Archive for February, 2013

Court to Take Up Campaign Money…Again

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

LAST TUESDAY, the Supreme Court agreed to consider a challenge to campaign contribution limits imposed by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The limits in question are the ceilings – adjusted for inflation – that donors cannot exceed in a two-year election cycle. SCOTUSblog explains:

The two-year ceiling … — and this is what the new appeal is challenging – is set at $117,000 overall. That is broken down into $46,200 to a candidate for federal office and $70,800 to non-candidate entities, including national political parties and state political parties, and non-party committees. That second amount was restricted in that no more than $46,200 could be given to a state party or a non-candidate committee.

The plaintiffs are Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican who was itching to donate $8,200 more than the two-year maximum, and the Republican National Committee (RNC). The case is appropriately titled Shaun McCutcheon, et al. v. Federal Election Commission, and is expected to be decided during the Court’s next term.

To be sure, there’s no telling how the Court will rule. It will certainly make a decision on the two-year ceiling, but it may also abstract the issue and revisit contribution limits generally. This is because the rationale behind the constitutionality of these limits has been debilitated in the last 30 years, the most notable instance being the unprecedented 2010 decision  in Citizens United v. FEC.

Below are the ’11-’12 election cycle contribution limits**, with the “biennial limit,” or two-year cap, in red.

For a compelling debate on the issue of  money in politics, see here.  For a summary and recorded oral arguments of Buckley v. Valeo, the ’76 decision upholding the constitutionality of contribution limits, see here.  For the Citizens case, see here.  For Knox v. SEIU, which decided on union money used for political contributions, see here.

Individual may give

To each candidate or candidate committee per election

To national party committee per calendar year

To state, district & local party committee per calendar year

To any other political committee per calendar year (1)

Special Limits

$2,500*

$30,800*

$10,000
(combined limit)

$5,000

$117,000* overall biennial limit:

  • $46,200* to all candidates
  • $70,800* to all PACs & parties (2)

National Party Committee may give

$5,000

No Limit

No Limit

$5,000

$43,100* to Senate Candidates per campaign (3)

State, District & Local Party Committee
may give

$5,000
(combined limit)

No Limit

No Limit

$5,000
(combined limit)

No Limit

PAC (multicandidate)(4) may give

$5,000

$15,000

$5,000
(combined limit)

$5,000

No Limit

PAC (not multicandidate) may give

$2,500*

$30,800*

$10,000
(combined limit)

$5,000

No Limit

Authorized Campaign Committee may give

$2,000 (5)

No Limit

No Limit

$5,000

No Limit

**Chart available at www.FEC.gov

Lobbying at a Glance

Thursday, February 21st, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

FIRST IT WAS mid-sized banks (see previous post), now it’s credit unions. The latter have been lobbying against Dodd Frank reforms, arguing that they’re too harsh. “Credit unions are well-managed, well-run institutions that did not engage in the practices that led to the financial crisis,” said Fred Becker, [The National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU)] president and CEO. “Yet, the regulatory burden on our nation’s credit unions has reached epic proportions and that must be addressed immediately.” – The Hill

Associations are increasingly using Relationships, Advocability, and Political capital (RAP) indices to gain leverage on the Hill: “Here’s how it works: a trade association or advocacy group sends the RAP Index survey to their members by email. The software confirms their address, and finds a list of their local, state or federal elected officials. The survey asks members in-depth questions about any relationships with those officials and whether they’d be willing to be media surrogates.” – POLITICO

Nike is lobbying on behalf of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (TPP), which was designed in part to remove tariffs between the U.S. and other countries along the Pacific Rim. The $67 billion shoe company would benefit from the elimination of duties on shoes made abroad: “But others are fighting to keep the tariffs in place. New Balance, the Boston-based athletic shoe maker, wants to maintain tariffs on shoes from Vietnam in order to protect the jobs of 1,350 New Balance workers who make footwear in the United States. A quarter of the shoes the company sells in North America are made in its U.S. manufacturing facilities.” – The Washington Post

The Keystone pipeline is still very much an issue, with thousands upon thousands gathering on the Mall Sunday to rally against its construction: “The rally, which was organized by the Sierra Club, 350.org and the Hip Hop Caucus, was billed as the largest climate rally in American history. Organizers estimated that about 35,000 people participated in the rally. The U.S. Park Police does not give crowd estimates.” – POLITICO

Some lobbyists continue to deploy opposition (“oppo”) researchers to disarm and discredit their foes: “Oppo researchers — who often have backgrounds in politics, government and law enforcement that may include the FBI or even the intelligence community — will also scan court documents, public records, campaign finance and lobbying disclosures and reach out to their contacts on Capitol Hill, K Street and in local communities.” – Roll Call

 

Are Lobbyists Unethical? (2)

Thursday, February 14th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

Not really, says Geoff Lorenz of  University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

LOBBYISTS ARE NOT unethical per se.  True, most organizations that lobby have narrow policy agendas, which can induce legislators to pay disproportionate attention to issues that their constituents don’t care about.  But ultimately, lobbyists trade on their reputations – if people think you’re unreliable, it’ll be harder for you to get your job done.  In that sense, lobbyists are only able to be unethical to the extent that legislators and other policymakers don’t care about good ethics.

