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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bailed-out Chrysler hires Obama fundraiser as a top lobbyist

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

The Detroit Free-Press’s Alan Hyde reports that failed automaker Chrysler, currently owned by the very Democrat-friendly United Auto Workers and subsidized heavily by the taxpayer, has hired a new top lobbyist — longtime Democratic consultant/staffer/fundraiser Jody Trapasso.

Trapasso is a longtime Democratic insider, with a pedigree rooted in the Terry McAuliffe corners of the Bill-and-Hillary Clinton world, but also with stints in the more lefty neighborhoods of the Party, including Howard Dean and Barack Obama. He’s worked on five Democratic presidential campaigns

The Free Press gives us this biographical snippet:

Trapasso comes from the law firm of Crowell & Moring, and had served as senior advisor to former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean in the run-up to the 2008 election. Trapasso held several posts in the Clinton administration, including assistant counsel to the president.

Automotive World adds:

Trapasso served as senior advisor to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee providing strategic counsel on donor fundraising programmes and on the 2008 presidential election. He also has held various senior-level positions within the federal government, including assistant counsel to the President for the Office of Presidential Personnel at the White House during the Clinton Administration.

Trapasso is a regular — though not heavy — Democratic donor. As a registered lobbyist, of course, he didn’t contribute to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. But his wife Susan, who is a homemaker, not a lobbyist, gave the maximum to Obama — her only political contribution on record.

I’ve written quite a bit about GM’s lobbyists, and given the partial government ownership of Chrysler, it’s worth repeating what’s going on here:

You pay your taxes. The Obama administration gives some of your money to Chrysler. Chrysler hires a Democratic fundraiser with that money.

Cash for caulkers invites for-profit politics

Another big-government program, another glaring conflict of interest. My column looks at Cash-for-Caulkers:

The Obama administration appointee who would run a proposed subsidy program dubbed "Cash for Caulkers" has intimate ties to a company that has lobbied for the bill and would profit from it.

Al Gore acolyte Cathy Zoi, the Energy Department official in charge of energy efficiency, has testified in favor of the caulkers bill, which the House passed last week. She would administer it if it became law and is married to an executive at a window company that has pushed for this legislation. Zoi, formerly chief executive officer of the Gore-initiated Alliance for Climate Protection, also owns stock options in Serious Windows.

The massive lobbying army backing the caulkers bill, and the conflicts of interest bubbling up behind the scenes, is one more hole in President Obama's sinking claims of being a good-government reformer and a scourge of the special interests.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Just because companies are profiting from it doesn’t make it a ‘free-market’ policy

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

The Economist has a condescending, ungrounded piece today that has this interesting claim:

For example: the new health-care-reform law passed in March is an entirely private-insurer, free-market-based reform.

Michael Cannon at Cato has a very good takedown of this whole blogpost on how close-minded conservatives are, but I wanted to expand on the use of the phrase “free-market” in a description of a bill that, as Cannon writes, expands Medicaid, creates new insurance subsidies, the price controls, and places new mandates on individuals and employers.

We see Lefties roll this canard elsewhere when they want to paint as extreme the opposition to a big-government program.

Lee Fang, a liberal blogger at the Center for American Progress wrote recently:

The right has attacked Crist for voicing support for cap and trade, a free market idea to address global warming.


Q. What’s in common between (1) government mandates and subsidies for private insurance, and (2) government requirements that businesses use tradable carbon credits before burning their own fuel?

A. Some private business is making money.

So, for some lefties, that appears to be the definition of “free-market.” Of course, they are ignoring the “free” half of the phrase. Yes, cap-and-trade would create a market, and yes, newly mandatory, heavily subsidized, heavily regulated insurers will compete under ObamaCare — that’s a market, just not a free one.

Similarly, Lefties sometimes use “free-market” as a label on anything that both (a) involves profit, and (b) is bad. See Thomas Frank’s work for a gazillion examples.

To be fair, this confusion — that private profit is the same as free markets — is shared by many on the Right, who defend corporate welfare, thinking (or claiming) that it’s part of the free market.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Harry Reid carrying Wall Street's love child

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans are "making love to Wall Street." In my column today, I lay out the facts that make it clear that Harry Reid is carrying Wall Street's love child -- and it's named "Reform."

