There is an oddly familiar ring to Democrats’ escalating attacks on the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
In 2010, then-White House adviser David Axelrod decried the undisclosed, unrestricted money bankrolling outside conservative groups as “a threat to our democracy.” This year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been blasting the Kochs as “un-American” and accusing them of “trying to buy America.”
The comparison bodes poorly for Democrats now dumping millions into their campaign to demonize the Kochs in what appears to be a central piece of their midterm elections strategy. In 2010, unrestricted conservative outside groups funded by industrialists Charles and David Koch helped knock House Democrats out of power in a historic GOP upset. This time around, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity has already spent some $27 million attacking Democrats, focusing squarely on the party’s most vulnerable Senate incumbents.
But it’s unclear how much Democrats have learned from the last midterms. Yes, Democrats have established their own network of unrestricted super PACs, casting off any pretense of taking the political-money high road. This election’s top-spending super PAC so far is the pro-Democrat Senate Majority PAC, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and liberal super PACs have spent almost double that of their conservative counterparts.
The anti-Koch attacks are now the subject of a $3 million Senate Majority PAC ad campaign — essentially a retread of liberal assaults on big money in 2010. In those elections, the first to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling in early 2010 to lift all limits on independent political spending, Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse bemoaned the “growing and pernicious effects of secret, special interest money being used to determine the outcome of our elections.”
This time, the Democrats’ attacks on big money are being leveled more personally at the Kochs and their Koch Industries Inc. conglomerate. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee portrays Republicans as “addicted to Koch.” A Web ad by American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic super PAC and tracking organization, calls the Koch agenda “bad for the middle class.”
Officials for Koch Industries have criticized the attacks as an intimidation campaign designed to deflect attention from Democrats’ own agenda. Organizers for Americans for Prosperity, a social welfare group that operates outside the disclosure rules, maintain that their objective is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
But the group’s ads hammer on vulnerable Democrats in states such as Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, and they are expanding into campaign-style organizing, door-knocking and voter mobilization. Some speculate that the anti-Koch attacks leveled by Reid and his allies are a distress signal to liberal donors.
Democrats say their complaints against the Kochs are rooted in their policy differences with Republicans. The anti-Koch campaign hammers on populist themes such as economic equity and entitlements for seniors, and portrays Republicans as the party of moneyed interests.
As American Bridge spokeswoman Gwen Rocco put it: “The real reason the Kochs have already spent tens of millions on attacks this cycle is to undermine voters’ confidence in government and drive their conservative agenda that enriches the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle and working class.”
In Arkansas, where GOP Rep. Tom Cotton is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, Pryor campaign officials estimate that Americans for Prosperity has spent $2.2 million on ads opposing the senator. Total outside spending against Pryor tops $5 million. Pryor accuses Cotton of being in the pocket of wealthy interests and argues that the representative’s votes against the farm bill and the Violence Against Women Act, for example, put him and the conservative groups that back him out of step with Arkansas voters.
“Obviously the outside money from these Republican groups is going to be large, and it’s likely that we will be outspent on TV,” Arkansas Democratic Party spokesman Patrick Burgwinkle said. “But what’s important for us is getting the message across that Congressman Cotton and these outside groups are just too reckless for Arkansas.”
In North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan has launched a digital media campaign showing her GOP opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, as aligned with the Kochs’ “bad-for-the-middle-class” policies. Americans for Prosperity has spent $8.3 million on ads opposing Hagan, according to numbers released by Hagan’s campaign.
Republicans dismiss the anti-Koch attacks as a sign of Democratic desperation. In 2010, voters largely ignored Democrats’ assaults on secret, unrestricted campaign money and delivered the House to Republicans in a 68-seat sweep. Democrats’ recent anti-Koch assaults are more rooted in substantive differences with Republicans on issues such as Medicare and the minimum wage. Still, it remains to be seen whether their campaign against moneyed interests will resonate any better with voters in the 2014 midterm elections than it did four years ago.
We’d love your suggestions for a caption to go with this classic moment of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. with Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif., captured right before Tuesday’s State of the Union address by CQ Roll Call photographer Tom Williams. Leave you caption in the comments below or tweet us @rollcall.
Stephanie Schriock, president of Democratic women’s PAC EMILY’s List, at the National Press Club. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The proliferation of super PACs and other unrestricted outside groups is further marginalizing women campaign donors, who are already vastly outnumbered by men, according to a report released Tuesday.
