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Lobbying Reform

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The Harsh Light of Cromnibus.

“One of the frustrating things about covering American politics from a vaguely left-liberal perspective is that many of the left-left theories turn out to be true, or true enough. You try to point out to the street protesters and tenured Marxists that things are more complicated than Noam Chomsky and the late Paul Sweezy would have you believe, and, all too often, it turns out they aren’t much more complicated. The richest 0.1 per cent really is getting richer and richer while most Americans see their living standards stagnate. The C.I.A. really did torture people in secret prisons overseas, and the N.S.A. has just received authorization to carry on gathering all of your phone records. The big banks and corporations really do run Washington—or, at least, that’s how it seems on this chilly December day.”

As the terrible-idea-filled, regulation-gutting “CRomnibus” became law earlier this month — thanks to a tag-team lobbying operation by Barack Obama and Jamie DimonThe New Yorker‘s John Cassidy laments what it means for American democracy: Namely, the banks clearly write the laws. “‘It’s morally reprehensible,’ Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat, told reporters. ‘They’re saying government bailouts are back.'”

By the way, if the bad news is too much to handle these days, there was one silver lining to the godawful CRomnibus: Crom may laugh at the four winds, but it does alright by space. Otherwise, well…

Now Matters are Worse.

“Really, it’s weird. The man takes the Metro to work, and yet he handily dismisses what every human American knows to be true: That if dollars are speech, and billions are more speech, then billionaires who spend money don’t do so for the mere joy of making themselves heard, but because it offers them a return on their investment. We. All. Know. This…[But] since the chief can find no evidence of silky burlap sacks lying around with the Koch brothers’ monogram on them, it must follow that there is no corruption — or appearance of corruption — afoot.”

Here we go again. Dahlia Lithwick looks over the Court’s disastrous 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC [opinion] — a.k.a. Citizens United all over again — and the corrosive effect it will have on public confidence in government. “[I]n a kind of ever-worsening judicial Groundhog Day of election reform…the Roberts Five has overturned 40 years of policy and case law, under an earnest plea about the rights of the beleaguered donors who simply want to spend $3.6 million on every election cycle.”

Revolving Doormen.

“One afternoon in San Francisco, Lehane explained his operating principle this way: ‘Everyone has a game plan until you punch them in the mouth. So let’s punch them in the mouth…In most situations,’ Lehane continued, ‘there are people who either have dirty hands or their own agendas. Whenever somebody complains that this stuff has happened to them, I say, “There’s a long line of people behind you.”‘”

Ever feel like maybe part of the problem with both our Party and our politics is that they tend to reward amoral, money- and power-driven, self-aggrandizing douchebags? Hey, you’re right! Exhibit A: Chris Lehane, previously Al Gore’s flak in 2000 (he also had a small part to play in Dean’s demise in 2004), who’s given the soft-focus treatment in this week’s New York Magazine. “‘You are only seeing 10 percent of what I do,’ Lehane said. The private clients have included Goldman Sachs, Michael Moore, the Weinstein Company and Boeing.”

And here’s Exhibit B: Peter Orszag, who’s currently trying to shield his big Citibank payday from public scrutiny. “Typically, documents in a civil-court proceeding are accessible to the public, but Orszag succeeded last year in quietly convincing a judge to seal financial records submitted in the case, including the salary he makes as a Citigroup vice president, from public view. In that request, Orszag worried that disclosure of his income might harm his career and ‘damage any eventual return to Federal Government service or other public office.'”

Yeah, because everybody’s clamoring for that. Sigh, This Town. Lehane’s right about one thing, tho’. Everywhere you look in DC, there are people who don’t know anything about anything strenuously clambering up the ranks, their only two skills of note shameless self-promotion and a brazen flexibility with regard to what should be basic Democratic principles. Or, as I put it more charitably a few years ago:

“That’s my rub too, and it dovetails with larger problems I have with DC political culture. More often than not, the people who tend to succeed here are the ones who keep their head down, play the DC game, stay resolutely non-ideological and unobtrusive in their opinions. never go out on a limb, never say or do anything that could hurt their bid to be a Big (or Bigger) Shot down the road. (Hence, the whole phenomenon of The Village.)The problem is, these plodding, risk-averse careerist types are exactly the type of people you don’t want making decisions in the end, because they will invariably lead to the plodding, risk-averse and too-often rudderless politics of the lowest common denominator.”

But I guess, as the The Wire made clear years ago, that’s pretty much the rule in any institution or industry, so there’s not much use in complaining about the way things are and have always been. Game’s the same, just got more fierce.

The Can Likes Kickbacks.

“In 2014, for the first time in three years, the vote to extend the nation’s debt ceiling did not bring the US to the brink of default in a high-stakes game of slash and burn…It was a striking turnaround for the forces of austerity. One of the biggest losers? The Campaign to Fix the Debt, the $40 million AstroTurf austerity group, financed by Pete Peterson and other Wall Street big wigs, and fronted by Maya MacGuineas, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson. Call it Alan Simpson’s last harrumph.”

