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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Doctors and Politics

The New York Times reports:

Doctors were once overwhelmingly male and usually owned their own practices. They generally favored lower taxes and regularly fought lawyers to restrict patient lawsuits. Ronald Reagan came to national political prominence in part by railing against “socialized medicine” on doctors’ behalf.

But doctors are changing. They are abandoning their own practices and taking salaried jobs in hospitals, particularly in the North, but increasingly in the South as well. Half of all younger doctors are women, and that share is likely to grow.

There are no national surveys that track doctors’ political leanings, but as more doctors move from business owner to shift worker, their historic alliance with the Republican Party is weakening from Maine as well as South Dakota, Arizona and Oregon, according to doctors’ advocates in those and other states.

The shift among doctors reflects the trend among others with postgraduate education. Here are Democratic percentages in exit polls:



At Politico, Kenneth P. Vogel and Ben Smith profile John Lapp, who ran DCCC's independent expenditure effort in the NY 26 special election, and his wife Ali Lapp, who ran a similar project for House Majority PAC. Though their ads were similar, they did not "coordinate," at least under the meaning of federal election law. Such coincidences happen on the other side, too:

Five years ago, when the NRCC ran its biggest-ever independent expenditure advertising campaign, which totaled $80 million, Carl Forti managed it. This year, Forti is running American Crossroads.

The two massive air campaigns in the New York special were complemented by a $97,000 direct mail campaign boosting Corwin and opposing her rivals from American Action Network, a group that does not have to report its donors to the FEC. Since last month, the group, which is affiliated with American Crossroads, has been run by Brian Walsh, who served as the NRCC’s political director during last year’s election.

And there are plenty of ways for smart operatives to closely coordinate without triggering the rules.

For example, in the months before the 2010 midterm election, the NRCC took the extraordinary step of publicly releasing its advertising plans in targeted districts, allowing a coterie of big-money independent conservative groups – including American Action Network, American Crossroads and its sister-group Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies – to coordinate their own independent expenditure advertisements to complement the NRCC’s ads.


Meanwhile, both Jim Bopp, a top GOP campaign lawyer, who has worked to overturncampaign rules, and Ali Lapp’s group are separately urging the FEC to allow independent groups to coordinate their fundraising with candidates and parties.

However aggressive the FEC’s enforcement effort, it’s not much of a real-time deterrent to those who would tempt the coordination rules, because complaints take a long time to resolve. The FEC has yet to act on a pair of coordination complaints filed by Democrats against American Crossroads last year, or a conservative group’s complaint that Democratic Reps. Nancy Pelosi of California and John Larson of Connecticut urged outside groups to spend money to elect their candidates.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 68

In an interview with AARP Magazine -- not available on the White House website -- President Obama says:

Well, seniors have paid into Social Security. They've paid into Medicare over a lifetime of hard work. And the notion that somehow they are asking for something that they don't deserve makes no sense to me. They're also under severe stress from the rise in things like gas prices, food prices, and home heating-oil prices. And if you're on a fixed income and the inflation rates on things like that are going up faster than your income, you have reason to worry. But I also think that older Americans don't want to leave huge debts to their kids and their grandkids in the form of massive deficits. That's why it's been important to reform the health care system, which is different from simply lopping off benefits under Medicare.

The president adds:

The issue is, can we make these tweaks to ensure that everybody who's expecting a dollar in Social Security payments gets a dollar instead of 75 cents? And the sooner we do it, the better off we're going to be.

For more background, see Fred Lynch's new book, One Nation Under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security, and America's Future.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Palin Bus Tour

At "The Note," Sarah Just reports on Sarah Palin's bus tour:

While the “One Nation” tour Is not specifically being called a presidential campaign effort, it sure looks like one. Palin released a “One Nation”video on Friday that was more slick than most campaign ads.

But many in the media – which Palin often calls the “lame stream media” – couldn’t even find the One Nation bus Sunday morning.

Palin aides this weekend indicated that the tour schedule would be posted on Palin's political action committee website,, but as of Sunday morning there were no updates.

Andy Barr writes at Politico:

The bus tour is the first major test of what Palin’s organization can do on its own. For every other major public event since Palin resigned as Alaska governor, other people have done the details. Her paid speeches are handled by the people who hire her. The logistics and press for her two book tours were taken care of by her publisher. Her speech on the Mall at Glenn Beck’s rally last summer, the two fundraisers she’s done for the RNC, her appearances at events for tea party groups in Boston and Las Vegas — all that was coordinated by the groups that brought her in.

Palin rehired advance aides Doug McMarlin and Jason Recher to plan the tour. They’re now part of an increasingly small Palin circle, made even smaller since spokeswoman Rebecca Mansour was sidelined from talking to the press after tweets criticizing Palin’s daughter were posted by the Daily Caller earlier this week. SarahPAC Treasurer Tim Crawford, a longtime Washington hand and campaign finance expert with deep ties to the Republican establishment, has been filling Mansour’s role on press. There’s a policy researcher, and she has former Bob Dole aide Michael Glasner serving as her chief of staff.

Along with her husband Todd and Palin herself, that’s the extent of the inner circle. And convinced she’s her own best spokesman and advocate, Palin calls all the shots directly.

At Politico, Molly Ball explains that the Northeast is unfriendly territory:

Palin’s plans, details of which are still hazy, will also take her to New Hampshire for the first time since she was on the GOP ticket with John McCain.

But after all her time away, Granite Staters aren’t feeling particularly warm about her.

A CNN/WMUR poll of New Hampshire Republican voters last week found Palin had the support of just 5 percent, good for fifth place and trailing non-candidate Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who has dipped his toe in the presidential waters of late.

Among the New Hampshire electorate as a whole, Palin is viewed favorably by just 28 percent, according to a recent survey by the Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling.

