Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 27, 2014

November 19, 2014

K Street Files: Democratic Lobbyists Still Have Value

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Pryor failed in his re-election bid, but as a moderate Democrat could land a top job on K Street, Ackley writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Democrats may have taken a pummeling in this month’s elections, but K Street still sees value in hiring them.

A disproportionate number of Democrats from Capitol Hill, soon-to-be ex-lawmakers and aides alike, are looking for jobs. With the Senate flipping to GOP control and House Republicans getting an even bigger margin, Democrats lose committee slots and clout. As a result, the K Street job market may not be as robust for the party’s denizens, as Republicans have seen a rise in their value downtown.

But there is still demand for Democrats.

If House and Senate GOP leaders are to pass some of the lobbying community’s signature legislative measures, such as fast-track trade authority or an extension of the Export-Import Bank, they will need to woo sufficient Democrats to make up for their Republican defectors, who often hail from the tea party wing. Full story

Money Dominates Committee and Leadership Races | Rules of the Game

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Boehner and Pelosi are fundraising titans in the House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As House members finalize their senior leadership and committee posts, money is playing a decisive role in who occupies — and retains — the chamber’s seats of power.

Once determined by seniority alone, chairmanships and leadership spots are now just as much a function of which member can raise the most money for colleagues and party committees. Chairmen and leaders also scoop up the most contributions, often from lobbyists with business before them, cementing their seniority. The upshot is a system that’s remarkably resistant to change.

“Money begets power, and power begets more money, and that then begets more power,” said Kathy Kiely, managing editor for the Sunlight Foundation, which recently released a tally of which House members most generously supported their respective party committees.

Not surprisingly, senior players such as Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California tend to top the list. Boehner doled out $8.3 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee from his campaign committee alone. Pelosi gave $1 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee through her campaign arm.

Both also hosted fundraisers all over for the country for their colleagues, hit up donors through email blasts and doled out millions through their leadership PACs and so-called joint fundraising committees. It’s a drill now familiar to any lawmaker hoping to climb the leadership ladder. For Boehner, this translated to $102 million donated to and raised on behalf of GOP candidates and committees. Pelosi’s haul for Democrats reportedly totaled $101.3 million, including $65.2 million for the DCCC.

All this helps explain why recent leadership and committee elections are yielding virtually no turnover. Conservatives publicly pledged to oust Boehner more than once this year, but all that talk faded after Election Day. Pelosi, despite having presided over crushing losses for her party in the House, faced no challenge to her post.

It also sheds light on why soon-to-be Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada faces no insurgency, despite some grumbling. Reid donated $100,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee through his campaign committee, and gave $289,550 to 32 candidates through his leadership PAC, according to Political MoneyLine. He also reportedly held 116 events in 14 cities to help raise money for the leading Democratic super PAC, Senate Majority Fund.

And what of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the fiery progressive elevated by Reid to a newly created Senate leadership post, to the bafflement of some of her Democratic colleagues? Warren’s swift rise coincides with her emergence as a fundraising powerhouse. The Massachusetts Democrat barnstormed nationwide this cycle, including in “red” states that President Barack Obama did not visit, and raised $2.3 million on behalf of 28 Democratic candidates, according to Real Clear Politics.

“There’s no question that the role of money has been elevated,” said Christopher J. Deering, a professor of political science at George Washington University. The trend began a few decades ago, but sped up after House Republicans imposed term limits on committee chairmen in 1994, he said.

The emphasis on money over seniority has intensified polarization on Capitol Hill, said Eleanor Neff Powell, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It substantially benefits members from safe districts — essentially members who don’t have to spend any money on their re-election campaigns,” said Powell, who is writing a book on the topic. “Members who face close races are disadvantaged, both formally and informally, in the leadership race process.”

That rankles some House members. The issue came to the fore in the contest between New Jersey’s Frank Pallone Jr. and California’s Anna G. Eshoo to be ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, a post held by retiring Democrat Henry A. Waxman. Pallone is the more senior of the two. Both he and Eshoo have donated several hundred thousand dollars to dozens of Democratic House members and candidates through their campaign committees and leadership PACs.

