My Latest

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Former NRCC Chairman Reynolds Cashes Out to K Street

[originally posted at Beltway Confidential]
Former Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., who served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has entered the lobbying industry. Reynolds, who finished his final House term in January, has joined the firm Nixon Peabody as a “senior strategic policy advisor.” Nixon Peabody is beefing up its previously small lobbying presence, with Reynolds as a marquis name in the expansion. Reynolds served on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Ethics laws prohibit Reynolds from lobbying the House before January 2011, but he can lobby the Senate, federal agencies, or state government.

Reynolds is the third Upstate New York congressman to retire after the 2008 elections and enter the lobbying world. Democratic Rep. Michael McNulty from Albany is already registered to lobby, and Syracuse Republican Rep. James Walsh has joined lobbying firm K&L Gates as an advisor.

Former Barney Frank staffer now top Goldman Sachs lobbyist

[originally posted at Beltway Confidential]
Goldman Sachs' new top lobbyist was recently the top staffer to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., on the House Financial Services Committee chaired by Frank. Michael Paese, a registered lobbyist for the Securities Industries and Financial Markets Association since he left Frank's committee in September, will join Goldman as director of government affairs, a role held last year by former Tom Daschle intimate, Mark Patterson, now the chief of staff at the Treasury Department. This is not Paese's first swing through the Wall Street-Congress revolving door: he previously worked at JP Morgan and Mercantile Bankshares, and in between served as senior minority counsel at the Financial Services Committee.

Politico reported this last week based on an anonymous source, and Bloomberg confirmed it today.

Why the insurers will win in Obama’s health reform

Health insurance reform is a marquis issue for President Obama and congressional Democrats, which makes it interesting that the health insurance industry--a bete noire for the Left--looks likely to craft the policy. My Examiner column today expounds on this theme:

While Obama and congressional Democrats will claim the insurers’ victory as a win for the forces of equality and progress, the more hard-core Left — the progressives who formed much of Obama’s base — will swallow this as a bitter pill or even a deal with the devil.

The industry will win because of its influence, but also because its proposed policies of bigger government with “pro-business” incentives are a combination that congressional leaders always favor.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Did DeMint endorsement of Toomey drive Specter off the cliff?

[originally posted at Beltway Confidential]
Last Thursday night on the Senate floor, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., told Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, then still a Republican, that DeMint would be supporting Specter’s rival, former Rep. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., in next year’s Senate Republican primary. DeMint says Specter “pretty much cut me off and said, ‘I’ve heard enough.’”

DeMint wouldn’t speculate whether this conversation spurred Specter to switch parties, but the conversation came within hours of the release of a poll showing Toomey leading Specter among primary voters 51 percent to 30 percent. “We knew Pat was going to win the primary,” DeMint said in a Capitol Hill interview Tuesday, minutes after Specter announced his move. “This [party switch] shouldn’t surprise anyone. It was a clever political move.”

DeMint had not yet gone public with his support for Toomey by the time Specter switched.
DeMint said Specter's switch “shows that there were not principles attaching Arlen to the Republican Party, but the Republican Party was the means to get elected.”

DeMint continued: “I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs."

Toomey had speculated in an interview with National Review's David Freddoso that Specter might leave the party before the primary, because Pennsylvania has a “sore loser law” that prevents primary losers from running for the same office on a different party line.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

100 Days, 100 Mistakes; Carney in the NY Post

The New York Post this weekend runs its 100 days feature titled "100 Days, 100 Mistakes." They invited me to write one of those mistakes--a sort of mini-essay. I picked Bill Richardson:

"Richardson's value in Obama's Cabinet had everything to do with appearances. First, he was the Hispanic pick. Second, because Richardson had run against Obama for President, tapping him for the Cabinet helped the media write the Obama-Lincoln comparisons by burnishing the 'Team of Rivals' image.

"But Richardson withdrew before Obama was even inaugurated when news came out about a criminal investigation involving David Rubin, president of a firm named Chambers, Dunhill, Rubin & Co. (although there was no Chambers or Dunhill), who had donated at least $110,000 to Richardson's campaign committees and had also profited from $1.5 million in contracts from the state government.