In PPP surveys in 31 states over the last six months, just three states had smaller proportions of Palin fans, and all were in the northeast: New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. (Though the firm is partisan, its results generally track with polls by other organizations. PPP’s results were used in this analysis in the interest of consistency across different states.)

Palin’s highest ratings, in the low 40s, were in states like Montana, Mississippi, Nebraska and Texas, according to PPP.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Romney Support Ethanol Subsidy

Pawlenty wants to phase out the ethanol subsidy. Romney want to keep it. Jonathan Weisman writes at The Wall Street Journal:

It was an odd setting for a policy pronouncement, but on the sidewalk outside the Historical Building here, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney embraced ethanol subsidies. It came just days after and blocks from where his rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Tim Pawlenty, said the subsidies should be phased out.

“I support the subsidy of ethanol,” he told an Iowa voter. “I believe ethanol is an important part of our energy solution for this country.” Iowa leads the nation in the production of corn, a main source of ethanol.

Mr. Romney and a crowd that had come to see his first Iowa speech of the year had been evacuated from the Historical Building by a fire alarm. Amid the tumult, a woman asked if he was going to take any questions. He said given the circumstances, the question and answer part of the program appeared out of the question. So she presented him a typed out note demanding his position on ethanol, one she had intended to present at the presidential forum that had just abruptly ended.

In 2007, the Cato Institute's Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren explained:

The closest thing to a state religion in America today isn’t Christianity – it’s corn.Whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, urban or rural, virtually everyone in the business of offering opinions is in firm and total agreement that America’s ills, from Islamic terrorism to global warming to economic stagnation in the heartland, could be solved by a hefty dose of 200-proof grain alcohol.

Virtually everyone, however, does not include economists worthy of their No Free Lunch buttons. To them, the dizzying array of federal, state and local subsidies, preferences and mandates for ethanol fuel are a sad reflection of how a mix of cynical politics and we-can-do-anything American naiveté can cloud minds and distort markets. If ethanol had economic merit, no government assistance would be needed. Investors would pour money into the ethanol business and profi ts would be made, even as alcohol displaced oil in the markets for liquid fuels.

If ethanol lacks economic merit, however, no amount of subsidy is likely to provide it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Outside Democratic Groups

Just as American Crossroads tried to match Democratic efforts, now Democrats are trying to match American Crossroads. AP reports:

The Democratic-leaning groups include House Majority PAC; Majority PAC, focusing on Senate races; American Bridge, which will help the other Democratic groups with opposition research, and Priorities USA, which will support Obama’s re-election bid.

That last group was founded by former Obama White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney and will accept the kind of large, anonymous donations Obama has deplored.

Priorities USA launched its first ad last weekend, criticizing Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in South Carolina, an early primary state, during a Romney campaign visit.

“With Mitt Romney, you have to wonder ... what page is he on today?” the ad said.

Romney’s campaign shot back, calling the ad a smear and suggesting Obama was behind it.

“President Obama and his team are desperate to change the subject to anything other than jobs and the millions of Americans out of work,” Romney spokesman Andrea Saul said.

The action on the Democratic side is only encouraging Republican-aligned groups to ramp up their spending in 2012.

The Republican Super PAC, a potentially significant new player, is pushing the outer boundaries of campaign finance law: Its founder, campaign finance lawyer Jim Bopp, says the group plans to ask GOP elected officials to solicit unlimited contributions, which the group would then spend to help that official or any other candidate the official designates. Many campaign finance experts insist such coordination is illegal because federal office holders are permitted only to raise contributions that are subject to strict limits — up to $2,500 per person for a candidate and $30,800 for one of the national parties.

Bopp, a Republican National Committee member who helped steer the Citizens United case, said that since contributions to independent expenditure groups are not subject to limits, elected officials can raise unlimited donations for his group.


“I don’t think Bopp can do what he says he wants to do, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else does,” said David Keating, director of the Republican-leaning Club for Growth. “Maybe he thinks he is going to win a court case, and if he does, great. We can all follow in his footsteps.”

That’s also the thinking among Democrats, who are eager not to be outsmarted again. The directors of Majority PAC and the House Majority PAC sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission last week seeking an opinion on Bopp’s effort. If it’s determined to be legal, they can be expected to follow suit.

At Politico, Kasie Hunt reports on American Bridge, founded by David Brock:

Initially billed as a massive Democratic group that would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat Republican candidates in 2012, American Bridge has scaled back and reorganized following the launch of Priorities USA, the independent expenditure group headed by Obama White House veterans. Their new goal: build a comprehensive video library for Democratic ad makers to use to defeat Republican House and Senate candidates — and, of course, the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

"We will definitely have the biggest research and tracking shop in politics," said Chris Harris, a spokesman for the group.

American Bridge's tracking arm is led by Kelli Farr, who worked with Harris at Progressive Accountability, a similar but much smaller tracking effort that operated during the 2008 campaign. Her title is "tracking director" — and as recently as last week she was advertising on left-wing job boards for more trackers to hire.

Leading the overall effort is Rodell Mollineau, who until recently ran the Democratic communications war room in the Senate for Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

American Crossroads: Regulatory and Legal Developments

The Washington Post reports:

Part of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law banned lawmakers from raising contributions that aren’t regulated by federal laws — part of the curb on corporate “soft money” that was a hallmark of the legislation.

Two Democratic interest groups have asked the Federal Election Commission to weigh in on the idea, saying that the law does not appear to allow elected officials to raise money for their groups. But, they said, they’d like to do so if the FEC doesn’t explicitly say that it is illegal.


The article also mentions the IRS letter about gift taxes, but notes that it might not be as significant as it seems.

For one thing, gifts from corporations are not affected by the tax. That excludes much of the political spending that was prompted last year by Citizens United and related cases.

