more generous to insurers and more dangerous to taxpayers. In May 2014, the Administration adjusted the risk corridor formula to increase the chances that insurers would receive money through the program and to increase the amount of money that insurers would receive.
While the Administration’s changes to the Risk Corridor provision protected the profits
of insurance companies’ ObamaCare-compliant plans, it was extremely detrimental to taxpayers. According to the information obtained by the Committee, the industries’ expectation for the size of the taxpayer bailout has increased by more than a third since October 1, 2013.
Taxpayers should not be forced to bail out insurance companies that made poor strategic
decisions pricing their ObamaCare-compliant products in the individual market. When
government picks winners and losers in the market, it reduces competition and harms consumers. Congress should protect taxpayers and bring greater transparency to the premiums in the individual market by repealing ObamaCare’s Risk Corridor program.

The taxpayer protection purpose exhibited above is consonant with the mission statement of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which I quoted in Projecting Palmer: Oversight and Government Reform, to wit:
First, Americans have a right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second, Americans deserve an efficient, effective government that works for them. Our duty on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is to protect these rights.
The question for Representative-elect Palmer (and for voters and taxpayers in the Alabama 6th Congressional district) is whether the Report gives a satisfactory explanation of why ObamaCare contained the health insurer bailout provisions which the Report criticizes.

Congress passed the law, and so why did Congress put the provisions in the law. Or, in other words, why did Congress do so much of the bidding of the health insurance companies?

I think many people believe they know the answer to the question, and the answer is that such is the way the influence of money and campaign contributions in our political system works, and, in particular, campaign contributions of "special interests."

In my campaign, I tried to articulate the problem of "special interests" this way: Lawmakers are confronted with legislative matters in which there is a general societal interest on more than one side of a matter, and regarding which there is also a one sided, special interest of a small group. I tried to say that the job of the lawmakers is to decide where to strike a balance concerning the general societal interests that are on more than one side of the matter, and to accord little or no weight to the one sided, special interest of the small group.

This is laid out, with examples, in Birmingham's Future For Young Professionals.

One of the examples I gave was that of health care and health insurance companies.There are general societal interests of having affordable and quality health care. One one hand, society may need for the delivery of the same financially robust health insurance companies. At the same time, a determination might be made, for example, that affordable and quality health care could be best done by having only catastrophic health events dealt with by means of an insurance vehicle, and for the routine health matters to be kept outside of the insurance vehicle. Health insurance companies have a special, one sided interest in having more, rather than less, health care brought within the insurance vehicle. If the lawmakers are making decisions about how health care should be set up in the country, they should do so based on trying to achieve the general societal interests, and should largely disregard the desire of health insurance companies to put more, rather than less, of health care under the insurance vehicle. These may mean lesser employment by the health insurance companies, and lesser compensation in the executive ranks of health insurance companies, but that should not been given a great deal of weight by lawmakers.

The democratic form of government has an unfortunate problem. It is a problem which gets bigger, the bigger government gets, and the more government exercises its powers of taxation, spending and regulation in ways affecting the economy and economic activities.
This problem is that economic actors will understandably fixate on the small niche in government and the laws that most affects them. Very large amounts of money are at stake for them in their respective narrow niches affected by laws and governmental action, so they contribute and spend lots of money to make sure the they will be ok in how governmental action affects them in their particular narrow niche. One economic actor does not care about what a non-competing economic actor wants or gets in different niche, so numerous economic actors can make contributions to the same candidate, and the latter, if elected, can do the bidding of multiple economic actors.
There are hundreds of potent one sided, special interests, which are hard at work in Washington. They employ tens of thousands of Washington lobbyists to scurry around every day staying on top of Congressmen about thousands of details in hundreds of legislative bills in which the lobbyists' clients have special one sided interests, which the clients are will to pay their lobbyists to advance.
Next throw into the mix in this bad scenario the realities of the large amounts of money that are needed for politicians to get elected, and fund raising needs to be done continuously. The readily available source is the lobbyists and their clients with the one sided special interests.
So what is the upshot here?
The United States winds up with hundreds and thousands of pages of laws turned out each year by Congress which are convoluted and contorted in mind boggling ways to accommodate all the foregoing economic actors with their one sided, special interests. Little common sense attention is paid to what will work best to serve general societal interests of the American people.
My view is that the report ObamaCare’s Taxpayer Bailout of Health Insurers and the White House’s Involvement to Increase Bailout Size is very unsatisfactory in giving an explanation of of why ObamaCare contained the health insurer bailout provisions which the Report criticizes. Without such an explanation, I consider the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's work unworthy of the American people, and the Committee will fail to protect the taxpayer rights its mission statement talks about.

