Archive for July, 2017

Interview with Rich Cohen, Chief Author of the Almanac of American Politics

Thursday, July 27th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

The Almanac of American Politics is the unparalleled reference for the people, places, and perceptions that are reshaping American Politics. The 2018 Almanac remains the gold standard for accurate, accessible, usable political information, relied on by everyone involved, invested, or interested in American politics.

What was your role in the writing of the Almanac?

I was chiefly responsible for writing profiles of the 435 House Members and their districts. I enjoy staying current on the election campaigns for each of those members, plus their work in Washington. I also seek to depict notable recent activities, plus social and economic changes in their constituencies. I began as Almanac co-author in 2001 and became chief author with the 2016 Almanac.

What were some important additions to the 2018 edition of the Almanac?

For the first time, the Almanac includes profiles of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence written by Michael Barone, founding author of the Almanac. We also have included data tables from the Brookings Institute’s Vital Statistics on Congress.

What is your favorite part about being on the Almanac team?

Writing the Almanac is certainly a team effort. One of my favorite parts of working on the Almanac is being exposed to extraordinary research. The 2018 Almanac features excellent research by our team at Ballotpedia. During a three-month period, they produced a research file on recent activities for each of the 435 House Members and their districts, 100 Senators, 50 governors and their states. Clark Benson of Polidata prepared maps for the 50 states, including three states that redrew their congressional district lines since the publication of the 2016 Almanac.

Besides being the Chief Author of the Almanac, what else do you do?

Currently, I am an Adjunct Professor in the Government Department at George Mason University. I also recently worked on Partisan Divide with Former Reps. Tom Davis and Martin Frost. Previously, I was a Congressional Reporter for the National Journal for 37 years.

Given the current political climate, what challenges did you face when writing the new edition of the Almanac?

The growing polarization in American politics increases the challenge of writing for an audience of readers who are active partisans of all ideologies. Some readers, of course, are not members of either party. We view it as essential that all readers view the Almanac as fair, thorough and accurate.

How was working on the 2018 edition different than previous editions of the Almanac?

The unusual dynamics of the 2016 presidential campaign formed a vital back-drop to our research and writing. Much more than in the past, the 2018 Almanac describes how Members of Congress and governors in both parties inter-acted with and responded to the presidential candidates, especially Donald Trump. We decided to include those features as an important part of our coverage, as we began our research and writing following the election.

What was the most interesting fact you learned about a Member of Congress or Governor when writing the member profiles?

Broadly speaking, all of the people whom we profile have won elections. As writers and editors, we keep in mind the significance of the political context. In that context, the very close victory of Democrat Maggie Hassan in the Senate contest in New Hampshire—a state where all four members of Congress are Democrats, but Republican Chris Sununu was elected governor in 2016—was a reminder of the hard-fought campaigns in that state. Plus, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in New Hampshire by less than one-half of one percent of the total vote, as we detail in our profile of that state.

Which freshman Member of Congress or Governor gave you the most trouble in creating their profile and why?

Freshman Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana offered some challenges. He had been a sheriff in the Bayous and was relatively unknown politically. His victory was a surprise to those who had been following that election, and we found relatively little news-media coverage of his campaign. Note, also, that the Almanac photograph of Higgins features him with a hat and open-collar shirt, rather than the customary coat and tie for men.

Having participated in multiple editions of the Almanac, have you found a Member you particularly enjoy writing about?

Of course, each Member of Congress is a vital part of the Almanac. And we make every effort to assure that each profile is informative and current. Typically, the longest—and probably the most widely read—are the profiles of the party leaders in both the House and Senate. The evolution of the careers of Reps. Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, like those of Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, offers valuable insight to Almanac readers.

Who was your favorite Governor to write about?

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio presented some challenges because of his Republican presidential candidacy, which ended with his decision not to endorse Donald Trump. Kasich also has been an active governor in his home state. We hope that all readers will find his profile worth reading.