There’s also no evidence that the contributions under review at the IRS are political in nature. The agency says that it has begun five audits but that they’re not part of a broader effort. There are thousands of social welfare groups in the United States, and the number active in political campaigns is small by comparison.

Further, it’s not even clear that the IRS could apply the gift tax to a political contribution. The last court case on the matter found that a political contribution is not the same as a gift, said Paul Caron, a tax professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

“You can make the argument that when a businessman gives money to an organization like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, he’s not giving a gift to Karl Rove the same way a parent is giving a gift to a child,” Caron said. “There’s not the donative intent to the contribution; it’s just a business person hoping to further their business interest through these entities.”

Even if the gifts were subject to the tax, there’s a $5 million lifetime exemption, which means only the wealthiest contributors would be subject to it.

The biggest impact of the IRS investigation is likely to be on the willingness of donors to open their wallets, given their fear of an audit from the tax agency.

Obama Campaign Boots Up

As Michael Scherer reports in Time, the 2012 Obama campaign resembles the 2008 organization, with many of the same faces and the same techniques:

But if you want to find out why the President has set up shop in a Chicago skyscraper 18 months before Election Day, you need only peek into the office of Jeremy Bird, 32, the campaign's field director, at the far end of the room. He pulls a name from a database on his laptop, picks up his phone and dials in the hope of reminding one more person of the 2008 magic. "I just wanted to call, and first I wanted to thank you," Bird says when a volunteer from Obama's first presidential campaign answers in North Carolina. The computer screen notes that this guy hasn't done much in recent years, so Bird asks for his thoughts about 2012. "You are listed as a superstar 2008 volunteer," Bird continues. "What do we need to do to get you back involved?" (See pictures of an artist's view of the 2008 presidential campaign.)

In Obamaworld parlance, this is a "one-on-one," a cold call that aides hope will form the foundation for next year's re-election effort. This summer, the Obama campaign expects to arrange hundreds of thousands of these individual contacts, over the phone or in person, with just about everyone who gave his or her time back when Obama was an upstart outsider three years ago. To accomplish the massive task, the campaign is launching a replay of a program started in 2008 called Summer Organizers, in which more than 1,500 volunteers have committed to work 20- or 40-hour weeks through the summer. In the first week of June, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee will hold 42 two-day training sessions in 40 states.

But some things are different:

Some on the left have argued that the President dropped the ball by failing to keep his network of supporters engaged and by following his transformational campaign with a transactional governing style. "Fighting to make something happen is different than sitting back and trying to mediate something," says Marshall Ganz, a supporter turned critic of Obama, who teaches at Harvard. "People can't organize around that."

That critique gets a rise out of Obama's senior staff. "Those are the types of things that people with lifetime tenure like to say," remarks Axelrod. "What we have tried to do is effect change in the real world, in a difficult environment." Still, Obama's inner circle understands that the grass roots need rejuvenating. "Everything in 2008 was in service of the hand on the door knocker," says Joe Rospars, who will reprise his 2008 role as the campaign's top digital strategist. "That's the one thing that will be exactly the same." (See the 10 elections that changed America.)

The campaign, along with the DNC, has also been testing new strategies and technologies, like iPads that can play videos for voters during neighborhood canvasses or mobile applications for reporting data about voter contacts and responses. For each swing state, number crunchers have developed individually tailored recipes, with mixes of voter registration, base mobilization and persuasion, that will be required to win. And they can mine a Facebook community of nearly 21 million supporters, plus 8 million Twitter followers. "Obviously the technology is different" than it was in 2008, adds Plouffe. "The data is going to be much richer this time." (See "In a Relationship or Just Friends? Facebook Cozies Up to Obama and Congress.")

Michael Shear writes at The New York Times:
As they gear up for a tough re-election battle, senior officials at the White House want to make sure President Obama is associated with one word: tough.

Mr. Obama has been making the case since he took office that his administration has had to make tough calls on the economy, the auto industry and the war in Afghanistan. His decision to launch the Pakistani raid that killed Osama bin Laden clearly helps officials make the case.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. became the latest administration official to deliver the message at a fund-raiser in New Hampshire on Wednesday night.

“We have a leader with the backbone of a ramrod,” Mr. Biden said in Nashua. He added that because of the Bin Laden raid, the real Mr. Obama “is coming into focus.”
Meanwhile, over at the White House, Sam Stein reports at The Huffington Post, communications tactics are evolving:

The Obama administration has created and staffed a new position tucked inside their communications shop for helping coordinate rapid response to unfavorable stories and fostering and improving relations with the progressive online community.

"This week, Jesse Lee will move from the new media department into a role in the communications department as Director of Progressive Media & Online Response," read an internal memo from Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, provided to The Huffington Post. "For the last two years, Jesse has often worn two hats working in new media and serving as the White House's liaison with the progressive media and online community. Starting this week, Jesse will take on the second role full time working on outreach, strategy and response."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

GOP Loses Another Special Election

The New York 26 special election went to Democrat Kathy Hochul. Molly Ball reports in Politico:

With the GOP’s loss Tuesday in upstate New York, Republicans once again wilted under the pressure of a high-stakes, nationally-watched House special election, unable to win even in a district where they began with a decided head start.

It’s the latest in a bizarre, longstanding pattern of special election losses, dating back nearly a decade. While it’s not a lock that the GOP will lose every competitive, high-profile special election, the party has lost so many of them now that it’s almost become a standing joke.


Going back to January 2003, Republicans have lost 23 of the last 34 House special elections, including seven of the eight special elections in which party control of the seat changed. The exception: The May 2010 Hawaii special election, a rare Republican victory in Democratic territory


One GOP operative who has worked on multiple special elections, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak frankly, faulted the party’s national operation for not being proactive enough and not seeing the Medicare issue coming.