Based on his past non-responsiveness, I don't think Representative -elect Palmer will make any response to what I say here. Voters and taxpayers in the Alabama 6th Congressional district will need to decide for themselves about whether to complain to Representative-elect Palmer if they think he is not going to serve them satisfactorily.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Projecting Palmer: Oversight and Government Reform

Our AL06 Representative-elect Palmer requested and was assigned to three committees: Budget; Oversight & Government Reform; and Science, Space & Technology.

The Alabama Political Reporter reported on Palmer's statement about his committee assignments as follows:
Palmer said in his statement that throughout the campaign, he has emphasized the need to rein in the out-of-control federal regulatory bureaucracies. Palmer cited working to get the nation's fiscal house in order and the opportunities to advance technology as a key part of the economic needs of the 6th Congressional District. Palmer said that he believes that each of these committees will afford the opportunity to address these issues.
Representative-elect Palmer said that regulations cost the U.S. economy almost $1.9 trillion in 2013 which amounts to almost $15,000 per household. Palmer said, "This is an enormous hidden tax imposed on every American family. Our budget is more than an endless list of numbers, it demonstrates how our country is or is not properly governing itself. We need to offer the next generation a brighter future, therefore we must stop spending money we do not have, concentrate on job growth and expand economic interests.”
The foregoing can be taken in light of the mission statement of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which says:
We exist to secure two fundamental principles. First, Americans have a right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second, Americans deserve an efficient, effective government that works for them. Our duty on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is to protect these rights.
Our solemn responsibility is to hold government accountable to taxpayers, because taxpayers have a right to know what they get from their government. We will work tirelessly, in partnership with citizen-watchdogs, to deliver the facts to the American people and bring genuine reform to the federal bureaucracy.

To my knowledge, Representative-elect Palmer has not answered my question of whether or not Congress is broke (see Just answer the question, Gary Palmer), but there is a suggestion he is at least saying the Washington DC governmental bureaucracy is not working properly and he wants to dedicate himself, as a member of Congress, to trying to make it work better for the American people.

Well, ok, if the Washington DC governmental bureaucracy is not working properly, the chief culprit for that state of affairs would have to be Congress, and Congress needs to be blamed, and Congress needs to report on this to the American people, including giving an explanation of why Congress has not done its job properly and what needs to be done about it.

I think  Rep.-elect Palmer is accurate in saying that "throughout the campaign, he has emphasized the need to rein in the out-of-control federal regulatory bureaucracies  ."

But what did Rep.-elect Palmer say in the campaign, and what does he say now, about why Congress has let the federal regulatory bureaucracies get out of control?

If he said anything about this in the campaign, it was that wrong headed Democrats are to blame for the federal regulatory bureaucracies being out of control, and the solution for the country was to elect more Republicans to Congress and vote Democrats out of Congress.

In the campaign, I was explicit and adamant that it was the entire political class in Washington DC, Republicans and Democrats alike, that was to blame for the federal regulatory bureaucracies being out of control.

In trying to make that case, I asked questions about what average Democrats, average Republicans and independents want. See, e.,g.,  AL.com questions and answers and the question discussed there which was was given to Rep. DeMarco about the EPA killing small business. Throughout the campaign, I tried to say that average Democrats, average Republicans and independents want the same things to a great extent.

Applying that to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee mission statement quoted above, the mission statement does not differentiate between Republicans and Democrats, and it refers to "Americans" having a right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent, and "Americans" deserve an efficient, effective government that works for them.

So, the question goes back to Rep.-elect Palmer: Why don't Americans "know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent", and why don't Americans have " an efficient, effective government that works for them"?

I will continue this discussion in a separate entry which will take as an instructive and illustative matter that the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform took up in July set out in this House staff report: ObamaCare’s Taxpayer Bailout of Health Insurers and the White House’s Involvement to Increase Bailout Size

[Update: See continued discussion at Unworthy OGR oversight of health insurers' bailout.]