Last week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to colleagues that “those who through years of service have gained significant expertise and knowledge should be given priority to lead our committees and subcommittees.” Several CBC members are in line to serve as ranking members in the 114th Congress, the letter noted. As a group, CBC members tend to represent districts less populated by wealthy donors.

Even prolific fundraisers face a high bar to advancement. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, doled out $4.6 million, directly and indirectly, to GOP candidates and party committees, determined to shine as a rainmaker in his bid to be chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

But Brady’s haul was no match for the $12.3 million that Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, handed out and raised for Republicans. Ryan is on track to be chairman of Ways and Means — though under a new House rule he may have to give the post up if he runs for president. That is, unless he receives a waiver from that term limit, as he did after six years as Budget chairman. The final call will no doubt rest heavily on how much money Ryan ponies up for his colleagues this time around.

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November 18, 2014

Erica Elliott Couldn’t Quit the Press | Downtown Moves

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Elliott recently moved from Crowell and Moring to Franklin Square Capital Partners. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ask Erica Elliott what she’s looking forward to in her new role as vice president of public affairs for Franklin Square Capital Partners and she’ll tell you she’s excited about the future of the company she’s moving to. Give her another chance and she’ll add another reason that likely won’t surprise the Washington press corps that worked with her when she was in now-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office.

She’s excited to work with journalists again.

The 31-year-old, who moved to D.C. from Atlanta in 2008 to look for a public policy job, left the Capitol halls in January, much to the dismay of her counterparts with notepads and recorders. She set up shop at Crowell and Moring, then shortly after the elections announced she was headed to Franklin Square. ”I’m most looking forward to talking to reporters that cover the financial services again,” Elliott said. “You really have to know your stuff to engage with them.” Full story

November 11, 2014

What Does a Gift Tag Have to Do With Breaking the Law? | A Question of Ethics

Q. I worked on the campaign of someone who has just been elected to the House of Representatives for the first time, and I expect to work for him in the House as well beginning in January. I recently met with some experienced staffers to learn the ins-and-outs of working on the Hill. One thing they filled me in on is how strict the gift limitations are, but what really stuck out was that the permissibility of a gift supposedly can depend somehow on the language of the tag or card that comes with it. I had trouble wrapping my head around this. Is this really true?

A. First, congratulations to you and your boss. Exciting times ahead.

As for your question: Yes, believe it or not, the language on a card attached to a gift can impact the legality of accepting it. In fact, some language on a gift tag could expose you and the donor to serious liability.

There are several sources of the limitations on gifts and other benefits members and staffers may receive, and it is important to consider them all any time you are offered a gift. One is the House gift rule. Broadly, the gift rule forbids you from accepting anything of value from anyone unless an exception applies. There is a long list of exceptions, including things such as gifts from family members, widely available opportunities and more. You should certainly familiarize yourself with the rule and the exceptions as you prepare for your job on the Hill.

But, complying with the law doesn’t end there. Just because a gift meets an exception to the House gift rule does not mean that it might not violate some other restriction. Bribery law, for example, criminalizes gifts given to influence an official act regardless of whether they might meet a gift rule exception.

The law that it sounds like the staffers you met with have in mind is a subsection of the federal bribery statute governing what have become known as “gratuities.” It provides that, as a government official, you may not accept anything of value given because of an official act you perform. Some have described it as a prohibition on a reward for an official act that has already been performed. The Supreme Court has said what makes a gratuity illegal is “a link between a thing of value and a specific official act for or because of which it was given.”

What does this have to do with gift tags? The House Ethics Manual has a few examples to illustrate.

Suppose you help introduce a bill, and you do so solely because you and your member believe it will be good for the country. Suppose also that there is a lawyer who favors the bill because it will benefit some of his clients. The lawyer sends you a small gift that meets one of the exceptions to the House gift rule, and attaches a note stating, “In appreciation for your good work on the bill.” According to the ethics manual, this would violate the ban on gratuities, and you would have to return the offering in question to the lawyer.