“These are completely different animals than anything else out there,” the operative said. “I don’t think these guys [at the NRCC] have figured out the mechanics of these things. You’ve got to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. I don’t think they take that attitude — by the time they get in, it’s already screwed up.”

Also at Politico, Alexander Burns writes:

“They were on defense the whole time on Medicare, not on offense on the deficit or Obamacare or anything else,” said former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee. “You can’t just sit there and be a punching bag on this issue, and that’s what they were.”

Former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, himself a former NRCC chair who held the 26th District seat until 2009, said Medicare “appears to have had an impact both with seniors and independent voters,” adding: “Anyone who says this is all Medicare either hasn’t watched the race closely or is just spinning.”

“This race has a lot of complexities,” he said, “which include Medicare but also include a $3 million candidate running on the Tea Party line.”

One Republican strategist who follows House races put the party’s position in grimmer terms, predicting: “Medicare will define 2012.”

“From day one, our members need to be attacking their challenger for supporting the president’s Medicare-cutting health care bill and his plan to ration benefits for future seniors,” the strategist wrote in an email. “Paul Ryan was wrong; leaders don’t change polls – scaring seniors changes polls, and we had better be prepared to do it as shamelessly as they did in this special if we want to retain the majority.”

Siobhan Hughes and Naftali Bendavid write in The Wall Street Journal:

While the outcome was complicated by a third-party candidate, members of Congress are sure to study the results for the role that the Republican Medicare proposal may have played in the race.

"We had the issues on our side—did we not have the right issues on our side?" Ms. Hochul said at her victory party, as supporters chanted "Medicare! Medicare!"

"We can balance our budget the right way and not on the backs of our seniors," she said.

Associated Press reports:

Both national parties and several independent fundraising groups spent more than $2 million to influence the election. They included a new Democratic group, House Majority PAC, and American Crossroads, a Republican-leaning group founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove.

Rep. Pete Sessions, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, warned that it was unrealistic to believe the race was predictive of the future.

But Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said Hochul’s victory was a sign of a tough time for Republicans to come.

“What is clear is that this election is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that 2012 will be just like 2010,” he said. “It’s going to be a tougher environment, Democrats will be more competitive, and we need to play at the top of our game.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Filling Gaps in the White House Website, Part 67

This one is fairly big: the president's letter to congressional leaders concerning Libya policy.

On March 21, I reported to the Congress that the United States, pursuant to a request from the Arab League and authorization by the United Nations Security Council, had acted 2 days earlier to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe by deploying U.S. forces to protect the people of Libya from the Qaddafi regime. As you know, over these last 2 months, the U.S. role in this operation to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 has become more limited, yet remains important. Thus, pursuant to our ongoing consultations, I wish to express my support for the bipartisan resolution drafted by Senators Kerry, McCain, Levin, Feinstein, Graham, and Lieberman, which would confirm that the Congress supports the U.S. mission in Libya and that both branches are united in their commitment to supporting the aspirations of the Libyan people for political reform and self-government.

The initial phase of U.S. military involvement in Libya was conducted under the command of the United States Africa Command. By April 4, however, the United States had transferred responsibility for the military operations in Libya to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the U.S. involvement has assumed a supporting role in the coalition's efforts. Since April 4, U.S. participation has consisted of: (1) non-kinetic support to the NATO-led operation, including intelligence, logistical support, and search and rescue assistance; (2) aircraft that have assisted in the suppression and destruction of air defenses in support of the no-fly zone; and (3) since April 23, precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against a limited set of clearly defined targets in support of the NATO-led coalition's efforts.

While we are no longer in the lead, U.S. support for the NATO-based coalition remains crucial to assuring the success of international efforts to protect civilians from the actions of the Qaddafi regime. I am grateful for the support you and other Members in Congress have demonstrated for this mission and for our brave service members, as well as your strong condemnation of the Qaddafi regime. Congressional action in support of the mission would underline the U.S. commitment to this remarkable international effort. Such a Resolution is also important in the context of our constitutional framework, as it would demonstrate a unity of purpose among the political branches on this important national security matter. It has always been my view that it is better to take military action, even in limited actions such as this, with Congressional engagement, consultation, and support.


Barack Obama

Pawlenty on Ethanol

Tim Pawlenty has made a very smart move. An interview with Rush:
PAWLENTY: Rush, what it's gonna really take to solve the debt and the deficit; and we called out for the phasing out of ethanol subsidies. I'm coming down to Florida tonight to give a speech tomorrow about really reforming Social Security and --

RUSH: Wait a minute! Wait a minute. You, in Iowa, called for the end to ethanol subsidies?

PAWLENTY: Yes, I did.

RUSH: What was the reaction you got to that?

PAWLENTY: Nobody applauded at this particular moment in the speech, but I gotta tell you: It has to be done, and if we're not willing to tell the truth and we're not willing to actually do it, then we're all wasting our time and I'm gonna go down there and play golf with you because we're just a debating society and wasting our time. Because this is it. It's gonna be mathematically irretrievable to get this thing back after this next election. So I'm swinging for the fences, not because I wanted to get elected but because we're gonna save this country and we're gonna do it bit telling the truth, and the American people --

RUSH: Now --

PAWLENTY: Go ahead.

RUSH: That's politically gutsy because the theory is in a campaign for the nomination, you gotta get the base. I mean, you've gotta say what it takes to get elected, and certainly questioning ethanol subsidies in Iowa is not the way to do that. The theory is, "Say what they want to hear in Iowa, say what they want to hear in New Hampshire, get the nomination, and then go for that." What's your...?

PAWLENTY: Well, I -- I --

RUSH: This is your truth agenda, I guess?