Reid's re-election coffers are filled with Wall Street lucre, and his fundraisers and former staffers are lobbyists for the biggest banks. And Reid's legislative history makes it clear that -- befitting the senator from Las Vegas -- the customer gets what the customer pays for.

Reid has raised more money from Wall Street than any Republican House or Senate candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In fact, among senators seeking re-election, Reid has raised more than the top three Republicans combined. As far as the parties go, it's not even close -- Wall Street has given 60 percent of its cash this year to Democrats, and seven of the top 10 recipients of Wall Street political action committee money are Democrats.

But the Reid-Wall Street relationship is more intimate than that. The real players in this affair are those professionals who walk K Street trading cash for special favors.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Goldman CEO: ‘We Will Be Among the Biggest Beneficiaries of Financial Reform’

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

In case you missed my columns explaining why Goldman will come out on the winning side of financial “reform” (here and here), or in case you actually believed the President’s rhetoric, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of the nation’s largest investment bank, Goldman Sachs, put it very directly in a conference call today with private wealth-management clients on which the blog ClusterStock was listening in:

“We will be among the biggest beneficiaries of reform”

Of course, there’s plenty of context needed here. Blankfein wants more clients, and with regulation being inevitable, he has incentive to claim he won’t be hurt by it.

Also Blankfein can publicly say what many regulator robber barons say, something to the effect of well, regulation strengthens the whole system, and so everyone benefits, the best players moreso. This is almost always BS. Usually, the biggest businesses understand that they will get to tweak the details of the “reform” more than the smaller, less well-connected guys, and that regulation, by imposing new costs, crowds out the little guys.

Documentary goes after Abramoff -- and capitalism

My column today reviews the new documentary on Jack Abramoff:

"Casino Jack" is good entertainment. It takes good material — money, power, hypocrisy, double-dealing, murder and cocky bad guys who eventually get caught — and pieces it together well.

But documentaries aren't just supposed to tell tales — they are supposed to make points. In the Abramoff case, there were plenty of points to make: Lobbyists have too much influence in Washington. Fundraising plays an outsize role in Congress. Power corrupts.

But the the-game-is-rigged theme wasn't enough for liberal filmmaker Alex Gibney. He drilled down deeper in search of more explosive stuff that would fit his worldview: The Republican majority by 2000 had become utterly servile to fundraising. Abramoff was a crook, and he pulled the strings in the GOP caucus.

But even those points were too broad to make the indictment that Gibney was seeking. Somehow, the story of Abramoff using his fundraising and political connections to make hundreds of millions of dollars off of Indian tribes needed to excoriate the whole notion of free markets.

So Gibney brought in author Thomas Frank.

Obama’s ‘juggling act’ of big business, big government, populist posturing

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

The New York Times’ Jackie Calmes mulls over what she sees as a quandary — a “juggling act” by President Obama:

He has mixed, for example, condemnation of “Wall Street greed” with opposition to government caps on financiers’ bonuses, and criticism of oil companies’ profits with a recent call (now in abeyance) to expand offshore drilling.

This is a “juggling act,” no more than it’s a juggling act for a preacher to condemn gambling and drinking in public and then spend his nights boozing it up at the casino. It’s really called “saying one thing and doing another.” Or “being dishonest.”

So Calmes sees puzzles where a simple explanation exists, and a contradiction where none exists:

It is enough to give rise to the equally contradictory criticisms he endures, from longtime enemies on the right crying socialism and from disillusioned supporters on the left who lament what they see as Mr. Obama’s pro-business bias.

Is “socialism” contradictory to a “pro-business bias”? I don’t think so. I actually think Obama has blended the two perfectly, increasing government control of the economy in a way that benefits the biggest businesses — his support for the Wall Street bailout, a record-breaking spending bill (the stimulus) favored by the business lobby, a health-care bill that benefits the drug industry and makes private insurance mandatory… and I could go on.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Grateful for ObamaCare, drug lobby goes to bat for Harry Reid

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

Remember when President Obama thanked Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Senate for “standing up to the special interests?” If you don’t, go watch this video, just the first 25 seconds is enough to get the idea. And remember that Obama said that same sort of thing a dozen times.

Then watch this video.

You catch that part at the end, where the ad for Harry Reid, facing the toughest reelection of his life, was paid for by PhRMA — the drug lobby. And check these numbers from 2009, showing that PhRMA spent more than any single-industry lobby — or the numbers from 2010’s first quarter showing the same thing.