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tea party fumes over campaign finance plan


Tea party fumes over campaign finance plan

Activists see high dollar limits as a power grab by GOP establishment.

Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gestures as he addresses the Virginia GOP Convention in Roanoke, Va., Saturday, June 7, 2014.  The GOP is selecting a nominee to face US Sen. Mark Warner in the fall election.    (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Tea party activists are attacking a campaign finance rider in the $1.1 trillion spending bill that they view as a sneaky power grab by establishment Republicans designed to undermine outside conservative groups.
The provision would increase the amount of money a single donor could give to national party committees each year from $97,200 to as much as $777,600 by allowing them to set up different funds for certain expenses. The change would be a huge boost for party committees that have faced steep challenges in recent years from well-funded outside groups.
Disgruntled activists fear the committees will unleash the added cash against conservative candidates in primaries, making it even harder for them to unseat establishment-friendly incumbents. Most tea party groups have political action committees for which individual donations are capped at $10,000 per election cycle. Some also have super PACs, which do not have any contribution limits.
The same conservative activists have long advocated for looser campaign finance laws, but they argue the language of the rider in the 1,600-page bill gives the establishment wing an unfair advantage by tweaking the law specifically for donations to party committees.
“Conservatives support the First Amendment and believe there should be no limits on political speech,” said Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “Unfortunately, the new limits included in the omnibus only increase political speech for party insiders while silencing the majority of Americans who are fed up with Washington.”
Conservative talk radio host Mark Levin opened his show Wednesday night by warning listeners of the legislation. Calling the rider “an outrage among many outrages” in the spending bill, Levin characterized it as a “power hungry” move by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Do you know why he’s doing that? It’s to destroy any conservative any group that seeks to challenge an incumbent, to destroy the entire primary process,” Levin alleged. “That’s what McConnell is up to.”
McConnell was one of the Republican incumbents targeted by tea party activists in this year’s primaries. But, like most other establishment candidates this cycle, he defeated his primary opponent. He will take over as the Senate majority leader in January.
Asked to comment, McConnell’s office simply noted that the Kentucky Republican was not responsible for the proposed rider.
Under the campaign finance provision, party committees will be able to increase their overall contribution limit by setting up different funds for building and legal costs. At face value, the language would seem to forbid the new cash from being used to pay for television ads, polling or other electioneering.
But tea party activists fear – and lawyers and political scientists expect — that the parties will find creative ways to stretch the new cash.
“They’ve made nice little categories here, but the question is whether they’re going to play games in interpreting what fits into these categories,” said Ray La Raja, a University of Massachusetts professor who specializes in studying political parties.
Even if the new funds created by this week’s rider are exclusively used for the narrowly intended purposes, “it still frees up money for TV ads” by allowing the parties to defray other bills they previously would have been required to pay out of their general coffers, La Raja added.
He pointed out that, in the days before the 2002 McCain-Feingold law banned unlimited so-called “soft money” contributions to the parties, that cash was legally supposed to be used exclusively for “party building activities,” but the parties found ways to use it for TV ads that, to most viewers, seemed like plain old campaign ads.
Multiple GOP party committee officials declined to comment on the record. But a senior Republican Party official supportive of the rider argued: “The committees are the most transparent entities, so this is a step in the right direction for people who believe there’s too much money in politics.”
The tea party’s opposition to the rider puts it in rare agreement with progressives, who also are criticizing the provision but for different reasons. Democratic Party committees would also benefit from the measure, but they do not have the same level of intra-party strife as the Republicans.
In a statement calling on Democrats to oppose the spending bill, Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said the rider would gut “campaign finance laws” and “would represent Democrats marching in the exact wrong direction.” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has also cited the campaign finance provision as one of the two reasons for Democrats to sink the bill.
The tea party groups opposed to the rider include FreedomWorks and Citizens United, who argued the legislation was unfair.
“More and more, voters are evaluating candidates on their individual principles, not by political identity. So it’s important that all individuals can be heard in the process, not just the party machines,” said Jackie Bodnar, spokeswoman for FreedomWorks.
In a statement Thursday, Citizens United President David Bossie said: “What congressional leaders are doing is what they do best: protecting incumbents and the two-party system. The omnibus rider will only strengthen the Washington establishment in both parties and not create a level playing field for candidates who are outside the Beltway.”
In a column titled “The One Thing McConnell Will Fight For” in the Conservative Review, Daniel Horowitz made a point that further fanned the fury among the tea party activists: Establishment Republicans are fine with pushing campaign finance changes in the spending bill, but not with including legislation against President Barack Obama’s recent executive order on immigration.
“This is unreal,” Horowitz writes. “The Republican leader has no interest in fighting Obama’s illegal amnesty and is vehemently opposed to attaching a defund rider [on the immigration order] to the budget bill, yet he is willing to stand up and delay the sacrosanct budget bill in order to grow the power of the political parties.”
Kenneth P. Vogel contributed to this report.

