Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 13, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

LOBBYING REFORM IN TROUBLE?....AP reports that lobbying reform, one of the key planks in the 2006 Democratic campaign, is running into problems in the House:

Now that they are running things, many Democrats want to keep the big campaign donations and lavish parties that lobbyists put together for them. They're also having second thoughts about having to wait an extra year before they can become high-paid lobbyists themselves should they retire or be defeated at the polls.

The growing resistance to several proposed reforms now threatens passage of a bill that once seemed on track to fulfill Democrats' campaign promise of cleaner fundraising and lobbying practices.

There are four specific provisions that are said to be in trouble:

  • Bundling: Requires disclosure of the names of lobbyists who bundle lots of small donations from individual contributors. Current law requires only that the small donors themselves be disclosed.

  • 2-year lobbying ban: Requires retiring lawmakers to wait two years before they're allowed to come back and start lobbying Congress.

  • Grassroots lobbying: Requires disclosure of "astroturf" firms that encourage voters to call or write Congress on specific issues.

  • Convention parties: Bans lobbyists from sponsoring parties at national conventions.

Let's take these one by one. The party ban I don't really care much about. If there's any place in the world that lobbyists ought to be allowed to let the liquor flow, surely national conventions are the place. I mean, it's not like they're good for anything else these days.

The grassroots lobbying regulation is tricky. I sympathize with the idea, but I have to confess that conservative arguments over the past few years have persuaded me that First Amendment issues are more important than I've given them credit for in cases like this. I'm not entirely sure I support this provision at all. [UPDATE: The main issue here is that petitioning the government is a core First Amendment right, and mobilizing the citizenry to petition the government is likewise a core First Amendment right. What's more, it's nearly impossible to distinguish between "astroturf" operations and genuine grassroots lobbying, and onerous reporting requirements could put some small grassroots groups out of business. For more, see the ACLU's explanation of its opposition to this provision here.]

The 2-year lobbying ban, according to CQ, is still around: "Democratic leaders have insisted on a two-year ban as part of their ethics overhaul push," a recent article says, despite pushback from some backbenchers. Good for them.

So far, then, not really that bad. But that leaves us with the biggest provision of all: disclosure of bundling. The American League of Lobbyists is dead set against it, which is no surprise, since this is a prime loophole that allows special interests to funnel vast sums of money to politicians without ever being identified. Apparently, though, it's become so radioactive that Dem leaders are planning to drop it entirely, promising that they'll allow it to come up later as a separate bill. Sure they will.

Come on, folks: show some spine. If Democrats want people to believe that there's really a difference between the two parties, then show them there's a difference. Put the bundling provision back in and give it a vote. It's the right thing to do.

Kevin Drum 12:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (60)

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Comments

Meet the new boss, eh?

Posted by: craigie on May 13, 2007 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

Or to put it the more ancient way, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Or maybe Lily Tomlin is more to the point:

"No matter how cynical you get, you can't keep up."

Posted by: DrBB on May 13, 2007 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

Any which way, not to differentiate yourself from the Republicans and to force Bush NOT to veto a bill because it is against political bribery is a mistake.

Posted by: notthere on May 13, 2007 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

Not much interest here but I will be e-mailing my congress and senate members.

You?

Oh, and habeas corpus? That, too.

And the war in Iraq.

Again.

Posted by: notthere on May 13, 2007 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

My Latin is so old.

DrBB: does that read: whoever holds it, the custodians are the same?

Your translation?

Posted by: notthere on May 13, 2007 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

From here, tipping out the lobbyist,like money changers, would be the greatest PR for the Dems.

We see representatives become "self appointed" royalty when they get to DC, and despise that. We believe much is spent needlessly on meals and schmoozing with cronies. Many representatives do not appear to be well-read, or well informed. Many hearings appear to be a waste of time. Yet Senators and Congressmen have well paid assistants who can do serious research. Use them. Often, there seems to be little serious thought given to anything.