Of course, we already knew PhRMA liked the bill, and that it will be very profitable for the drug industry. But this Reid ad brings into focus the magnitude of the President’s mendacity:

Obama thanks the Reid for “standing up to the special interests” by passing the bill. Then the single biggest industry lobby also thanks Reid for passing the bill, with a big-money TV ad.

This episode should be enough to make every discerning person ignore the President every time he claims to be taking on “special interests.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Republicans pick Wall Street over free markets

I've spent plenty of time calling out the Democrats as faux-populists who will help Wall Street's biggest banks. In my new column, I levy the same charge against the GOP:
Republican leaders have proven the Democrats right: The GOP's teeth gnashing about "permanent bailouts" was cynical populist showmanship -- and Republicans can't pull off that act as well as President Obama.

By proposing a financial reform bill that is mostly identical to the one proposed by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Republicans have passed up an opportunity to simultaneously appeal to their base, by returning to their alleged principles of limited government, and appeal to much of the middle, by waging a populist battle against Wall Street's corporate-welfare queens who panhandle on Capitol Hill.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lobbyist bundling: Money pipeline for Democrats

The Center for Public Integrity has compiled a list of the top lobbyist-bundlers -- volunteer fundraisers, that is. My column today explores the data:
Lobbyists bundling campaign contributions, often from clients, to pass on to powerful politicians is exactly the sort of corruption Democrats came to power promising to fight. But the lobbyists doing the most bundling, and the politicians pocketing the cash, tend to be Democrats, a recent study shows.
A study by the Center for Public Integrity finds that the top four lobbyists in terms of bundling contributions for federal candidates and committees are powerful Democrats who contributed and raised cash exclusively to elect Democrats. These lobbyists' big business clients stand to benefit from Democratic policies on health care, the environment and trade.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Alcoa loves green, but not the environment

Alcoa is one of those "green" companies that lobbies for environmental policy. Of course, Alcoa also stands to profit from these policies, even while the planet might be suffering. My column:

Absent such regulations, an aluminum car frame is much more expensive than a steel car frame. With these regulations, aluminum, which is lighter, becomes more desirable.

So what's the problem? Alcoa is getting rich, but more people are driving lighter-weight, more efficient cars, right? Industry and the Earth both win, right? Hardly.

Making aluminum car frames requires much more energy than making steel car frames. One stage in the process -- dissolving the alumina to get pure aluminum -- inherently gives off carbon dioxide and the far more potent greenhouse gasses hexafluoroethane and tetrafluoromethane.

But Alcoa makes its aluminum in Australia, where Washington's CAFE and climate policies can't touch it. Down under, naturally, Alcoa's lobbying agenda isn't nearly so green. The Australian newspaper reported in 2008 that Alcoa "has warned that even a modest carbon cost on aluminum production could lead to plant closures in Australia and moves to higher-emitting plants in countries such as China."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pre-emptive fact check on Obama’s Wall Street talk

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

Today at Cooper Union, President Obama will say this about the House and Senate bills to regulate Wall Street:

Both bills represent significant improvement on the flawed rules we have in place today, despite the furious efforts of industry lobbyists to shape them to their special interests. I am sure that many of those lobbyists work for some of you. But I am here today because I want to urge you to join us, instead of fighting us in this effort.

This is vintage Obama, combining his “scourge-of-the-special-interests” rhetoric with his “can’t-we-all-get-along” talk. First let me point out a couple of problems with the Reformers-vs-Lobbyists frame.

Goldman is on Obama’s side

Not on the SEC-civil-suit issue, but on the issue of regulation. Obama today will lay out five principles that need to be in the bill for him to sign it: (1) “transparency” on derivatives, (2) the “Volcker rule,” (3) “consumer financial protection,” (4) pay reforms, and (5) some mechanism to prevent future bailouts.

Goldman endorsed (1), calling in its annual report for federally requiring derivate clearinghouses. Goldman signaled confidence it could handle (2) the Volcker Rule, because basically all of its trading could be classified as being related to client service. Politico has reported that the big banks are not longer fighting (3) a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, because “Big banks that have been vocal opponents of the agency have decided they have the legal resources to deal with a consumer agency.” Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein has been calling for (4) pay restrictions since last summer. And number (5), ending too-big-to-fail is a pretty loaded topic, but remember what Paul Volcker said last year: simply labeling certain banks as Tier 1 sends a signal to the market that they are too big to fail

Who are those dread Wall Street lobbyists?