Other area chambers of commerce

I wrote to the Birmingham Business Alliance on November 26th a letter about small business and money in politics.

My letter concerned the Represent.Us organization. My letter quoted that organization to the effect that: "The corruption in our political system is causing our elected officials to focus their time and effort to their campaign donors instead of serving their constituents. Represent.Us is building a grassroots movement to end this corruption."

My letter advised the Birmingham Business Alliance that, as part of the movement, the Represent.Us organization was conducting an initiative to obtain endorsements by small business owners of the provisions of the American Anti-Corruption Act.

My letter solicited of the Birmingham Business Alliance an opportunity for me to make a presentation to small business members about the  initiative of Represent.Us. (My full letter can be found at Small business and money in politics.)

I am now taking the step of communicating to other area chambers of commerce about the initiative of Represent.Us.

I will keep track of the area chambers of commerce I communicate to by compiling a list here, which I will update periodically.

Other area chambers of commerce I have communicated to:

1. Homewood Chamber of Commerce
2. Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce

3. Trussville Chamber of Commerce

Friday, December 12, 2014

Another letter to Mark Lester

[Mark Lester was the Democratic candidate in the 2014 Alabama 6th Congressional district election. He lost to the Republican Gary Palmer.]

From: Rob Shattuck <rdshattuck@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, Dec 12, 2014 at 6:46 PM
Subject: Your September 9th press conference
To: mlester <mlester@bsc.edu>

Dear Professor Lester,

In your September 9th press conference, you said, "The most important issue in this campaign is that Congress is broken, and one of the great reasons that Congress is broken is that it is awash with special interest money." [Memorialized at Mark Lester on special interest money.]

I am continuing my campaign on this issue in the Alabama 6th Congressional district. See November 5, 2014.

MAYDAY.US, among other organizations, is prosecuting this issue on a national basis.

Yesterday, I dispatched this Dear Representative Sewell letter.

I solicit you to continue your involvement with this issue.

If you think it would be constructive for us to have a conversation, please let me know.

Thank you very much.

Rob Shattuck

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dear Representative Sewell

Via Twitter
The Honorable Terri A. Sewell
Representative from the Alabama 7th Congressional District
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC.

Dear Representative Sewell,

I am following up on this communication I endeavored to make to you in June.

As that communication states, in my campaign as a Republican candidate in the Alabama 6th Congressional district this year, I contended that something is fundamentally wrong with Congress, and it critically needs addressing by the American people and Congress.

I continued my campaign even though I was not successful in the June 3rd primary election. 

Representative-elect Palmer will be my Representative from the 6th Congressional district in the new Congress.

My opinion is that he is going to fail abysmally as my Representative and as the Representative of other of his constituents. My opinion is due to Representative-elect Palmer's adamant refusal to address whether or not Congress is "broke." If he cannot address that question,  how can he possibly well serve the 6th Congressional district?

Congress being "broke" (or not) is critical beyond the 6th Congressional district, and, if my Representative will not address the matter, I have no problem in trying to communicate about it to Representatives (and voters) in other Congressional districts.

Your 7th Congressional district is adjacent to the 6th district, so I am turning my eyes towards you and voters in your district.

I do not expect you to respond to me on this.

I do think, however, that Congress is for the country as a whole, in addition to each Representative serving his or her district and constituents. If Congress is "broke," it should be the job of all in Congress  to address the matter for the country.

Accordingly, besides the campaign I am carrying on in the the 6th district, I am sending you this communication as a matter of information to you, and I will further be endeavoring to communicate to your constituents in the 7th district as well.

Thank you for your attention to this letter.

Rob Shattuck
Alabama 6th Congressional district resident

Rep.-elect Palmer: No comment

"I have no comment," says Alabama 6th Congressional district Representative-elect Gary Palmer.
[If Gary Palmer should provide a comment, I will be pleased to post it.]