I wish that only (individual)contributions from registered voters were permissable. Imagine - GE and Walmart and even Goldman Sachs could not gift anyone. Allowing corporations to give money is certainly wrong. Far too much weight is given to their input. That we need the Lobbbyists is nonsense. Thelobbyinsts have brainwashed their clients. (Do you all know the word gift means poison in German)

Many politicians behave is if their office holding is a pr game. Our nation is floundering under totally inept leadership. Focus on your own state and little district. All do some honest study, and then get together to make useful decisions. The PR can take care of itself.

Posted by: Gwen Millager on May 13, 2007 at 2:12 AM | PERMALINK

The grassroots lobbying regulation is tricky. I sympathize with the idea, but I have to confess that conservative arguments over the past few years have persuaded me that First Amendment issues are more important than I've given them credit for in cases like this.

Kevin, you're off your rocker! First Amendment protects speech and freedom of association. This is not about speech--this is about how the money is spent. We have regulations about reporting campaign donations and no one complains about First Amendment problems there. This has nothing to do with free speech--it is all about hiding corporate funding of fake voter groups. NO EXCUSES!

Posted by: buck on May 13, 2007 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, the crux of Babington's story has as its' only real source "a Democratic member close to the negotiations speaking on condition of anonymity". Negotiations regarding the wording & provisions of the proposed bill are, according to this anonymous source, "at a sensitive stage". So, clearly this is a strategic leak, which may or may not be accurate, to influence the outcome of those negotiations. At best it's hearsay journalism from an uncorroborated anonymous source. If the past ten or so years have taught bloggers nothing else it should be to treat this kind of slippery source reportage with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Posted by: DanJoaquinOz on May 13, 2007 at 2:43 AM | PERMALINK

Gwen M -- exactly what I've said here a number of times before.

Yes, yes, yes! Nice post.

Posted by: notthere on May 13, 2007 at 2:44 AM | PERMALINK

There's no reason not disclose "bundling" unless you plan to get your hands on some bundles that would be unsavory to your constituents.

Posted by: Boronx on May 13, 2007 at 3:25 AM | PERMALINK

Might I offer a rather unique path to reform within the Beltway, by suggesting the dissolution of the autonomous District of Columbia and ceding the city of Washington to the State of Maryland's jurisdiction?

As Maryland residents, Washington's citizens would be fully enfranchised in congressional elections and representation, without having to grant statehood status to the District of Columbia.

Further, Maryland state regulators could provide a uch-needed additional layer of oversight to the freewheeling ethics of Washington's indulgent lobbyist culture, which currently operates with near-impunity in D.C. under the benign "guidance" of Congress.

The Canadian national capital of Ottawa functions perfectly well within the province of Ontario, without any need or use for a special federal administrative district. In all honesty, why can't we now insist that the city of Washington do the same?

I'd be very interested in reading people's thoughts on the subject. If Congress as an institution can't be counted upon to police itself and curb its own excesses, perhaps the introduction of Maryland statutory and regulatory authority might make a profound difference in changing the overall ethical tone inside the Beltway.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii, Inspired by the Bong on May 13, 2007 at 5:09 AM | PERMALINK

We should push for a public financing system similar to the ones many states have recently passed (Arizona and Maine come to mind). I believe Senators Durbin and Specter have introduced a bill in the Senate. It may not be perfect but it is the the way to go.

Posted by: Lew on May 13, 2007 at 6:39 AM | PERMALINK

Donald auf Hawaii, you normally make cogent, reasoned comments, for which I applaud you. You know what's coming, right? What good would Maryland do? Congress would still be national and so would the lobbying. Sorry, not much sense in that comment.

I think a 2 year ban on lobbying is ineffectual. There should be a lifetime ban; there is no duty of the citizenry higher than to serve. You shouldn't serve so that you get encomiums from interest groups while in office and the big reward is to then continue their work when out of office.
I can think of no worse conflict than to be lobbied and then to lobby.
Good grief, Kevin, how do you think we ended up with Medicare Part D?

Posted by: TJM on May 13, 2007 at 7:36 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe I'm missing something, but can someone explain why corporations are allowed to make political contributions at all? Corporations are not people. They have no "rights" - of "free speech" (and the idea that money is speech I find unsupportable even for individuals), right to vote, etc.