PAWLENTY: Yeah, and I also, Rush, when I was in Minnesota at governor, also a big renewable fuels state, I cut ethanol subsidies there when we had financial difficulties. So this isn't something new for me, but in my heart and in my gut this is the deal: We have to tell the truth and campaign like we're gonna govern, and govern like we campaign, and there is no way we can dupe the American people with all this lofty rhetoric and fluffy speeches and think that's gonna get the trick done.

The Wall Street Journal editorializes:

One of the immutable laws of modern American politics is that no candidate who wants to win the Iowa Presidential caucuses can afford to oppose subsidies for ethanol. So it's notable—make that downright amazing—that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty launched his campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination Monday by including a challenge to King Corn.

"The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out," Mr. Pawlenty told a crowd in Des Moines. "We simply can't afford them anymore."

He's certainly right about that, though that hasn't stopped nearly every other candidate from deploring the federal deficit while supporting the most egregious of corporate welfare subsidies. This marks a change for Mr. Pawlenty, who over two terms leading Iowa's northern neighbor first fought farmers on subsidies but later supported their push for a 20% ethanol mandate for gasoline. But in refusing to stick to the script for candidates looking to harvest votes in February's Iowa caucuses, Mr. Pawlenty has passed an early test of fortitude. By opposing ethanol despite the political risks, Mr. Pawlenty will also gain credibility to tackle other energy subsidies that drain the federal fisc to little good effect.

Intriguingly, Mr. Pawlenty said he's also ready to take on other taboos of modern politics. "Conventional wisdom says you can't talk about ethanol in Iowa or Social Security in Florida or financial reform on Wall Street," he said. "But someone has to say it." Maybe this Presidential season will be more interesting than we've imagined.

Nerd Power!

The departure of Mitch Daniels left a nerd vacuum in the ranks of Republican presidential contenders. Thaddeus McCotter may fill it. Jonathan Martin reports at Politico:

Another Republican is eyeing a late entrance into the presidential primary, and his name is not Jeb, Chris, Paul or Rick.

It’s Thaddeus.

In an interview Monday with POLITICO, Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter said he’s seriously considering a White House bid and will decide within the next two weeks.

McCotter argued that the current crop of GOP candidates simply isn’t making the case about how to confront what he described as the existential threats facing the country.

“I think the majority of the Republican electorate isn’t happy with the choices they’ve got and want to take a look at new people,” he said.

McCotter said his party must address four major issues: “The challenge of globalization, the war for freedom against terrorists, the rise of Communist China and whether moral relativism erodes a nation built on self-evident truth.”

The last House member to go directly to the presidency was James A. Garfield in 1880.

Monday, May 23, 2011

NY 26 as the Spanish Civil War

American Crossroads is hardly the only outside group in the special House election in Upstate New York. The Washington Post reports:

“This is basically a dry run for 2012,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that favors stronger regulation of political expenditures. “As we get closer to the November 2012 elections, each side is testing their game and seeing what works. It’s a whole new ballgame.”

The New York race is the latest sign that 2012 is likely to be a particularly active election for outside political groups, which are not constrained by the same contribution limits as the candidates and political parties. Such groups broke records for midterm elections in 2010, and they appear poised to do the same next year.

One new group called the Republican Super PAC, for example, plans to actively coordinate fundraising with incumbents and favored challengers. Founder James Bopp, a Republican lawyer who has spearheaded numerous challenges to campaign-finance laws, has said he believes a federal ban on coordination between candidates and independent groups applies only to spending, not fundraising.

Two Democratic-leaning groups, Majority PAC and House Majority PAC, have responded by asking the Federal Election Commission to weigh in on the legality of Bopp’s approach. The two groups say they will also enlist the help of lawmakers in raising money if the FEC says it is allowed.


The charge from the right has been led by American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC founded last year that has dedicated nearly $700,000 to ads attacking Hochul and Davis. Crossroads and its nonprofit affiliate, Crossroads GPS, has vowed to raise $120 million for the 2012 cycle.

Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said many special elections often serve as magnets for spending by the parties and outside groups, and the New York race is no different. He said Crossroads will continue to spend heavily in many competitive races through next November.

“The Crossroads groups have stated that we’ll be involved heavily in 2012, both in congressional races and the presidential side as well,” Collegio said.


Democratic officials and their supporters say Hochul’s chances of capturing the seat remain uncertain, but they say the debate over Medicare and Davis’s un­or­tho­dox campaign give her a clear opportunity. Groups supporting Hochul include the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has spent about $270,000, and labor groups such as the Communications Workers of America and the Service Employees International Union.

House Majority PAC, which was formed just last month, has spent about $370,000 on television ads attacking Corwin’s stance on Medicare, according to FEC records filed as of Friday. Executive Director Alixandria Lapp said the group decided to jump into the race after seeing an initial surge in spending by American Crossroads and other conservative organizations.

The Albany Times-Union reports:

Here’s a fun compilation from Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG’s spreadsheet wunderkind/geek/guru, tracking outside spending in the 26th Congressional District special election.

Mahoney found outside entities have spent $1,253,427.37 on Corwin, compared to $916,594.45 on Hochul. Corwin’s backers include Americans Crossroads; Hochul’s include SEIU 1199.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Daniels Out

The Republican received encouragement from all over the country, from tea party activists to elites. But in the end, his family concerns stood in the way.

Saturday night, Daniels said, "The counsel and encouragement I received from important citizens like you caused me to think very deeply about becoming a national candidate. In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one, but that, the interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all."

He went on: "If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry. If you feel that this was a non-courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise. I only hope that you will accept my sincerity in the judgment I reached."

Daniels' exit is welcome news to the campaigns of Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, who would have competed directly with him in New Hampshire and for many of the same donors.