Many of them are Obama’s friends, donors, and former employees. As I wrote in February:

The American Bankers Association retains the Democrat-heavy firm Glover Park Group, which just hired Grant Leslie away from Obama’s Agriculture Department.

At Goldman Sachs, the nation’s largest investment bank, four of the five in-house lobbyists were Democratic Capitol Hill staffers — the remaining one gave $1,000 to Hillary Clinton last election. One new addition to this shop last year was Michael Paese, recently the top staffer for Rep. Barney Frank’s Financial Services Committee. Paese gave Obama $500 in 2008….

Bank of America’s K Street platoon includes the Podesta Group, whose co-founder John Podesta was director of Obama’s transition team. Podesta Group lobbyists for Bank of America include Tony Podesta (who visited the White House six times in Obama’s first eight months) and Oscar Ramirez, an alumnus of the Obama administration.

Goldman Sachs retains plenty of Obama allies, including: former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt; Harold Ford Sr. (father of the former representative and Obama supporter); and super-lobbyist Steve Elmendorf, Gephardt’s former chief of staff, who visited the White House at least six times last year.Read more at the Washington Examiner:

The Marlboro Monopoly Act is working — More of Obama’s phony war on the special interests

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

President Obama serially wages pretend wars against the special interests. It’s his thing.

Currently he’s pretending to battle Wall Street. Recently, he pretended to battle the health sector. Last year, he pretended to battle the banks on credit cards. But my favorite episode of Obama pretending to take on industry might be his regulation of tobacco.

In the Rose Garden, Obama declared, “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. …”

At the same time, the largest tobacco company in America issued a press release declaring “Philip Morris supports federal regulation of tobacco.”

Philip Morris at the time was not merely the biggest tobacco company in America — it was half of the U.S. cigarette market. It also was a majority of the tobacco lobby, spending more on lobbying than every other tobacco company combined according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. So we can debate the virtues of FDA regulation, but Obama can’t honestly claim he passed this bill “despite” the tobacco lobby.

Critics called the bill the Marlboro Monopoly Act, arguing that restrictions on production and advertising would further boost the market share of the industry leader, Marlboro. So far, the critics are right. From Altria’s quarterly earnings report:

Marlboro achieves record retail share of 42.7% in the first quarter of 2010

If they’re looking at these numbers, I’m sure Pfizer and Goldman are drooling over how Obama is sticking it to them, too.

Health-care ‘reform’ coauthor cashes out to K Street

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

When the health-care bill passed in March, I wrote that the health-care lobbying was just beginning and that: “You’ll also see the Democratic staffers who wrote the bill rewarded with plush lobbying gigs.”

It didn’t take long for me to be proven right. Akin Gump, whose clients include Aetna, Pfizer, General Electric, and the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, has hired a top staffer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a staffer who played a key role in passing the health-care bill.

From Akin Gump’s press release:

Arshi Siddiqui, senior policy advisor and counsel to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), will join Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP as a partner in the policy practice in Washington….

Since joining Rep. Pelosi’s leadership staff in 2003, Ms. Siddiqui has provided counsel on numerous legislative initiatives, including the historic comprehensive health insurance reform legislation, the economic recovery package, and the financial recovery and stimulus bills.

Her work on health-care was so important, Pelosi thanked her by name on the House floor.

But check out Siddiqui’s portfolio as listed by Akin Gump — it’s a compendium of corporate welfare: the bailout, the stimulus, and a health-care bill that mandates private health insurance and subsidizes drug companies until they blush.

Not to question Siddiqui’s motives, but to point out the incentives that exist on Capitol Hill, imagine a staffer who pushed through a bill that removed regulations on insurers, repealed subsidies, and generally got government out of the hair of hospitals, device-makers, insurers, and drug companies. That result would probably be companies reducing their lobbying.

But write a bill that injects government into every decision — as a regulator and a funder — and you make lobbyists more important. And who better to help you navigate the maze of new handouts and rules that the people who wrote the rules?

