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“What Are They Thinking?”: The Many (Possible) Motivations Of The GOP’s Many 2016 Candidates

The list of Republican presidential candidates seems to be getting longer by the day. On Wednesday, Rick Santorum entered the race, and on Thursday, former New York Governor George Pataki is expected to do the same. Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, now counts 18 likely contenders. And yet, only a few have much of a real chance of winning: Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio lead the pack, followed by Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

So why, if you’re Pataki, run at all?

“Pataki—I’m puzzled about this,” Sabato told the New Yorker last month. “I don’t even know what he’s been doing. Has he been on corporate boards?”

Indeed, Pataki hasn’t held office since 2006, and he declined to run for president in the past two cycles. But a number of other 2016 entrants are equally puzzling: Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, who has never held public office; Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and Tea Party favorite; Mike Huckabee, the ex-Arkansas governor. Even Donald Trump is threatening to run.

Why run as a dead-in-the-water candidate? Maybe God tapped them to run (“I feel fingers,” said Carson). Maybe they want to influence the public policy debate. Maybe they want to return to the spotlight. Or maybe they genuinely believe they can win. After all, in 2012, five different candidates held the lead at some point, including pizza mogul Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Mitt Romney won, as expected, but for a while there—especially after Santorum’s early wins in Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri—2012 looked like it could be anyone’s election.

But there are other motivations, too. As four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader recently explained: “You can fatten your mailing list and your Rolodex for future opportunities. These can include lucrative jobs, retainers, paid speeches or book advances.” Other potential motivatations include selling books, booking speaking gigs, getting a coveted appointment, or just getting an old-fashioned ego boost.

Pataki, for instance, is on a few corporate boards, like the environmental consulting firm he formed called the Pataki-Cahill group, and serves as a counsel for the law firm Chadbourne in New York. He’s represented by the Greater Talent Network. In 1998, Pataki ran into trouble for collecting $17,000 per speech while in office, but it’s not clear that he’s given any recent paid speeches: Speakerpedia, which has multiple speech reports for all of the candidates below, has zero for Pataki.

After 2012, Santorum created a movie production company, EchoLight, which produces Christian films featuring the likes of Corbin Bernsen and Brian Dennehy. Last year, Santorum released Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works, a campaign manifesto masquerading as a book. On top of that, he had $455,000 in 2012 campaign debts as of March. To pay the bills, he rented out his list of supporters for a total $37,000 this year, according to the Center for Public Integrity. He also gets paid up to $25,000 per speech, according to Speakerpedia.

Huckabee knows this tactic well. He’s rented his email list of supporters to a group that claimed to have found the cure to cancer in a verse of the Bible. His last bid for president in 2008 paid off well, earning him his own show on Fox News that he ended this year. Speakerpedia says he makes as much as $50,000 per speech.

Carly Fiorina, whose 2010 Senate bid failed, is a popular speaker as well; she’s represented by the Celebrity Speakers Bureau and reportedly can top $100,000 per speech. Her latest book, Rising to the Challenge, came out the same week in May that she announced her candidacy. Many believe Fiorina is vying to be the vice presidential pick (she’s a long shot for that, too), which she denies.

Ben Carson has no less than six books to hawk, the most recent of which, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Succeed, came out in 2014. And according to National Review, “the possible Republican candidate’s schedule includes paid speaking engagements running into the autumn of 2015 — many months after he’s expected to declare his official candidacy.” Those engagements may pay as much as $50,000 each.

As for Donald Trump—well, maybe he just wants a few million more Twitter followers to troll.


By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republican, May 28, 2015

May 31, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rick Santorum | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Polluted Political Games”: Our Entire Money-Based Political System Is Institutionalized Sleaze

I’ve admired the Clintons’ foundation for years for its fine work on AIDS and global poverty, and I’ve moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative. Yet with each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest from speaking fees of $500,000 for the former president, I have wondered: What were they thinking?

But the problem is not precisely the Clintons. It’s our entire disgraceful money-based political system. Look around:

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey accepted flights and playoff tickets from the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, who has business interests Christie can affect.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has received financial assistance from a billionaire, Norman Braman, and has channeled public money to Braman’s causes.

Jeb Bush likely has delayed his formal candidacy because then he would have to stop coordinating with his “super PAC” and raising money for it. He is breaching at least the spirit of the law.

When problems are this widespread, the problem is not crooked individuals but perverse incentives from a rotten structure.

“There is a systemic corruption here,” says Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money. “It’s kind of baked in.”