Jonathan Martin writes at Politico:

Mitch Daniels’s overnight decision against a presidential bid will immediately raise the volume on the low-hum grumbling among Republican insiders that they’re gearing up to face President Obama with the weakest primary field in recent memory.

The pressure on a handful of Republicans who’ve insisted they won’t consider running but would be potentially strong alternatives to Mitt Romney will now significantly intensify, but the ultimate beneficiaries of Daniels’s absence may be two candidates already on course to run: Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman.

At the moment, though, the Indiana governor’s exit illustrates the degree to which the GOP race is being shaped by who’s not running.

Consider the list of would-be candidates who’ve passed on a campaign in the last four months: Mike Pence, John Thune, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump and now Daniels.

Add Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan and Rick Perry – Republicans with star power who’ve said flatly they won’t run – and it translates into a GOP establishment deeply worried that the flawed options they’re left with won’t be any match for an incumbent president who seemingly won’t face a primary but is likely to shatter campaign fundraising records.

As Gabriel Sherman writes at New York, Roger Ailes is not happy:

And, for all his programming genius, he was more interested in a real narrative than a television narrative—he wanted to elect a president. All he had to do was watch Fox’s May 5 debate in South Carolina to see what a mess the field was—a mess partly created by the loudmouths he’d given airtime to and a tea party he’d nurtured. And, not incidentally, a strong Republican candidate would be good for his business, too. A few months ago, Ailes called Chris Christie and encouraged him to jump into the race. Last summer, he’d invited Christie to dinner at his upstate compound along with Rush Limbaugh, and like much of the GOP Establishment, he fell hard for Christie, who nevertheless politely turned down Ailes’s calls to run. Ailes had also hoped that David Petraeus would run for president, but Petraeus too has decided to sit this election out, choosing to stay on the counterterrorism front lines as the head of Barack Obama’s CIA. The truth is, for all the antics that often appear on his network, there is a seriousness that underlies Ailes’s own politics. He still speaks almost daily with George H. W. Bush, one of the GOP’s last great moderates, and a war hero, which especially impresses Ailes.

All the 2012 candidates know that Ailes is a crucial constituency. “You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger,” one GOPer told me. “Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.” But he hasn’t found any of them, including the adults in the room—Jon Huntsman, Mitch Daniels, Mitt Romney—compelling. “He finds flaws in every one,” says a person familiar with his thinking.

“He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” another Republican close to Ailes told me. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of Obama is a disaster. He thinks Palin is an idiot. He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Obama, Israel, and the Next Election

On Thursday, the president said: "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

On Friday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: "I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines -- because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years."

Tom Brune of Newsday reports:

President Barack Obama's endorsement of Israel's 1967 borders could cost him support next year among Jewish and pro-Israel voters, political analysts and activists said Friday.

Those voters could include not only Republicans but also Democrats, especially those who expressed misgivings about Obama's commitment to Israel as he campaigned for the White House in 2008.

"A lot of Democrats are not going to agree with this, and a lot of Democrats are not going to be Democratic in the voting booth," said New York political strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

"It will create fear and anxiety," he said, especially for Jewish voters older than 50 who remember the Six Day War in 1967, which showed the difficulty of defending Israel's borders.

After Obama's speech Thursday, Stony Brook political scientist Matthew Lebo posted on his Facebook page: "Did a million Jews turn Republican today?"

That might be an exaggeration, Lebo said, but "politically and electorally it does the president absolutely no good."

But how much harm does it do him? Keep two things in mind. First, Jews are not single-issue voters. Second, Democrats have been winning the Jewish vote since FDR, and there is no evidence of a GOP surge. See the GOP share of the Jewish vote in presidential exit polls. (1972-1996 data from a NYT table).

  • 1972 34%
  • 1976 34%
  • 1980 39%
  • 1984 31%
  • 1988 35%
  • 1992 11%
  • 1996 16%
  • 2000 19%
  • 2004 25%
  • 2008 21%

The rise of the Christian right accounts for the dropoff between 1988 and 1992. Analyzing survey data, Uslaner and Lichbach conclude: "Jews, then, are uncomfortable with the Christian Right. And they are more concerned with the threat from the Christian Right than the threat to Israel."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Social Media's Role in 2012

Michael Scherer writes at Time:

From the moment he arrived in January, Plouffe changed the way the White House unfolds each morning. He demanded far more precision and repetition in the language used by the President and his surrogates. ("Win the future," ad nauseam.) He sought greater outreach to state and local media outlets. (West Wing aides now get news summaries from regional papers and local 6 o'clock news broadcasts, not just national publications.) And he doubled down on efforts by the White House to use social media to spread its message. (Plouffe, who turns 44 this month, also removed the clutter on Axelrod's desk; his desk is spit-shine clean.) (See why Obama is not a lock in 2012.)

Plouffe points to the recent announcement of the Osama bin Laden raid. By the time Obama spoke, shortly after 11:35 p.m. E.T. on a Sunday, 56.5 million Americans had their televisions on to watch the speech — Obama's largest audience as President, according to Nielsen. An additional million-plus people watched the speech stream on Word had traveled fast in two hours. "People were texting each other and tweeting and on Facebook and doing some old-fashioned landline calling, I'm sure," Plouffe says. "That's how the world works these days."

With the 2012 campaign approaching, Plouffe is looking for every opportunity to sharpen Obama's edge. He has leaned heavily on the 10-person department that handles digital outreach and launched efforts to interact with the public, including a series called Advise the Adviser, in which citizens are invited to write in policy recommendations. He has also issued calls for Americans to organize roundtables, using online White House tools, to discuss immigration policy. "There is no guarantee that you are going to get any of those people through any other means," he says, noting shrinking audiences for TV news.