Another example involves a caseworker who helps a constituent with a Veterans’ Affairs claim. The following week, the constituent sends a modest restaurant gift certificate, with a note saying: “I’ll never be able to repay you for what you’ve done for me.” Again, the manual says this is an illegal gratuity and the caseworker must return it to the constituent.

In contrast, suppose during the holidays you receive a small gift from a lawyer that again meets one of the exceptions to the gift rules. This time, the gift tag says, “Season’s Greetings to you and peers!” Accepting this gift, the manual says, “is not prohibited by the bribery and illegal gratuity statutes.” This is because there is no apparent link between the gift and any official act.

Does any of this really matter? Yes.

Violations of the bribery and gratuity statues are federal crimes, and carry stiff penalties including fines and jail time. Several members who have been convicted of violations of the gratuity ban have gone to jail.

So, as you tackle all of the tasks that you and your member must accomplish to prepare for your time on the Hill, here’s one more to add to your to-do list. Learn the rules about gifts, bribery, and gratuities. They matter. And, some of them may surprise you.

C. Simon Davidson is an attorney with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to cdavidson@mcguirewoods.com. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.

Related:

How to Land a Job Working for a New Member of Congress

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November 10, 2014

Lame-Duck Sessions Don’t Hatch Procedural Quackery | Procedural Politics

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talks with Don Stewart, spokesman for presumed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Lame-duck sessions of Congress are those that occur after an election and before the new Congress. The lame ducks, of course, are those members who will not be returning in the next Congress due to retirement, defeat or running for other office. Oh, they still get paid and are still expected to vote (and most do). But, they have less incentive to show up regularly or vote the party line. That throws an element of uncertainty into lame-duck sessions and is why leaders would prefer to avoid them altogether. Nowadays, however, they are all but impossible to avoid given an appropriations process infected by an unchained malady looping in an unfinished symphony. 

Counting the current lame-duck session, there have only been 20 such sessions (out of 40 possible) since 1935 when the 20th amendment to the Constitution took effect.  That amendment changed the date for commencement of Congress to January 3, eliminating routine lame-duck “short sessions” between early December and early March.  Nine of the 20 lame ducks occurred in this and the preceding eight Congresses.  In all but three, Congress was forced to return after an election due in part to an “incomplete” on its appropriations report card. The three exceptions were 1998 for impeachment, 2008 for the economic meltdown, and 2012 for the fiscal cliff. This year Congress enacted none of its regular appropriations bills before the election recess, forcing government by continuing resolution through Dec. 11 and a lame-duck session beginning this week.

While presidents and an assortment of interest groups have long lists of items they would like a lame-duck session to consider, leaders prefer confining the agenda to “must pass” legislation: appropriations bills, and expiring tax and authorization laws. The exceptions are when an election takes control of Congress away from the president’s party as in 2006 and 2010.  That sets up a last-chance-for-legislative-romance dance between the branches. 

The lame-duck Congress in 2012 was also unusually productive given the action-forcing mechanism of the fiscal cliff. The current lame-duck round is unlikely to replicate its predecessor in legislative activity. That’s because of the lack of crisis, the president’s weakened status as a lame duck himself and Republicans’ better chances for success next Congress. 

No one is in an advantaged position this year to extract anything from a lame duck whose unsynchronized left and right wings have essentially grounded Congress for the better part of the past four years. Better to let it limp off stage with a minimal modicum of respect still intact.

That is not to say the leaders will have an easy time passing even a minimalist, must-pass agenda in the final days. While leaders might be expected under such time-sensitive conditions to pull out all the stops on procedural gimmicks and shortcuts and resort to what I call “procedural quackery” to get things done, quite the opposite has been true. An examination of the past eight Congresses reveals that most legislation considered during a lame-duck session is handled in a fairly straightforward manner. That’s because heavy-handed procedural gamesmanship late in the game can produce unnecessary partisan strife, delay and even defeat.   