Most politicians are good people. Then they discover that money is the only fuel that makes the system work and sometimes step into the bog themselves.

Money isn’t a new problem, of course. John F. Kennedy was accused of using his father’s wealth to buy elections. In response, he joked that he had received the following telegram from his dad: “Don’t buy another vote. I won’t pay for a landslide!”

Yet Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s labor secretary and now chairman of the national governing board of Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group, notes that inequality has hugely exacerbated the problem. Billionaires adopt presidential candidates as if they were prize racehorses. Yet for them, it’s only a hobby expense.

For example, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson donated $92 million to super PACs in the 2012 election cycle; as a share of their net worth, that was equivalent to $300 from the median American family. So a multibillionaire can influence a national election for the same sacrifice an average family bears in, say, a weekend driving getaway.

Money doesn’t always succeed, of course, and billionaires often end up wasting money on campaigns. According to The San Jose Mercury News, Meg Whitman spent $43 per vote in her failed campaign for governor of California in 2010, mostly from her own pocket. But Michael Bloomberg won his 2009 re-election campaign for mayor of New York City after, according to the New York Daily News, spending $185 of his own money per vote.

The real bargain is lobbying — and that’s why corporations spend 13 times as much lobbying as they do contributing to campaigns, by the calculations of Lee Drutman, author of a recent book on lobbying.

The health care industry hires about five times as many lobbyists as there are members of Congress. That’s a shrewd investment. Drug company lobbyists have prevented Medicare from getting bulk discounts, amounting to perhaps $50 billion a year in extra profits for the sector.

Likewise, lobbying has carved out the egregious carried interest tax loophole, allowing many financiers to pay vastly reduced tax rates. In that respect, money in politics both reflects inequality and amplifies it.

Lobbyists exert influence because they bring a potent combination of expertise and money to the game. They gain access, offer a well-informed take on obscure issues — and, for a member of Congress, you think twice before biting the hand that feeds you.

The Supreme Court is partly to blame for the present money game, for its misguided rulings that struck down limits in campaign spending by corporations and unions and the overall political donation cap for individuals.

Still, President Obama could take one step that would help: an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose all political contributions.

“President Obama could bring the dark money into the sunlight in time for the 2016 election,” notes Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. “It’s the single most tangible thing anyone could do to expose the dark money that is now polluting politics.”

I’ve covered corrupt regimes all over the world, and I find it ineffably sad to come home and behold institutionalized sleaze in the United States.

Reich told me that for meaningful change to arrive, “voters need to reach a point of revulsion.” Hey, folks, that time has come.


By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 28, 2015

May 31, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Donors, Campaign Financing, Lobbyists | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Insecure American”: Members Of Our Political Elite Seem To Have No Sense Of How The Other Half Lives

America remains, despite the damage inflicted by the Great Recession and its aftermath, a very rich country. But many Americans are economically insecure, with little protection from life’s risks. They frequently experience financial hardship; many don’t expect to be able to retire, and if they do retire have little to live on besides Social Security.

Many readers will, I hope, find nothing surprising in what I just said. But all too many affluent Americans — and, in particular, members of our political elite — seem to have no sense of how the other half lives. Which is why a new study on the financial well-being of U.S. households, conducted by the Federal Reserve, should be required reading inside the Beltway.

Before I get to that study, a few words about the callous obliviousness so prevalent in our political life.

I am not, or not only, talking about right-wing contempt for the poor, although the dominance of compassionless conservatism is a sight to behold. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three-quarters of conservatives believe that the poor “have it easy” thanks to government benefits; only 1 in 7 believe that the poor “have hard lives.” And this attitude translates into policy. What we learn from the refusal of Republican-controlled states to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would foot the bill, is that punishing the poor has become a goal in itself, one worth pursuing even if it hurts rather than helps state budgets.

But leave self-declared conservatives and their contempt for the poor on one side. What’s really striking is the disconnect between centrist conventional wisdom and the reality of life — and death — for much of the nation.

Take, as a prime example, positioning on Social Security. For decades, a declared willingness to cut Social Security benefits, especially by raising the retirement age, has been almost a required position — a badge of seriousness — for politicians and pundits who want to sound wise and responsible. After all, people are living longer, so shouldn’t they work longer, too? And isn’t Social Security an old-fashioned system, out of touch with modern economic realities?

