California's primary system could serve as national model

Another tremor of reform rattled a few political windows in California last week. Whether that portends a full scale quake and the collapse of the fortress the two political parties have erected to keep out invaders remains to be seen.

With last Tuesday’s test of the new open primary system – where all candidates appeared on a single ballot and the top two vote-getters from each district advanced to the general election regardless of party affiliation – California has taken another small step towards more political choice for voters and more accountability and competition for our politicians.


Affordable Care Act puts consumers first

If the Supreme Court chooses to play politics and strikes down the Affordable Care Act, more than just its reputation will be at stake. Many of the commonsense health insurance reforms that Americans have waited to see for more than a century will be lost — including new rules making insurance transparent and accountable.


Time is right for real rules reform in U.S. Senate

Unprecedented obstruction in the U.S. Senate remains the largest factor in our inability to overcome the influence of corporate money in politics. It is impossible for progressive legislation to proceed if Republicans are able to harness Senate rules to do the bidding of corporate America. Thankfully, several recent developments have drawn attention to Republican obstructionism at the behest of extreme ideological interests. For all of these reasons, it is again time to take up the cause of rules reform in the U.S. Senate.  
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) infamously declared that his “single most important” goal was to make President Obama a “one-term president.” His playbook from the start of the Obama Administration was simple – to convince his caucus to obstruct anything and everything. As a result, 60 votes became the needed threshold for nearly every order of Senate business. And the Senate Republicans bullied our democracy with the 60 vote club. They derailed energy and climate legislation, halted the DREAM Act, which passed the House while receiving 55 votes in the Senate, and blocked any debate on the Employee Free Choice Act, which passed the House with an overwhelming majority and garnered 59 votes in the Senate. Senator McConnell succeeded beyond belief in stopping our democracy from governing.  In fact, never before in American history had the U.S. Senate seen such levels of obstruction.


Greater disclosure of SuperPACs donors is needed

As The Hill reported Wednesday, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain appears to be back in the game on campaign finance reform, and he couldn’t have come at a better time.
McCain, who thought he had tamped down the issue with his landmark 2002 law banning soft money, is talking with several Democrats, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), the author of the latest bill aimed at SuperPAC transparency. His presence in this important conversation will hopefully help shed more light on the increasingly important issue of public access to information on SuperPAC donors. As a respected member of Congress, McCain’s presence will also increase the activity of lobbyists who are already keeping close tabs on SuperPAC transparency legislation circulating both chambers.
The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission—a ruling that completely changed the political influence landscape going forward. Allowing organizations to give unlimited amounts of money to Political Action Committees (PACs)—ultimately helping a candidate into office—feels a lot like secret influence peddling which is something that we can all agree is not a good thing.


Romney can't afford to lose Virginia

When Mitt Romney stopped in Virginia last week he said, “This may well be the state [that] decides who the next president is.”

At least he understands the stakes.

Barring a collapse by either Romney or President Obama, the popular vote will be close. Major polls are all within the margin of error and likely to stay that way. Romney supporters know they face an uphill battle to unseat an incumbent president. And, now that the primary season is over and Romney has emerged as the nominee, Democrats have begun to heed the call of former Clinton campaign aide James Carville to “wake the you-know-what up.”

But it’s not about the popular vote. It’s about the Electoral College – and there, President Obama has a decided advantage right now. Chris Cillizza, author of The Fix blog in The Washington Post, sees no way Romney can exceed 290 electoral votes. He sees a rough, but doable path for President Obama to win nearly 310.


Let's have a real general election: Democracy for the 100%

In the presidential race, attention has turned to what we erroneously call the "general election." The problem is that there is nothing "general" about it. From Louisiana to Alaska, from California to the New York Island, 80% of Americans now live in states where no presidential competition will take place because statewide results are a foregone conclusion.

The number of swing states has sharply declined as the states polarize just like our gerrymandered congressional districts. Even a state expected to be in play can be sidelined overnight, as in 2008 when John McCain redeployed all his staff and resources out of Michigan a few weeks before the November election, leaving devastated local backers in his wake.