This is why Obama cannot simultaneously increase government control over the economy and reduce the influence of K Street and special interests. Big Government is the mother’s milk of the special interests.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Goldman Sachs wants regulation, not laissez-faire

When all is said and done in Wall Street regulation, Goldman will be the winner. I explain in my column:
So, just as drug companies and insurers used Republicans to kill the public option before using Democrats to mandate insurance and subsidize drugs, big banks are using Republicans to kill a bank tax while using Democrats to erect barriers to entry, to institutionalize bailouts, and to restore confidence in Wall Street.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Obama's $1M from Goldman in 2008 was a record for any company

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

President Obama has portrayed himself as the scourge of Wall Street, but that's not how Goldman Sachs's employees and executives saw in in 2008. In his successful White House bid, Obama had no better source of funds: He raised $996,595 from people identifying Goldman as their employer.

Let's put that number in perspective:

  • It's the most any politician has raised from a single company since campaign finance reform.
  • It was four times what John McCain raised from Goldman.
  • It's more than the combined Goldman Sachs total of every Republican in 2008 running for President, House, and Senate.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Goldman rallies for Obama in Wall Street 'reform'

Who's fighting against financial regulation? On two scores, at least, it's not Goldman Sachs. My column explains:
"Given that much of the financial contagion was fueled by uncertainty about counterparties' balance sheets," Goldman Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein and President Gary Cohn wrote in a letter at the beginning of the annual report, "we support measures that would require higher capital and liquidity levels, as well as the use of clearinghouses for standardized derivative transactions."
Goldman's executives are calling for two regulations here. First, they want the federal government to restrict free-wheeling, heavily leveraged, high-stakes financial risk taking. Second, they want government to set more rules of the road for trading derivatives -- financial products that are often complex.
These are the very "fat cats" to whom Obama directed his trash talk in January: "If they want a fight, that's a fight I'm willing to have." Well, it looks like they don't really want a fight. It looks like they want more regulation. The question is: What's in it for Goldman?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Liberal bloggers uncomfortable with Left's closeness to Wall Street

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

Have I touched a nerve with liberal blogger Matt Yglesias at the Center for American Progress?

The fact is that Yglesias's agenda -- support for Barack Obama's health-care mandates, subsidies, and regulation plus support for the Waxman-Markey climate bill, to name two items -- is also the agenda of the lobbyists for many big business. On financial regulation, I am willing to wager that whatever bill Obama signs will have the explicit (though not necessarily public) approval of Goldman Sachs.

Yglesias has conventional wisdom on his side -- most writers assume that progressives are the foes of Big Business, and that Big Business is the foe of government regulation. That makes it odd -- though flattering -- that he's repeatedly come after the theme of my books and columns: that Big Business lobbies for and profits from Big Government at the expense of consumers, competitors, and taxpayers.

Back in February, for instance, Yglesias pounced on a Washington Post story headlined "Wall Street shifting political contributions to Republicans." The campaign finance numbers underlying this news story, however, proved exactly my point, as I drew out in a blog post

They show that the Securities and Investment Industry, Wall Street, gave 63% of its money to Democrats, improving on the Democrats' majorities from the 2006 and 2008 cycle when Wall Street gave Dems 52% and 57% of campaign cash. In fact, the numbers for the 2010 cycle so far are the most one-sided numbers we've seen from Wall Street as far back as records go.

As gravy ... the top three Wall Street recipients are all Democrats, and 8 of the top 10 are Democrats.

Today, Yglesias's evidence contra my thesis is this Charlie Gasparino story, which Yglesias sums up thus:

Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn want finance executives to know that concern for their interests burns deep in the hearts of Senate Republicans.

And Yglesias concludes:

Of course if the Banksters have read Tim Carney’s book they’ll know that McConnell and Cornyn are only pretending to be looking out for their interests, and really Barack Obama is their best friend.

For the record, in my book I never called Barack Obama Wall Street's "best friend." I did call him "Barack O'Bailout." I also pointed out:

