On Main Street or in Cyberspace, a sale is a sale

 “All May Park, All Must Pay.”  That sign adorns parking meters in cities across America, sending the clear, concise message that everyone is treated equally. Whether car or truck, sedan or coup, Ford or Chevy, the rule applies and the fee is owed.  No special deals, no loop-holes; it’s simple: if you park, you pay.  The kind of equal treatment afforded city parkers is exactly what Main Street retailers have long been denied and what bipartisan legislation introduced this week in the Senate seeks to correct.

 A sale is a sale, whether it happens at a store on Main Street or with a click online. States have long required that sales tax be paid on both purchases. However, while Main Street retailers are obligated to collect sales tax on each purchase, their online peers are often not. So while a tax is still legally owed in both instances, it is not always collected by online retailers. This results in a perceived price advantage of up to 10 percent for some online retailers over their Main Street competitors. Make no mistake, the tax is still owed, but because of a decades old loophole, the obligation instead falls to consumers to maintain records of online purchases and pay the sales tax when they file their state income taxes for that year.  Not surprisingly, most fail to do so.


Looking back to make a more ethical future

There are tremendous challenges associated with effectively punishing corporate crimes.  Perhaps the greatest of these is figuring out what, if anything, can be done to prevent those crimes in the first place. 

Government certainly can’t walk the halls of every company to root out wrongdoing.  The only practical solution then is to give companies incentives to police themselves.  But how?



Nation's infrastructure talks lack focus on key element- H20

In past weeks, there has been much discussion on Capitol Hill of the need to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure. As a professional working in infrastructure finance policy for many years – and as former Associate Assistant Administrator for Water in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – I’m encouraged to see infrastructure finally a topic of national interest, but I find it troubling that the nation’s water infrastructure needs are continually overlooked. 

 Our drinking water and wastewater treatment systems provide the lifeblood for economic vitality in our communities, as well as protect our public health and environment.  The water sector faces many of the same challenges as our transportation colleagues, such as deteriorating infrastructure, delayed construction, and diminishing public funds. But unlike our nation’s highways, the water industry has had great success in leveraging private investment.   Like our infrastructure itself, our financing systems need to be overhauled for a modern world to meet its modern demands.


Regulatory reform good for multinationals, yet bad for you.

The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011 (RAA), a bipartisan bill introduced in the House and Senate, portends to offer common sense rules to affect how Federal agencies analyze costs and benefits. The bill provides extensively detailed procedures for agencies in promulgating regulations that are projected to have a minimum effect of at least $100 million on the United States economy.

However, a thorough reading of the RAA leads to three conclusions. First, the bill will likely to dramatically drive up the cost of almost every rule-making process and budget of a federal agency. Second, federally elected officials will be stripped of their ability to responsibly lead our country. And third, the RAA is a highway to never-ending lawsuits by special interests against the federal government.


Some businesses support regulation

Our country’s system of safeguards is good for American business as
 well as for the public’s health and the environment.  You would never 
know this, however, from reading the news out of Washington, which is 
dominated by reports on the antipathy to regulation of the business 
lobby and its Republican allies in Congress.

I was reminded of the more complex views of business toward regulation
 the other day when I dug up news reports on the salmonella outbreak in
 peanut products a little less than two years ago.  Nine people died
 and hundreds were sickened in the outbreak that was traced to
 contamination at a facility in Georgia of the Peanut Corporation of
 America. In his testimony before Congress, David Mackay, then president of the Kellogg Company, reported that the company recalled seven million
 cases of Keebler cookies and other peanut-based products, and revamped
 its internal controls.

He also asked the Federal government to play a greater role in food
 safety inspection.  He urged Congress to establish a single agency
 with responsibility for food safety, to undertake annual inspections 
of food processing plants that were particularly vulnerable to disease
 outbreaks, and to enact into law federal authority to recall food 
products directly (instead of relying on voluntary compliance). In 
short, he asked the federal government for more regulation. 
With the support of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, other 
interests Congress incorporated these and other reforms in the Food
 Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2010. Among the many 
provisions of the law are the beginnings of safeguards to protect 
against illnesses resulting from imported food.


Requirements within the Lobbying Disclosure Act

The Lobbying Disclosure Act requires registrants to disclose on a quarterly basis specific information describing the nature of a lobbyist’s activities.  Much of what is required is straightforward, such as the name of a client, the amount of fees earned, and the entities that are the subject of the lobbying.  One area where there is discretion, however, is in describing the issues on which a registrant has been engaged.

To comply with the letter and spirit of the law, a lobbyist must adequately describe the nature of the activity, but beyond meeting the legal requirements, a lobbyist should carefully choose the words that are used to describe the activity.  According to reports about the activities of lobbyists assisting a controversial client currently being scrutinized by Congress, it appears that isn’t always the case, and could have adverse consequences for the client.

Section 5(b)(2)(A) of the LDA requires the disclosure of specific issues upon which a registrant is engaged to lobby.  Official LDA guidance requires a lobbyist to disclose the bill number of any legislation on which they are working and, more specifically, any particular sections of that legislation that is the focus of their activity.  Similarly, if a lobbyist is attempting to influence an executive branch rulemaking, they should adequately describe the pending rule and any specific sections.  The bottom line is that a lobbyist must disclose enough to inform the public adequately of their client’s specific issues.


High Court will impact election

The Supreme Court term that began this week will be remembered not for the important cases already on the High Court’s docket, but for the four blockbuster cases knocking on the Court’s door.
The four cases will likely make this the most important term in decades, while focusing Americans on several of the nation’s most emotional and divisive issues – illegal immigration, health care reform, gay marriage, affirmative action, and overreaching federal power – at the perfect time to influence the 2012 election.
The rulings in those cases and the ages of several Justices will make the Court’s legitimacy and future direction prominent campaign issues as well.
When the Obama Administration signaled last week that it wouldn’t delay a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of ObamaCare, the last piece fell into place for an historic term.  Within days, petitions for Supreme Court review were filed in Florida v. Health & Human Services, in which 26 states are challenging the new health care law.  The timing guarantees ObamaCare a dominant role in the election debate.


Paul Oetken: Living proof that it does get better

Sen. Schumer delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor Monday following the confirmation of J. Paul Oetken to serve as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Oetken is the first openly gay man to be confirmed to serve on the federal bench.

It is my distinct honor to rise in support of Paul Oetken’s confirmation to the bench of the Southern District of New York. We have a very deep pool of legal talent in New York, but Paul’s nomination is one that everyone is talking about.

Paul is brilliant, well-rounded, and unwavering in his dedication to public service and his commitment to the rule of law. His confirmation will only improve the workings of one of the best and busiest courts in the country.


Free speech is just that – “free”

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 27 that states cannot forbid the sale or rental of video games to children, it punctuated two terms remarkable for the court’s support for free expression –  in cases remarkable for speech that many, if not most, of us really, really dislike.

In  Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the court’s  7-2 decision voided a never-enforced California law that banned the sale or rental to children age 17 and younger of video games involving violence, gore and assault.


The death penalty: 35 years of a failed experiment

Thirty-five years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court brought back the death penalty, reasoning that judges and juries could be provided with enough guidance to identify the offenders most deserving of capital punishment. After three and a half decades of experimentation, it is time to admit the obvious: if the ultimate punishment cannot be applied fairly, it should not be applied at all.
Indeed, the haphazard way death sentences are meted out caused three of the justices who voted to reinstate the death penalty to change their minds, and express regret that they did not end the death penalty.