"This was an early warning sign about Obama's vetting process (various tax problems and the Daschle problem would reveal this as a theme), but picking Richardson to run Commerce also highlighted that Obama and Richardson's promise of 'public-private partnerships' -- such as Detroit bailouts, Wall Street bailouts, and green energy--was an open door for corruption and was at odds with Obama's promise to diminish the influence of lobbyists.

"The Richardson mistake was one of Obama's first, and it was emblematic. Richardson embodied Obama's attention to self-image and the problems inherent in his vision of an intimate business-government connection."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hollywood Protectionism on Trial in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO--On my first trip to California, I've done some reporting on a federal court case beginning today, in which the major Hollywood studios are suing a software maker whose software can make a single backup copy of a movie from a DVD onto your hard drive. My Examiner column discusses the case and its broader significance.
Lawyers and judges are thrashing out the specifics here in San Francisco starting today, but there’s a broader question here, relevant as Congress considers intellectual property law this year: Why should the government and the taxpayers be on the hook for protecting the current business model of Hollywood? Video piracy and downloading unauthorized free movies shouldn’t be permitted, of course, but maybe it’s Hollywood—and not Washington—that needs to work harder.

If the movie studios can’t survive without blocking you from backing up your copy of “Elmo’s World” onto your laptop, then maybe Hollywood is in need of innovation.
Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lobbying kings: Exxon, Chevron, Lockheed, Pfizer

First quarter lobbying reports are in, and my Examiner column today looks at the kings of the lobby:

Oil giant Exxon Mobil — the largest corporation in America — spent $9.32 million on lobbying in the first three months of 2009, more than any other company in the nation, according to recently released lobbying filings. Joining Exxon in the top four were competitor Chevron ($6.8 million), defense contractor Lockheed Martin ($6.35 million) and drug maker Pfizer ($6.14 million).

About 100 companies and about 20 trade groups spent more than $1 million on lobbying in the first quarter, about the same as last year, according to lobbying reports filed Monday. Most of these companies are in the energy, pharmaceutical, insurance and telecommunications industries.

Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Clean Coal Lobby

[cross-posted at Beltway Confidential]
What do you do if environmentalists are gunning for you and want to use Washington to destroy or at least severely curb the use of the only project you sell? You call on Washington for billions in subsidies to make your product cleaner. Hence, the clean coal lobby.

The Center for Public Integrity's new initiative tracking the boom in climate change lobbying looks at the clean coal lobby in a new report, on the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity:

However one interprets ACCCE’s message, it has the power of well-heeled and politically engaged companies behind it. Amid the punishing economy of 2008, the top five U.S. coal mining companies saw their profits more than double to $1.9 billion. And the industry is determined to use a slice of those profits to deliver its message. Senate disclosure forms reveal that ACCCE spent $9.95 million on Washington lobbying last year, far more than any other group devoted to climate change — although ACCCE says the figure was inflated because it included advertising and grassroots advocacy that most groups don’t report.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Chamber of Commerce is top-lobbying trade group, followed by PhRMA and Realtors

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported $9.996 million in lobbying expenditures in the first quarter, more than any other organization. The Chamber scored two big lobbyong successes in early 2009: the passage of President Obama's $782 billion stimulus bill and the defeat of the Employee Free-Choice Act, also known as the card-check measure.

Among trade groups (not counting individual companies) second place goes to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which spent $6.91 million and succeeded in passing the State Children's Health Insurance Plan into law, and has pushed to expand Medicaid and limit cost-saving measures government might seek in government-run health programs. PhRMA, which represents name-brand drug makers, also lobbied heavily on the issue of generic biological drugs.

The third most active lobbying group at $5.727 million was the National Association of Realtors, which won a major coup with an $8,000 homebuyer credit in Obama's stimulus bill, and has lobbied for more help for homeowners.

When They Say "Smart Grid," Think "General Electric"

[cross-posted at Beltway Confidential]
The city of Miami has announced it is rolling out a new "smart grid" for electricity, an idea getting tons of buzz in Washington and in many city and state governments. It's a nice idea--get smarter computers to help us direct the transmission and generation of electricity, minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency.

