House to consider lobbying reforms

Nancy PelosiFive months into the new Congress, House Democrats are finally starting to deal with one of their primary election promises: lobbying reform.

Based on the Washington Post coverage, it seems quite possible that a final bill might not have much reform in it at all:

“Sponsors and watchdogs had hoped the House lobbying reform bill would go further than the Senate’s version, passed with great fanfare in the opening days of the new Congress. Instead, it appears to closely track the Senate bill, which also did not include restrictions on grass-roots lobbying. In recent weeks, according to several people close to the talks, the Senate had been pushing the House to narrow the bundling restrictions in its version, by limiting reporting requirements to clearly defined fundraising agreements between lobbyists and members. The House bill as discussed would do that.

“Passage of a weaker bill — chiefly, one without bundling rules — would disappoint watchdogs, who have waged a lobbying campaign of their own for the new law.”

To be clear: Alberto Gonzales has not lost any “top aides”

Attorney General Gonzales ResignsBefore the National Press Club today Alberto Gonzales made the point that the resignations of the Deputy Attorney General, Chief of Staff, Liaison to the White House and Director of the Executive Office of the United States Attorney were not losses of “top aides.”

Think Progress has video of the quote:
“…The loss of a deputy attorney general is a significant loss. But you have Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff. We now have an acting chief of staff. We now have a new White House liaison. I wouldn’t characterize those as top aides. I guess the other person you may be referring to is Mike Battle, the head of the executive office of the United States attorneys. He was planning on leaving well before any of this became an issue, and we now have a very strong career person in there (emphasis added).”

Any idea which DOJ positions do qualify as the AG’s “top” aides?

Monica Goodling’s partisan tests for employment at the Department of Justice

Monica Goodling TestifyingThe New York Times reports on DOJ White House Liaison Monica Goodling’s partisan and ideological tests used during hiring decisions for non-political career DOJ positions.

From the Times:

“…Quizzing applicants for civil service jobs at Justice Department headquarters with questions that several United States attorneys said were inappropriate, like who was their favorite president and Supreme Court justice…

“Ms. Goodling also moved to block the hiring of prosecutors with résumés that suggested they might be Democrats, even though they were seeking posts that were supposed to be nonpartisan, two department officials said.

“And she helped maintain lists of all the United States attorneys that graded their loyalty to the Bush administration, including work on past political campaigns, and noted if they were members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.”

We’ve previously mentioned Monica Goodling’s use of political tests in her hiring.

After receiving immunity for her testimony, she is now scheduled to appear before the Judiciary Committee to discuss all of this.

Should we be able to wager on terrorist attacks?

SAMSUNG CSCFreakonomics author Steven Levitt argues that the US government should reconsider its decision to prohibit predictive markets – a pilot project where individuals could purchase “futures” contracts on the likelihood of future events like terrorist attacks, global warming, election outcomes, etc. The idea is that self-interested economic participation in these markets might lead to new intelligence data and warnings about impending public events.

It’s a fascinating concept, and Levitt makes a strong argument that the public reaction against such concepts as “betting on a terrorist attack” are actually overblown given the potential value of such market data.

Florida moves primary to January. Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina now may move earlier

Florida State Capitol BuildingThe Florida legislature passed a bill to push the Florida Presidential Primary to January 29. With Florida’s two weeks of absentee voting beforehand, voters could begin casting ballots as early as the second week in January.

In response, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are now discussing moving their votes even earlier.

This in a year where the delegate selection has already been front-loaded by about a month earlier than in past elections.

New report details the role of money in Minnesota’s 2006 elections

State of MinnesotaDavid Schultz, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Law and Politics, has just sent out the following press release:


For immediate release

May 2, 2007

David Schultz

Special Interest Money in 06 Elections Influences 07 Legislative Session New report documents role of money in Minnesota politics

Political contributions to state candidates in the 2006 elections were dominated by special interests according to a new study released on Wednesday.

