My Latest

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pelosi buys off agri-business to advance climate bill

Global warming legislation is, like most big-government "reforms," becoming a costly porkfest benefiting well-connected corporations. My Examiner column today discusses the favors Democratic leaders have thrown at agribusiness to pass their climate change bill:

Here's how it works: Farmers need to kill weeds around their crops. They can till the ground to kill the weeds--a practice that releases carbon dioxide buried in the soil. Alternatively, they can spray the fields with chemicals that kill the weeds--thus leaving the CO2 underground.

The latter practice requires farmers to buy an herbicide such as agricultural Roundup, made by Monsanto, and also to buy Monsanto's genetically modified "Roundup Ready" seeds, which grow into plants that can withstand repeated Roundup spraying.

With the help of Monsanto, Novecta, a consulting and lobbying arm of the Iowa and Illinois Corn Growers Associations, has called on Congress this spring to grant farmers valuable offsets for shifting to "no-till" farming--a shift that will spur sales of Roundup and Roundup Ready seeds. Thanks to the Peterson-Pelosi deal, this scheme could become law.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Obama teams with Philip Morris to beat "tobacco industry"

Media accounts let Obama get away with a whopper about the tobacco regulation bill he just signed. My Examiner column sets the record straight:

President Barack Obama signed a bill Monday that the largest tobacco company in America had championed for years. Obama nevertheless claimed he had taken on Big Tobacco and won.

As Obama signed the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act,” giving the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco, he proclaimed in the Rose Garden: “Today, despite decades of lobbying and advertising by the tobacco industry, we’ve passed a law to help protect the next generation of Americans from growing up with a deadly habit. …”

But on Tuesday morning, the home page of Philip Morris, which controls a majority of the U.S. cigarette market, blared “Philip Morris Supports Federal Regulation of Tobacco.”

Was Obama ignorant of the $40,000-a-day pro-regulation lobbying effort by the country’s biggest cigarette maker?

Was Obama surprised by the applause Monday from Philip Morris’ parent company Altria, calling the bill “an important and historic achievement”
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Health care "reform," Big Business, and the Harry and Louise myth

As the health care reform debate progresses, I've dedicated my Friday Examiner column to puncturing a favorite myth of the pro-regulation side:

Democrats pushing for a health-care overhaul today say they've learned their lessons from the failure of HillaryCare in 1993: This time they are ready to fight back against the HMOs, and to take on "Harry & Louise," the fictional couple that insurance companies used in TV ads opposing HillaryCare.

Alternatively, other Democrats say they've learned their lesson, and this time they're sitting down with the HMOs so that the Big Businesses doesn't torpedo the reform as they did with Harry & Louise.

But this narrative of reformers-vs-Big Business was as false in 1993 as it is today. In both battles, Big Business has sided with Big Government, the pugnacious rhetoric of the pro-regulation side notwithstanding.

The HMOs in 1993 broke away from the smaller insurers, because the big guys knew HillaryCare would be profitable. Big Government would funnel customers into these HMOs more efficiently than the market would.

And today, the insurance industry and the drug industry, which have been at the table crafting the "reform," stand to profit handsomely--at the expense of taxpayers and consumers--if the right plan becomes law.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cheney coal plan gets $1B boost ... from Obama

My K Street column in Examiner today follows up on the largest earmark in history, and points out the entertaining fact Obama just directed a billion dollars at Big Coal's greatest prize from that Dick Cheney energy task force Obama spent the campaign season attacking. My column also looks at the lobbying effort behind this billion-dollar coal project called FutureGen:

In 2004, the Energy Department named former lobbyist Mark Maddox assistant secretary of fossil energy and assigned him to promote FutureGen to Congress, to companies and even to China.

But in early 2008, the Bush administration reversed course and pulled funding for the project, arguing there were better ways to test these technologies. Critics charged that Bush was angry Illinois had been chosen over Texas as the site for the FutureGen plant.