Granted, there are no open amendment rules in the waning days of a session — continuing and omnibus appropriations and tax measures are traditionally closed, whether pre- or post-election. Members are more accepting of expedited procedures given the urgency of the agenda and the siren song of families beckoning them home for Thanksgiving and the religious holidays.

So, if you hear any duck calls emanating from Congress over the next month, don’t consider it a procedural quackery alert. More likely they are being sounded by the masters of the flock herding their fine feathered followers toward the exits until the last duck drops.

Don Wolfensberger is a resident scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.

Roll Call Results Map: Results and District Profiles for Every Seat

November 3, 2014

#GOTV Critical on Twitter in North Carolina Senate Race

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Tillis calls potential voters in North Carolina. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Midterm elections are often won or lost on how effective the parties are at the get-out-the-vote ground game.

As political data-munchers work overtime to process how increased early voting numbers in the tossup North Carolina Senate race — up 20 percent on the 2010 midterms with 1.2 million voting — may impact tomorrow’s result, Verifeed parsed Twitter conversations to see what candidate has the social edge.

According to the U.S. Election Project, Democratic share of the early vote is up 1.3 percent, and registered Democrats are up 15.7 percent in North Carolina. An analysis of influence, trends and sentiment on Twitter about early voting and get-out-the-vote efforts by both parties confirms this trend.

In the lead-up to the start of early voting Oct. 23, Verifeed analysis found Democratic “influencers” on Twitter engaged 3.2 million North Carolinians in active conversations with pleas to vote early, compared with just 412,113 Twitter users engaged by the GOP. And in the past week, Democrats have continued to dominate conversations about early voting and efforts to drive Tuesday’s voter turnout — actively engaging 487,714 people on Twitter, more than four times the GOP’s 103,567.

Full story

By Melinda Wittstock Posted at 3:21 p.m.
Elections

October 30, 2014

Twitter Trends, Influencers in North Carolina Senate Race

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Ebola is an issue in the North Carolina Senate race. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Millions of social conversations between North Carolina voters, candidates and big money special interest groups on Twitter provide compelling clues as to why Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan maintains a sliver of a lead over her Republican opponent, state Speaker Thom Tillis.

It may be surprising to learn that just 20 people were able to reach more than 23 million people in four weeks of Twitter conversations by directly engaging 5,936 North Carolinians who, in turn, amplified those tweets with viral precision to their friends, their friends’ friends and far beyond.

How will that viral influence impact the outcome on Tuesday? Verifeed pointed our social search and pattern recognition algorithms at understanding what issues were resonating with voters, who influences and amplifies sentiment, and how opinions change over time.

It’s education, stupid!

Full story

October 29, 2014

Billionaires Dominate Campaign Spending, Analysis Shows

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A small subset of elite donors are dominating midterm spending, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

This midterm’s price tag will hit $3.7 billion, according to the latest projection from the Center for Responsive Politics, with outside groups and billionaires playing a larger role than ever while small contributors dwindle in number.

Despite costing only slightly more than the previous midterms in 2010, according to a CRP analysis released Wednesday, this year’s elections will feature more outside spending; a bigger role for large donors; less candidate spending and fewer contributions from small donors. In 2010 total spending hit $3.63 billion, compared with the $3.67 billion that CRP predicts for 2014.

The increasingly dominant outside players “take an already elite group” of political donors “and distill it even further,” said CRP Executive Director Sheila Krumholz on releasing the center’s latest projections. The center calculates that only .02 percent of the nation’s estimated 310 million Americans make political contributions of $2,600 or more.

An even smaller subset of elite donors are dominating the midterms, CRP’s analysis shows, with such billionaires as environmentalist Tom Steyer and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg shoveling tens of millions into unrestricted super PACs. Steyer has given $73.7 million, much of it to his Democrat-friendly environmental super PAC NextGen Climate Action, and Bloomberg has given $20 million to gun safety and other groups. Just the top 20 individual donors to outside groups have shelled out a combined $168.6 million in this cycle, CRP found.