So why should corporations be allowed to make polititcal contributions? If the people that run corporations want to make contributions, they can (and will).

Take away political contributions by corporations, and you take away K Street. It's gone, history. No more lobbyists. The "profession" disappears instantly. And what else disappears? The system of legalized bribery that controls our government now.

Help me out, here, people!

Posted by: Doug Latto on May 13, 2007 at 7:50 AM | PERMALINK

"Astroturf" groups: WTF is the First Amendment issue?

Requiring disclosure of the nature and role of these groups doesn't interfere in the least with their First Amendment rights. It just interferes with their nonexistent 'right' to fool people about who they are and who they really represent. They'd still be free to say whatever they damned well please; they just wouldn't be able to do it under a false flag.

Posted by: RT on May 13, 2007 at 7:55 AM | PERMALINK

Donald,

I applaud your candor, but it's been obvious for s while that many of your postings have been inspired by the bong. I confess a few of mine have been influenced by moonshine as well.

Posted by: minion from nc on May 13, 2007 at 7:56 AM | PERMALINK

power corrupts

Posted by: Del Capslock on May 13, 2007 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

Ah Kevin,

If you insist on shining a light on lobbying you'll ruin the illusion for the rest of us. Next thing I know you'll be insisting on 4000 lumen lighting at topless bars and fluorescent strings at puppet shows.

At least you're against the "astroturf" provision. If it passed I'd be forced to admit to everyone that my actions are controlled by Dr. Phil.

Posted by: asdf on May 13, 2007 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

To allow the same sort of lobbying abuses as we saw in the Tom DeLay era would be a criminally stupid mistake on the Democrat's part. The Green or Independene Party is looking better all the time.

Kevin - dead on accurate comment at the end - Find some balls, Democrats!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 13, 2007 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

You can't seperate politician's from self-interest with a crowbar and a ton of oil uneless they want to be seperated...
Have some cojone's Democrat's!
Or, is this too much to ask?

Posted by: Virot Small on May 13, 2007 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

If the Dems believed in all 4 "troubling" provisions before, they need to stick to them now.

Whatever the reasons for Democrat's viewpoint change, a highly skeptical public will only see this the way Kevin portrays it -- privilige trumping principle - again. So much for the new guys....

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on May 13, 2007 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry notthere--"Who will guard the guardians"

Posted by: DrBB on May 13, 2007 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

"Astroturf" groups: WTF is the First Amendment issue?

Requiring disclosure of the nature and role of these groups doesn't interfere in the least with their First Amendment rights. It just interferes with their nonexistent 'right' to fool people about who they are and who they really represent. They'd still be free to say whatever they damned well please; they just wouldn't be able to do it under a false flag.

Kevin, would you explain yourself?

Posted by: glasnost on May 13, 2007 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Point 1: Although legal scholars may quibble over what was and was not included in the majority opinion, corporations have been treated as legal people since Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railway (1886). That's why Mickey Mouse has more rights than the children he entertains! A guaranteed and extended lifespan being one of them.

Point 2: Both Democrats and Republicans are nourished from the same corporate money tits. It goes a long way in explaining the term Republicrats and why many people abstain from voting.

Point 3: Laws are not determined by which party is in power, but by which contributors have access to those in power. See politician, think hooker, and laws on the books make perfect sense.

Posted by: Bell on May 13, 2007 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know that "bundling" is as easy to outlaw as all that.

If a lobbyist is unable to collect checks and hand them to the lawmaker (or the campaign committee), it's easy enough to come up with a way to have the checks sent directly and individually to the campaign with some indication that the lobbyist's activity is the source: an enclosed card, for example.

In fact, I think explicit bundling accompanied by increased disclosure may be preferable to less obvious (and less reportable) ways of having donations credited to particular special interests.

With faux and real "grass roots" organizations, I think the key regulation is again disclosure. Now we'd somehow have to hope that news organizations got in the habit of checking the backgrounds of these groups, but it'd be preferable to the current system. And I don't know that disclosure is necessarily an infringement on the rights of the group.