  • Obama was, perhaps alone outside of the Bush administration, in position to block the bailout, but instead he assured its passage.
  • Obama renominated with glowing praise the bailout's chief champion, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. He also promoted the No. 1 behind-the-scenes bailout baron, Tim Geithner.
  • In March, Obama created a new bailout program called the Public-Private Investment Partnership, which used the Fed and the FDIC to bail out both banks and investors.
  • Obama raised about a million dollars from Goldman Sachs employees and executives in 2008, the most any politician has raised from a single company since McCain-Feingold. That was more than Goldman employees, execs, and PACs gave to every single Republican running for President, Senate, and House, combined.
  • Obama added a fourth installment to the AIG bailout Geithner and Bernanke had authored.
  • Obama's campaign advisor and fundraiser Warren Buffett invested $5 billion in Goldman just before the bailout, and had earned $4 billion on that in just nine months. (Remember when Obama said "We need a President who sees government not as a tool to enrich well-connected friends and high-priced lobbyists."?)
  • Obama's West Wing includes Goldman alumni or former consultants Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, and Tom Donilon. Treasury Chief of Staff Mark Patterson is a former Goldman lobbyist.
  • Obama raised $14.8 million from Wall Street -- more than any candidate in history.

So Yglesias can try to weigh his evidence -- which here is based on a small excerpt of the way Charlie Gasparino describes a meeting -- against my evidence, which demonstrates a pattern Obama consistently favors bailouts and gets campaign funding from Wall Street (I've got plenty more evidence that didn't make the book). But snarkily caricaturing my argument in an effort to snidely dismiss it suggests weakness of argument -- and maybe some insecurity, too.

Justice Stevens was no champion of the little guy

My column today looks at John Paul Stevens's legacy:
President Obama said his nominee to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court would "be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens."
Tell that to the "ordinary citizens" of New London, Conn., whose homes were stolen by the government for use by real estate developers at the request of the largest drug company in America -- with the approval of Justice Stevens.

Monday, April 12, 2010

UPDATE: Democratic lobbyist Eizenstat explains his name on donation to Obama

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

On Friday I wrote of a $2,300 donation to Obama for America in 2008 from registered lobbyist and Democratic power-broker Stuart Eizenstat -- in apparent violation of Obama's pledge not to take lobbyist money. My reporting was based on a filing by Obama's campaign with the Federal Election Commission. I've pasted an image of the record below, and you can see it in context here. In the filing, Eizenstat is listed as "retired" although he was actively registered as a lobbyist.

I had called Eizenstat, the White House, and the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday to see if there was an explanation for a maximum donation by a registered lobbyist when Obama said he wouldn't take lobbyist money. The White House directed me to the DNC, whose response was paraphrased in my column. I've included the full relevant portion of the email response below.

Eizenstat (whom I had called Wednesday morning) didn't call me back by deadline last week. Just now, however, he did.

His explanation: his wife had made that contribution on an American Express card. "If I was listed by whoever did the listing, it should have been Fran Eizenstat, not Stuart Eizenstat.” Mrs. Eizenstat gave the maximum to the general in September. The contribution in July was technically for the primary election.

Eizenstat told me it took him so long to call back because he was sorting through bank records to provide a full explanation.

Here's the DNC's response emailed on Thursday to my editor:

On the rare occasion that a proscribed contribution makes it past our screening process because of a technical glitch, we return the contribution as soon as we are made aware of it, and we will be returning the contribution in this case as well."

Background: Eizenstadt made a contribution in 2007 that we flagged and returned. Due to due to a data entry error the 2008 contribution wasn't linked to the 2007 contribution and his status as a lobbyist.

Free-market populism: Ron Paul says Obama's not 'socialist,' he's 'corporatist'

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

Down at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, a parade of potential 2012 GOP nominees, plus some other rising stars have addressed what Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel calls "the Republican wing of the tea party movement."

Rep. Ron Paul used the occasion to educate the crowd about the true nature of Obama's economic agenda. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“In the technical sense, in the economic definition, he is not a socialist,” the Texas Republican said to a smattering of applause at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

“He’s a corporatist,” Paul quickly added, meaning the president takes “care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country.”

Ron Paul is right. Obama has signed: a health-care bill that mandates we buy private insurance and has the endorsement of the drug industry; a tobacco regulation bill that earned the applause of the largest cigarette company in the country; a credit-card regulation bill that the banks like; a stimulus bill approved by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and nearly every lobby in the country; a Cash-for-Clunkers bill that subsidized automakers, car-dealers, and more. Also, Obama has a huge corporate lobby on his side for cap-and-trade legislation. Plus, Obama backed the Wall Street bailout, has stuck close to its main authors Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner, and even expanded the bailout.

I could go on, but the point is not simply that Ron Paul is right about Obama being a corporatist, the relevant point is that a few Republicans are starting to sound the populist note of calling out Obama's closeness with Big Business.

