Topic: Government and Politics

Lobbying Reform Reformed

The Politico offers an article about House Democrats and their effort to legislate about lobbying. The Senate passed a lobbying bill in January.

The road to the Senate bill included a struggle over the disclosure of funding for grassroots lobbying. Groups like the National Rifle Association or the National Right to Life Committee sometimes pay firms to communicate with citizens and urge them to contact their members of Congress on issues of concern to the group. The usual “reform groups” wanted the Senate to force disclosure of the sums spent mobilizing public opinion in this way. The Senate left disclosure out of their bill.

The effort to mandate disclosure resumed when the House took up lobbying reform. We held a forum on the topic that can be seen here. It now appears that the mandated disclosure will not appear in House version of the bill though it may be offered as an amendment.

The grassroots lobbying disclosure effort looked a lot like normal politics. The new majorities in Congress were (on the whole) Democratic and liberal, the groups that would be forced to disclosure their political activities were (on the whole) Republican and conservative. The new powers-that-be were apparently looking at ways to harass and perhaps discourage speech they did not like. As I said, normal politics.

Why has mandated disclosure apparently failed? A leader of one of the targeted groups told me that she hoped Speaker Pelosi would include the mandate in the lobbying reform bill. This leader believed the Speaker and her party would end up with a political black eye from the fight. Perhaps Speaker Pelosi agreed in the end.

For now, at least.

Uncle Sam: Electrician

My new Cato policy analysis goes into great detail about how the federal government uses your tax money to subsidize businesses.  In fiscal 2006, the “corporate welfare state” cost $92 billion, all of which funded programs that provide unique benefits to particular companies or industries.

One of these programs is the Rural Utilities Service (RUS).  A relic of the New Deal, the goal of the program was to electrify the countryside.  Now that reading by candlelight in the boonies is a thing of the long forgotten past, the RUS has morphed into a fountain of cash for rural electricity co-ops. 

As a story on the front page of this morning’s Washington Post highlights, it’s always easier to create a program than to kill it:

The key to the longevity of the Agriculture Department’s programs for rural utilities has been the [electricity co-ops’] powerful political voice. More than 30,000 members gave an average of $41 last year to the co-op association for political contributions. Given their geographic scope, the co-ops can mobilize letter-writing campaigns across a vast number of states and congressional districts.

To learn more about the corporate welfare budget generally, tune in to my live interview on Bloomberg Radio’s “On the Economy” today at 6:30 pm Eastern.  A podcast about the corporate welfare state will be featured on the Cato website on Tuesday.   

John Edwards Wants America to be More Like Slow-Growth Europe

Presidential candidate John Edwards deserves some praise for honesty. He has openly admitted that he wants more taxes and more spending. His chief rivals, as noted by the Associated Press in a story, have been less forthcoming. But honesty does not count for much if a candidate’s proposals will mean less prosperity. Edwards seems to think that European-style levels of government spending can be imposed without European-style levels of stagnation and unemployment:

Edwards is quick to acknowledge his spending on health care, energy and poverty reduction comes at a cost, with more plans to come. All told, his proposals would equal more than $1 trillion if he could get them enacted into law and operational during two White House terms. … To pay for some of his priorities, Edwards would roll back Bush’s tax cuts on Americans making more than $200,000 a year. He also said he would consider raising capital gains taxes to help fund his plans and raise or eliminate the $90,000 cap on individual earnings subject to Social Security taxes to help cover the projected shortfall in the system. … Edwards’ ideas have already opened him to accusations of being just another tax-and-spend liberal, a label put on Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee who said he would raise taxes and then lost 49 states to President Reagan. … Edwards has been the most forthcoming Democratic candidate when it comes to describing the details of how he would like to run the country. His chief rivals — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama — have offered few hints about their policy proposals.

Budget Bravado

In a letter to lawmakers, the president’s budget director, Rob Portman, …accused Democrats of doing little to rein in “the unsustainable growth in entitlement spending” on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare [reports the Washington Post].

Well, they did almost all oppose the trillion-dollar expansion of Medicare in 2003 that then-Rep. Portman voted for and that President Bush bludgeoned reluctant Republicans into supporting.

Wisconsin Gas Station’s Prices Are Too Low!