Though Democrat-friendly donors such as Steyer and Bloomerg top this year’s billionaire contributor list, and the pro-Democrat Senate Majority PAC is the biggest-spending super PAC so far, Republicans will still spend more money than Democrats overall, CRP projects. Republican candidates, party committees and outside groups will spend $1.75 billion, while their Democratic counterparts will spend $1.64 billion. The top conservative donor to outside groups this year is Paul Singer of the Elliott Management hedge fund, who has given $9.3 million.

Republicans will also spend far more undisclosed money than Democrats, according to CRP. Among outside groups that do not disclose their donors, including politically active tax-exempt advocacy groups and trade associations, Republican-friendly organizations will outspend pro-Democratic players by $111.7 million to $29.7 million, CRP projects.

“The big difference is secrecy. Team ‘red’ prefers it,” Krumholz said.

Together, CRP projects outside groups will spend $689.3 million in this election, with $329 million of it coming from Republican-aligned organizations and $314.6 million from Democrat-focused groups. These projections, moreover, do not even include “issue” advertisements that fall completely outside the disclosure rules, which CRP estimates will add well more than $100 million to overall spending. The tens of millions spent by such conservative advocacy groups as Americans for Prosperity, underwritten by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and their allies, fall into this category.

Other highlights from the CRP projections include:

  • ŸDisclosed outside spending already totals $480 million, or 13 percent of this cycle’s total. That’s a 66 percent increase over the 2010 elections, when outside spending hit $309 million, or 8.5 percent of the total.
  • ŸWall Street continues to dominate, with financial services donors giving $100.8 million, more than any other industry. Most of the candidate money — 62 percent — goes to Republicans, with just 38 percent to Democrats and another share going to outside groups. Lawyers and and law firms are the top industry giving to Democrats.
  • In 32 races, outside groups have spent more than candidates. The North Carolina Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and her GOP challenger Thom Tillis has drawn the most outside money, with $58 million spent, even more than the previous record of $52.4 million outside money in the 2012 Virginia Senate race.
  • The number of individual donors giving more than $200 in “hard money” to candidates or party committees subject to contribution limits is shrinking. In every midterm election cycle until the previous one, the pool of individual donors has grown, topping out at 817,464 in 2010. This time only 666,773 individuals have made campaign contributions, a number that is expected to increase between now and Election Day, but that still may not match the 2010 total.

“This latest research again shows further compression of the process,” concluded CRP senior fellow Bob Biersack. “More and more of the relevant participation is happening among fewer and fewer actors, both people and organizations.”

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How Does Campaign Financing Affect Polarization? | Procedural Politics

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Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid testify during a Senate Judiciary hearing on campaign finance. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

An interesting debate is swirling around next Tuesday’s midterm elections for Congress. It involves the extent to which the sources, amounts and uses of campaign contributions will affect not only the outcomes of various hotly contested races but the makeup, policy agenda and processes of the next Congress.

The 2010 midterms returned Republicans to power in the House after four years of Democratic rule. They also brought in a wave of hardline tea party conservatives who made any kind of cooperation between the House, Senate and White House nearly impossible. The re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012 did not alter that dynamic. If anything, it made governing even more problematic as the 2013 government shutdown amply demonstrated.

Two events this month helped highlight the nexus between campaign financing and polarization in Congress. The Bipartisan Policy Center convened a roundtable Oct. 16 that brought together scholars, political practitioners, good government groups and journalists to discuss whether the current state of campaign financing is responsible for the increasing level of polarization and gridlock in Congress. 

The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs hosted the second event Oct. 20 in Austin, “Mastering Congress: Political Reform 50 Years After the Great Society.” The program featured two former Texas congressmen who serve on the BPC Commission on Political Reform, and two political scientists who are coauthors of an award-winning book on the increasing role members of Congress play in raising money for their party campaign committees and other candidates.

