Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (April 23-29, 2012)

Monday, April 30th, 2012

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

Sugar Daddies: The old, white, rich men who are buying this election.” By Frank Rich. New York Magazine. April 22, 2012. If you want to appreciate what Barack Obama is up against in 2012, forget about the front man who is his nominal opponent and look instead at the Republican billionaires buying the ammunition for the battles ahead. This isn’t quite what was supposed to happen. When the Supreme Court handed down its five-to-four Citizens United decision in 2010, pre-vetting Mitt Romney’s credo that “corporations are people,” apocalyptic Democrats, including Obama, predicted that the election would become a wholly owned subsidiary of the likes of Chevron and General Electric. But publicly traded, risk-averse corporations still care more about profits than partisanship. They tend to cover their bets by giving to both parties. And they are fearful of alienating customers and investors. Witness, most recently, the advertisers who fled Rush Limbaugh, or the far bigger brands (­McDonald’s and Wendy’s, Coke and Pepsi) that severed ties with the conservative lobbying mill responsible for pushing state “stand your ground” laws like the one used to justify the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. While corporations and unions remain serious players in the campaign of 2012, their dollars don’t match those of the sugar daddies, who can and do give as much as they want to the newfangled super-PACs. Sugar daddies—whom I’ll define here as private donors or their privately held companies writing checks totaling $1 million or more (sometimes much more) in this election cycle—are largely a Republican phenomenon, most of them one degree of separation from Karl Rove and his unofficial partners in erecting a moneyed shadow GOP, David and Charles Koch. At last look, there were 25 known sugar daddies on the right (or more, if you want to count separately the spouses and children who pitch in). During the primaries, the Republican sugar daddies fanned out to support various contenders, gladly bestowing tens of millions in mad money on the vainglorious crusades of Newt, the Herminator, and the two Ricks. But today these donors are starting to coalesce around Mitt. In retrospect, Romney, a one-percenter incarnate, is their natural candidate. And, for all intents and political purposes, they will own him if he makes it to the White House. The Center for Responsive Politics has calculated that just 10 percent of Romney’s donors for 2012 have been from among the hoi polloi (those contributing $200 or less)—compared with 52 percent for Santorum, 48 percent for Gingrich, and 45 percent for Obama. The only Americans fired up and ready to go for Mitt are those who can and will give to the max, all keenly mindful of the dividends certain to accrue to them in a Romney administration.

Planned Parenthood ‘targeted’ by anti-abortionists; Healthcare provider believes hoax clients are inquiring about sex-selection abortions in ploy to discredit group.” By Karen McVeigh. Guardian. April 23, 2012. A series of suspicious incidents at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country has led the group to believe they have been targeted in an undercover sting operation by anti-abortionists. Clinics for the healthcare provider have reported an escalation in so-called “hoax visits”, in which female clients ask leading questions about sex selection abortions, in interviews they believe are being secretly recorded in a ploy to discredit the organisation. The increase in the suspicious incidences at clinics has led to concern at the organisation that it is part of a national propaganda campaign against the group. It has led to a counter-PR campaign by Planned Parenthood. In a statement published in the reproductive health website RHReality Check, the organisation described “secret videotaping tactics with fictitious patient scenarios and selective editing” as a tactic that opponents of reproductive health and rights had employed against the group for years.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 6-12, 2012)

Monday, February 13th, 2012

LAW & PUBLIC POLICY

Misreading Catholic Barometer Is a Political Risk.” Wall Street Journal. February 7, 2012. [For stories, go to Religion].

Senate Backs Church Use of Schools.” By John Eligon. New York Times. February 6, 2012. New York’s State Senate passed a bill on Monday that would allow churches to continue holding worship services in public schools, but the future of the legislation remained in question as the Assembly speaker expressed skepticism about it. The bill, sponsored by Senator Martin J. Golden, Republican of Brooklyn, says that congregations may hold services in schools when the property is not being used for school purposes. The bill would effectively undo a court ruling last year that upheld a policy of the New York City Education Department prohibiting religious services from being held in public schools after hours. Churches pay the same rent as other groups to use schools. Despite the city’s rule against it, dozens of churches have been holding services in schools on Sundays for years while a case pertaining to the issue made its way through the courts. After a federal appeals court ruled in the city’s favor last summer, and the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case late last year, the city said that worship services could not be held in schools after Feb. 12. That has caused dozens of congregations to look for new homes. Their only hope appears to be intervention by the Assembly on Tuesday, but it seemed unlikely that a bill would pass that house quickly enough.
Related story:
For Congregations Gathering in City Schools, Time to Move.” New York Times. February 6, 2012,

