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“A Big Problem Is Brewing”: This Could Be A Career Ender For Michele Bachmann

With a special investigator soon to be appointed by the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, the ethics cloud hovering over Rep. Michele Bachmann could quickly become a major problem for the Tea Party hero, experts tell Salon.

“This is very serious,” said Craig Holman, a government ethics lobbyist at liberal-leaning watchdog group Public Citizen. “It’s not Watergate, or at least not yet, but these are a series of allegations that are each serious on their own, and when you put them all together, this could be a career ender for Michele Bachmann.”

Ken Boehm, chairman of the conservative-leaning National Legal and Policy Center, told Salon that we should wait to see what investigators find — indeed, no wrongdoing has been reported so far — though he acknowledged the escalating scrutiny could be a major headache for the congresswoman down the line.

The Iowa investigation, looking into whether the campaign improperly paid a state senator, is just one of at least three different probes examining a range of allegations related to Bachmann’s failed presidential campaign, including charges that she improperly used campaign funds to promote her book, that her campaign “launder[ed]” money, and that one of her staffers stole an email list from a home-school organization.

Two former staffers, including her former chief of staff, have agreed to testify against Bachmann, which Holman said is “very unusual” and something that will push investigators at the Federal Elections Commission and the Office of Congressional Ethics, each of which reportedly has its own investigations into the campaign, to take the matter seriously.

OCE can’t issue penalties itself, but instead refers matters to the House Ethics Committee, where the range of potential punishments is huge, from a letter of censure to expulsion from the House, though the committee has a reputation for partisan gridlock and could easily sidestep the matter. FEC violations, meanwhile, come with civil fines, but the commission is even more notoriously ineffectual than the Ethics Committee.

The real punishment, even if no wrongdoing is found, would likely instead come in November of next year, when Bachmann will face off against Democrat Jim Graves, whom she beat by less than 4,500 votes in 2012. The race presents real challenges for Graves, as turnout will be lower without a presidential race, and the district remains the most conservative in Minnesota.

But Professor Larry Jacobs, who runs the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at University of Minnesota, says the ethics questions are a “big problem” for Bachmann. “There are a lot of things a conviction politician like Michele Bachmann can withstand, and being attacked by Democrats is definitely one of them. But the kind of krypton that will disable her is having her convictions challenged,” he told Salon.

Some supporters will no doubt stick by her, and refuse to believe the veracity of any charges (see: Glenn Beck), but others may not. “These charges are particularly damaging because they cut to the core of her greatest strength among her followers, which is her authenticity. This cloud of questions has now enveloped her in the ‘usual politics’ label and what I’ve heard from her supporters — and this is obviously not a scientific sample — is, ‘she’s just like the rest of them,’” Jacobs added.

For his part, Graves isn’t ready to make an issue of the ethics questions — yet. “We aren’t going to make any assumptions,” he told Salon. “We’re confident in the bipartisan process responsible for investigating this matter. The truth will set you free — or otherwise. I’m just disappointed at how long this issue has had to go on, creating another distraction from the real needs and concerns of Minnesotans.”

Bachmann’s core supporters will probably never vote for a Democrat, but they might stay home, which could be trouble in a low-turnout race like midterms generally are. Still, Jacobs guesses that Bachmann hangs on for another cycle, but barely. And if the ethics questions get worse, that prediction might change.

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 2, 2013

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unfinished Business”: Next Time, The NRA Will Lose

How stupid does the Senate background-check vote look now, I ask the pundits and others who thought it was dumb politics for Obama and the Democrats to push for a vote that they obviously knew they were going to lose. I’d say not very stupid at all. The nosedive taken in the polls by a number of senators who voted against the bill, most of them in red states, makes public sentiment here crystal clear. And now, for the first time since arguably right after the Reagan assassination attempt—a damn long time, in other words—legislators in Washington are feeling political heat on guns that isn’t coming from the NRA. This bill will come back to the Senate, maybe before the August recess, and it already seems possible and maybe even likely to have 60 votes next time.

You’ve seen the poll results showing at least five senators who voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill losing significant support. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire is the only one of the five from a blue state, so it’s probably not surprising that she lost the most, 15 points. But Lisa Murkowski in Alaska lost about as much in net terms. Alaska’s other senator, Democrat Mark Begich, lost about half that. Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Jeff Flake of Arizona also tumbled.