By the time the Senate took up Obama’s stimulus this year, that same Maddox was collecting a check from coalition member Anglo American, a mining and natural resource giant, lobbying to restore federal funding to FutureGen. Maddox was part of a lobbying blitzkrieg by the FutureGen coalition, its member companies and the state of Illinois
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

UPS vs FedEx: Labor law as a corporate weapon

As government grows, business rivalries will increasingly be played out on Capitol Hill through regulation and legislation. As a preview, witness the UPS-vs-FedEx battle currently. My Examiner gives the story:

Both sides, of course, are engaging in Beltway knife-fighting, which requires campaign cash. On top of their five-figures-per-day lobbying budgets are the companies' PACs. FedEx PAC spent $3.4 million last cycle, and $231,000 so far this cycle. UPS's PAC shelled out $4.7 million last election, and an impressive $522,000 so far this time around.

UPS has a key ally: the Teamsters Union, which gave $2.4 million to Democrats in the last cycle. Teamsters want to unionize FedEx, and Oberstar's provision will make that much easier if it becomes law.

Is it fair for FedEx and UPS to play by different rules? Is it fair to change the rules on FedEx in the middle of the game? Is the NLRA even fair?

Sadly, "fair competition," doesn't really play a role in shipping--an industry that has been subsidized and regulated since its birth. Federal law nearly prohibits UPS and FedEx from competing on price. Other regulations--including labor laws--cramp their ingenuity.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Connecticut uses lobbying laws to muzzle priests

"Who will rid us of this meddlesome priest?"

That's the question Connecticut's political class seems to be asking about Bridgeport bishop William Lori, who has led the push for conscience protection in gay marriage laws and against a state effort to dictate Church finances. Now the Office of State Ethics seems to be rising to the occasion, as my Examiner column reports:
The home page for the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., included a note last week exhorting Catholics to tell Gov. Jodi Rell, R, to repeal the death penalty. By the standards of Connecticut government officials, this was an illegal act of influence peddling in violation of the state’s lobbying laws.

As the Constitution State fights to exert more control over the Catholic Church there, lobbying laws are the state’s latest weapon. Top officials at the Office of State Ethics have, according to sworn affidavits filed by the local bishop, informed the diocese that it violated state ethics laws and engaged in unauthorized lobbying by holding a statehouse rally and using its Web site to call on citizens to take action.
You can read the whole thing here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rangel uses tax code to squeeze contributors

Ways & Means Chairman Charlie Rangel raised more in one election than his GOP predecessors did in six cycles. My column explains how:
Only one PAC contributed the maximum $10,000: The National Fire Sprinkler Association, which cut $5,000 checks Jan. 7 and Jan. 9.
A week later, NFSA President John Viniello told his Illinois and Wisconsin chapters that Rangel "will be supportive" of the Fire Sprinkler Incentive Act, according to the NFSA's newsletter.
Two weeks after that, on Feb. 1, the NFSA held a fundraiser for Rangel -- a $700-a-head breakfast in New York City, attended by a dozen executives and owners of fire sprinkler companies. "He's crucial to the bill," NFSA spokesman Jim Dalton explained to me in discussing the fundraiser.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Government Motors will still lobby government

Obama's unprecedented nationalization of GM introduces some uncomfortable ethical quandaries. My K Street column today in the Washington Examiner explores one of those:

General Motors will continue its multimillion-dollar lobbying operation in Washington, even after the federal government takes ownership of it. The automaker may even maintain its high-dollar lobbying contracts with some of the wealthiest and most influential K Street firms.

“We believe we have an obligation to remain engaged at the federal and state levels,” General Motors stated in an e-mail after President Barack Obama announced his plan for the federal takeover of the carmaker, “and to have our voice heard in the policymaking process.”

As a result, some of the jobs that the White House will save with this unprecedented nationalization could be on K Street in downtown D.C., rather than in Detroit.
Read the whole thing here.