Prayer Case at School Is Settled.” By Nathan Koppel. Wall Street Journal. February 10, 2012. A Texas school-prayer case that fueled calls by Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich to curtail the power of federal judges was settled Thursday, with the school district agreeing to bar employees from displaying religious symbols but permitting students to pray at graduation. The case began last May when a former student and a graduating one at Medina Valley High School near San Antonio sued to block religious displays at the school, including prayer at the graduation ceremony. Federal Judge Fred Biery sided with the students, concluding that such prayers were likely to violate the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Although Judge Biery’s ruling was reversed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, allowing the prayers to proceed, the decision drew barbs from Mr. Gingrich. He called it hostile to religion, criticizing Judge Biery by name Jan. 22 after winning South Carolina’s primary. The settlement prohibits employees of the local district from initiating or joining prayers in the presence of students. It also bars school employees from displaying religious icons on school walls or windows unless they are being used for “non-religious” purposes. But the school district may permit students to pray in graduation-ceremony speeches. In his order approving the settlement, San Antonio-based Judge Biery, appointed by President Bill Clinton, couldn’t resist a parting shot. To those who “demagogued this case for their own political goals: You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he wrote. Mr. Gingrich’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Senate Republicans Would Require The Unemployed To Volunteer.” By Arthur Delaney. Huffington Post. February 10, 2012. Republicans in the U.S. Senate want the long-term unemployed to volunteer for 20 hours a week in order to receive unemployment insurance. A bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) would also require claimants drawing benefits six months or longer to search for work at least 20 hours a week. “Engagement in volunteer service will encourage unemployed workers to maintain job skills, marketability, and a sense of self-worth while providing for the betterment of their communities,” Burr said in a statement. “Even more, the active job search requirement will enhance the integrity of the unemployment system and its ability to identify and serve those most in need.” Burr’s bill dropped right as Republicans and Democrats are deadlocked over a reauthorization of federal unemployment insurance programs and a 2 percent cut to workers’ Social Security payroll taxes. Those items and several other domestic spending measures are set to expire at the end of the month. Republicans on the negotiating committee are already pushing for a host of unemployment reforms, including allowing states to drug test workers applying for benefits and denying aid to people who don’t have high school diplomas. A Burr spokesman said the senator wouldn’t mind if his proposal got wrapped into the broader package. Seventeen other senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), signed on to Burr’s bill. Worker advocates said the legislation amounts to just another effort to demonize people laid off through no fault of their own in order to undercut the costly government programs that support them — much like what happened with welfare recipients in the years leading up to welfare reform in 1996.

A Year of Tax-Code Reckoning.” By Jonathan Weisman. New York Times. February 11, 2012. Taxpayers struggling with their 2011 returns can take a little solace in the knowledge that change is coming — though it may be accompanied by increasing tax bills. For two decades, politicians have promised — and failed — to overhaul the tax code to make it simpler and fairer. This time they have a deadline of sorts. On Jan. 1, 2013, a major part of the current code turns into a pumpkin. That is when income tax rate cuts — a host of expanded tax deductions and credits, and generous changes in the taxation of dividends, capital gains and inheritances — are set to disappear. That day of reckoning was supposed to have come in 2011, but President Obama signed a two-year extension of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, along with temporary tax cuts of his own, most notably the two-percentage-point cut to the payroll tax. This time around, Mr. Obama has vowed that he will not extend the tax cuts for upper-income Americans, and no matter who wins the presidential election in November, Mr. Obama will be in the White House on Expiration Day. That will put pressure on Republicans in Congress to prevent a sudden return to the tax code of the 1990s. “The worst thing for our country would be for these automatic tax increases to take place,” said Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate. Of course, if the G.O.P. wins control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Republican leaders could allow those wholesale tax increases to take place, with the expectation that they will overturn them once they assume control later in January. They could use a parliamentary mechanism called reconciliation — the same method used in 2001 and 2003 — to avoid a Democratic filibuster and reinstate the expired tax rates, at least temporarily. But at this point, no one is advocating mere preservation of the status quo.