Are Lobbyists Unethical?

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

Are lobbyists unethical?  Email 100 words or less to glyons@columbiabooks.com.  The best response will be posted.

FOR MOST AMERICANS, the answer to the above question is too securely in the affirmative to merit a response. It can best be classified as a rhetorical substitute for “yes,” much like “is the sky blue?” E.g.: “Is Washington broken?” “Um, are lobbyists unethical?”

It may be the case that many lobbyists are unethical, but to no greater extent than many school teachers or doctors are. These last are part of noble professions that contain some ignoble people. If lobbyists were incorrigibly unethical, there would have to be something incorrigibly unethical about lobbying.

But if the object of the question is the business of lobbying, and not the lobbyists themselves (if it is best read “is lobbying unethical?”), then all logic errs on the side of the negative. The activity of lobbying is ethically neutral: it can go in the direction of big tobacco or bone cancer research.  Assessed through the lens of the Constitution, lobbying attains a positive ethical charge.  The common thread that unites all lobbyists is their exercise of the freedom of speech and to petition, both couched in the First Amendment.

The assumption (dare I say conviction) that lobbyists are unethical is also fueled by a very unhistorical sentiment: nostalgia (or as the late sociologist Robert Nisbet called it, “the rust of memory.”) In the words of  Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig:

The ordinary lobbyist today is a Boy Scout compared with the criminal of the nineteenth century. The lobbyist today is ethical, and well educated. He or she works extremely hard to live within the letter of the law. More than ever before, most lobbyists are just well-paid policy wonks, expert in a field and able to advise and guide Congress well. Regulation is complex; regulators understand very little; the lobbyist is the essential link between what the regulator wants to do and how it can get done…. Most of it is decent, aboveboard, the sort of stuff we would hope happens inside the Beltway.  (Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It)

To Lessig, lobbyists are not only not unethical, they’re admirable. Paradoxically, they’re the model of what most people think they corrupt.

Lobbying at a Glance

Friday, February 8th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

LOBBYISTS ARE CLAMORING for a mention in the President’s big speech next Wednesday. According to Bob Deans of the Natural Resources Defense Council:“A lot of people compete for space in the State of the Union, and it’s weeks, months in the works….Every single priority lobbies hard for inclusion. We understand space is tight, time is limited and time is valuable.” - Roll Call

James Pinkerton, co-chair of the RATE Coalition: “Everybody hangs on every word the president says in the State of the Union, looking for their word, their sentence, their phrase, with fingers crossed,” said James Pinkerton, who co-chairs the RATE Coalition, which lobbies for a lower corporate tax rate.

Year-end disclosure reports reveal that the energy drink business is beefing up its lobbying efforts: “Since November, Monster Energy has spent $100,000 to lobby on ‘legislation and oversight regarding energy drinks.’….[Since] Nov. 26, Red Bull has spent $20,000 on lobbying.” – The Washington Post

This comes in the wake of FDA investigations into “adverse events” linked to the drinks. According to a November press release published just weeks before Red Bull and Monster began their lobbying crusade:

So-called “energy” products are relatively new to the market, and manufacturers of these products have labeled some as dietary supplements and others as conventional foods….FDA cautions consumers that products marketed as “energy shots” or “energy drinks” are not alternatives to rest or sleep….If you are thinking about taking one of these products, please consult your health care provider…

(Imagine hearing “ask your doctor if Red Bull is right for you.”)

The Post article continues:  “Between 2004 and October 2012, 17 people died and more than 100 had chest pains, cardiac arrest and other health problems after consuming 5-Hour Energy, Monster and Rockstar beverages, according to FDA data. The FDA noted that the reports do not mean the drinks necessarily caused those ailments.”

Jake Perry, aide to Harry Reid since ’98, has set up lobby firm Jake Perry + Partners: “Jake Perry + Partners is currently based in downtown Washington and is aiming to sign on a broad range of clients, including those in the financial services sector. Perry, who still has family in Nevada, says he plans to one day widen his company’s base of operation to his home state as well.” – POLITICO

The Medical Marijuana PAC slashed “Medical” from its name: “The move came in the aftermath of two members of Congress introducing a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. And it’s a sign that pot advocacy groups are moving away from the ‘medical’ argument – which was always seen as a first step towards full legalization – and embracing the argument for full-on recreational usage.” – POLITICO