'The Most Corrupting Campaign-Finance Provisions Ever Enacted'

Eric Thayer/Reuters
When Eric Cantor delivered his farewell address on the House floor this summer following his stunning primary defeat, the former majority leader cited the enactment of the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act as "one of my proudest moments."
This was not a landmark piece of legislation, but it redirected federal dollars from the public funding of political conventions to pediatric research. It was a feel-good, impossible-to-oppose measure that won nearly 300 votes in the House and was passed by unanimous consent by the Senate. After all, who could argue that the quadrennial party conventions—glitzy coronations that long ago morphed into political infomercials—needed public funding in an electoral system awash with outside money? Didn't the two major parties get enough from private donors?
It turns out the answer to the second question was no. With a last-minute provision tacked onto page 1,599 of the 1,603-page, $1.013 trillion spending bill, Congress is moving to fill the void left by the stripping of public funds for the party conventions by dramatically increasing the amount that individual donors can contribute to the various Republican and Democratic committees.
Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday explained the change by pointing to the Kids First Research Act. "This provision was worked out in a bipartisan way to allow those who are organizing political conventions to raise the money from private sources as opposed to using taxpayer funds," he told reporters. Yet according to advocates for campaign-finance reform, the change will affect a lot more than the financing of political conventions. A single (presumably ultra-wealthy) donor who can currently give a maximum of $97,200 to national party committees would be able to contribute nearly eight times as much—a total of $776,000 a year—to those organizations.
Reform advocates were apoplectic when they saw the language, to say the least. “If enacted, these changes will be the most destructive and corrupting campaign-finance provisions ever enacted by Congress," Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said in a phone interview Wednesday. The director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, Lisa Gilbert, said that the extent of the change "far exceeds the fears that we had."
"It opens the floodgates to even more special-interest money coming into the party committees," Representative Chris Van Hollen, a senior House Democrat, said in an interview Wednesday after announcing his opposition to the spending bill. He noted that the changes do not just allow bigger donations for conventions, but for the construction of buildings and legals fees for electoral recounts as well.Republican officials, including a former top aide to Cantor, said the change to campaign-finance laws had not been a major part of the discussions surrounding the pediatric research measure, which President Obama signed in April. "Our focus was on the bill itself and having more funds directed to pediatric research," the former Cantor adviser said. Reform advocates had opposed the bill because of fears that it would contribute to the dismantling of the public financing system, but the need to offset the loss of taxpayer funding with higher private limits "was definitely never explicitly said," Gilbert recalled. She said attributing the change as a follow-up to the Kids First Research Act was "a cover" for politicians who have been trying to loosen campaign-finance regulations since before a series of favorable Supreme Court decisions struck down important contribution limits.
Wertheimer said the extent of the changes took the reform community completely by surprise. "No one knew about this," he said. Of Boehner's argument that it was necessitated by the research measure earlier this year, he fired back: "That is the equivalent of the individual who kills his parents and then pleads for mercy as an orphan."
Beyond the sneaky inclusion of the change in the back of an unrelated, $1 trillion spending bill, the move highlights the new power of Mitch McConnell, the incoming Senate majority leader who has become one of the loudest champions of unrestricted political donations as a First Amendment cause. It was McConnell and Boehner, a Republican congressional aide said, who ensured that the campaign provision would be added to the omnibus in recent days. Progressive Democrats have long pushed for an expansion of public financing of elections, a movement that is now dead for the foreseeable future.
Democrats on Wednesday afternoon were scrambling to cut that provision out of the bill, along with another change rolling back a derivatives regulation in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law of 2010. “These provisions are destructive to middle class families and to the practice of our democracy. We must get them out of the omnibus package," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Already concerned about losing support from conservatives, Republican leaders need some Democratic votes to ensure passage of the bill by a Thursday midnight deadline for averting a government shutdown. With mounting opposition from liberals, that outcome could be in doubt. "It's just too hard to tell at this point," Van Hollen said.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Can Rep.-elect Palmer say anything?

Can Representative-elect Palmer say anything?

Can he say anything about fundamental reform? Whether the country needs it? Or doesn't need it? Whether he is for reform? What reform he is for? Whether he is against it? What reform he is specifically against?

This is not likely. Representative-elect Palmer has had ten months to make an utterance, and he has steadfastly declined. See Just answer the question, Gary Palmer.