David Schultz, a Professor in the Graduate School at Hamline
University in St. Paul released a report on Wednesday detailing the role of money in the 2006 Minnesota elections. The report, the “Price of Admission 2006: Political Money Trends in Minnesota,” is the annual study Schultz has done on money and politics in Minnesota since 2000.

“The biggest news in the study is threefold,” according to
Schultz. “First, special interests—PACS, lobbyists, and large
individual donors—dominated the 2006 elections and destroyed the public finance system. Second, the cash advantage Minnesota DFLers had over the Republican Party was important to the Democrats’ victory in 06. Finally, special interest contributions to the legislature and the governor are affecting the 2007 legislative session.”

According to the study, over $132 million was spent by
candidates, the parties and legislative caucuses, and other political associations in 2006 to influence the elections or policy-making at the state capitol. In addition, over 70% of the nearly $50 million donated to state office candidates, the parties, and the caucuses in 2006 came from PACS, lobbyists, and large donors. “There is no question that Minnesota’s campaign finance system is broken,” said
Schultz. “If the goal of the 1994 reforms was to limit the role of these three types of contributors, then the law has now failed. Over 80% of the money donated to the four legislative caucuses is from these sources, over 75% of the money donated to Governor Pawlenty is from them, and over 60% of the donations to legislative candidates also came from PACs, lobbyists, and big donors.”

In addition, the study also revealed that the DFL party,
caucuses, and candidates enjoyed a significant cash advantage over the Republicans. “Democrats dominated Republicans in terms of hard and soft money contributions and they had a huge advantage in terms of independent expenditures. These advantages played out on election
day. For example, DFLers received 56% of all the contributions to legislative candidates in 2006, they then received 55% of the vote on election day, and were able to then take 65% of all the House and Senate seats. Money definitely helped them do as well as they did last year and it allowed them to turn a good year [for Democrats
nationally] into a great one for them in Minnesota.”

The only place where DFLers did not enjoy a cash advantage was in the governor’s race. Schultz noted how contributions to Tim Pawlenty were double of that to Mike Hatch. Quoting the report: “Pawlenty’s victory should not be viewed as a victory for him so much as a victory for the money he had and an ability to exploit Hatch’s weaknesses.”

The Report concludes by arguing that the 2007 legislative
session is taking place under the influence of an election where special interest money picked the House, Senate, and governor. “It amazes me that the public interest can be done at all when so much money by special interests is being thrown at our state officials,”said Schultz.

A complete copy of the report may be found at: by clicking on “Money in Minnesota Politics” on the left side of the page.

* * *

David Schultz is Hamline University Professor in the Graduate School of Management where he teaches classes in government ethics and public policy. He is also a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School where he teaches election law, and the author of numerous books and articles on money and politics, campaign finance reform, and the media and politics.


Did Monica Goodling use political affiliation as a test for hiring at the DOJ?

Monica GoodlingFirst we learned that Alberto Gonzales authorized Monica Goodling and Kyle Sampson to hire and fire DOJ staff. Now there are allegations that Monica Goodling used political affiliation as a test for hiring at the DOJ, potentially in violation of federal law.

With the House Judiciary Committee’s offer of immunity for Goodling’s testimony, and with the media digging deeper and deeper every day, it is likely that we’ll know more soon.

How not to run a Presidential campaign in the internet age

Barack Obama MySpaceYesterday we reported on Barack Obama’s ethical lapse in using government resources for campaign purposes.

Today, the Obama campaign is embroiled in a more subtle, but potentially more damaging problem – a fight over who controls a candidate’s MySpace page, and how volunteer “netroots” activists should be treated by paid campaign staff – which is all playing out in the blogs and networking sites that Obama has been trying to woo.

Obama caught using Senate resources for campaign purposes

Barack Obama US SenatorNewsweek reports on a campaign strategy memo for Presidential candidate Barack Obama, faxed using a government-paid U.S. Senate fax machine.

In the grand scheme of things it’s not the end of the world, but it certainly indicates a campaign that doesn’t have tight ethics or operations plans in place.