Posted by: Dirty Davey on May 13, 2007 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

time to face facts, people. Congress is putting on its little theatrics, with it's little hearings and subpoenas that they will NEVER have the balls to enforce.

No significant changes will be made and the US will continue its decline into fascistic theocratic dictatorship.

The only issue for Amurrikkans will be, whether you like your total government corruption Democratic or Rethugnican.

Some choice eh?

Well, at least we live in a free country...

oh... wait

Posted by: getafrigginclue on May 13, 2007 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

TJM: "What good would Maryland do? Congress would still be national and so would the lobbying. Sorry, not much sense in that comment."

You are correct that Congress retains jurisdiction over what happens in Congress between lobbyists and elected officials and is unlikely to give that up.

However, states retain primary regulatory authority over any and all business transpiring within its borders, and that right is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

See where I'm going?

Currently, if Congress and the federal government won't police its district-based lobbyists, as seems to be the case, there is no other controlling authority in this politically autonomous federal district.

However, by abolishing the District of Columbia, lobbying firms and individual professional lobbyists doing business in Washington would then be required to obtain a Maryland state business license and and thus comply with all pertinent state regulatory authority on all matters pertaining to its registration and / or incorporation.

Further, those businesses are subject to state and local taxation, which is also not presently the case for the K Street crowd.

Thus, while Maryland could not restrict the activities of a lobbyist when interacting with a member of Congress, the state has the authority to versee the general conduct of its business through requirements, financial reporting, organizational status, etc.

The District of Columbia is a jurisdictional anachronism, a vestige of the 18th and 19th centuries. The district originally also included Alexandria and Arlington County in present-day northern Virginia, but those were formally retroceded back to Virginia in 1847.

Further, the 23rd Amendment was ratified in 1961, giving D.C. residents for the first time the right to cast a presential ballot.

Finally, in 1973 Congress acquiesced to D.C. residents' longstanding demands for home rule, by enacting the District of Columbia Self-Rule and Governmental Reorganization Act, which for the first time provided for an elected mayor and city council for the District. However, Congress still retains ultimate authority over the city's budget through direct congressional appropriations, and since 1998 the congressionally-appointed Financial Control Board, thus retaining its right to veto municipal decision-making.

Therefore, there is legal precedent for what I'm proposing, which is a formal change in the district governing status.

The courts themselves may force a resolution of the issue some day, should it ever rule that residents deserve full-fledged congressional representation, rather than its present ex oficio House Delegate, who may attend session but has no vote on the House floor.

Anyway, it's food for thought. Sometimes, when the front door is locked and you're without a key, you have to be open-minded enough to consider gaining entrance through a back door or bathroom window, if you are to ever have a chance at realizing your ultimate objective.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on May 13, 2007 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

If there's any place in the world that lobbyists ought to be allowed to let the liquor flow, surely national conventions are the place. I mean, it's not like they're good for anything else these days.

sT00piD3st r4TioN4LiZaTion 3V3rr!1!!

Posted by: Simp on May 13, 2007 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Big Money is not going to relinquish control without a fight... and that fight is not going to come from inside a government controlled by Big Money.

It's called 'structural corruption'... corruption which is literally built in to the system.

>Donald wrote... "suggesting the dissolution of the autonomous District of Columbia"

Absolutely... but much more. The capital should be moved to Kansas. Congressmen would live in government provided housing. Simple but comfortable. All the housing would be the same.

Offices would also be simple and spartan. Free housing would be available to all citizens with appointments to meet with their representative or senator.

No limos. No opulence. No pomp and circumstance. This would be all a necessary part of breaking the cult of Big Money.

Posted by: Buford on May 13, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

There's no big financial payoff for a legislator who looks our for the people. Looking out for the people spreads the money too widely. And you can't, then, ask all the people in the country to send you a buck or two. No, you have to help concentrate huge piles of wealth into the hands of relatively few people who are ready to kick back.

