When is a lobbyist not a lobbyist

Newt Gingrich is a lobbyist. Any way you cut the cake, he was working to influence policy. Under current law, however, Gingrich most likely didn’t need to register since he probably didn't spend at least 20% of his time on “covered lobbing activities.”  If that's the case, Gingrich joins a few thousand others in this town who are paid to lobby but are not required to register as lobbyists due to gaping holes in the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). Those loopholes need to be closed.


The establishment vs. Ron Paul

For six-months now, Republican voters, like an ensemble of bemused Barbie dolls, have hopscotched from one candidate to the next in search of conservative Ken. From Bachmann, to Trump, to Perry, to Cain, to Newt -- they have, in a curious and fickle display of fidelity, indeed navigated the contender gamut. That is, unless the contender is Ron Paul. 

Perhaps not since Ronald Reagan has a Republican presidential candidate been so routinely disparaged, marginalized, and flouted in the incessant manner that Ron Paul has. He has been branded “anti-Semitic,” stamped “unelectable,” and written off as “nutty.” He has been omitted by the conservative intelligentsia; and he has been decried by neocons as a “dangerous isolationist.”

Certainly, the Republican establishment’s treatment of Ron Paul has been iniquitous. Yet, despite this treatment, Ron Paul has remained dignified, gracious, and on message. He has performed consistently well in the polls and debates; and he has refused to pander or waver to special interests or convention. 


Benefits of medical imaging

The holidays can be a blur of festive parties, manic shopping, and last-ditch efforts to tie up loose ends for the year. Similarly, Congress is rushing to finish its own schedule for the year.
The yearly ritual of preventing scheduled cuts to Medicare payments to physicians is again before Congress. This year, the automatic cut is a whopping 27.4%. If Congress doesn’t act, there is widespread concern that, as Wyoming Senator John Barrasso cautions, these reimbursement cuts will inevitably make it more difficult for patients to receive critical treatments.
Efforts to eliminate this annual problem and fix the physician payment system for good have again fallen by the wayside and a short term patch is in the offing along with the dreaded offsets to pay for it. As Congress considers where to look for cuts, it should consider the radical changes that have taken place in medical imaging over the last five years: Medicare spending on medical imaging continues to decline, Medicare patients are receiving fewer imaging procedures and imaging is now a smaller portion of Medicare spending than it was at the turn of the century.


The demise of Herman Cain

The presidential campaign of Herman Cain is now history and a wild ride it was.  An “also ran” when the campaign began, he took off like a rocket, and despite arrows from the liberal establishment, or maybe because of them, he soared above the GOP field until he was laid low by charges, rumors and just plain sophomore mistakes. The outcome of few races are inevitable and Cain’s implosion certainly was not inevitable.  Here are a couple of things he could have done to change the result.


The un-innovative GOP debates

The Republican debates thus far have been like listening to a 1990s dial-up Internet line: lots of random noise and screeching while waiting for a high-tech connection.
We deserve a better connection. We live in a world where our nation’s only hope for future growth depends on constant innovation and new technology. But you’d never know it from the GOP debates to date.
Sure there are some almost throw-away lines on “innovation” as a rationale for tax cuts. But that’s about it.
It is, pun intended, the elephant in the debate room that no one is talking about.


The big-government Republican instinct

Conservatives who have been closely following the Republican debates have been looking for the candidate who rejects the “Big-Government” instinct that tempts many-a-contender.  The key for primary voters is finding which issues separate the conservatives from those who are not so conservative.
In the recent Republican debate, that issue was education.
Education is a big public policy issue that gets scant media coverage during the primary season.  One reason for this is that many Republicans have surrendered on the Constitutional principle that education is a local matter, where it is closest to parents.  


Supercommittee members must give up fundraising

The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, or the “supercommittee,” meets today for the first time. Americans are rightly concerned that business-as-usual will dominate, including the outsized and damaging influence of special interests and wealthy campaign contributors.  

Committee members Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) both held fundraisers yesterday. At least nine of the 12 members have fundraisers scheduled over the coming months. Lobbyists have called the supercommittee a “lobbying bonanza.” One even said his plan to prepare for the committee was to “write 12 really large checks.”

That’s why we called on supercommittee members to give up all fundraising and disclose all meetings with outside parties. While no member of the supercommittee has yet to agree to our demands, recent news reports indicate that members are taking them seriously and taking steps to address the appearance of undue influence.


Shedding light on political spending

Congressional Republicans are shedding “crocodile tears” about the supposed politicization of government contracting that could result from a draft executive order requiring contractors to disclose political contributions. 

Since this spring, the White House has let the leaked executive order twist slowly in the wind and done little to counter the bogus claims being made about it. 

In the meantime, shadowy 501(c)(4) groups have been raising and spending money from secret donors, with the Republican-oriented Crossroads GPS alone spending $20 million on attack ads. The Democratic-leaning (c)(4)s, like Priorities USA, are desperately trying to keep up.
The reality is that the ground-shifting Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC cleared the way for a new avenue in political spending.  This new outlet allows corporations and unions to funnel money from their treasury funds into groups that run political ads on television and undertake other activities intended to influence the outcome of elections. The question is whether this new political spending should be disclosed like other political expenditures.  The answer is, “yes.”


The politics of food

From State Dinners to State Fairs, food is a critical aspect of American politics. We are what we eat and what we eat reflects who we are. On the campaign trail, candidates triumphantly embrace local favorites to connect with voters - - or not - - as when John Kerry ordered Swiss cheese on a Philly cheese steak (instead of the traditional Cheez Whiz), leading a local food critic to describe the choice as, “an alternative lifestyle,” that would “doom” Kerry’s candidacy in Philadelphia. Like most things we hold important to us, food is personal. That is one reason that the public discussion about food policy carries political risks, real or perceived.

The 2012 election cycle kicked into high-gear last week in Iowa, and food was appropriately the star of the show. True to Iowa’s proud agrarian traditions, the Iowa State Fair is essentially a trade show about food. The famous butter statues and giant vegetables present a lighter side of the hard and often lonely work of farming. And certainly the annual parade of ever more delicious, and sometimes even outrageous sweet fried treats on sticks provide a welcome communal break for the people who grow food for the rest of us.


Some questions for Mitt Romney and Edward Conard

Last week NBC News broke the story of a company called W Spann LLC, which was created in March, made the $1 million contribution to a Mitt Romney-supporting Super PAC Restore Our Future in April and was dissolved in July.  The only human that could be linked to W Spann was the Boston attorney who signed the paperwork filed in Delaware to create the company—and she refused to disclose the identity of her client.  Managers of the Manhattan office building listed as the address of W Spann had no record of a tenant by that name, but the building happened to house an office of Bain Capital, a private equity firm co-founded by Romney.
A flurry of news stories followed and on Friday my organization, the Campaign Legal Center, together with Democracy 21, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and also sent it to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the agencies charged with enforcing our nation’s election laws, urging an investigation of W Spann and its mysterious $1 million contribution.

Anonymity seemingly became a liability and that night, the mystery donor revealed himself as longtime Romney friend an associate Edward Conard.  Romney himself was quick to declare the controversy over.  For the sake of our democracy, let’s hope the FEC and the DOJ don’t agree, or “straw companies” will become a preferred vehicle of political donors not wanting to leave finger prints.