Occupy Movement Regroups, Preparing for Its Next Phase.” By Erik Eckholm. New York Times. February 11, 2012. The ragtag Occupy Wall Street encampments that sprang up in scores of cities last fall, thrusting “We are the 99 percent” into the vernacular, have largely been dismantled, with a new wave of crackdowns and evictions in the past week. Since the violent clashes last month in Oakland, Calif., headlines about Occupy have dwindled, too. Far from dissipating, groups around the country say they are preparing for a new phase of larger marches and strikes this spring that they hope will rebuild momentum and cast an even brighter glare on inequality and corporate greed. But this transition is filled with potential pitfalls and uncertainties: without the visible camps or clear goals, can Occupy become a lasting force for change? Will disruptive protests do more to galvanize or alienate the public? Though still loosely organized, the movement is putting down roots in many cities. Activists in Chicago and Des Moines have rented offices, a significant change for groups accustomed to holding open-air assemblies or huddling in tents in bad weather. On any night in New York City, which remains a hub of the movement, a dozen working groups on issues like “food justice” and “arts and culture” meet in a Wall Street atrium, and “general assemblies” have formed in 14 neighborhoods. Around the country, small demonstrations — often focused on banks and ending foreclosure evictions — take place almost daily. If the movement has not produced public leaders, some visible faces have emerged.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (JANUARY 16-22, 2011)

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

PAC Track: What and Where are the Super PACs Spending?” By Al Shaw and Kim Barker. ProPublica. January 18, 2012. Two federal court rulings in 2010 paved the way for the ascent of “super PACs,” political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political races, as long as they don’t coordinate with a specific candidate. And so far, they’re spending heavily on the Republican race. This app, part of our long-term investigation into “dark money,” keeps track of where super PACs are spending their cash to influence the presidential race.

San Jose group protests corporate spending on politics.” By John Woolfolk. San Jose Mercury-News. January 20, 2012. Scores of demonstrators gathered Friday under soggy skies at San Jose’s St. James Park as part of the nationwide protest against corporate influence in politics. Calling themselves “Move to Amend,” the group urged a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that lets corporations and unions independently spend unlimited amounts of money to bolster political candidates. Organizer Richard Hobbs, an immigration attorney, acknowledged that’s a difficult task but urged demonstrators to sign up with the group and stay active. An unlikely mix of local leaders often at odds in city politics spoke to the crowd, including labor leader Cindy Chavez, San Jose Downtown Association Executive Director Scott Knies and San Jose City Councilmen Ash Kalra and Sam Liccardo. Chavez said that even though the Citizens United decision frees union spending, “it’s not morally right.” Knies said it lets Wall Street bury the “Main Street” small businesses he represents. A character dressed in silver-colored boxes and tubing as “RoboCorp” made a mock run for president and the “Raging Grannies” sang a protest song to a Woody Guthrie tune. The crowd marched peacefully to the federal courthouse, which was under heavy guard, then to City Hall. Police monitored and assisted with traffic control. There were no signs of disturbances.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 9-15, 2012)

Monday, January 16th, 2012

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

A Big Check, and Gingrich Gets a Big Lift.” By Nicholas Confessore and Eric Lipton. New York Times. January 9, 2012. For weeks this winter, as Newt Gingrich’s presidential hopes faltered under the weight of millions of dollars in attack ads paid for by backers of Mitt Romney, a small group of Gingrich supporters quietly lobbied for help from one of the richest men in America: Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino owner and Mr. Gingrich’s longtime friend and patron. Mr. Romney’s supporters were also calling, imploring Mr. Adelson to stay out of the race. By the time Mr. Gingrich limped into New Hampshire, some of his top backers had given up on Mr. Adelson and begun prospecting elsewhere, including among erstwhile supporters of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, to finance a counterattack. But on Friday, the cavalry arrived: a $5 million check from Mr. Adelson to Winning Our Future, a “super PAC” that supports Mr. Gingrich. By Monday morning, the group had reserved more than $3.4 million in advertising time in South Carolina, a huge sum in a state where the airwaves come cheap and the primary is 11 days away. The group is planning to air portions of a movie critical of Mr. Romney’s time at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he helped found. The last-minute injection underscores how last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election. Mr. Adelson’s contribution to the super PAC is 1,000 times the $5,000 he could legally give directly to Mr. Gingrich’s campaign this year.