So, whaddya gonna do?

Please watch the video below.

From: Lawrence Lessig <info@mayday.us>
Date: Tue, Dec 9, 2014 at 2:39 PM
Subject: We can’t wait for the next election cycle – we must begin now.
To: Rob Shattuck <rdshattuck@gmail.com>
Rob —

Just after Election Day, we reported back on our initial findings about the election results. Over the past month, we’ve been digging into the data more to better understand what went right, what went wrong, and what direction we should take going forward.
Today we’re releasing our final report — plus all the data behind the report — and a sketch of what’s next.
I wanted to do both in writing. (Remember, Lessig the academic.) But the team finds my writing boring. So we asked a researcher and statistician, Karina Qian, to pull together a pretty comprehensive report about the election, and I shot this video to introduce it, and to introduce our plans for moving forward. Click here to watch.

Reporting Back

We've learned lots from this election. We have not learned to give up. And the most important thing that I’ve learned is from the emails that I’ve read from you: That we can’t wait for the next election. We must continue this work now.

So over the next year, that’s what we’re going to do. Our team is already spec-ing out a platform that will make it possible for our most important resource — you — to help us recruit members of Congress to support reform. That’s not a platform to ask for money. And it won’t demand much of the voters’ time. But it will enable us to recruit voters in targeted districts to make a simple ask of their incumbent representatives: Will you co-sponsor fundamental reform? And then to create the campaign to get them to yes.

We will launch this next stage formally at SXSW (South by Southwest) in March. And over the next three months, as we build this platform, we will keep you updated at least once a month, and we’ll ask for your advice and help. If you want to help us beta-test the platform as it's developed— both the online and offline components — click here. Because we will really need your help.

So stay tuned, and please stay committed. 90% of America wants what we want — to “reduce the corrupting influence of money in politics.” We are going to do everything we can to get us there. We’ve taken one important step. There are more to come.

You can read our final report here. And if you want to dig deep, you can download our data (CC-0 licensed) here.

Thank you for everything you have done over these past six months. If we were all together (and that would require Dodger Stadium), I’d also ask you to join me in thanking an amazing team — some paid, many volunteers, and all incredibly committed. I am grateful beyond any words for all of that, and hopeful — more hopeful than ever — about where we’re going.

Thank you.


P.S. If you like likening our work to the Rebels from Star Wars, you'll like this piece in Forbes. If you haven’t already, check out this great 6 minute film by Eugene Jarecki and the Nantucket Project which remixes one of my talks and has now been seen by more than 3 million across all platforms. And if you're up for long marches in cold weather, follow the walk across New Hampshire in January with the New Hampshire Rebellion.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

D'ya got this, Rep.-elect Palmer?

POLITICS  1,907 views

Lawrence Lessig Shows That Today's Political Struggle Has Nothing To Do With Democrats Vs. Republicans