Rich Galen writes at Mullings:

  • In the week or so since he formally announced that he was a candidate for President, his campaign has gone from sputtering to on the rocks.

  • Newt is not a great orator. He is, as a former college professor, a great lecturer. If I had been involved in the planning, I would have had him deliver one of his 50 minute lectures before a live audience then edited it down to a five to seven minute video which would have had the energy a live audience provides.

  • As it was, the announcement had all the excitement of a corporate auditor reading the balance sheet at a stockholders' meeting.

  • There has been no word from the campaign as to how much, if any, money it raised in those first days.

  • It is hard to believe that they didn't have the millions of people on Newt's vaunted e-mail and twitter lists teed up to hit the "DONATE" key on the website when the video was put up - even if only to donate $5 - so in the ensuing 48 hours they could have announced that X-tens of thousands of people had donated Y-hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Sarah Palin tells Sean Hannity:

    Well, I think to start with, we ignore some of these reporters and their requests for us to comment and be interviewed. We know going into what they are going to do to us, to a conservative. So, why participate in their game?

    Instead, candidates need to get their message out via the news social media, be a fair and balanced reporters who will just allow the facts to get out there. Don't even participate in that goofy game that has been played now for too many years with the leftist lamestream media trying to twist the candidates' words and intent and content of their statements.

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Crossroads Groups Remain Active

    A new ad from Crossroads GPS:

    American Crossroads is on the air in a New York special House election:

    Sean Higgins writes at Investor's Business Daily:
    Most people on the right looked at Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks project and wanted him arrested. Stephen Law, president of American Crossroads, had a different approach: copy Assange's idea.

    "All of us are of the view that the way WikiLeaks operates is questionable at best ... but there was obviously some genius behind it as well, which is to create a repository for inside documents that tell a story most people aren't aware of," Law told IBD.

    So he decided to make his own.

    Law is leading an effort to create a conservative version called "" The goal is to pool efforts of center-right groups that have obtained insider documents about the Obama administration that show "how it is executing its policies and activities," Law said.

    We wish we were shocked, but the plan is merely the latest play by Democrats to crack down on donors who support their opponents. In 2010 they tried and failed to pass the Disclose Act, which would have forced disclosure on business donations but left unions alone.

    This year they've turned to harassment by regulation, first asking the Federal Communications Commission to require groups that run political ads to disclose their high-dollar donors. The Obama Administration is also working up an executive order to require anyone bidding for a federal contract to disclose if the company or its executives donated more then $5,000 to independent groups.

    Now comes the 501(c)(4) net, which may catch the likes of liberal uber-donor George Soros, though we'd bet he's happy to lend his name to the project to create an appearance of nonpartisanship. The real targets of the disclosure project are conservative groups like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, which have seen their fundraising and influence grow in recent years.

    All this is done in the name of "transparency," which is a nice way of saying, we know where you live. The real goal is to intimidate business and big donors from giving money to Republicans. The draft executive order aiming to wrest disclosure from federal contractors appears to make no such demands on federal labor unions, which had their free speech rights restored alongside business in Citizens United.

    Wednesday, May 18, 2011

    Newt's Bad Day 2

    Alexander Burns writes at Politico:

    Many have said now he’s finished,” Cantor said in a radio interview, stopping short of endorsing that analysis but calling Gingrich’s comments “a tremendous misspeak.”

    Perhaps most tellingly, not a single prominent Republican has rallied to Gingrich’s defense – a testament to the regard in which Gingrich is held by much of the Beltway GOP establishment.

    For a host of party leaders, Gingrich seems to have proven with astonishing speed that he deserves his reputation as an undisciplined, self-destructive, shoot-from-the-lip politician. His flair for provocative rhetoric, combined with his desire to make loftier political points, might make him too combustible for the presidential campaign trail.

    “The problem for Newt is, this is exactly what everybody who has ever worked for or around him said was his basic problem,” said Rich Galen, the veteran Republican strategist and former Gingrich aide. “Sooner or later, I suspect, unfortunately, the campaign will collapse from the top because people are going to say, ‘I love him and he’s really smart, but he can’t be president.’”

    The campaign, Galen added, is “close to being functionally over.”

    AP reports:

    Gingrich and his wife, Callista, were hit with glittery confetti by a protestor during the couple's appearance at a book-signing in Minneapolis.

    The man approached the Gingriches during the signing Tuesday afternoon at a downtown hotel before dumping a cracker box full of confetti on the pair while he said, "Feel the rainbow, Newt! Stop the hate! Stop anti-gay politics!"

    Two Associated Press reporters witnessed the event. The man was quickly pushed out of the room by an event organizer as the Gingriches brushed confetti out of their hair and laps.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Newt's Bad Day

    With Newt Gingrich, controversy continues.

    Jake Sherman writes at Politico:

    In 2005 and 2006, the former House speaker turned presidential candidate carried as much as $500,000 in debt to the premier jewelry company, according to financial disclosures filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives.

    Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress for two decades, retired in 1999. But his wife, Callista Gingrich, was employed by the House Agriculture Committee until 2007, according to public records. She listed a “revolving charge account” at Tiffany and Company in the liability section of her personal financial disclosure form for two consecutive years and indicated that it was her spouse’s debt. The liability was reported in the range of $250,001 to $500,000.

    When asked by POLITICO whether Gingrich has settled this debt, and why he owed between a quarter-million and a half-million dollars to a jeweler, Rick Tyler, Gingrich’s spokesman, declined to comment.

    “No comment,” he said in an email.

    Also at Politico, Mike Allen writes:

    Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich apologized in a telephone call to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday afternoon for his remarks on “Meet the Press,” where the presidential candidate referred to Ryan’s Medicare proposal as “radical change.”

    “Newt apologized,” said Rick Tyler, his press secretary and longtime aide. “The call went very well.”