Posted by: MikeT on May 13, 2007 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

And there's no payoff for helping to concentrate wealth into the hands of somebody who isn't prepared to kick back. You've gotta funnel that money to folks who pay.

Posted by: MikeT on May 13, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

No limos. No opulence. No pomp and circumstance.

And how about no medical insurance on the public dime too?

Posted by: ROTFLMLiberalAO on May 13, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

If Democrats want people to believe that there's really a difference between the two parties, then show them there's a difference. Put the bundling provision back in and give it a vote. It's the right thing to do.

I agree.

Posted by: Gregory on May 13, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

minion: I confess all of mine have been influenced by the Kool-aid as well.

Fixed it for you.

Toad.

Posted by: Gregory on May 13, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Donald, I'm not sure I want Maryland to have that kind of authority. I'd be afraid they'd try to leverage their status as being home of the capitol to their advantage, and as a resident of Not Maryland, that doesn't sound all that hot to me. Even if it does get me a little lobbying oversight in the bargain.

Kevin, I'd like to hear more about this 1st Amendment issue. What are you talking about?

Posted by: Royko on May 13, 2007 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Reform?

Forget about it folks.

You are talking about a country that can't even reform a broken levee system:

Almost a year ago the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared that it had restored New Orleans' levees and floodwalls to pre-Hurricane Katrina strength.
But the system is actually riddled with flaws, and a storm even weaker than Katrina could breach the levees if it hit this year, say leading experts who have investigated the system.
The unwelcome news comes as residents gird for what is predicted to be a "very active" Atlantic hurricane season, and as residents are still slowly rebuilding their homes and lives after Katrina.

Looky folks:

America is broke as in "it don't work anymore."
And broke as in "we can't afford to fix it even we could fix it."

No... the country isn't dead.
It's merely moribund.

A couple more years of Bush leadership and then you can stick a cheap plastic fork in it...


Posted by: ROTFLMLiberalAO on May 13, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

So what else is new?? Lobbyists' generosity has no party affiliation. Whoever is in power is the biggest beneficiary. Now that the money is flowing towards the democrats they're hesitant to do anything to stem the flow. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Posted by: sparky on May 13, 2007 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Since this stuff is so penny ante in the first place, it hardly matters. The key is to redefine bribery.

Office holder should be guilty of accepting bribe if he or she accepts any money for any purpose including election donation within 1 electoral cycle before or after voting or signing a bill that benefits the donor of the money (after any request for action from donor either direct or indirect). Donor should be guilty of offering a bribe if she or he proposes to give money or, after giving money brings to office holder an interest in a bill, within 1 electoral cycle before or after donation.

If we plug the hole in the boat, we won't have to keep baling water....

Posted by: George Washington Plunkitt on May 13, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm SHOCKED. SHOCKED! That a Democrat is behaving just like , well ,....those Republicans!
One mere mortal will behave just like another until the broken system is fixed and the temptation is removed from the lawmakers. Unfortunately, the lawyers have made it far more difficult than it sounds.

Posted by: peter gevas on May 13, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats are leaderless, spineless, glutless and clueless, except for Feingold.

Posted by: antiquelt on May 13, 2007 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

I note you don't extort us to call our Congress person or say you will do the same or provide a link to contact information or whatever.

Posted by: MNPundit on May 13, 2007 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Donald, I see and saw, but if you think spreading wealth among 435 Reps and 100 Senators has led to the monetization of D.C., imagine what would happen in a state legislature. I admit to some jaundice in this area, being from Pa. where lobbyists go for CLE credits. Md.'s laws would quickly suffer alterations leaving the lobbyists free to pander to their heart's content and/or the they'll move to Delaware or as Citicorp's credit card ops did, North Dakota.
Better to reform them where they are.

Posted by: TJM on May 13, 2007 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

I strongly support the anti-astroturfing provision!

Kevin, I'm surprised you are falling for conservative rhetoric on this.

Why should deceptive practices intended to decieve and manipulate voters be OK? Yes, "mobilizing the citizenry" is great - but why should anyone be able to do it under false pretenses and for hidden political goals?