Egad. Could it possibly be that those pre-vote polls of all these states by Mayor Bloomberg’s group were … right? All the clever people pooh-poohed them, because, well, they were done by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and because it just seemed impossible that 70 percent of people from a red state could support the bill. But the polls were evidently right, or at least a lot closer to right than the brilliant minds who laughed at Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey and Harry Reid.

Something remarkable is happening here. Now, the pressure is on the other side. It’s on the NRA—gathering this Friday and Saturday, incidentally, for its annual convention, its first annual convention since Newtown. I think you’ll agree with me that the group has put a tremendous amount of thought into how to change its image, do a little outreach, present a picture of itself that will confound its critics. Or not: Sarah Palin will open the meeting, and Glenn Beck will close it. The list of eight political speakers—current and former elected officials plus John Bolton—features not a single Democrat. They’re really battening down the hatches.

And they are going to lose. I talked with a couple of knowledgeable sources about what’s going on now. Five Republicans, I’m told, have expressed some degree of interest in the bill: Ayotte, who would appear be a near-certainty to switch her vote; Flake, also a likely; Murkowski; Dean Heller of Nevada; and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Tennessee seems like a tough state to be from when casting such a vote as a Republican, but Corker is someone who at least tries once in a while to have conversations with Democrats.

On the Democratic side, as you’ll recall, four Democrats voted against Manchin-Toomey: Begich, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus of Montana. I’m told that Begich would like to switch, just needs to figure out how he can get there. Heitkamp is a bigger question mark. Pryor is probably lost.

That leaves Baucus. Shortly after the last vote, he announced he was retiring. That ought to mean that he should feel free enough to vote for the bill this time. It’s hard to know what Baucus actually believes—if that matters. He has a solid NRA career rating, but he’s cast enough votes the other way (supporting the assault weapons ban and the Brady waiting period) to make the other side suspicious. Before he announced he was quitting, the NRA was running ads against him.

What he believes may matter less than how he wants to spend his Senate afterlife. If he wants to stay in Washington and make money, he’ll be more likely to vote for Manchin-Toomey, because he’ll be dependent to some extent on Democratic money networks that were furious with him after the vote. If he just wants to move back to Montana, who knows.

That’s eight potential switches, where six are needed. One of those six, remember, is sure to be Harry Reid. He cast a procedural no vote because only senators who vote against a bill can bring it to the floor again, but obviously, if it is going to pass, he’ll vote for it. Even so getting to 60 will still be a heavy lift. And then there’s the House. So certain matters remain unclear.

But some things are quite clear. Manchin and Toomey deserve great credit for sticking with this. Democrat Kay Hagan of North Carolina, also up for reelection next year but a supporter of the bill, is every bit as at risk as Pryor and Begich are, and she makes them look like cowards. And clearest of all is the fact that, far from that vote being some kind of devastating blow to Obama or the Democratic Party, it accomplished a lot. It pulled a few bricks loose from the wall. Next time, that wall just might crumble.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 2, 2013

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Background Checks, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Watchdog Or Lapdog”: Big Corporations And Wall Street Still Hiding CEO Pay Ratios

Corporations are obligated to disclose how much their CEOs earn compared to the average worker, thanks to Section 953(b) of the financial reforms of 2010 known as Dodd-Frank.

However, three years after that bill became law, some of the nation’s largest corporations are battling regulators to prevent such disclosure, according to Bloomberg.

“The fact that corporate executives wouldn’t want to display the number speaks volumes,” said Phil Angelides, who was the chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which investigated the collapse that led to the Great Recession.

Angelides says that the attempt to block this provision is just one example of the “street-by-street, block-by-block fight” that corporations and Wall Street are waging against implementation of the modest reform package that passed only after it was weakened to garner Republican support in the Senate.

Groups including the American Insurance Association, Business Roundtable, National Investor Relations Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have petitioned the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), making the argument that “it is unclear how the pay ratio disclosure will be material for the reasonable investor when making investment decisions.” They claim that calculating such ratios is time consuming and almost impossible for multinational corporations.

Without obligated disclosure, there’s no clear way to assess CEO-to-worker ratio. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported large-company CEO compensation was 319 times the median worker’s pay. Currently the average multiple of CEOs to a typical worker is 204 — up 20 percent since 2009, according to statistics collected from workers’ compensation estimates.