Dueling duos of academic election experts kicked-off the former roundtable. Tom Mann and Anthony Corrado, governance studies fellows at the Brookings Institution, take issue with those who assert that campaign finance law restrictions have weakened the parties and strengthened outside groups that tend to support more extreme candidates. They maintain that parties are as strong as ever but that the Republican Party “has veered sharply right in recent decades” producing an “asymmetric polarization” characterized by an unwillingness to compromise and a set of “unusually confrontational tactics.”

University of Massachusetts political scientists Ray LaRaja and Brian Schaffner say their research at the state level suggests Mann and Corrado “could be wrong.” Their study indicates that, “states with party-centered campaign finance laws tend to be less polarized than states that constrain how the parties can support candidates.” This is because party organizations tend to fund more moderate, pragmatic candidates. Both sides of the debate concur that recent campaign financing developments are not the overriding cause of increased polarization but have certainly exacerbated it.

Eric Heberlig of the University of North Carolina and Bruce Larson of Gettysburg College, co-authors of “Congressional Parties, Institutional Ambition, and the Financing of Majority Control,” told the Austin conference about the explosive, coordinated growth since 1990 in campaign giving by members of Congress to their party committees and other candidates. Today, party leaders importune their members to give generously to their party campaign committees. The leadership establishes quotas for overall giving to the party depending on a member’s position in the leadership or on committees.

Consequently, members spend less time on their legislative work in Congress and more time raising campaign funds for their own re-election and their party. Former Reps. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, and Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, agreed that members now spend at least one-fourth of their time attending fundraisers and dialing for dollars. Committees consequently are less involved in serious policymaking as party leaders increasingly shape the legislative agenda to satisfy party campaign contributors.  The former congressmen say this shift was especially noticeable beginning in 2006 (Bonilla) or 2010 (Gonzalez).

The increasing role of Super PACs and wealthy, independent donors in recent election cycles poses more unanswered questions about the impact of campaign giving on the agenda and processes of Congress. If there is some correlation between the growth and sources of campaign spending, on the one hand, and legislative outcomes in Congress, then record-breaking campaign spending this cycle could either make the 114th Congress even more gridlocked than its predecessor or more unified and productive around a few select issues — all depending on which party wins the Senate.

Don Wolfensberger is a resident scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.

K Street Files: Is That a Lobbyist Knocking on Your Door?

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Lobbyists are hitting the campaign trail this fall, including for Senator Thad Cochran, R-Miss. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With the midterm elections one week away, K Street lobbyists are taking their powers of persuasion to the campaign trail. Their target audience: voters.

Though they may be more accustomed to trolling the halls of the Capitol or getting stuck on client conference calls discussing legislative strategy, over the next few days, lobbyists plan to employ a different set of skills that include walking door-to-door, holding campaign signs or driving voters to the pools in major contests around the country.

“I’m ready not to sleep and to wear very comfortable shoes and go wherever they need me,” said Dawn Levy O’Donnell, who runs the firm D Squared Tax Strategies.

O’Donnell is heading to Colorado to help the campaign of Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat who is in a tough race against GOP Rep. Cory Gardner. She went to college at the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus and considers the state a home.

Full story

October 28, 2014

Republicans Join Attacks on Big Money | Rules of the Game

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Sullivan is calling for an end to outside spending. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate candidate warned that voters’ voices are being “drowned out” by “third-party special interest groups with unlimited spending capability,” and called on his opponent to help him bar big outside spenders from the race.

Another Democrat parroting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s attacks on secret campaign spending? Actually, the Senate hopeful railing against political money was Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska, who sought — without success — to convince incumbent Democrat Mark Begich to sign a pledge to stop the outside money flooding in.

Sullivan is one of more than half a dozen Republican congressional candidates who have made assaults on big money in politics an important campaign theme. Until now, the issue was almost exclusively a Democratic talking point.