Of course, the folks pushing the hardest for this are the folks who would get the contract--mostly General Electric, the company that has spent more on lobbying in the past decade than any other company. Jay Yarow at The Green Sheet lays it out in a post titled "Miami's Massive Smart-Grid Project A Gift To Cisco And GE." Yarow also included a clip from GE subsidiary CNBC touting the smart grid as an Earth Dayish thing.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Regulate Me! (The Insurance Industry Edition)

While most politicians and most journalists seem to assume that big business generally wants to be left alone by government, the truth of the matter is that most regulation that actually gets passed has the backing of the largest players in the industry being regulated. We have seen this very recently with the toy industry, the food industry, and the tobacco industry.

Big business has many reasons for wanting to be regulated--it disproportionately hurts smaller businesses, keeps out competition, gives an advantage to those with better political connections, insulates against torts, and gives an air of credibility. A NYTimes op-ed today by the Allstate Insurance CEO offers another reason for wanting federal regulation:

Business leaders must work with the government to create a new regulatory structure. All companies that create risk for the financial markets need to be in “the pool” of federal regulation, including companies like Allstate. A good start would be for Congress to eliminate the hodgepodge of state regulatory systems by establishing a federal regulator for national insurance companies.

Liddy's Goldman Sachs Holdings Gets Some Attention

A week ago, I broke the news in my Examiner column that AIG's CEO Ed Liddy owns more than $3 million in Goldman Sachs stock. Yesterday, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) responded to this story with a press release, calling on Liddy to step down.

Since Cummings' press release, Bloomberg, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, and others have all followed up, citing Cummings and the Examiner. The N.Y. Post and another NYC daily have also followed up on my column and Cummings' release, but they don't cite the original scoop.

Specter versus Toomey is Wall Street versus Main Street

Sen. Arlen Specter is the top GOP recipient of Wall Street cash. Former Rep. Pat Toomey has twice started up his own business. The GOP primary battle between them could shape the future of the party. My column this week explains:

Next year’s Senate Republican primary in Pennsylvania—Sen. Arlen Specter versus former Rep. Pat Toomey—could be a battle for the soul of the GOP. But it’s not a liberal-versus-conservative battle as much as a Goldman Sachs-versus-Mom n Pop fight.
Campaign finance records show that Specter is Wall Street’s favorite Republican, and voting records show why. While Specter attacks Toomey as a banker, and tries to paint his donors as Wall Street fat cats, Toomey is actually a small businessman—having run a community bank that didn’t take bailout cash, and before that starting a neighborhood bar in Allentown, Pa.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rep. Cummings, Citing my Examiner Piece, Calls on AIG's Liddy to Resign

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has renewed his call for AIG CEO Edward Liddy to resign. In a press release today, Cummings specifically refers to my column that revealed that Liddy still owned $3 million in Goldman Sachs stock.
I am extremely concerned by recent media reports that AIG CEO Edward Liddy owns more than $3 million of stock in Goldman Sachs, which topped the list of companies that received billions of dollars in counterparty payments from AIG. Regardless of whether or not Mr. Liddy is acting in the best interest of AIG or of his stock in Goldman, even the appearance of conflict of interest is a reason for alarm.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Barney Frank’s Wall Street confidence game

Everytime Americans suffer, government needs a bad guy to blame. This week, it's the short seller's turn to be the villain. My Examiner column today explores just who is lobbying for restrictions on short selling--the investment tactic that enables one to profit when stocks go down.
Charles R. Schwab, founder of the firm, advocated regulation in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “for the sake of our children and grandchildren,” but there’s a less lofty interpretation of Schwab’s motives. Schwab gets more customers when the stock market is rising, and so anything that can drag the market down is harmful.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

AIG head’s $3M in Goldman stock raises apparent conflict of interest

My Examiner column today is the first to report a fact that highlights the conflict-of-interest problems raised by the new government-business partnership:
Edward Liddy, CEO of government-run AIG, still owns more than $3 million of stock in Goldman Sachs, which has pocketed $13 billion or more of the $170 billion federal officials have spent bailing out the ailing Wall Street insurance giant.
Liddy is managing a company that receives taxpayer dollars to pay other financial firms, with Goldman Sachs the top recipient. While there is no reason to believe Liddy is influencing AIG actions to unfairly benefit Goldman, the situation represents a potential conflict of interest that would never be allowed in a government agency, but is permitted in the strange public-private chimeras, like AIG, spawned in this age of bailouts.
Read the whole thing here.

