Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 25, 2010

AMERICA SPEAKING OUT -- WITH AMERICA FOOTING THE BILL.... Sixteen years ago, House Republicans put together the "Contract With America" based on polls and focus groups. This year, House GOP leaders are launching the "America Speaking Out" project, in the hopes of crafting a new "contract" based on public feedback and interactive social media.

The biggest difference, however, is that this time, American taxpayers are being asked to finance the partisan initiative.

Republican officials will kick off the project with an event in D.C. this morning, and it's been described, accurately, as an initiative intended to help the GOP craft "a set of policy items that Republicans would pursue if they won back control of the House in November."

When asked about this yesterday, GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) was vague about financing. "'America Speaking Out' is not a project of the political" campaign arm, Pence said, reluctant to go into further detail.

Now we know why. Republicans are claiming that the project will be kept separate from their campaign committees, and can therefore be financed by taxpayers.

Congressional scholar Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said it is not credible to say the agenda is not intended for the 2010 campaign cycle.

"Its only purpose is as a campaign document," Mann said in an e-mail. "They are in no position to shape policy before the election. It is a defensive move, to deal with the criticism that they are the party of 'no.'"

But Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said Republicans have to maintain that the document is not meant for the campaign trail, even if it is only a charade. "If they don't, they are in danger of using taxpayer funds for campaign purposes," she said.

But given what Republicans have already stated publicly, the notion that the "America Speaking Out" project isn't intended for the midterm elections is ridiculous.

This isn't even thinly veiled -- the partisan, campaign-related function is as plain as day.

House Republicans will unveil on Tuesday a Web site they will use to solicit policy ideas from the public, the first step in the development of a platform that they will present to voters this fall. [...]

The Web site formally starts the GOP's process of touting its own vision and policies to voters, after spending most of the last 16 months bashing President Obama and congressional Democrats.

And Republicans, aware that some of the anti-Washington fervor among the public is aimed at both parties, don't want to simply put out a formal agenda without buy-in from voters, particularly conservatives. So, along with the site, House Republicans will hold town hall meetings around the country starting next week. They want to use this process to get ideas for the "Contract With America"-style policy document they are set to release closer to the election, which would list principles and proposals that Republicans would adopt if they won control of the House.

Keep in mind just how transparently silly the argument is. Republicans will argue that all of this -- the website, the social media, the town-hall events, and the document to be released in September -- has nothing to do with the party's campaign efforts in the fall. They have to maintain this fiction with a straight face, in order to justify use of our money to pay for the effort.

This probably isn't the ideal way for the GOP to prove it can be trusted to spend the public's money wisely.

Steve Benen 8:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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Comments

Simpler GOP version:

"We value your opinion. Please write it on the back of a twenty dollar bill, and send it in."

Posted by: DAY on May 25, 2010 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how much of this is because the RNC doesn't have any money? It only has about $12 million on hand, when it's average for other years is over $40 million.

Posted by: Chris on May 25, 2010 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

They should not be allowed to get away with this, I for one do not want my tax dollars to go to a republican event, the people should be heard on this one!

Posted by: jJS on May 25, 2010 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, they are hurting for cash. Rove's operation must really have scooped away all the big cash donors. He's going to be kingmaker in the Fall.

Posted by: Rathskeller on May 25, 2010 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

How does this differ from Nancy Pelosi's "Six in 06" project during the run up to the 2006 election?

The Republicans can do this if they do it right.

What strikes me is the impression that this initiative is not part of a carefully planned campaign. In fact just about everything Pence and the rest of the Republican leadership does seems pretty ad hoc.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 25, 2010 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

I remember the "Six in 06" campaign, but not how it was funded. I thought this was done by the Democratic Party - not funded by Congress.

Yes, No?

Posted by: Mark-NC on May 25, 2010 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Aren't Congressmen and Senators elected to make policy? My first suggestion would be to eliminate the salaries of elected representativew who are asking me to do what they are supposed to being paid to do. (Then again, they really don't want MY ideas, anyway!)