It’s a curious twist that reflects growing voter focus on political money, which has drawn news coverage as midterm spending approaches a record $4 billion, and fresh GOP interest in populist anti-corruption messages that resonate with the tea party.

Leading the way has been none other than GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, who asserted that “no one in the history of American politics has ever won or lost a campaign on the subject of campaign finance reform.”

McConnell’s campaign has leveled a long list money- and ethics-related attacks against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. These include her invitation to “Obama billionaire” Warren Buffett to join a campaign fundraising event via conference call; her attendance at a “luxurious fundraiser” with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at the home of a controversial Kentucky businessman, and her alleged “sweetheart deal” to rent a campaign bus at less than market value.

“By his actions, he is recognizing that money in politics is a powerful issue to win elections,” said David Donnelly, president of Every Voice, an advocacy group with an affiliated super PAC that promotes political money limits.

Democrats have rejected these attacks and hammered on unrestricted secret GOP spending, as they did in 2010, with a special focus this time on the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. In the previous midterm, voters collectively shrugged and handed the House majority to Republicans. In this election, polls suggest voters have trouble even identifying the Koch brothers.

But Republicans are now leveling their own assaults on billionaires, special interests and lobbyists. In addition to Sullivan, Republican House candidates Mark Greenberg, who’s challenging incumbent Elizabeth Esty in Connecticut’s 5th District, and Evan Jenkins, running against Rep. Nick J. Rahall II in West Virginia’s 3rd District, have called on their Democratic opponents to sign a “people’s pledge” to discourage outside spending. Not surprisingly, given the success of Democratic super PACs in these midterms, Esty, Rahall and other Democrats presented with such pledges have largely declined.

Republicans have leveled their attacks in fundraising appeals, ads and during debates. In North Carolina, Republican Thom Tillis charged in target=”_blank”>an ad that Senate Democrat Kay Hagan missed an Armed Services Committee hearing “while ISIS grew” because “she prioritized a cocktail party to benefit her campaign.”

In Iowa’s Senate contest, Republican Joni Ernst accused Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley of “being supported by [a] California billionaire extreme environmentalist who opposes the Keystone pipeline,” a reference to billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and his multi-million dollar super PAC, NextGen Climate Action.

The Republican-friendly super PAC American Crossroads also attacked Braley over Steyer’s high-dollar backing. In one target=”_blank”>Crossroads ad, spiced up with images of hundred-dollar bills, a narrator intones: “Bruce Braley; he’s on the side of billionaire special interests, not Iowa workers.”

Republican House hopeful Richard Tisei charged in a recent debate that 6th district incumbent Democrat Seth Moulton has “raised more money in New York City on Wall Street than he has in the congressional district.” In New York’s 18th district, Republican Nan Hayworth, who is seeking to recapture her House seat from Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, charged that biomass executive Jim Taylor has “lined the congressman’s pockets” with at least $100,000 in bundled contributions.

Even GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, the conservative Texan who’s railed against campaign finance limits almost as vigorously as McConnell, recently proposed in his list of GOP priorities for 2015 “a lifetime ban on members of Congress becoming lobbyists” as one way to “stop the Washington corruption.”

Similarly, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus suggested in this month in his “Principles for American Renewal” that “bureaucrats, lobbyists and out-of-touch politicians need to get out of the way, and give American workers and businesses the freedom to create jobs.”

“They know that the role of money in politics is part and parcel of why Washington isn’t working,” said Donnelly, of the GOP messaging. Donnelly’s Every Voice super PAC, and another even better-funded super PAC dubbed MayDay PAC, are spending their own unrestricted money to back candidates that support campaign restrictions, helping move the issue front and center.

It’s an open question whether attacks on big money will resonate with voters in the end. The only Republican so far to make the issue central to his campaign — Senate hopeful Jim Rubens, in New Hampshire — lost his primary bid to former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, despite backing from MayDay PAC, which remains more than $1 million shy of its $12 million fundraising goal.