Meanwhile, the reality is that living longer in our ever-more-unequal society is very much a class thing: life expectancy at age 65 has risen a lot among the affluent, but hardly at all in the bottom half of the wage distribution, that is, among those who need Social Security most. And while the retirement system F.D.R. introduced may look old-fashioned to affluent professionals, it is quite literally a lifeline for many of our fellow citizens. A majority of Americans over 65 get more than half their income from Social Security, and more than a quarter are almost completely reliant on those monthly checks.

These realities may finally be penetrating political debate, to some extent. We seem to be hearing less these days about cutting Social Security, and we’re even seeing some attention paid to proposals for benefit increases given the erosion of private pensions. But my sense is that Washington still has no clue about the realities of life for those not yet elderly. Which is where that Federal Reserve study comes in.

This is the study’s second year, and the current edition actually portrays a nation in recovery: in 2014, unlike 2013, a substantial plurality of respondents said that they were better off than they had been five years ago. Yet it’s startling how little room for error there is in many American lives.

We learn, for example, that 3 in 10 nonelderly Americans said they had no retirement savings or pension, and that the same fraction reported going without some kind of medical care in the past year because they couldn’t afford it. Almost a quarter reported that they or a family member had experienced financial hardship in the past year.

And something that even startled me: 47 percent said that they would not have the resources to meet an unexpected expense of $400 — $400! They would have to sell something or borrow to meet that need, if they could meet it at all.

Of course, it could be much worse. Social Security is there, and we should be very glad that it is. Meanwhile, unemployment insurance and food stamps did a lot to cushion unlucky families from the worst during the Great Recession. And Obamacare, imperfect as it is, has immensely reduced insecurity, especially in states whose governments haven’t tried to sabotage the program.

But while things could be worse, they could also be better. There is no such thing as perfect security, but American families could easily have much more security than they have. All it would take is for politicians and pundits to stop talking blithely about the need to cut “entitlements” and start looking at the way their less-fortunate fellow citizens actually live.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 29, 2015

May 31, 2015 Posted by | Economy, Great Recession, Poor and Low Income, Social Security | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How ‘Public Servant’ Hastert Got His Riches”: An Indictment Of D.C.’s “Revolving Door” Money Culture

Not-so-frequently Asked Questions About the Hastert Indictment.

It’s clear that the indictment of Dennis Hastert has raised more questions than it’s provided answers. But I suspect a lot of people are asking the wrong ones. Hastert’s “misconduct” may turn out to be of sexually predatory nature, in which case talk of how much his reputation is worth is picayune compared the nature of the crime. But there are questions about what he did that are applicable to the entire industry he represents.

The most obvious question, that’s also the least relevant for most Americans: What is the “misconduct” that Hastert is alleged to have been trying to cover up?

This is an important question, to be sure, but indicting Hastert on the financial charges and lying to investigators rather than on whatever misconduct occurred seems to indicate that those charges were the best investigators could come up with. Presumably, if the misconduct was illegal, they’d have mentioned that—and indicted him for it. If the conduct was sexual abuse, as sources are saying, then the statute of limitations has run out. It follows that Hastert wasn’t paying hush money to stay out of jail, he was protecting his reputation.

A better question, and one that many Washington watchdogs leapt on quickly: How did Hastert happen to have enough money lying around that paying out $3.5 million was even within the realm of possibility?

Hastert’s ability to participate in the blackmail is, after all, itself a general indictment of D.C.’s “revolving door” money culture, in which former lawmakers move easily from government into lobbying. In Hastert’s case, the ability to profit off of one’s legislative position is especially galling: While in office, Hastert used the earmarking process to turn his investment in some Illinois farmland into a profit of 140 percent when a federal highway project just happened to make its way through those very fields. Indeed, it was this instance of a completely legal form of insider trading that helped prompt Congress to end earmarks.

And, of course, Hastert made even more money once he was out of office. One study found that, on average—and when the information is publicly available—former lawmakers get a 1,425 percent raise when they make the jump from Capitol Hill to K Street. Hastert, who was worth between $4 million and $17 million when he left Congress, was making $175,000 as a representative. His K Street bump would be to almost $2.5 million a year.

Okay, he made his money as a lobbyist, doing presumably sneaky lobbyist things. That raises the next question: How can Hastert’s reputation even be worth $3.5 million?

Hastert is a former member of Congress known to have profited off of a shady land deal and he’s a registered lobbyist—these are already the two professions that Americans regard as the most disreputable careers available. They are literally last (lobbyist) and second-to-last (congressman) on Gallup’s list of what jobs Americans regard as “honest” and “ethical.” What would one have to do to be thought even less of?