Back to the Robber Barons.” Editorial. New York Times. January 12, 2012. With federal campaigns already knee-deep in a new era of laissez-faire money, the Republican National Committee has brazenly proposed the ultimate step — that the 105-year-old ban on direct corporation contributions to candidates and parties be scrapped as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision did damage enough to fair elections by freeing corporations to make unlimited donations to supposedly independent campaign expenditure groups. But the court said nothing about the basic 1907 reform law — enacted after the robber baron scandals — that bans corporate donors from wooing candidates directly with largess. The R.N.C., in a brief filed in federal court in Virginia, would effectively spike that law by freeing candidates to solicit what could amount to a million-dollar-plus donation from any corporation seeking clout. The result would dash the anticorruption restrictions on candidates’ money seeking under the McCain-Feingold law, inviting a blizzard of money and favors directly between donors and politicians. Republicans argue that the logic of Citizens United points toward scrapping the ban on direct corporate giving. This was the muddled reasoning of a federal district judge who overreached last year from the Supreme Court decision. The R.N.C. aimed to keep that possibility alive in the current appeal by filing a brief in opposition to the Justice Department’s defense of corporate restrictions. Crucial to the R.N.C. position is having its own coffers keep pace with the new boom in corporate donations to “independent” so-called super PACs unleashed by Citizens United that do the candidates’ dirty work. “Traditional political parties and candidate committees are in danger of having their voices drowned out,” the R.N.C. wailed.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (January 2 – 8, 2012)

Monday, January 9th, 2012

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

Montana Tests Supreme Court Political-Spending Ruling.” Wall Street Journal. January 4, 2012. (For story, go to Law & Public Policy).

Attacking Super PACs Fueled By Anonymous Donors.” By Peter Overby. Morning Edition/National Public Radio. January 5, 2012. A major factor in the Iowa outcome was likely a barrage of attack ads against one-time front-runner Newt Gingrich. The ads came from a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, who won the state’s caucuses held Tuesday. Super PACs (political action committees) are supposedly independent organizations made possible by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, and other changes in election law. And one of the super PACs — Restore Our Future — which supports Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, blanketed Iowa airwaves with attack ads against Gingrich in the weeks before the caucuses. Restore Our Future spent $4 million on the ads, meaning the average Iowa TV viewer would have seen them three dozen times a week in recent weeks. They were a major reason that Gingrich, the former House speaker, plummeted from first place in the polls to a fourth place finish in Iowa. The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future paid for this and several other ads that aired in Iowa before that state’s caucuses, attacking GOP candidate Newt Gingrich. Restore Our Future is run by former campaign aides to Romney. But, officially, it’s not part of his presidential operation. All of the major candidates have super PACs. They raise whatever money they can get, no limits required, from corporations and wealthy individuals. But there hasn’t been any disclosure of donors since last July. And there won’t be any until the end of January. By that time, four states will have decided their choice for the GOP presidential nominee. The super PACs stay below the radar by cherry picking disclosure requirements from the federal election laws.
Related stories:
Super PAC Disclosure Requirements Hot Topic Of Conversation Among GOP.” Huffington Post. January 5, 2012.
Super PACs’ power alters campaigns.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution. January 5, 2012.
SuperPACs, Candidates: Dancing Solo Or Together?” All Things Considered/National Public Radio. January 6, 2012.

Where Students Enroll in Election 101; New Hampshire’s Saint Anselm College Comes Alive for Presidential Primaries.” By Jennifer Levitz. Wall Street Journal. January 6, 2012. Students at big schools like Alabama and Michigan worship football. At tiny Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, where the team finished its latest season 1-9, the student body of 1,899 pulses with politics. Every four years, as the state heads into its first-in-the-nation presidential primary, the college is transformed into a hub of campaigning, town-hall meetings and high-profile debates. The gym becomes a press room, and campaign signs line Saint Anselm Drive. CNN blasts from televisions in the campus coffee shop, where display cases brim with political paraphernalia and students can be heard arguing over who will be the last candidate standing. The school is hosting Saturday’s Republican debate. Presidential campaigns like to visit colleges, not just for votes but also for young volunteers, and because it makes candidates look dynamic to be seen and filmed talking to tomorrow’s leaders, said Andy Smith, a political-science professor at the University of New Hampshire. In this largely rural state of small towns, traveling from campus to campus is time-consuming. Saint Anselm touches the state’s largest city, Manchester, and is near an airport.

Litigating for Liberty; Move over, ACLU. Chip Mellor, president of one of America’s most influential law groups is expanding freedom on political speech, organ transplants and other economic frontiers.” By Collin Levy. Wall Street Journal. January 7, 2012. The Republican presidential campaign is at full boil, and among the biggest players are so-called super PACs, political-action committees that can raise and spend as much money as they like. Mitt Romney’s version helped ruin Newt Gingrich in Iowa, for example. For that right to free speech (not the ads), you can thank or blame Chip Mellor, who runs the most influential legal shop that most people have never heard of. Mr. Mellor is the 61-year-old chief of the Institute for Justice, which has been celebrating its 20th anniversary of guerrilla legal warfare on behalf of individual freedom. He’s worth getting to know because he and his fellow legal battlers are behind a larger campaign to restore some of the Constitution’s lost rights. And they’re often succeeding.