How can you say it's "nearly impossible to distinguish between 'astroturf' operations and genuine grassroots lobbying"? It's not that hard. Simply require people doing the funding to identify themselves. Not hard at all. (And the ACLU also supports the Westboro Church, so I'm not too concerned about their opinions.)

You're really missing the boat on this one, Kevin. Democracy is about fairness and open representation. We need to protect that against corruption and deception.

Posted by: cal on May 13, 2007 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Forgot to add: Thanks for posting this and getting the word out!

"Come on, folks: show some spine. If Democrats want people to believe that there's really a difference between the two parties, then show them there's a difference."

Amen.

Posted by: cal on May 13, 2007 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Someone put this best -

I can't stand this indecision,
married with a lack of vision.
Everybody wants to rule the world.

Sigh.

Posted by: samsin on May 13, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

resistance from some House members is so strong that Democratic leaders are thinking of dropping the bundling language from the bill, and perhaps allowing proponents to offer it later as an amendment or separate legislation.

Ah, the famous 'some House members'... Why is no one on the record in this Chuck Babington story except Chris Van Hollen (standing up for the correct position) and the spokespeople for the 'reform' orgs? [I scare-quote 'reform' because Fred Wertheimer's proposals are often far from deserving the name.]

Clearly, if the leadership is considering bowing to their will, the House members opposed to this are not "backbenchers" (pretentious allusion in any case, Kevin, and in this case not even accurate). But what evidence does Babington provide that Pelosi, Hoyer, Emanuel, and Clyburn are considering so doing? None of them are on the record or even on background here.

So this strikes me as a piece, which might be useful in its own way, but is something different than reporting, in which the reporter talks to reform lobbyists and reprints their fears and complaints without any supporting info. Mind you, I have no trouble believing that Steny Hoyer himself is an example of these 'some House members', but I'd like a little more effort to put people on the record on this stuff.

Posted by: Nell on May 13, 2007 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

"And how about no medical insurance on the public dime too?"

Yup. And no exemptions from the laws the rest of us have to follow.

No special passes to the floor of the house and senate after retirement.

Salaries set at 180% of the median national per capita. 6 weeks recess per year... three of which must be spent in their home districts.

Adding the 'missing piece' of the constitution... a mechanism for introducing a vote of no confidence for the exective branch.

Unfortunately, [as was kinda the point of this thread] all of this is simply wishful thinking.

This sort of reform will have to come straight from the people... a people angry enough to lay their lives on the line.

Posted by: Buford on May 13, 2007 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

kevin- grassroots lobbying disclosure is a tricky issue- see this link http://www.ombwatch.org/article/articleview/3828/1/422?TopicID=1

for the opposing view, from a liberal perspective.

Posted by: matt on May 13, 2007 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

First there is not a huge difference between the Democrats and the Republicans when it comes to lobbying, that I can see. Both sides are probably filled with a couple of corrupt politicians who get their money from these people. Then a 2-year lobbying ban is ridicules. If former politicians want to lobby Congress, two years won’t make a difference, but I guess two years is better then none. The grassroots lobbying provision seems reasonable. Why keep these names a secret, they shouldn’t have anything to hide. Finally, the public should know who is sponsoring convention parties just because there is no good reason why the public shouldn’t know. After all many people are represented by these parties.

Posted by: Ali R on May 14, 2007 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

Personally, I think a 5 or 10 year ban, applicable to immediate family members also, would be a good start.

Posted by: kenga on May 14, 2007 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK
I sympathize with the idea, but I have to confess that conservative arguments over the past few years have persuaded me that First Amendment issues are more important than I've given them credit for in cases like this. I'm not entirely sure I support this provision at all. [UPDATE: The main issue here is that petitioning the government is a core First Amendment right, and mobilizing the citizenry to petition the government is likewise a core First Amendment right. What's more, it's nearly impossible to distinguish between "astroturf" operations and genuine grassroots lobbying, and onerous reporting requirements could put some small grassroots groups out of business. For more, see the ACLU's explanation of its opposition to this provision here.]