In December, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) wrote an op-ed headlined "Down with Big Business."

Last week, in the Republican response to President Obama's weekly address, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) attacked Obama's financial regulation primarily because it would "guarantee permanent bailouts for Wall Street."

Ron Paul is also uniquely positioned to tap into the free-market populism notion. He's both the most free-market congressman, and the Chamber of Commerce's least-favorite Republican according to recent voting scorecards.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Another hole in Obama's alleged war on lobbyists

In my column today, I poke more holes in the Obama-vs-Lobbyists myth:

On July 23, 2008, according to papers filed with the Federal Election Commission, Democratic veteran Stuart Eizenstat gave the maximum legal contribution, $2,300, to Obama's campaign. The campaign reported Eizenstat's occupation as "Retired" and under "employer" was written "not employed."

But Eizenstat wasn't retired or unemployed on July 23, 2008. He was a federally registered lobbyist working for the K Street firm Covington & Burling.

In the week before the donation, Eizenstat had filed lobbying reports for seven different clients, and was listed as a lobbyist for three additional clients in Covington & Burling second-quarter filings. Eizenstat was also registered as a lobbyist on these accounts for the third quarter of 2008.

In a donation to Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., one week before the gift to Obama, Eizenstat was listed in FEC filings as a partner at Covington & Burling. He was also listed as a Covington & Burling partner in his first contribution after the Obama gift, a $1,000 check to Rep. Charlie Rangel's, D-N.Y., campaign.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sorry, your Chinese-made iPad won’t save the planet

Did you get an iPad? Why? If your decision had anything to do with your perception of Apple as a "Green" company, my column this week has bad news for you:
Under cap-and-trade, Apple would pay for the 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually by its U.S. buildings and domestic operations, and also for the 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted by shipping its products. But the 3.8 million tons of CO2 emitted by its manufacturing — 81 percent of the company’s total — would be exempt from a carbon tax because the emissions would be in China.

Many of the companies who take the Chamber’s side against cap-and-trade schemes are in a different position from Apple. These companies actually make stuff here, and so they would actually pay the energy tax that is cap and trade.

So Apple is loudly and self-righteously lobbying for “green” taxes that it intends to continue avoiding.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Me on health-care reform

Below is a video interview (a good one, I think) in which I discuss the health-care legislation, specifically the special-interest role in crafting it.

Big Business, Big Government, and Libertarian Populism

The Cato Institute has posted online a paper titled "Big Business, Big Government, and Libertarian Populism," which is really a distillation of my book event at Cato for Obamanomics.
Below is the video of this event, and here is a podcast I recorded afterwards.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The tangled web of the ObamaCare write-downs

There's been plenty of confusion, teeth-gnashing, and finger-pointing about the effect ObamaCare is having on the future earnings of major corporations. My column today sets the record straight:
There are no good guys in this story. The bad guys are the Republicans who made a new entitlement for drugs, and Waxman who menaces companies for making Democratic legislation look bad.
The moral: Sticking government hands into the economy -- through new subsidies, taxes, and regulations -- creates bad situations where there are no right answers.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Obama, who "excluded lobbyists," has appointed 50

Remember how President Obama claimed "we have excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs"? Well, his recess appointments over the weekend included lobbyists No. 47, 48, 49, and 50. My column tells the tale:
President Obama used his recess-appointment power to place four former federal lobbyists -- representing defense contractors and the agri-chemical industry among others -- in top policy jobs. Obama's maneuver dodges a Senate floor debate and sweeps under the rug an inauspicious milestone: The appointment of the 50th lobbyist to a policymaking job by a president who claims he's "excluded" them.
And here's my list of the former lobbyists in policymaking jobs in the Obama administration.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Health-care lobbying now a chronic condition in Washington

So, if you think we're done with the lobbying scrum over health care, think again. My column sounds a dark warning:
If you're an insurer, a drug maker, a hospital, a doctor, a device maker, a pharmacist, an employer or a union boss, you don't know what the future will hold.
Maybe Congress will boost the fine on individuals and employers for not buying your product. Maybe Congress will raise or lower the special new excise tax they've levied on your industry. Maybe they'll require insurers to cover your procedure, or maybe they won't.
The one thing you know for sure: Government will never again leave you alone.
As the once and future Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel likes to put it, "Everything is on the table." That means you'd better pay your admission: hire Henry Waxman's legislative director as your lobbyist, contribute to Max Baucus' re-election or Charlie Rangel's legal defense fund, retain Tom Daschle as your consultant, or become a stage prop for President Obama's next "jobs bill."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Obama gives sugar plums to the special interests