Women make up only about 30 percent of political donors overall, a figure that has remained largely unchanged over the last decade, but they gave even less — just under 20 percent — of the money that went to outside groups in the 2012 elections, according to the report, titled “Money in Politics with a Gender Lens.”
“Amongst both general donors and ‘mega donors,’ to super PACs, women continue to be underrepresented and outnumbered by men,” said Kelly Dittmar, an assistant research professor at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, which co-authored the report with the Center for Responsive Politics. “As super PACs increase in influence, we find that to be significant.” Full story
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., are grown-ups, and it looks as though they are reaching a deal to avoid another government shutdown crisis — provided superpartisans don’t block it.
That said, it’s sad — and bad for the country — that the best they could do was avoid immediate disaster. What they could not do, apparently, is make the slightest dent in the long-term disaster that the federal debt represents.
If the Washington Post lead story Monday is right, their deal will also — to their credit — partially repeal the budget sequester that is strangling federal agencies and give them slightly more money to spend in fiscal 2014 and 2015.
It’s not clear, but one hopes they will also provide Cabinet officers with the ability to move money around and not continue having to slash every program across the board.
But it’s a grave disappointment that they could not even begin to shave the government’s $17.6 trillion national debt — more than 100 percent of GDP, now higher than at any time since World War II. Full story
Assuming that the U.S. economy survives its latest near-death experience, significant credit ought to go to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell.
President Barack Obama ought to realize this is the second time this year that McConnell has been the key player in resolving a terrifying fiscal crisis — and start talking to him regularly.
This time, it is the Kentucky Republican’s negotiations with Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada that (apparently, hopefully) are saving the country from a catastrophic debt default and are ending the costly close-down of the federal government.
In January, it was McConnell and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. who figured out how to prevent the country from falling over the “fiscal cliff”— avoiding tax increases on all but the richest Americans.
McConnell “gave” on what had been a key GOP demand: keeping tax rates on the rich from rising to 39 percent.
In July 2011, McConnell invented a plan B to avoid an earlier default by giving Obama authority to raise the debt limit subject to congressional veto.
Obama evidently detests McConnell, regarding him as hopelessly partisan. It took Obama a full 18 months at the outset of his presidency to have a one-on-one meeting with the GOP leader.
But McConnell has proved to be a statesman. He’s risking the fury of the Senate Conservatives Fund and its allied tea party extremists, who are running a primary candidate against him in Kentucky.
Obama ought to take notice. The Reid-McConnell agreement, assuming it passes Congress and saves the day, merely puts off new days of reckoning on spending and debt.
But it also creates the opportunity for serious negotiations on entitlement and tax reform. If Obama wants to avoid a repeat of the current crisis, he’d best start talking — secretly, if necessary — with Republican grown-ups such as McConnell and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.
House Speaker John A. Boehner obviously has to be part of the mix, but he has fallen far short — so far — of showing McConnell’s courage and legislative acumen. Even though the Ohio Republican obviously knows that his tea party brethren are irrevocably tarnishing the GOP brand, he’s yielded to them time after time.
In the meantime, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, have isolated extremists Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah to the fringe and encouraged tea party favorites like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida to behave.
If his leadership causes the radical right — the radio talkers, Heritage Action, the Fund for Growth, etc. — to make McConnell a key primary target in Kentucky, it’s an opportunity for sane Republicans to counter them in force.
Most of all, this whole dismal exercise ought to lead Obama, Reid, McConnell and House GOP leaders to understand that they will put the country through crisis after crisis — and allow other legislative priorities to die — unless they finally reach a long-term fiscal deal.
It’s time for a grown-ups’ weekend retreat at Camp David.
During the 1977 House debate to establish a Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, two lawmakers expressed concerns that the new panel could become a third chamber of Congress that would constrain other members’ abilities to make informed decisions on intelligence matters.
Rep. Robert Giaimo, D-Conn., said he feared the resolution would permit the committee to write regulations “which are going to limit and infringe upon those rights which we now have.” And Rep. Ted Weiss, D-N.Y., said his constituents “did not expect that I would become a second class member of Congress, subject to 13 other members telling me what I could say and what I could read and what I could talk about.”