Bloomberg‘s Elliot Blair Smith and Phil Kuntz point to Ron Johnson, the recently ousted CEO of J.C. Penney, who earned a whopping 1,795 times what a typical $8.30-an-hour JCP salesperson took home.

The AFL-CIO has been attempting to counter the corporate lobbying with an effort to make the SEC put in place what is already law.

“The impact of high levels of CEO pay on employee morale is particularly important in today’s weak economy, when workers are being asked to do more for less,” suggests an online petition it is circulating to pass on to the government regulators.

“Estimates by academics and trade-union groups put the number at 20-to-1 in the 1950s, rising to 42-to-1 in 1980 and 120-to-1 by 2000,” Smith and Kuntz write.

Even if corporations are forced to disclose how much their top executive is paid, there are a variety of ways for them to cloak compensation.

Still the Campaign for America’s future calls enforcing Section 953(b) a crucial test for new SEC chair Mary Jo White to find out if she’ll be a “watchdog or a lap dog for Wall Street.”

 

By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, May 2, 2013

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Corporations | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Word On Obamabot-ism”: The Republican Party Is A Radical Oppositionist Party

I don’t mind being called an Obamabot. I mean, I’ve written a few columns about the guy that were brutal, tougher than anything Dowd’s written, especially at the time of the debt ceiling fiasco. But I understand the game, and it doesn’t bother me.

I have something I wish to make crystal clear, however. If it seems to you (I mean you, pumpkinface!) that I’m always excusing Obama, you’re misreading me. I am instead seeking to cast blame where it properly belongs. And that is almost always the Republican Party. I’ve said all this a jillion times before, but it is simply not a mainstream political party in the traditional American sense. It is a radical oppositionalist faction, way beyond the normal American parameters both in terms of ideology and tactics. And that needs to be pointed out, unfortunately, again and again and again.

Just today, Pat Toomey said of the background-check bill:

“In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”

A helpful admission on his part, and a rare piece of Republican candor. But this is the case time after time after time. It’s not normal. It’s not–and I mean not remotely–“the same thing” the Democrats did under Bush. Today’s GOP is a complete historical outlier.

Yes, I’m sure there were many Democrats who didn’t want to hand Reagan or either Bush a political victory. But historically, that is one of a handful of legislative considerations, and not even the first. Probably more like the fourth, after votes and money and what’s right for the country. But today’s GOP has turned it into iron law. It is relentlessly destructive.

On the subject of Gitmo, which I wrote about yesterday: In normal America, when a presidential candidate says he wants to do X once in office and then wins the election by a significant margin, Congress usually does X. The opposition party always attaches strings and conditions and so forth, but they obey the will of the people. Democrats, enough of them, led by Tip O’Neill, put Reagan’s programs through. Same thing with Bush’s tax cuts. (Republicans did not grant Clinton the same courtesy, but as bad as they were then, they’re worse now.)

So in normal America, a deal would have been worked out whereby Gitmo would close. After all, remember, the Republican candidate in 2008 supported closing Gitmo too. It was the GOP’s position! And yet, once Obama as president wanted to do it, they killed it cold in 2009.

They have been blocking it ever since. Here’s a vote on the question of use of funds to transfer Gitmo detainees from last November, after Obama had been handily reelected. Every Republican present voted no. Every one.

That was on an amendment to the defense reauthorization. That passed, and Obama signed it. But he issued a statement to accompany the signing explaining that he was dead-set against the provisions I referred to in this morning’s post. Under the Constitution, of course, there is no line-item veto; a president either signs or vetoes an entire bill. This was a defense authorization, so he signed. But he made his position crystal clear. Here’s the letter for you to see.

I’m sure there’s more he could have done or could now be doing. But wouldn’t you get a little discouraged? Oh, fucking hell, he thinks to himself at 3 am. Yes, I want to keep this promise I made. But why should I bang my head against that particular wall again? If I’m for it, they’re against it. I won’t get one Republican vote.

He is, obviously, a flawed human being; aloof, a little superior, not especially warm (so it seems), and no, he doesn’t scare anybody. He has all of these flaws and more. Maybe a different human being could get Susan Collins or Rob Portman or Lamar Alexander to vote his way once in a while.