With few exceptions, Republicans remain as staunchly opposed as ever to campaign finance limits. Still, Republicans are developing an appetite for big money as a campaign issue. As Tillis put it in a recent fundraising appeal: “It looks like money may be the deciding factor in this campaign, just as the pundits predicted.”

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October 24, 2014

Koch Lobbying Nears $10 Million, Donation Transparency Increases

koch 091 031312 445x308 Koch Lobbying Nears $10 Million, Donation Transparency Increases

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Charles and David Koch are best known for their big political spending, but public records show the billionaire industrialists have also invested close to $10 million on lobbying Congress this year, targeting such issues as carbon taxes, renewable fuel standards, greenhouse gas restrictions and campaign financing.

The Koch Industries legal, lobbying and public affairs arm, known as Koch Companies Public Sectors, spent $4 million on lobbying between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to its third-quarter lobbying report, more than in any quarter this year or in 2013. The multinational corporation deployed half a dozen lobbyists largely to push back against federal taxes and environmental mandates, and to monitor legislation in such areas as oil and gas, trade and transportation.

That brings Koch lobbying to $9.4 million through the first three quarters of this year, putting Koch Companies Public Sector on pace to top the $10.4 million it spent on lobbying in 2013. Four of the six lobbyists identified on the company’s most recent disclosure report also helped underwrite the Koch Industries PAC, which has raised $3.2 million and is also on track to top its 2012 expenditures of $3.1 million.

Though under fire from Democrats for what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decries as their “shadowy influence,” the Koch brothers and their companies have substantially stepped up their publicly reported advocacy and campaign spending this year. Full story

October 14, 2014

FEC Rulemakings Roil Agency, Critics | Rules of the Game

scotus 069 100813 445x316 FEC Rulemakings Roil Agency, Critics | Rules of the Game

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Is the Federal Election Commission a dysfunctional agency deaf to voters fed up with loophole-riddled campaign finance rules? Or is it a newly revived organization making unprecedented moves to invite a wide-ranging public debate over its regulations?

The answer may be both. In a fit of productivity on Oct. 9, the FEC managed to outrage its critics, thrill political party leaders, send election lawyers scrambling and break out once again into public bickering. It was an abrupt departure from the months and even years of partisan deadlock that have rendered the FEC incapable of settling even the most routine enforcement disputes. Full story

Members’ Day Proposals Reflect Varied Concerns | Procedural Politics

scalise 074 090914 445x307 Members Day Proposals Reflect Varied Concerns | Procedural Politics

Scalise testified in favor of re-establishing regular accounts for what are now called Congressional Member Organizations like the RSC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

My previous column left some readers in a state of suspended agitation because I praised the revival of the Members’ Day congressional reform hearing in the Rules Committee (after a 12 year hiatus), but failed to discuss any of the specific proposals recommended. Hopefully this account will douse the ire, though it doesn’t begin to cover all the proposals submitted by the 28 members who offered testimony.   Full story

Are Members Permitted to Help Companies in Which They Own Stock? | A Question of Ethics

Q. I heard that Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., may face ethics discipline because he assisted companies in which he owned stock. I know that Members are not supposed to use their position for their own personal gain, but I didn’t realize that meant they are disqualified from taking action on behalf of any companies in which they might own stock. Is that really the rule?

A. No, it is not. A member’s mere ownership of stock in a company does not disqualify the member from taking official acts on the company’s behalf. But, as the Petri matter illustrates, members should take special care when they assist companies in which they happen to own stock. Exactly what that means, unfortunately, is less than clear.

In a report made public last month the Office of Congressional Ethics, which filters allegations of misconduct for review by the House Committee on Ethics, concluded there is substantial reason to believe Petri “improperly performed official acts on behalf of companies in which he had a financial interest.” The OCE therefore recommended further review by the House Committee on Ethics, which it is now considering.

There is no dispute that Petri took official acts for companies in which he owned stock. That is allowed. At issue in the Petri case is whether he did so “improperly.” That is not. Full story

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