Given the ickiness of what has been reported, it might not be good to think about that question too hard, so let’s turn that question on its head: What kind of reputation could be worth spending $3.5 million to protect?

To consider $3.5 million a reasonable sum to spend on protecting one’s reputation, presumably it has to be worth a lot more than that. And, indeed, in the context of the lobbying world, $3.5 million just isn’t that much money. Especially considering that Hastert was apparently making pay-offs over time. Special interest groups spent almost 1000 times that—$3.2 billion—in 2015 alone. If Hastert viewed protecting his reputation as a kind of investment in future earnings, $3.5 million is on the scale of buying an alarm system for your home, not buying a whole other house.

And, it’s important to remember, what Hastert was covering up with that hush money was not a “reputation” as an average citizen might conceive of it: something akin to honor or trustworthiness or fidelity. A lobbyist’s reputation, after all, actually hinges on his or her established lack of principles. A lobbying client for someone who is a former member of Congress is paying a premium for that person’s willingness to engage in barely-legal favor-trading. A lobbyist’s prices go up the more corrupt he is. Who wants to hire an honest one?


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, May 30, 2015

May 31, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Dennis Hastert, Lobbyists | , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Many Rebrandings Of Rick Santorum”: In The Middle Of At Least His Third Rebranding, And He’s Just Not Very Good At It

Rick Santorum is often portrayed as a stubborn man of principle, an unusual politician who’ll run for president in the face of terrible poll numbers, and despite an electorate increasingly hostile to his unsettlingly passionate social conservatism. But this isn’t really true. Santorum, who announced his 2016 presidential candidacy on Wednesday, is in the middle of at least his third rebranding. He’s just not very good at it.

In his announcement speech in Western Pennsylvania, Santorum pitched himself as a defender of the working man who also happens to be a foreign policy expert. Santorum bragged that in an issue of ISIS’s online magazine, Dabiq, “under the headline ‘In the Words of Our Enemy’ was my picture and a quote. … They know who I am, and I know who they are!” To be clear, while it would be unsettling to find your face in an ISIS magazine, it’s not that hard to get ISIS to know who you are. You basically just have to talk about ISIS. In the same section, Dabiq quoted two other “enemies”: Virginia State Senator Richard Black and former CIA officer Gary Berntsen, a frequent Fox and Friends guest who has less than 1,600 followers on Twitter. Gary 2016!

For someone who is supposedly dedicated to what he thinks is right, not what is popular, a list of Santorum’s political books makes for a decent guide to the trends of the Republican Party of the last ten years. It Takes a Family, released in 2005, was a rebuttal to Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village. It is concerned with apparently controversial social issues such as women working outside the home. His 2012 book American Patriots, printed on faux antique paper, is a Tea Partyish celebration of Revolutionary War-era Americans “heroes and heroines from all walks of life” (not just white guys). Last year’s Blue Collar Conservatives is about helping the working class. (“There was a time not long ago when Americans without college degrees could expect to earn a decent and steady income in exchange for hard work.”) His publisher says, “Santorum provides a game plan for Republicans to bounce back, regain popularity, and return to the party’s original values.” It’s less a game plan for the party’s comeback than one for Santorum’s.

Santorum tried to remake himself in both of his last two losing campaigns, in 2006 and 2012. His political career began in the 90s, when Republicans were focused on welfare reform and teen moms and the crime rate, and he ran with those issues. He campaigned on welfare reform, he said single moms were “breeding more criminals” and that politicians shouldn’t be afraid of “kicking them in the butt.” The target of that kind of rhetoric was not lost on black voters at the time. But for a while, it worked really well. The Harrisburg Patriot News reported in July 2005, “A Santorum victory in a state that has voted Democratic in recent presidential elections would solidify his reputation within the GOP and with conservatives nationally. It would also add fuel to a rumored 2008 presidential run, party officials and analysts said.” Maybe that’s why Santorum keeps running these long-shot campaigns. He was promised this, and he can’t believe it didn’t work out for him.

But by summer 2005, Santorum was clearly in trouble, trailing opponents by as much as 14 points in polls. He was closely tied to the increasingly unpopular president, and his social conservatism had started to rub people the wrong way. In 2002, Santorum had blamed the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal on Boston’s liberal culture. In 2003, he suggested that if we allowed gay marriage, we’d have to allow “man on child, man on dog.” It was “man on dog” that led to Santorum’s greatest branding issue: his Google problem. Sex columnist Dan Savage held a contest to turn “santorum” into a sex term. Savage’s rose in Google rankings to outrank the candidate’s campaign site. The top result is now a Wikipedia page for “Campaign for ‘santorum’ neologism,” where it remains a reminder of, if not the neologism, the way that Santorum was turned into an online joke by gay rights activists.

