In an interesting Washington Post article, Professor Heather Gerken has proposed with co-authors a new strategy to advance  a core reform objective, the enhancement of transparency, as other options seemingly dwindle after CItizens United and McCutcheon. Heather is well known and well-respected for just such an insistence on thinking beyond the well-traveled, now largely exhausted policy choices. A good example is the Democracy Index, which she constructed to “harness politics to fix politics,” by generating political incentives for the improvement of performance on election administration through the publication of public rankings.
Category: Disclosure

Fiascos and Matters of Degree

March 27, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer
The most recent issue of Election Law Journal offers interesting writing on lobbying. One of the articles, Money, Priorities and Stalemate: How Lobbying Affects Public Policy, is a study by Professor Frank R. Baumgartner and several colleagues who show that there is an unimpressive relationship between the resources devoted to lobbying and particular outcomes that the lobbyists had hoped to bring about. The authors do not suggest that the money put behind lobbying has no effect, only that we should understand better the nature of the effect and its limits. A number of factors, they argue, are relevant to the measurement of lobbying success, including the capacity of lobbyists to hold the attention of lawmakers who must choose among a broad range of issues in allocating their time. The co-authors of this study also stress that many of the advantages possessed by well-established interests are already "baked in" to public policy, and therein lies a major advantage: that it is much harder to change a policy than to establish one.

The FEC and the Making of Law “Case-by-Case”

March 13, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer
A conflict—the latest in the series—has broken out among FEC Commissioners about whether they have made public all relevant material on the General Counsel’s  view of Crossroads GPS and whether it is a "political committee."  In one report, the GC concluded that the evidence supported further investigation of the question, but the Commission deadlocked, and now a private lawsuit is looming.  Republicans seem to believe that the public record is incomplete and that the missing GC analysis would have a bearing on the legal merits of Crossroads’ position.   Whatever the facts of the matter, this ruckus reminds readers once again of the troubled condition of the Commission’s “case-by-case,” fact-specific approach to determining “political committee” status.
After Brad Smith of the Center for Competitive Politics took to the pages of The Wall Street Journal to criticize the IRS’s proposed rules on tax-exempt political activity, Paul Ryan of the Campaign legal Center answered in a letter to the editor. Smith had complained about an agency "power grab" cheered on by anti-speech zealots on the left. Ryan's villain was the same—the IRS—but in this instance he depicted an agency struggling to its feet after years of “derelict” failure to police special interest misuse of the law.
Professor Pamela Karlan would have the Supreme Court be more attentive to the impact of its decisions on the current pathologies of American politics. She points out how cases like the one the Court will decide shortly here on recess appointments bear directly on the capacity of the government to function. See Nat'l Labor Relations Bd. v. Canning, No. 12-1281 (S. Ct. docketed Apr. 25, 2013). Then, toward the end of her piece, Karlan ties in campaign finance reform. The Court's decisions on political spending can either “lower the temperature” of contemporary politics or further inflame it. Karlan sees the court as performing poorly on this score in the past, as in Citizens United, and as poised to make the same mistake in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.