Graham’s bill is accidental tax cut for wealthy

DC Councilman Jim Graham wanted to boost DC revenues and raise taxes on the wealthy, and so he introduced the "Equitable Income Tax Act of 2009." There's a problem, though: the bill would actually provide a massive tax CUT to those earning just over $500,000, and some tax cut to everyone between $500,000 and $9.6 million. I tell the tale in an Examiner piece today.
Ryan Ellis, tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform, which opposes all tax increases, says the bill would reduce taxes. “The bill as written is a massive tax cut for D.C. households making over $500,000 per year.” Ellis added, “According to this bill, someone with taxable income of $499,999 would pay $41,300 in D.C. income tax. Someone making $500,001 would pay $5,000 in D.C. income tax.”
Read the whole piece here, and read Graham's bill here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How Philip Morris Benefits From Tobacco Regulation

My latest K Street column at the Examiner:
As Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., push bills this spring to heighten federal regulation of tobacco, expect newspapers to present “both sides” of the story by quoting cigarette giant RJ Reynolds opposite a group like Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — painting the kind of industry-versus-do-gooder picture that characterizes coverage of most regulatory battles.

But, as usual, that picture is false. The most important ally of the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” is Philip Morris, the largest cigarette maker in the world. The anti-smoking groups, which have only a fraction of Philip Morris’ lobbying clout and no generous political action committees, are sideshows in this debate.

Read it here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Chamber Index Shows Conservatives Aren't Corporate Pawns

My latest Examiner column looks at the latest voting scorecard from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and weeds out some interesting trends.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., had the most conservative voting record in 2008 according to the American Conservative Union (ACU), and was a “taxpayer hero” according to the National Taxpayer’s Union (NTU), but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says his 2008 record was less pro-business than Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton.

Similarly, Texas libertarian GOPer Rep. Ron Paul—the most steadfast congressional opponent of regulation, taxation, and any sort of government intervention in business—scored lower than 90% of Democrats last year on the Chamber’s scorecard.
Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Crisis and Opportunity: How the Bailouts and the New New Deal Pierce the Big Myth and Put Tradition and Free Markets Back on the Same Side

I gave this talk at the Heritage Foundation on the opportunity the bailouts provide: restoking "fusionism," or the kinship between small-town, agrarian conservatism steeped in tradition on the one hand, and free markets on the other hand.

In short, big government, not free markets, yield Britney Spears and Wal-Mart. Please watch my talk. I begin at about 12 minutes.
The event was sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute through its Culture of Enterprise initiative.

Alternatively, you can save the mp3 by clicking here, and then put it on your iPhone or whatever.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The business of Detroit is producing lobbyists

My Examiner column looks at what's coming off the assembly line in Detroit:

GM spent about $8 million to $8.5 million on federal lobbying each year from 2003 to 2006, lobbying records show. Then, as things turned dramatically southward for the company, lobbying spending exploded, jumping 64 percent in 2007 to $14.6 million. Last year saw another big jump. Chrysler ramped up its lobbying at a steadier pace. From $3.1 million in 2001, it progressively rose to $7.1 million in 2007. Private equity firm Cerberus Capital bought Chrysler in 2007 and spent $7.9 million on lobbying in 2008.

The details of these lobbying surges are telling.

Ten days after Barack Obama was elected president, GM added lobbying giant Covington & Burling to its lobbying platoon. Specifically, GM hired the firm’s heavy hitter, Stuart Eizenstat.

Eizenstat has worked in every Democratic administration since Lyndon Johnson....

Read the whole thing here.