The Strange Death of the Republican Moderate.” By Timothy Noah. New York Times. January 6, 2012. Review of Geoffrey Kabaservice, The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party: From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Oxford, 2012). Half a century ago Republicans were a respectable but slightly boring presence on the political scene. Wary of excessive government, they were nonetheless reconciled to its expansion under Franklin D. Roosevelt and were mainly concerned with keeping it lean and solvent. Their beau idéal was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in 1952 became the first Republican in 24 years to be elected president. His principal opponent for the nomination, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, had opposed the New Deal and was a staunch isolationist who opposed supporting Britain in the first years of World War II. Eisenhower represented a more pragmatic strain of conservatism, internationalist when it came to foreign policy and willing to accept a larger government role at home. He called it “modern Republicanism.” With Eisenhower’s landslide re-election in 1956, his gospel looked like the future, at least for the G.O.P. Of course it wasn’t. The familiar narrative is that William F. Buckley Jr. chipped away at it, starting in 1955, when he founded National Review; that after 1960 it was rendered irrelevant by the vitality of President John F. Kennedy and his cold war liberalism; and that it collapsed entirely in 1964 when the Republicans’ hard-right wing secured the nomination for Barry Goldwater. But were things really so simple as that? In “Rule and Ruin,” his wonderfully detailed new history of moderate Republicanism, Geoffrey Kabaservice makes a strong case that modern Republicanism was hardier than we remember. Kabaservice acknowledges its eventual defeat but argues persuasively that Republican moderates remained a powerful, even dominant, political force well into the 1970s.

Column: Why voters should apply a religious test.” By Gary Bauer. USA Today. January 8, 2012. A thought experiment: Imagine a presidential candidate. He has spent years in politics, rising to become a trusted leader in his party. He also has spent time in the business world, has an impeccable personal life, a deep understanding of the issues, and is eloquent in speech and moderate in temperament. Sounds like a dream candidate, right? But imagine that, along with those qualities, the candidate is also a Wiccan, a modern pagan. It’s not an implausible idea. Some estimates put the number of American Wiccans at more than 100,000. It’s safe to say most voters would at least have a few questions for our hypothetical candidate. After all, Wicca involves magic, spell-casting and sorcery — not exactly mainstream religious practices. But would this candidate’s beliefs make you question his fitness for office? Would you oppose him based solely on his faith?

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (December 26, 2011-January 1, 2012)

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

A Watchdog for Conservative Ideals.” By Marc Lacey. New York Times. December 25, 2011. Clint Bolick has fought for the right of Arizonans to have their toes nibbled. After successfully defending a tattoo artist, he celebrated by having himself inked. From his perch here at the Goldwater Institute, a high-powered libertarian think tank, Mr. Bolick has even picked a fight with an entire professional hockey team. From a conservative point of view, there is no end to the government interference in individual liberties going on around the country. Some emanates from Washington, but much of it, in the opinion of Mr. Bolick, bubbles up from the bottom, whether from a small-town school board or the Arizona Board of Cosmetology, which Mr. Bolick has sued twice. The Goldwater Institute, which plays an outsize role in setting the agenda in this state and has helped set up similar litigation outfits in other parts of the country, sees itself as a watchdog for conservative ideals, one that happens to have at its disposal a frenetic staff of lawyers hungry for courtroom battle. The institute was founded by conservative activists in 1988, with the blessing of its namesake, Barry M. Goldwater, the longtime Arizona senator and conservative icon. It was primarily a public policy shop that issued reports, until 2007, when it added a crack litigation outfit. The institute’s aggressive lawyers strike fear in the hearts of the state’s public officials. “While the organization may have veered somewhat from Barry Goldwater’s conscience of conservatism to that of libertarianism, there is little doubt they are a political and legal force in Arizona, perhaps becoming the most influential state think tank organization in America,” said Jason Rose, a Scottsdale publicist active in conservative circles.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (December 12-18, 2011)