This year neither party will invest resources fighting for three of our four largest states-bright-red Texas and deep-blue California and New York. Of the 15 smallest states, 14 are safe for one party and therefore political fly-over country too-states like blue Vermont, Rhode Island and Delaware and red Idaho, West Virginia and Wyoming.


Romney should pick Graham for VP

Now that the GOP presidential primaries effectively are over, it's on to Tampa for Mitt Romney and the Republicans. The only question up for grabs now is, who will the presumptive nominee select as his running mate?  My pick is Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, but more about that later.

Geography and ideology have played important, but not always critical, roles in naming vice presidential running mates. It didn't matter much to George W. Bush that his pick, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, was from Wyoming. Ditto for Barack Obama.  He chose the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden of Delaware. What Bush and Obama each needed most was a Washington insider on the ticket. I'm sure going rogue, as former GOP running mate Sarah Palin is fond of saying, never crossed their minds. 

As Jeff Greenfield recently reported, " ... the critical factor is less about the running mate and more about what the presidential candidate wants voters to think about himself." This insight explains why Ronald Reagan, who never thought of himself as an ideological zealot, chose moderate George H. W. Bush to be on the ticket with him, and why Al Gore, himself Bill Clinton's vice president for 8 years, needed to be his own man. He selected outspoken Clinton critic, Sen. Joe Lieberman, to be his running mate.


Government contractors aren't the problem they're made out to be

Recently legislation was introduced that would amend the Hatch Act. First enacted in 1939 and amended several times, the Act restricts the political activities of federal, state and local government employees. One of its restrictions prohibits state and local employees from running for political office, a prohibition that the legislation would relax. While appearing to be limited in application, the Hatch Act turns up in some interesting ways.

It is important to note the basis for the Hatch Act. Today most of the focus is on the Act’s prohibitions from the perspective of what the government employee is prohibited from doing. But in fact, the Act was in large part designed to protect the employee from being forced into political activity to benefit his or her superiors. For example, the reason the Act bars government employees from making political contributions to their superiors is to protect the employee from being coerced into contributing, for example, in exchange for continued employment.


More deliberate approach to homeland security reform needed

On March 20 I testified before the House Homeland Security Committee on FEMA’s proposal to consolidate the current homeland security grant programs into a new National Preparedness Grant Program. My basic message to the Committee was that mayors and other local officials across the nation have serious concerns with this proposal.   

Still under development, this proposed program would be a mix of formula grants to the states intended to sustain current activities and competitive grants to states and regions for specific policy areas, including critical infrastructure, counterterrorism, and transportation. There would be no more separate Urban Areas Security Initiative, transit or port security programs, or Operation Stonegarden along our land borders – all programs which provide funding to areas and facilities considered to be at greatest risk. There would no required pass-through of funding to localities and no requirement that one-fourth of the funds be dedicated to law enforcement terrorism prevention. 


Big bundlers should see the sunshine

As of Jan. 31, the Obama campaign listed 444 individuals who had bundled at least $50,000 for the president's re-election effort. We know their names -- John Emerson, an executive at Capital Group; Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks; and Jack Rosen, the head of a New York law firm and chair of the American Jewish Congress, for instance -- and our research shows that more of them come from finance than from any other sector, with lawyers and law firms close behind. We know, too, that they're bundling at least $74 million for Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which is also devoted to seeing him win a second term.

Is this important? Absolutely. If we as a society have decided that the names of campaign contributors of more than $200 should be made public in the interest of knowing who is financing our candidates, then it's doubly true that the public should know who is dialing those contributors to solicit funds, gathering up the checks and delivering them en masse to the candidate. 

These are people to whom the campaign has good reason to be especially grateful. In fact, in one administration after another, a sizable number of bundlers go on to plum jobs within the administration. According to the Washington Post, more than half of Obama’s $500,000+ fundraisers from 2008 have been given administration jobs, while nine more were appointed to presidential boards and committees. At least 24 Obama bundlers were given posts as foreign ambassadors.