Such tensions between the intelligence committees and non-committee members came into stark relief most recently with the illegal disclosure by government contractor Edward Snowden of classified information regarding the intelligence-gathering activities of the National Security Agency. Some members were shocked at what they perceived to be a massive intrusion into citizens’ privacy rights and wondered how much the intelligence committees knew and condoned.
Back in 1977, some members worried that the new committee would issue regulations restricting the open access to committee materials by all members that House rules require of other committees. To finesse the issue, the resolution reported by the Rules Committee provided that the committee “shall, under such regulations as the committee shall prescribe, make any information … available to any other committee or any other member of the House.” The resolution creating a counterpart Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in the previous Congress made access to information by non-committee members discretionary with the committee.
Notwithstanding the more liberal access thrust of the House rule, the new committee confirmed the suspicions of Giaimo and Weiss by ultimately adopting a committee rule more akin to the Senate rule: “Pursuant to the Rules of the House, members who are not members of the committee may be granted access to such classified transcripts, records, data, charts or files of the committee,” upon written notification with specific justification for the request and the need for access. The committee would then determine whether to approve or deny the request.
Flash forward to 2013. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., filed specific requests for information with the intelligence committee in June. When he received no response, he followed with three more letters in July and still received no answer before a House vote late that month to dismantle the NSA’s bulk collection of everyone’s phone records.
Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., had a similar experience with information requests about the NSA’s intelligence-gathering, except he did get a response. Like Griffith, he had filed a request in June. Four weeks later he received a letter from House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., informing him that the committee had denied his request “by voice vote.” But committee rules specify that “the Committee shall determine, by record vote, what action it deems appropriate in light of all the circumstances of each request.”
The House and Senate Intelligence committees are currently working on ameliorative legislation to head off moves in both chambers’ Judiciary committees to impose tighter restrictions on the NSA.
The whole drama raises the question of whether the primary responsibility of the intelligence committees is to protect and defend the agencies they are overseeing, or whether it’s to protect the integrity of Congress and serve the informational needs of its members. Ironically, the House and Senate Intelligence committees occupy the same secure Capitol Dome quarters as the former Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Perceived as too cozy with the nuclear power industry, it was abolished in 1977.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who chaired the House Intelligence panel in 1985-86, recently wrote: “In the past, the congressional overseers of the intelligence community have been captivated, if not captured, by the people they’re supposed to be supervising.” Speaking of the current controversy over the NSA, Hamilton says, “There is no place for the timidity Congress has shown so far on these issues.”
While Washington “is beginning to debate the proper extent of government eavesdropping powers,” he adds, “it’s hardly as robust a discussion as it should be, but it’s a desperately needed start.” Let us hope that discussion continues, and that the Intelligence committees will welcome and assist in fully airing the issues and in taking the corrective actions needed.
The new Quinnipiac poll’s findings on public attitudes on the crucial upcoming debt limit fight ought to give serious pause to Republicans. They thought voters were on their side, but the latest evidence shows they aren’t.
The GOP and its outside supporters were emboldened on Sept. 26 by a Bloomberg poll showing that by 61 percent to 28 percent, voters said it would be “right to require spending cuts when the debt ceiling is raised, even if it risks default” on the government’s debts.
It was seen as a repudiation of President Barack Obama’s stance that bills previously contracted by the government had to be paid and that he would not negotiate about it.
Republicans thereupon decided they could load nearly their entire agenda onto the debt vote, including delay or repeal of Obamacare, fast-track authority for tax reform, a rollback of EPA regulations on greenhouse gases and coal ash emissions, medical malpractice caps and restrictions on the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
They also took encouragement from an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing that the public, by 44 percent to 22 percent, opposed raising the debt limit.
And any number of polls, of course, have shown a decline in Obama’s approval ratings.
The Quinnipiac poll out Tuesday also shows Obama’s approval somewhat under water — 45 percent positive, 49 percent negative.
But the results were devastatingly negative on GOP tactics on both the government shutdown and the debt limit. By 77 percent to 22 percent, the public opposed the GOP tactic of shutting down the government to block implementation of Obamacare.
And by 64 percent to 27 percent, voters opposed blocking an increase in the debt ceiling to stop Obamacare.
They are split on Obamacare — 45 percent pro, 47 percent anti — but they opposed cutting off its funding 58 percent to 34 percent.
Undoubtedly hardliners on the Republican side — maybe leaders, too — will say, forget Quinnipiac and believe Bloomberg.