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

Report: Wealthy ‘Elite Donors’ Fueling U.S. Politics.” By Peter Overby. All Things Considered/National Public Radio. December 14, 2011. A report released by the Sunlight Foundation finds that in the 2010 midterm elections, 26,783 donors nationwide gave more than $10,000 each. A tiny percentage of very wealthy Americans funded a relatively large chunk of the 2010 congressional midterm races, continuing a trend that has been growing for two decades, according to a new analysis of political contributions. The Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in politics and government, found that fewer than 27,000 individuals (out of a population of 307 million) each gave at least $10,000 to federal political campaigns in 2010. Sunlight’s report, “The Political One Percent of the One Percent,” said these donors combined spent $774 million — 24.3 percent of all money from individuals that went to candidates, PACS, political parties and independent expenditure groups in the 2010 midterms, which swept Republicans into control of the House. “It’s the 1 percent of the 1 percent who account for almost a quarter of all individual campaign contributions,” says Lee Drutman, a data fellow with Sunlight. We know that money is not equally given by all Americans. There are very few Americans who can afford to write the kind of big checks that candidates depend on. What surprised us when we did this analysis was just how incredibly concentrated this giving was. Looking at the absolute top tier, Drutman says just 17 individuals gave more than $500,000 each.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (December 5-11, 2011)

Friday, December 16th, 2011

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

Gingrich’s Health Care Consultancy: Is It Lobbying?” By Peter Overby. All Things Considered/National Public Radio. December 5, 2011. In between his speakership and his presidential candidacy, Newt Gingrich built a network of organizations to promote his causes — and himself. Informally known as Newt Gingrich Inc., those entities have flourished. But questions linger, especially about two of them: the Gingrich Group, a for-profit consulting firm; and a unit of the Gingrich Group called the Center for Health Transformation. The Gingrich Group doesn’t do the shoe-leather lobbying that’s covered by the federal disclosure law. Yet the Center for Health Transformation, one of its big projects, illustrates the kind of Washington activity that lies beyond the reach of the lobbying law — activity that still can look an awful lot like lobbying to outsiders. The Center for Health Transformation isn’t a think tank, and it isn’t a lobby shop. Defining just what it is isn’t easy. “They want to say, ‘Well, isn’t that lobbying?’ No,” Gingrich told Sean Hannity of Fox News last week. “That’s called being a citizen. As a citizen, I’m allowed to have an opinion.” The center’s CEO, Nancy Desmond, told NPR: “We have actually had people refer to us as more of a ‘think-and-do tank,’ because it’s not about just thinking about things; it’s actually doing them.”

The Koch Brothers, ALEC and the Savage Assault on Democracy.” By John Nichols. The Nation. December 9, 2011. Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch finally got their way in 2011. After their decades of funding the American Legislative Exchange Council, the collaboration between multinational corporations and conservative state legislators, the project began finally to yield the intended result. For the first time in decades, the United States saw a steady dismantling of the laws, regulations, programs and practices put in place to make real the promise of American democracy. That is why, on Saturday, civil rights groups and their allies will rally outside the New York headquarters of the Koch brothers to begin a march for the renewal of voting rights in America. For the Koch brothers and their kind, less democracy is better. They fund campaigns with millions of dollars in checks that have helped elect the likes of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich. And ALEC has made it clear, through its ambitious “Public Safety and Elections Task Force,” that while it wants to dismantle any barriers to corporate cash and billionaire bucks’ influencing elections, it wants very much to erect barriers to the primary tool that Americans who are not CEOs have to influence the politics and the government of the nation: voting. That crude calculus, usually cloaked in bureaucracy and back-room dealmaking, came into full view in 2011. Across the country, and to a greater extent than at any time since the last days of Southern resistance to desegregation, voting rights were being systematically diminished rather than expanded. ALEC has been organizing and promoting the assault, encouraging its legislative minions to enact rigid Voter ID laws and related attacks on voting rights in more than three dozen states.

Let’s Do Something About Privilege, Donors, Corporations and the Constitution.” By James Warren. New York Times. December 10, 2011. Larry Lessig was a perfectly unplanned warm-up act for Rod Blagojevich last week, especially if you wonder just what to make of the whole Blago saga. Mr. Lessig, the provocative Harvard professor, lectured on his new book, “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It” at the DePaul University College of Law, a few blocks from the courthouse. But even speaking in Chicago about political corruption the night before the sentencing hearing for Mr. Blagojevich started, Mr. Lessig didn’t find his high-profile crimes instructive. “The Blagojevich corruption is irrelevant and beside the point,” he told me later. “It’s a complete distraction to think the political system was weakened by him.” Richard Posner, the most influential federal judge outside the Supreme Court, was in the audience. Mr. Lessig clerked for Mr. Posner, the appellate court judge, as well as for the United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during a career that included teaching at the University of Chicago. Mr. Lessig, 50, is an original and dynamic legal scholar, best known for arguing that our digital world necessitates much-reduced copyright and trademark restrictions. But he was naïve to think writing books would change opinions. Congress didn’t budge for the same reason the Blago case is immaterial: the nexus of big donors, corporations and government is too pervasive. It’s also why “Wall Street can blackmail both parties” from enacting regulatory reform in the wake of the financial crisis, he told me. We need a second Constitutional Convention, especially given Supreme Court decisions eliminating most limits on campaign contributions.