But I don’t really think so. Collins and Portman and Alexander and others are, I’m certain, a little ashamed of their party today, and of themselves. But they are afraid of the right-wing agitprop media and their hard-shell base (and of course the threat of a primary from the right). So they don’t have the guts to the right thing, and they likely never will.

So it’s not that I’m always straining to defend Obama, although I can understand how it ends up looking that way. I am trying to tell as many people as I can that this Republican Party is extreme and wholly against American norms and traditions. And I think any opinion writer who isn’t saying this over and over is, in ascending order of likelihood, lying, dense, or deceiving him or herself.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 1, 2013

May 3, 2013 Posted by | GITMO, Politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Managing Expectations”: How Conservatives Are Helping Obamacare

Yuval Levin, among other conservatives, has made an offer to liberals: Let’s delay the implementation of Obamacare for a year and make everybody better off:

Congressional Democrats surely want to avoid being blamed for a meltdown of American health care during a congressional election year, the people implementing this law at every level could certainly use the time, and Republicans believe that more time would not make Obamacare more popular but would allow them to further develop and articulate their alternatives (and allow another election to intervene earlier in the rollout process, making a replacement more plausible).

Liberals, wisely, are saying no. What’s funny about this conversation is that conservatives have been accidentally managing expectations for implementation: By harping constantly on what a disaster the rollout is going to be, they will make what actually happens look good by comparison.

Jonathan Cohn has a good piece in the New Republic arguing that implementation won’t be as bad as people are saying. This is his really important observation:

Notice that the worries about implementation chaos apply strictly to people who would otherwise be uninsured or at the mercy of the existing individual insurance market, in which plans are inconsistently priced, full of coverage holes, and of unpredictable reliability — and in which financial assistance for buying private coverage is not available at all. Even if it takes these people a while to get insurance, and even if finding that coverage is a maddening experience, they’re going to end up with something they don’t have now: Coverage that meets more of their needs and is available to them, with substantial financial assistance. Don’t forget: Today, people with pre-existing medical conditions frequently cannot get any coverage on the individual market.

This is something that has been lost in the discussion of Obamacare implementation difficulties:

Implementation won’t much affect the 78 percent of Americans currently covered through Medicaid, Medicare, or employer group health plans. It will make some people who currently buy individual coverage worse off. But only 5 percent of Americans get insurance through the individual market, which is already hugely dysfunctional. Three times as many Americans are currently uninsured, and they can only stand to gain from Obamacare implementation, even if it does not go smoothly.

For those 5 percent who buy individual coverage now, the new law will be a mixed bag. Some people will probably have frustrating bureaucratic experiences with the new exchanges that they didn’t have buying directly from insurers. And some people (particularly young and healthy people) will see their premiums go up. But others will see their premiums go down, either because they currently pay a lot because of age or health status, or because income-based premium subsidies will more than offset any premium increase.

There will also be people who lose group health coverage, when premium subsidies make it attractive for their employers to send them to shop in the exchanges. (Others will gain group coverage if employers decide it is better to offer it than to pay a penalty for uninsured workers.) But neither this effect nor any problems faced by people with existing individual insurance is likely to create a clamor for repeal that is any more effective than the din of the last three years.

That is because the most obvious way to fix the problem of those who have trouble in the health exchanges will be to fix the exchanges, not repeal them. Let’s say your employer dropped group coverage and you’re having trouble with the exchange. Will you want the whole law repealed in the hope that will lead your employer to reverse course and offer a group plan again? Or will you want the exchange fixed so you are guaranteed access to coverage?

Cohn looks back to Medicare Part D and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and argues that those programs got through their rocky implementations in large part because benefits obtained with bureaucratic difficulty are better than no benefits at all. He’s right, and this is why conservatives are “magnanimously” offering to delay implementation of Obamacare. They realize that once people have guaranteed access to health coverage, they won’t want to give it up, even if there are implementation problems.

The political landscape is already dire for those who still hope to repeal Obamacare, and they’re actually making their position worse by talking constantly about what a nightmare implementation is going to be. This fall, as the exchanges come on line, tens of millions of people are going to find they can get health coverage they never could before. They are likely to be quite happy about that, especially if they’ve been hearing for months in advance that it will be a mess.

 

By: Josh Barro, Bloomberg, April  29, 2013

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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