Going into his 2006 Senate reelection campaign, Santorum’s persona changed to reflect the times. Demographic trends meant bashing inner cities and women with jobs and gays had diminishing returns. The white share of the vote shrunk from 84.6 percent in 1992 to 76.3 in 2008, according to Pew Research Center. Opposition to gay marriage dropped more than 10 points from 1996 to 2006, though a majority still opposed it. In 2004, as Senate Republican Conference Committee chair, he met with presidents of historically black colleges and universities in an attempt to get the GOP to reach out to minorities. In 2005, The New York Times Magazine explained that Santorum was an earnest man of faith who’d earned endorsements from leaders in the African-American community in Philadelphia. In April 2006, his campaign staged a photo op in which Santorum packed up food for low-income people. (Alas, the TV news cameras did not show up.)

By July 2006, he was distributing a listicle titled ”Fifty Things You May Not Know About Rick Santorum,” which included warm and fuzzy items like cracking down on puppy millsThe New York Times reported:

He needs to reintroduce himself over the next four months, he said, to get beyond the stereotypes. …

A kinder, gentler Rick Santorum? ”People already know about the other stuff,” he said. ”You guys remind them every day about the other stuff. Let’s tell the rest of the story.”

The listicle did not stop the senator from losing by 18 points to now-Senator Bob Casey.

During the 2012 Republican primary, Santorum faced a very different electorate, and he reshaped himself to appeal to people hurt by the Great Recession, trying to distinguish himself as the voice of the working class. He called for manufacturing subsidies. He was the son of immigrants. His grandfather “sort of coal-mined his way to freedom.” (Back in 1994, Santorum talked about how his father got his “biggest break” with World War II; he escaped the mines through the G.I. Bill, which paid for his psychology degree.) He came out against the term “middle class” because it was some kind of class warfare. He even tried to recast his signature issues, telling a Michigan crowd in February 2012, “All reporters in the back, they say, ‘Oh there’s Santorum talking about social issues again.’ … No, I’m talking about freedom. I’m talking about government imposing themselves on your lives.”

Santorum stuck with his new blue-collar image after he lost to Mitt Romney. “When all you do is talk to people who are owners, talk to folks who are Type As who want to succeed economically, we’re talking to a very small group of people,” he said in 2013.

“I never went to a country club until I was in college,” Santorum told the National Review recently, like a true man of the people. But now he’s blue collar plus. National Review explained:

If he runs in 2016, he says, it won’t be as a candidate defined by his Catholic, socially conservative views. He’s been there and done that, he says. In 2016, he is more likely to define himself as an economic populist and foreign-policy hawk.

In the months before his official campaign announcement, Santorum started playing up the hawk thing. In April, Santorum said that in 2016, Republicans will be “going up against a secretary of state, someone with a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge in this area—most of it wrong—but someone who’s knowledgeable, someone who’s an expert.” That means they “need to look at someone to go up against Mrs. Clinton who has background experience and knowledge and has gotten it right when she’s gotten it wrong.” (They both supported the Iraq war.) He pointed to the eight years he served on the Senate Armed Services Committee. At the South Carolina Freedom Summit this month, Santorm said of ISIS, “If these folks want to return to a 7th Century version of Islam, then let’s load up our bombers and bomb them back to the 7th Century.”

“Going up against a potential nominee who’s a former secretary of state, it’d be good to have someone with more experience than just a briefing book for the debate,” Santorum told NPR recently. A couple weeks earlier, he told voters in Iowa, “We have to have a president who understands the difference between a friend and an enemy. … Iran, enemy. Israel, friend. It’s real simple.” Briefing book? No. Little Golden Book? Yes!

Given that he’s polling at about 2.3 percent, Santorum is likely hoping that the 2016 primary is something like 2012’s, and voters will cycle through alternatives to the mainstream moderate Republican candidate until they get to him. What can he do to get Americans’ attention? Voters rarely care that much about foreign policy. Santorum will try on a new identity. For the sake of entertainment, let’s hope he’ll try to compete with Hillary Clinton not on foreign policy but on being a champion of single ladies.


By: Elspeth Reeve,  Senior Editor, The New Republic, May 28, 2015

May 31, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Rick Santorum, Social Conservativism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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