Pre-order your copy of the 2018 Edition of the Almanac of American Politics HERE.

The Campaign Finance Reform Argument Revived

Thursday, July 20th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

This week, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is introducing a new campaign finance bill. According to Politico, “the legislation, as in previous versions, would require super PACs, nonprofits, corporations, and unions that spend money in elections to disclose donors that have given $10,000 or more each time they spend at least $10,000 on political activity. The bill would also prohibit domestic corporations under foreign control from spending money in elections and force shell companies to make their funders public.”

Two years ago, Senator Whitehouse’s website posted an article on the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The website claims it was a “disastrous decision, which opened the floodgates for unlimited, secret spending in American elections.” It goes on to explain the DISCLOSE Act, which would require political groups to disclose where their money is coming from. The DISCLOSE Act would require any organization which spent over $10,000 during an election cycle to file a report with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours.

This week’s act is an updated version of the DISCLOSE Act. The full bill can be found here. However, campaign finance reform has not been on the radar of Washington elite in some time. Whitehouse and his backers will have to work hard to have the bill get any attention, especially before August recess. Most Senators are far more concerned with healthcare at the moment. Shortly after Citizens United, the media was flooded with articles such as one Time magazine article which grappled with the topic of whether money can buy power.

Draining the Swamp, or Lining the New Tub with Gold?

Thursday, July 13th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

According to Mark Leibovich of the New York Times, “the swamp feels anything but drained; more like remodeled into a gold-plated hot tub.” Much of this is due to Trump’s personal style with which he communicates. For example, the Trump White House has associated access with power.  However, “getting close to him requires less sucking up than it did with pre-Trump presidents.”  The term “access” is morphing with the Trump administration. Where once getting close to a President required judicious planning, now it may only require a compliment on Twitter.

However, getting close to Trump is just the first step. Because his decision making has been unpredictable thus far, lobbyists and corporations have been forced to tread lightly, for fear of “doing something to agitate the White House.” Along with presenting new challenges for players off the Hill, Trump also is changing the game within his own party. Republican members of Congress are being forced to defend the President more than usual, especially due to his Twitter activity.

One friend of the President who has managed to navigate being close but not too close is Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski is one of Trump’s former campaign managers and confidant. He manages to steer clear of day to day issues, while remaining in Trump’s inner circle. Most of the other loud Trump supporters are columnists or former politicians who no longer have to face voters.

The communication style in Washington is changing, and not just due to Trump’s tweets, but rather how the administration deals with allies versus adversaries. Unfortunately, the Republican party is not updating their communication style as quickly as the administration is.


Documentary Film and Advocacy

Thursday, July 6th, 2017 by Allison Rosenstock

Earlier this summer, a report was released which detailed the relationship between documentary films and public policy. The report begins by explaining that policy does not change quickly, therefore a film’s impact may not be fully understood until years after it premiered. However, it stresses the importance of choosing effective associations and advocacy groups as partners and understanding a story’s unique value.

According to the New York Times, funding is one major road block for advocacy films. However, one director said, “If these funders weren’t funding activist films, they would be funding some other form of activism- not some other form of filmmaking.”  Therefore, finding the right source of funds for a project is crucial. The aforementioned report rebuts this claim by arguing that groups can find an ideal match when both sides agree that they do not have to make money from the film, but rather, ensure that the film is as widely distributed as possible. The report also explains a general recipe for success. These steps include finding the crucial timing for an issue, strategic marketing, and policymaker screenings with specialized versions of the film.

Documentary film makers must also consider their entry point such as: raising awareness, growing a coalition, winning an election, holding a congressional hearing, introducing legislation, passing legislation, issuing regulations, and carrying out the law. Any of those events can drum up attention for the social issue which is the focus of the film. Further, it is essential to work with congress, especially knowing committee assignments and chairmanships, local angles, new members of congress, and congressional staff.

Similar to when organization organize fly ins, documentary films must have an agenda which aligns with the political and social goals of the film.