A short time ago, in a galaxy very, very, nearby, a rebel alliance led by a Jedi Grandmaster named Lessig (who I know slightly and admire greatly) conducted a stunning raid on the Death Star. What Death Star? It is the money engines of Washington, DC, the Imperial Capital.
The rebels did not, on their first foray, succeed in destroying their target. They did, however, sow panic and terror among elite Washington Insiders … this galaxy’s version of Imperial Storm Troopers.
Lessig drew Insider blood. Reading the Insiders’ cries of woe in the media, both mainstream and undermedia, one senses buckets of blood shed. If Lessig’s crusade in the end succeeds historians will consider what he did in 2014 vastly more significant than the rout of the Democratic Party.
The British won the Battle of Bunker Hill. Yet this engagement became iconic for the powerful stand taken by the American Revolutionary rebel alliance. Follow along.
The mortal struggle at hand today is not between the right and the left. It is not between Republicans and Democrats. It is not between the Congress and the president. It is between us (currently outsiders to our own government) voters and the Washington Insiders.
The key battle is the one between humanitarian populists and technocratic careerists. Lessig is a radical humanitarian populist.
Elfin Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig created and deployed Mayday.us as the SuperPAC to End All SuperPACs (“Embrace the Irony,” says Lessig). He did so to advance the principle of what might be called distributed financing of Congressional elections to align Congress more closely with the will of the people.
Mayday deployed $10 million and won only two of its selected races (one contested, one not). Even so it managed to throw a great number of Washington Insiders, left and right, into a blind panic.
Lessig’s gone-viral (1.2+ million views) TED talk (watching it might be the best 18 minutes and 19 seconds you will spend this year) and his short manifesto, The USA is Lesterland (buying and reading it might be the best $1.99 investment you ever will make), present a radical proposition of how to make Congress once again responsive to what Jefferson characterizedas the key source of a government’s legitimacy: “the consent of the governed.”
I described Lessig here last May as “the greatest radical at work in America today.” Recent events support this assessment.
Amidst the mass hysteria triggered by Lessig lies much confusion. The confusion derives in part from the sheer radical novelty of Lessig’s proposal.  His proposal, in essence, is to provide voters with donation vouchers to allow candidates (optionally) to turn to rank-and-file voters, rather than Insiders, to raise the money to conduct their campaigns. (For my techie readers, think of Lessig as working to replace a sociopathic HAL 9000 supercomputer with a Beowulf cluster, perhaps one assembled from Raspberry Pi boards, to put the ship of state back on course.)
Many, left and right, misunderstand Lessig. Lessig, for example, explicitly rejects attempts to prohibit or even inhibit independent funding of political speech. He has been harshly criticized by more than a few totalitarian-leaning leftists for his refusal to go into league with the suppression of political expenditures. As much as Lessig detests Citizens United he recognizes its reversal could be far worse. He comes down on the side of the First Amendment.
The usually astute Politico published what may be one of its most obtuse columns ever, How to waste $10 million, about Lessig’s venture. It is a column so riddled with errors and omissions as to be baffling.  How could they get the story so completely wrong? It observes:
And instead of getting one step closer to a pro-campaign finance reform majority, voters on Tuesday elected enough Senate Republicans to handover control of the Senate to Republican Mitch McConnell — perhaps the leading opponent of Mayday’s vision. McConnell has long opposed campaign money restrictions as infringements on free speech and impediments to the free exchange of ideas.
If the reporters had read The USA is Lesterland they would have discovered that Lessig is not in favor of money restrictions. They would have found that Senator McConnell and Lessig are aligned in opposition to campaign money restrictions as infringements of free speech.
Politico descends from slipshod to shoddy by anonymously conveying personal and quite vicious attacks on Lessig’s judgment and character:
“He sounds like a Harvard professor. That won’t go over well in New Hampshire,” said one operative who has been generally supportive of Lessig. “They may be the worst political ads I’ve ever seen or heard, and I’ve seen and heard a lot of them.”
Another reform advocate who has worked with Lessig said “The last thing that the progressive movement needs is another ivory tower egghead trying to play political operative and sucking up valuable donations and resources for his personal vanity project.”
These quotes would have been good journalism had the reporters named their sources.  Anonymous sources may be a necessary evil when reporting facts but never when conveying mere opinion.  Conveying these sentiments under a cloak of anonymity flirts with connivance at character assassination.
Politico’s headlining Mayday’s $10 million spend as a “waste” goes beyond obtuse into perverse. Politico all but dismisses the massive media attention generated by Mayday. “The buzz … for Lessig … prompted grumbles from ostensible allies who were irked by Mayday’s headline-grabbing and wondered whether all the attention was helpful to the cause.”
Politico oddly fails to note that Lessig moved the needle of this cause from the deep obscurity in which it had been stuck for many years, bringing it to massive public attention. There is an iconic “Klein Cycle” formulated by labor leader Nicholas Klein (in a 1918 address to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America), often misattributed to Gandhi:
First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.