Since when is the ACLU "conservative"? The arguments against the "grassroots lobbying" requirements aren't conservative, though people who are conservatives may make them. The arguments are simple defense of the First Amendment (not so much the right to petition, though, as free speech: grassroots lobbying isn't petitioning the government, it is public advocacy that other people petition the government. And it is pretty much precisely the core of what the speech protection in the first amendment protects from regulation.)

Of course, attempting to limit expression rather than dealing with the problems in the structure of the electoral system in the US that guarantee narrow distribution of power is the perennial focus of "political reform" from within both the major parties, because what is important is the appearance of reform while enhancing the power of government and preserving the partisan duopoly, because both sides fear, that if there were genuine, effective choices, they might lose, certainly absolutely and, each also fears, relative to the other.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 14, 2007 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Coming on the heels of news that the Democrats are on the verge of making a deal with the White House on new trade deals that would favor Fortune 500-size companies, this is not exactly heartening news for progressives.

Posted by: Patience on May 14, 2007 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Bell, thanks for your response, in which you mention "Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railway (1886)."

I'm looking for responses from attorneys to this question: "Would a law banning corporations from making any poitical contributions be subject to a series constitutional challenge?"

I can't see how it would, but I'm not a lawyer.

Posted by: Doug Latto on May 14, 2007 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Doug Latto: Would a law banning corporations from making any poitical contributions be subject to a series constitutional challenge?

I doubt it - they've been banned for decades. Of course the way around that is PACs, so the next thing to do is ban them.

Posted by: alex on May 14, 2007 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK
I doubt it - they've been banned for decades. Of course the way around that is PACs, so the next thing to do is ban them.

Banning PACs isn't necessary, and probably isn't Constitutional (at least, in any sense that it would be effective); what would be both Constitutional and desirable, IMO, is banning PACs from making contributions to candidates or parties, instead letting PACs only serve as independent spending organizations, which lets them serves as proxies for individuals or corporations in doing something that those individuals or corporations can do already, without allowing them to serve as an end-run around the exclusion of political contributions by corporations.

They are still useful, in that they allow like-minded people to pool resources in common efforts, but they don't serve as a tool to evade either individual contribution limits or prohibitions on corporate donations.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 14, 2007 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Hey folks- how about a few facts. Corporations (and unions) can not by law make Federal campaign contributions. (State finance law is all over the lot-some allow;some ban) They set up separate segregated committee accounts (that are registered, reported, and available at the FEC) that collect individual contributions from their members and staff.

Convention parties are not secret- the sponsors do everything but fly the Goodyear blimp overhead to take credit.

Ceeding the District of Columbia to Maryland would drop the normal combined Electoral College vote for the Democrats from 13 to 11. Looking how lobbyists are regulated in Annapolis does not lead me to believe there would be any better oversight.

Posted by: Skipster on May 14, 2007 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Having been to a couple conventions as a delegate, I can state with certainty that a big part of their draw for the Democratic rank-and-file is that they're essentially a huge party for fellow politics geeks. The hospitality suites are a big part of that fun. I don't know that anyone's opinions are swayed by their opulence, except possibly as to whether or not a given event planner has good taste.

Posted by: Kimmitt on May 14, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kevin's comments 100%, as long as ALL Organizations are included. That includes Unions, Planned Parenthood, the NRA, etc., etc., etc. There IS no difference between them and Corporations. Corporations are in fact made up of people trying to keep their jobs for the most part. If you are going to single them out, then you're being hypocritical.

Posted by: Mike on May 14, 2007 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Skipster: Hey folks- how about a few facts. Corporations (and unions) can not by law make Federal campaign contributions. "

Then why do we constantly hear things like "Representative X received Y dollars from corporation Z last year?"

Posted by: Doug Latto on May 15, 2007 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Hello - How may I reach Mr. Drum by telephone or e-mail urgently. I need to speak with him about a quotation to be used in a documentary film. Thanks very much.

Posted by: Sheila Canavan on August 22, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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