At least, as Dan noted below, that’s the verdict of state regulators, who recently threatened to sue a BP station owner unless he discontinues giving a 2 cent per gallon discount to senior citizens and a 3 cent per gallon discount to boosters of local youth sports programs.

According to Wisconsin regulators, the discounts represent “unfair competition” against other gas stations, and that — get this — imperils consumers. A 1939 Badger State law requires retailers to sell motor fuels at no less than a 9.2 percent markup over the wholesale price.

Wisconsin is not the only state with such a law — a dozen others (Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah) have similar provisions to protect gas station owners from the horrors of price competition.

You would think that, amidst the Sturm and Drang of the past few years’ high fuel prices, the public would force lawmakers to throw out this welfare for gas station owners. Alas, no.

Hat tip: Tim Rowland

The Heckler’s Veto in France

Two days before the French presidential election, Socialist candidate Segolene Royal warned that there would be riots if her opponent, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, was elected. She told a radio interviewer:

“Choosing Nicolas Sarkozy would be a dangerous choice,” Royal told RTL radio.

“It is my responsibility today to alert people to the risk of (his) candidature with regards to the violence and brutality that would be unleashed in the country (if he won),” she said.

Pressed on whether there would actually be violence, Royal said: “I think so, I think so,” referring specifically to France’s volatile suburbs hit by widespread rioting in 2005.

Then the Washington Post casually reported, in an article on Sarkozy’s plans, that “While he seeks the strong majority that will be crucial for pursuing the ambitious agenda he has promised, it is unlikely he will risk tackling any tough issues that could spark social unrest or street protests.”

“The question he will have to ask himself first is: What are the reforms he should implement to show politically that he sticks to what he announced?” said Dominique Reynié, a political analyst at the Institute for Political Sciences’ Political Research Center. “And the second question is: What are the reforms he can implement without creating riots?”

And indeed, according to Time, there have been riots since the election. But the rioters aren’t the disaffected immigrant youth of the suburbs. Instead, “the participants are mostly white, educated and relatively comfortable middle class adherents of extreme-left and anti-globalization ideologies.” Some 500 cars were burned each night, up from the routine 100 cars set afire in la belle France every night.

It was outrageous for Royal to suggest that the French people should choose their leader on the basis of fear and threats. We talk about a “heckler’s veto” in which the government prevents someone from speaking in order in order to avoid a violent reaction from his critics. How much worse it would be for a great nation to choose its president because of a “rioters’ veto.” How appalling for the leader of a French political party ostensibly committed to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to encourage a rioters’ veto. Journalists should think twice about casually reporting that elected leaders will make their decisions out of fear of rioters.

And people on the left who are committed to democracy and peace should speak up against the use of such political violence by others on the left. Nobody warned that the French bourgeoisie would riot if Royal was elected. And they wouldn’t have, so no journalist would be reporting that President-elect Royal would have to avoid “tackling tough issues that could spark social unrest.”

The Same Old K Street

Jeff Birnbaum, who covers lobbying for the Washington Post, which is sort of like covering the Pope for the Vatican Observer, writes about “the other K Street” in a lengthy article. “K Street,” of course, is shorthand–or if you believe Wikipedia, metonym–for the lobbying industry.

According to Birnbaum, “the other K Street” is a building along K Street that has become home to a dozen or so well-funded left-Democratic lobbies–Campaign for America’s Future, Americans United for Change, Progressive Majority, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, USAction, MoveOn.org Political Action, etc. So that’s very different from the usual corporate lobbyists, right?

Well, let’s see. What K Street is really about is using political influence and the power of government to transfer resources from those who produced them to yourself or your clients. It’s about milking the taxpayers. It’s about using your political connections to impose your own agenda on the unorganized masses.

And by that definition, “the other K Street” fits right in with the corporate K Street. Special interests give them buckets of money, and they manipulate the political process on behalf of partisan, ideological, and interest-driven agendas–just like the corporate and right-wing lobbyists.

Michael Barone reminds us that it was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s aides who originally created “K Street” when they left the White House and went into business for themselves. They happily lobbied the permanent Democratic majority in Washington for the next 60 years or so. Now the taxpayers’ pinata is available to everybody.