Lessig pushed his cause from being ignored to being ridiculed and attacked. More rigorous reporting would not so facilely have taken Lessig’s detractors at face value.
A back-of-the-envelope calculus of the media tsunamiproduced by Lessig’s crusade indicates that Mayday received the equivalent of, just perhaps, up to $100 million of exposure in what publicists call “earned media.” Everyone in the business of politics knows how greatly coveted earned media is. (Its value is measured by how much it would have cost to buy advertising of equivalent prominence, scope, and frequency and multiplying by a factor to account for the much greater value of editorial than advertising copy.)
To leverage a $10 million expenditure into, maybe, $100 million of exposure provided a huge payday for Lessig’s donors. Moreover, Lessig was unimpeachable to personalize this in himself. Such personalization is corollary to Saul Alinsky’s thirteenth (and most famous) Rule and has high tactical potency. It is not a mark of vanity.
For opponents to criticize Lessig for putting their purported issue on the political map in such a big way is, at best, crying sour grapes. At worst, it is a sign of corruption among some, and perhaps many, of the advocates previously dominating, without materially advancing, this crusade.
There is evidence, in fact, of a double dose of corruption among many of Lessig’s detractors. First is the old fashioned Washington Insider corruption. Many of Lessig’s detractors themselves are Washington Insiders, merely “Poseur Populists.” As with most Washington Insiders they really are fixated on the money.
They are covetous. They desire to alienate Mayday’s donors from Lessig. They hope, thereby, to supplant him and harvest windfalls.
The second form of corruption, to which I alluded in my prior column, is that “some of his Progressive admirers are appropriating, and corrupting, his work to their own ends.” This is far worse than mere covetousness.
Some of his detractors’ legislative proposals really are not designed to effect populist reform. They are stacked to privilege Democrats and prejudice Republicans. These proponents are taking the campaign finance reform meme, appropriating it, politicizing it, and perverting it.
That perversion not only corrupts. It corrupts absolutely.
Their subversion — until Lessig came along — subtly discredited their cause. Being politically discredited leaves many “reformers” utterly paralyzed for at least the next two years and, most likely, forever. Once their donors recognize this inconvenient truth some are likely to realize that Lessig — prosecuting their case with impeccable integrity — now is the only game in town.
The smarter donors to this cause will shift their donations to Mayday. So, of course many of Lessig’s rivals, marginalized by their own shabby games, feel compelled to savage the virgin in the brothel that is Washington. Reports with a straight face of Lessig’s detractors’ carping shows more gullibility than one wishes to find in our top reporters.
Placing these matters aside, there is an old trope among us old political hands that one has to run (for Congress) twice. The first time you lose.  Then you figure out how to do it. The next time you win.
There was a lot to criticize about Mayday’s tactics in its first sortie into the Death Star’s trench. But it is more likely than not that Lessig has learned much from his first foray.
In my own view the fundamental adjustment needed to catapult Mayday’s mission forward will derive from one simple insight. It is the system, not the candidates and officials trapped within it, that is corrupt. Lessig partially grasps this. Getting clearer on this insight could prove central to Mayday’s prospects.
A great beneficiary of Lessig’s vision, if its realization properly is structured, is our elected officials. Lessig doesn’t intend to, and does not, undermine their job security. Adopting his plan would improve the quality of our officials’ lives immensely. Lessig isn’t prescribing Castor oil. If he stops treating it like something one has to coax a recalcitrant child into taking “for your own good”  he will encounter far less opposition.
If he presents it shrewdly, Lessig’s most enthusiastic constituency well could become … Members of Congress. Our elected officials almost unanimously detest having to spend the majority of their discretionary time dialing for dollars. These lovely people came to Washington to represent their district and make America a better place. Lessig’s plan could make doing that job easier and much more delightful (both to us voters and our Representatives).
Next January around 247 Republicans will be sworn into the House of Representatives.  If Lessig will focus on the fact that a strong path to victory simply means persuading 124 of them that it is in their, as well as the national, interest his job will get much, much easier.  (Not all Members are created equal. He also needs one subcommittee chair, one committee chair, and four in Leadership.  Total: 130 souls. These are sweet folks.  Not a daunting electorate.)
With a majority of the majority in support, as easily they could be, Lessig’s plan can be brought up for a vote and pass, handily. If legislation comes out of the House with enough momentum the Senate is likely to enact it. I believe his vision to be in the very best interests of our elected officials as well as America’s.  A path forward beckons.
All Lessig might need to do, next, is to distinguish himself clearly, preferably in a politic way, from his most corrupt allies. And dispel the unfounded fear that this will make our Representatives more vulnerable to challengers.  Everything should fall neatly into place once the fear is dispelled.

Will Lessig’s efforts succeed in resolving the corruption of the system and restoring integrity to representative democracy? Maybe, maybe not. His plan certainly passes the Hippocratic Oath’s threshold commitment, “First, do no harm.” So, Lessig, let’s see what you’ve got.
In 2014 Lawrence Lessig massively strengthened his credibility as the moral and strategic leader of the issue he champions. Lessig won a profound moral victory at his own Battle of Bunker Hill.