But there’s other evidence that the public understands that not raising the debt ceiling and not being able to pay the government’s bills is a bad idea.
The Washington Post/ABC poll on Sept. 18 showed that by 73 percent to 22 percent, voters believe that not raising the limit would cause “serious harm” to the economy. It’s true that voters favored raising the limit by only 46 percent to 43 percent. But, on the question of which side — Obama or the Republicans — was doing too little to compromise with the other, it was 49 percent, Obama, and 64 percent, the Republicans.
The bottom line is that Republicans are risking both political and economic disaster if they persist in loading multiple conditions onto the debt limit vote later this month.
A government shutdown, if it doesn’t last too long, will cause pain, but not risk the fundamental health of the economy. Defaulting on the national debt well might — and the latest evidence is that the GOP will get (and deserve) the blame.
Today’s Washington Post compellingly traces the case of Yuntao Wu, a pioneering AIDS researcher at George Mason University whose funding has been cut off owing to across-the-board spending cuts imposed by Congress and President Barack Obama.
Unfortunately, the article was at the bottom of Page A6, below a story on the capital’s latest fixation, Sen. Ted Cruz’s political showboating around Obamacare. The crisis in research funding — which I wrote about last week — deserves to be Page 1 once in awhile and to be addressed specifically as Congress considers how (I mean, whether) to keep the government operating.
As The Post and I related, the budget sequester has taken a 5.5 percent bite out of funding at the National Institutes of Health and all the other research programs of the federal government. Full story
Now that the Senate Rules and Administration Committee has unanimously approved Republican Lee E. Goodman and Democrat Ann Ravel to serve on the Federal Election Commission, full Senate confirmation is expected to quickly follow suit.
The six-member FEC is down two commissioners, and the four who remain are all serving expired terms. Never a popular agency, the FEC has been through a particularly rough patch lately, hamstrung by constant stalemates and bitter disputes over even the most routine matters of business.
Goodman, a GOP election attorney, and Ravel, who chairs the California Fair Political Practices Commission, are sure to get an earful from watchdogs, lawmakers and political players if they join the FEC. With that in mind, here’s some unsolicited advice from this corner of Capitol Hill: Full story
When I was 4 years old, two kids ages 10 and 12 invited me to play castle. They instructed me to stand still in the middle of the living room, arms at my sides, while they erected four walls using large, cardboard building blocks. When the walls were well over my head, they asked whether I could get out. I lifted my arms straight out from my sides and began pivoting back and forth, bringing the walls tumbling down to my squeals of delight.
I remembered that little game shortly before Congress left town for its August recess. The House was in particular disarray that final week. The leadership pulled the transportation-HUD appropriations bill midstream because there weren’t enough votes on the majority side to pass it: Half thought it too harsh, and half thought it didn’t go far enough. No Goldilocks solution was in sight. Full story
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has brought in a new treasurer for her congressional campaign and leadership political action committee in the wake of a federal grand jury probe, a potential House Ethics investigation and a possible inquiry from the Federal Election Commission.
Nancy Watkins, a well-known campaign finance treasurer in GOP circles, submitted paperwork a few weeks ago naming her the new treasurer of both campaign accounts for the Minnesota Republican. Watkins is still the treasurer for Bachmann’s failed 2011 presidential bid, and despite allegations of impropriety surrounding that campaign, Watkins’ stewardship of that account has not been questioned.
Ned Brown, a reader of Wednesday’s A Question of Ethics post on Jesse L. Jackson Jr., sent the following response, which raises the question of why some politicians break laws governing political conduct:
I read your [column] this afternoon coincidentally after having spent 2 hrs w Jesse this morning; he’s a close friend. On one hand, he is incredibly bright and gifted. On the other, he did something incredibly stupid and selfish. I still do not fully comprehend why, beyond narcissism, which just about every politician is guilty of.
I will add this about Jesse and his situation: he is truly sorry for the shame he brought on his family, his fellow members of Congress (who he considers extended family), and damaging the image of the institution. He is very direct that he wants to serve his time in a way that will make him a better person. And upon leaving the criminal justice system, he looks forward to devoting his future years and efforts to something worthwhile. While he is ashamed of what he did, Jesse hopes his future works will also be part of defining the mosaic of Jesse Jackson Jr’s life.