In general, I think victory laps are a bad idea, especially since sequestration continues and it’s not like austerity is suddenly out of fashion in this godforsaken town. Nonetheless, The Nation‘s Mary Bottari looks at how citizen and netroots activism helped beat back (for now) the deficit witchhunt, and much of the corporate rapacity and profiteering attending it.

The pic above is my friend Alex Lawson crashing a Pete Peterson Astro-Turf event a few months ago. “‘Aaar!’ he said. ‘Fix the debt, but let me keep my corporate booty! Fix the Debt’s founders have more than $500 million in offshore corporate booty.'”

Cthulhu Fhtagn!

“The National Reconnaissance Office, tasked with watching the earth through largely classified satellite programs, recently launched a new rocket into space. That rocket’s classified contents were marked with an incredibly subtle image: an octopus spreading its tentacles across the globe, over the words “nothing is beyond our reach.” Charming!”

Er, yeah, not sure what they were thinking there. In any event, in honor of this dubious messaging, Popular Science offers eight historical examples of octopi taking over the world. Above is Standard Oil, smothering both ends of Congress with its undulating, oleaginous reach.

Pay-to-Play, Enshrined. | The Veal Pen.

[I]n establishing OFA and through it extending an open palm to Washington’s corps of lobbyists and their masters, Obama is in danger of hitting the history books as a president who gamed, exploited, and ultimately joined a corrupt system rather than cleaning it up…Millions of Americans voted for Barack Obama thinking he understood what’s happening and would do something about it. Instead, he’s making things worse.

Common Cause president Bob Edgar reads Obama the riot act for his many transgressions on the campaign finance front. “He still has time to change course and I’m enough of an optimist to hold out hope that he will. But it’s getting tougher.” On this as on so many other fronts, I myself am no longer that optimistic. (Obama Lucy picture via this Atlantic Monthly article.)

“We talk a lot about broken models. The DC progressive model is broken. It does nothing but facilitate the injustices readily evident in this case.” In related news, and in the wake of his recent Salon piece about the administration’s phantom financial fraud task force, Dave Dayen argues its time for progressive organizations in DC to get adversarial or go home. Well-meaning people all over this country concerned about any number of issues hand over their hard-earned money to these groups, and they aim to speak broadly for liberal values. The accountability doesn’t stop on Wall Street. It needs to be shared by the DC progressive community.”

Update: “There’s a certain conventional wisdom that President Obama wants stronger campaign finance laws, and to protect our democracy from the corrupting effects of money in politics. It’s a story that you should no longer believe.” The Sunlight Foundation weighs in against Obama as well. “The arc of the Obama presidency may be long, but so far, it has bent away from transparency for influence and campaign finance, and toward big funders.”

A Comcastic Cash-in.


“‘No wonder the public is so nauseated by business as usual in Washington — where the complete capture of government by industry barely raises any eyebrows,’ said Free Press’ Craig Aaron. ‘The continuously revolving door at the FCC continues to erode any prospects for good public policy. We hope — but won’t hold our breath — that her replacement will be someone who is not just greasing the way for their next industry job.’

Democracy in action: Soon after working to get the Comcast-NBC merger approved at the FCC, Republican commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker steps down to become a senior VP of the merged company. “At the time, Baker objected to FCC attempts to impose conditions on the deal and argued that the ‘complex and significant transaction’ could ‘bring exciting benefits to consumers that outweigh potential harms.‘”

One small silver lining amid the sordidness here: The merger was approved in mid-January, and it’s now early May. So this sweetheart deal actually marks the fastest that Comcast has ever managed to service one of its customers.

Come, Ye Huddled Masses, to Prison.


According to Corrections Corporation of America reports reviewed by NPR, executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market…In the conference room, the group decided they would turn the immigration idea into a model bill. They discussed and debated language. Then, they voted on it…Four months later, that model legislation became, almost word for word, Arizona’s immigration law.

This will probably be the most disgusting story you read all day. On what happens to be the 124th birthday of the Statue of Liberty, NPR’s Laura Sullivan delves into how the private prison industry got Arizona’s racial profiling law passed.

Even accustomed as I am now to stories of how money in politics has completely broken our republic — and why in holy hell do we countenance a private prison system in America anyway? — this is truly vile. “The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

The Plot Against America.


These records show that while the chamber boasts of representing more than three million “businesses, and having approximately 300,000 members, nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors. Many of those large donations coincided with lobbying or political campaigns that potentially affected the donors.

The republic stands upon the edge of a knife, people. Stray but a little, and it will fall. While the NYT belatedly figures out the Chamber is up to no good in its overwhelming campaign spending — thank you, Citizens United — the Center for American Progress discovers that the vast right-wing conspiracy actually holds meetings(!):

While the Koch brothers — each worth over $21.5 billion — have certainly underwritten much of the right, their hidden coordination with other big business money has gone largely unnoticed…The memo, along with an attendee list of about 210 people, shows the titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives to plan the 2010 election, as well as ongoing conservative efforts through 2012.

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