ANIMAL WELFARE

Founders sever ties with A Chance for Bliss animal rescue.” By Janice Lloyd. USA Today. December 5, 2011. David and Deanna Bartley created A Chance for Bliss on a small ranch in Penryn, Calif., for horses, dogs, goats, pigs and a menagerie of other animals and birds they said others rejected because they were too old and hard to care for. Starting out small 11 years ago and relying on volunteers for help, the Bartleys accumulated nearly 100 animals at times. But rifts developed during the summer between the Bartleys and their board of directors. There have been complaints from volunteers and co-workers of mismanagement and animal neglect, which the Bartleys and their supporters deny. Rachel Chow started working with them in 2007 as a volunteer. She left the board in September. She says she thinks the Bartleys were putting the animals at risk this summer through neglect, pointing to the June death of a dog left in a car in hot weather. Chow says she contacted several agencies before the Humane Society of Sierra Foothills agreed to take many of the animals in September. Bartley says the USA TODAY story helped generate more than $200,000 in donations. He acknowledges that the demands of the sanctuary took its toll on him and his wife: “We’re both fried, but the animals were never at risk.” He says he had a nervous breakdown in September, during which time A Chance for Bliss turned over about two-thirds of the animals to the humane society. A new board of directors is relocating some of the remaining animals to Lincoln, Calif.

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (November 28-December 4, 2011)

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

Education Group Tries to Rebound After Diatribe.” By Kristen McQueary. New York Times. December 2, 2011. An Oregon-based education group, whose deep pockets and skillful maneuvering made it a surprising powerhouse player in Springfield earlier this year, is regrouping after an embarrassing outburst by its founder forced a leadership shuffle within the organization. The Illinois chapter of Stand for Children raised more money than any other major lobbying interest in the capital last fall. But it has not raised a penny in the current election cycle and has spent only $2,500 on two candidates so far, according to the most recent campaign disclosure reports filed with the state Board of Elections. At this time last year, the group had collected more than $3.4 million and had given $610,000 to favored candidates, making it one of the most generous, and clandestine, political action committees in Springfield. Chicago’s elite — including the Crown and Pritzker families, along with the Citadel Group’s founder, Kenneth Griffin — supported Stand for Children, which was able to help negotiate a bill this spring that weakened Chicago teachers’ ability to strike and changed tenure rules across the state. Arne Duncan, the United States secretary of education, called the law a national model. It removes teacher seniority as the top consideration during layoffs and streamlines the dismissal process for teachers who perform poorly. The law also allows Chicago Public Schools to lengthen the school year and the school day, major goals of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But Stand for Children’s clout capsized in an Aspen, Colo., conference room in June when its founder, Jonah Edelman, was videotaped describing the group’s use of money and prowess to insert itself into the legislative process. In doing so, Mr. Edelman, the son of prominent Washington social activists, committed one of Springfield’s greatest sins: he told.

Bring Back the Smoke-Filled Rooms? The campaign-finance laws have made the presidential selection process a self-destructive mess. Eliminate the limits on individual donations.” By Daniel Henninger. Wall Street Journal. December 1, 2011. In what all say is an “historic” election, the GOP is fielding its B team while the A team sits in the locker room. Since when does that win the big games? Mitt Romney, stuck forever at 25%, has been a front-runner out of a Henny Youngman joke. Take my candidate—please. Gov. Romney has been such a front-runner that virtually any new face in the race momentarily catches him—Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry and now even an old face, Newt Gingrich. The question asked everywhere is, Why is this the field? How did it come to this? Desperate questions bring desperate answers, such that I have been overheard mumbling of late: “Maybe it’s time to bring back the smoke-filled rooms.” This was the nearly mythical system of selection in which party leaders and party bosses gathered over cigars, bourbon and branch to pick a candidate “who could win.” The most famous smoke-filled room pick was William McKinley, anointed for the 1896 election by Ohio kingmaker Mark Hanna (though in fact Hanna got McKinley nominated over the opposition of GOP party bosses). While I merely grumbled, my former Wall Street Journal colleague Robert W. Merry explicitly wrote “Bring Back Those Smoke-Filled Rooms” last month on the website of the National Interest magazine, which he edits. Notwithstanding distaste for the politicians picking candidates, he wrote, “consider the dangers inherent in our system now, when candidates emerge based on their own judgment of their overwhelming talents and virtues, rather than those of their political peers, and when the vetting process has been truncated to a point where it relies on happenstance to save the system from people nobody really knows and who may be hiding serious flaws”—he was writing about Herman Cain—”that add up to political liabilities. It was a pretty good system we had in the old days.”

WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (November 21-27, 2011)

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

ADVOCACY & POLITICS

Religious lobbying groups multiply on Capitol Hill.” By Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post. November 21, 2011. (For story, go to Religion).

Bob Dylan’s Songs Honoring Amnesty International.” By Daniel J. Wakin. New York Times. November 24, 2011. The year 1962 produced two debuts: the establishing and formal naming of Amnesty International as a permanent human rights advocate, according to its official history, and Bob Dylan’s first album. Nearly 50 years later, those two facts will become indelibly joined when a benefit recording project of Mr. Dylan’s music is released. More than 80 performers are covering four CDs’ worth of his songs, numbering about 75, Amnesty said. The album is called “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International” and will be released in North America on Jan. 24 and elsewhere on Jan. 30. The performers include Sting, Patti Smith, Pete Seeger, Miley Cyrus, Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, Maroon 5 and Elvis Costello. Most of the recordings are being released for sale for the first time, except for “Chimes of Freedom,” recorded by Mr. Dylan in 1964, Amnesty said.

Citizens raise cash for border fence; Steve Smith, a Republican senator, launched a fundraising website in July.” By Catherine Philp. Times of London. November 26, 2011. Arizona, the state that introduced controversial legislation to keep out illegal immigrants, is taking up the issue again with a plan to build a fence along its entire border with Mexico funded by public donations. Steve Smith, a Republican senator, launched a fundraising website in July urging people to “show the world the resolve and can-do spirit” of Americans by donating cash, materials or labour. More than $250,000 (£160,000) has been donated but this is only a fraction of the cost of building a fence along 80 miles (128km) of border. Only one third of the US border with Mexico is fenced — with nearly half in Arizona, the busiest gateway for illegal immigrants. Critics say that the fencing is expensive and does little to deter people, who cut through it or dig tunnels. Mr Smith and his supporters are not deterred and say that the effort sends a message to Washington that more needs to be done. “In light of their doing nothing, I would hope they wouldn’t want to deter a state from protecting its own border,” he said. Securing the border has become a mantra for Republican presidential candidates who insist that American jobs are being lost to immigrants. Despite raising only enough money for half a mile’s worth of materials, supporters say that building will begin next year. Some construction companies have contributed free labour. Prison labour will also be used.

For Obscure Iranian Exile Group, Broad Support in U.S.” By Scott Shane. New York Times. November 26, 2011. At a time of partisan gridlock in the capital, one obscure cause has drawn a stellar list of supporters from both parties and the last two administrations, including a dozen former top national security officials. That alone would be unusual. What makes it astonishing is the object of their attention: a fringe Iranian opposition group, long an ally of Saddam Hussein, that is designated as a terrorist organization under United States law and described by State Department officials as a repressive cult despised by most Iranians and Iraqis. The extraordinary lobbying effort to reverse the terrorist designation of the group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen, has won the support of two former C.I.A. directors, R. James Woolsey and Porter J. Goss; a former F.B.I. director, Louis J. Freeh; a former attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey; President George W. Bush’s first homeland security chief, Tom Ridge; President Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones; big-name Republicans like the former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Democrats like the former Vermont governor Howard Dean; and even the former top counterterrorism official of the State Department, Dell L. Dailey, who argued unsuccessfully for ending the terrorist label while in office. The American advocates have been well paid, hired through their speaking agencies and collecting fees of $10,000 to $50,000 for speeches on behalf of the Iranian group. Some have been flown to Paris, Berlin and Brussels for appearances. But they insist that their motive is humanitarian — to protect and resettle about 3,400 members of the group, known as the M.E.K., now confined in a camp in Iraq. They say the terrorist label, which dates to 1997 and then reflected decades of violence that included the killing of some Americans in the 1970s, is now outdated, unjustified and dangerous.