Posted by: dcsusie on May 25, 2010 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

I'm looking forward to the YouCut vote

Posted by: Lars on May 25, 2010 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

This probably isn't the ideal way for the GOP to prove it can be trusted to spend the public's money wisely.

Au contraire. This is precisely the use of public funds that the "We want our country back" crowd finds agreeable. Republicans are notorious, after all, for using tax payer dollars to fund their partisan pet projects.

And besides, if you can get the mouth droolers to chant "drill baby drill" and "Where's our bailout" in April, then get them to nod and drool in agreement that Obama's an oil man and he isn't using government interference fast enough in May, then I suspect they won't blink over this.

Posted by: oh my on May 25, 2010 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Two strategies to fight this: 1. Load up with liberal suggestions. 2. Load up with extreme conservative crazy suggestions. But since it will be open to everyone to put in suggestions, I say we go to town.

I think every liberal reading these blogs should go in and flood it with suggestions like Repeal Medicare. Repeal Social Security. Repeal the Civil Rights Act. See if we can get those to the top of the list and make the Republicans announce it.

Posted by: Chris on May 25, 2010 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

I think they are modeling this on the "Six in 06" program and I think that was done out of the congressional offices using taxpayer funds. It is justified as being legislative research. The problem is not coordinating in any way with the campaign. That is hard. Very hard.

Of course, this year the Republicans aren't all that coordinated anyway.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 25, 2010 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

If this were the Dems, the media would be all over this like stink on you know what. If the Dems have any sense at all, they will make sure this dominates at least the next couple of news cycles. If they don't know how to play this one, they should give it up - start selling cutlery or something, and let someone with a clue take over.

Posted by: Geneva Mike on May 25, 2010 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

So, really, can nothing be done about this? A lawsuit? If it's patently illegal, why should they be able to do it?

Posted by: frazer on May 25, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

I doubt Six in '06 was very expensive. They weren't setting up a website or organizing town halls to solicit ideas from the public. It was just a list of campaign promises that they came up with on their own. It was essentially a press release, not a research project. I don't recall it being presented as anything other than a campaign theme, but there may have been some technicalities they could have exploited to charge it to the government. But even if there were, I don't think they would have gone through the trouble of navigating the gray area just to avoid a relatively small expense.

Posted by: ibid on May 25, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

The WashPost article on this project says that GOP staffers will monitor the site to "remove inappropriate comments." Since this is publicly funded, would that not consitute impermissable censorship in the context of a public forum? I think I will head on over and post a suggestion for single payer health care and see what happens.

Posted by: dcsusie on May 25, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

I checked out the site- Pretty well done! Lots of crazy ideas and some sensible ones, some even suggest working with Democrats!

Posted by: EDR on May 25, 2010 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Another example of typical GOP mentality - taxpayers should pay to re-elect them & bail out Wall Street (who shouldn't have their omnipotent behaviors curtailed), BUT gov't cannot provide aid to nation's public school system to keep approx 20% of teaching force from layoffs AND more importantly keep class sizes from jumping from 25 to 45 students in hardest hit states.

Posted by: Melissa Steinmetz on May 25, 2010 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

It's my taxes.

Where do I go to weigh in and tell them to strike "In God We Trust" off of the money? (You know, other than straight to Hades.)

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on May 25, 2010 at 8:34 PM | PERMALINK

I submitted the following idea on Americaspeakingout.com, and it immediately returned an error with the word "Inappropriate" in red: "Return the taxpayer dollars the Republican Party is using to finance Americaspeakingout.com, since this is obviously a campaign activity."

Posted by: Jonathan on May 25, 2010 at 10:54 PM | PERMALINK

Why is this being paid by taxpayers money? They don't even allow all viewpoints to be heard. (no pro choice and some immigration discussions banned)

What the hell!!!!

As a person against excessive government spending, who the hell do I turn to? Democrats and Republicans are both incapable of spending money intelligently.

Posted by: augusto tentori on May 26, 2010 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Put me down for a "what the hell"

Posted by: Qutsemnie on May 28, 2010 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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