    Gingrich, his nascent campaign in jeopardy, has shifted into fervent damage control following a furious conservative reaction to his comments — and is even expressing a rare bit of contrition.

    From Iowa, Gingrich held two conference calls with tea party leaders scattered throughout the nation – one on short notice Monday night, and another Tuesday morning. Aides said Gingrich started each of the half-hour calls by explaining what he meant on “Meet the Press,” and acknowledging that he could have expressed it better. “We’ve tried to correct the record and admit it could have been done better,” Tyler said. “We move on."

    More background here on the "Meet the Press" interview.

    RealClearPolitics reports an exchange with an Iowa voter:

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaker Gingrich, what you just did to Paul Ryan is unforgivable.

    NEWT GINGRICH: I didn't do anything to Paul Ryan.

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you did. You undercut him and his allies in the House. You're an embarrassment to our party.

    GINGRICH: I'm sorry you feel that way.

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself?

    GINGRICH: I'm sorry you feel that way.

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Huckabee Out of the Race, Gingrich in Controversy

    ABC's "The Note" reports:

    Mike Huckabee is out, Newt Gingrich is in (and continuing to diss Paul Ryan's budget plan), Donald Trump has to decide soon if he’s going for another season of “The Celebrity Apprentice” or for the White House, Mitt Romney's dialing for dollars in Las Vegas and political activists in Iowa and New Hampshire are at odds over the importance of their respective nominating contests.

    No sooner did Huckabee announce this weekend that he would be staying out of the fight for the Republican presidential nomination than the jockeying for his supporters began. His no-go decision takes out the frontrunner in Iowa and South Carolina making those already wide-open contests even more unpredictable.

    Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made the first overtures to voters who might have backed Huckabee in a statement released just minutes after the former Arkansas governor’s dramatic Fox News announcement ("All the factors say go, but my heart says no”) Saturday night.


    [Gingrich's] personal life is a problem for Evangelical and other social conservatives. But, his bigger problem is that his identity as the "big ideas" guy for the party has been eclipsed by a young House member named Paul Ryan. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, set the policy table for the GOP this year -- not Newt.

    And, yesterday in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Newt batted down Ryan’s plan, calling it “right wing social engineering.”

    “I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” Gingrich said when asked about the proposal, adding that it represented “radical change.”

    Gingrich's departure from conventional conservatism is nothing new.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    Enter the IRS

    An Internal Revenue Service effort to collect gift taxes on large individual donations to social advocacy groups, which eventually could include the new political organizations that cropped up in the 2010 midterms, is already drawing threats of lawsuits.

    According to one attorney familiar with the backroom discussions, the groups could challenge the IRS on two fronts: that the gift tax was not intended to apply to such donations, and that the IRS failed to give notice that it intended to begin enforcing the tax, after two decades of nearly no action.

    In the years since 2008, more groups came onto the scene. In the 2010 midterms, two GOP giants were founded with the help of former Bush adviser Karl Rove: American Crossroads, which discloses donors, and Crossroads GPS, which doesn’t. The majority, $43 million, of the $70 million Crossroads officials said they collected flowed through the non-disclosing organization.

    “There are a whole heck of a lot of people misusing (c)(4) groups as a means of getting around campaign finance regulations, and we lack a coherent system of laws to deal with that,” said Donald B. Tobin, a legal expert on campaign finance and tax laws at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. “Now here’s a stick, frankly, that says there are consequences for doing that.”

    In a statement released Thursday, Michelle L. Eldridge, a spokeswoman for the I.R.S., said that the inquiries were initiated by agency employees, not White House or other Obama administration officials, “as part of their increased efforts in the area of nonfiling of gift and estate tax returns.”

    The letters informed donors that investigations had been opened to determine why a gift tax form had not been filed, and requested that donors submit records of all donations in the year 2008, according to a redacted copy obtained by The New York Times.

    While tax lawyers who learned of the investigations have been issuing warnings to clients of potential trouble on a broader scale, the I.R.S. statement denied casting a wider net, “These examinations are not part of a broader effort looking at donations to 501(c)(4)’s.”

    This denial seems inconsistent with the IRS Exempt Organizations workplan:
    Section 501(c)(4), (5) and (6) Organizations. In recent years, our examination program has concentrated on section 501(c)(3) organizations. Beginning in FY 2011, we are increasing our focus on section 501(c)(4), (5) and (6) organizations. With the additional information available on the new Form 990, we will look at issues including political activity, inurement and the extent of compliance with the requirements for tax exemption by organizations that self-identified themselves as a section 501(c)(4), (5) or (6) organization.

    Liz Peek writes at Fox:

    The IRS has gone out of its way to portray this unprecedented inquiry as the labor of two “career civil servants” in the estate and gift tax department, trying to suppress suspicions that the move is politically motivated. Still, the Financial Times calls the move a “radical departure in how tax authorities have treated such “gifts” over the last 30 years.”

    The timing of the investigation is, to put it mildly, suspect. The media has emphasized that while the Koch brothers, Karl Rove and other leading conservatives have supported such organizations, uber-liberal George Soros might also be caught in the net. That is true, but Republicans are unquestionably much bigger supporters of such groups.

    From a 1997 article in The Cato Journal:

    Some observers point out that political considerations may influence enforcement activities such as audits. The blatant use of the IRS for political purposes is not new. During the Kennedy presidency, a mysterious IRS organization called ‘‘The Ideological Organizations Audit Project’’ was formed to investigate right-leaning groups; among those apparently targeted was Young Americans for Freedom (Davis 1997: 246). The Special Services Staff (SSS) was formed during the Nixon administration to coordinate ‘‘all IRS activities involving ideological, militant, subversive, radical, and similar type organizations’’ (Davis 1997: 88).