Obama signed health-care reform, and the special interests won. My column:
"Tonight," President Obama intoned near midnight Sunday, after the House had passed two health care bills, "we pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. ... We proved that this government -- a government of the people and by the people -- still works for the people."
But even before the president spoke, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America -- whose $26.1 million lobbying effort in 2009 was the most expensive by any industry lobby in history -- hailed the health package as "important and historic."
The second-biggest industry lobby in America, the American Medical Association, also cheered, as did the American Hospital Association, the No. 5 industry lobby. Throw in the goliath senior lobby AARP and Beltway powerhouse General Electric, and you realize Obama's underdog tale is all bark and no bite.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Student loans get the ObamaCare treatment

It's fitting that student loans would be nationalized in a bill that lays out subsidies for the private health sector while paving a road to its elimination. My column today discusses the pairing:
In Chicago, the legend goes, whenever Mayor Daley needed a quick infusion of cash, he would order a "street sweeping." After the evening rush hour, city workers would post signs warning of a street sweeping at dawn the next day -- any car parked on the street would be slapped with a ticket.
Congressional Democrats' version of "street sweeping" is nationalizing an industry and folding its profits into the budget, thus partly paying for some radical expansion of government -- health care reform in this case.
The budget reconciliation bill being used as a sidecar to the Senate health care bill also contains a federal takeover of the student loan industry....
Over the next decade, between reduced subsidies to private lenders and interest collected from students, the expected profit is $60 billion. Student aid would be increased by about $40 billion, leaving the U.S. Treasury $19.4 billion in the black thanks to this takeover. That profit gets counted toward the reconciliation bill's score from the Congressional Budget Office, and voila! more deficit reduction from the health care reform bill.
If only Democrats had thought of this trick back in the spring, they could have budgeted in the nationalization of other profitable industries. Throw the porn industry into the Department of Health and Human Services and nationalize Exxon Mobil, and your budget score looks even better.
Why not put Goldman Sachs on the budget so that Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, in a reversal of roles, would be working for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dems tap drug maker millions for PhRMA-friendly bill

Obama keeps talking as if "the special interests" are battling against his "reform." That's simply not true. My column tells the true tale:
Of all the single-industry lobbies in Washington, the largest is the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America. PhRMA spent $26.2 million on lobbying last year — that's nearly three times as much as the insurance lobby, America's Health Insurance Plans, which spent $8.9 million.
If you include individual companies' lobbying, pharmaceuticals blow away the competition, beating all other industries by 50 percent, according to data at the Center for Responsive Politics.
Given this Big Pharma clout, it's unsurprising that the bill Obama's whipping for — Senate bill — has nearly everything the drug companies wanted: prohibiting reimportation of drugs, preserving Medicare's overpayment for drugs, lengthy exclusivity for biotech drugs, a mandate that states subsidize drugs under Medicaid, hundreds of billions in subsidies for drugs, and more.
PhRMA chief Billy Tauzin, who was vilified by Obama on the campaign trail, worked out much of this sweetheart deal in a West Wing meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Tauzin visited the White House at least 11 times. He left his imprint so deeply on the current bill that it should probably be called BillyCare rather than ObamaCare....
This week, PhRMA, through a front group called Americans for Stable Quality Care, is rolling out millions of dollars in advertisements for the Democrats' jury-rigged package consisting of the BillyCare bill and some as-yet-undetermined "budget reconciliation" measure. The ads reportedly will target wavering Democrats.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Obama's export plan imports Europe's corporatism

I attended the annual conference of the Export-Import Bank, and what I saw wasn't pretty. My column today paints the picture:
"Germany is the model."
General Electric Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt, opening for President Obama at the annual conference of the federal export-subsidy agency, phrased Obama's industrial policy in terms that were not quite as focus-grouped as the president's.
Immelt was at the Export-Import Bank's conference rallying the troops behind Obama's National Export Initiative, aimed at doubling U.S. exports in five years. Immelt praised Germany and Japan's policies of "government and business working as a pack."
The GE CEO lamented that "for so long, we've said, 'It just doesn't matter. Let whatever happens happen.' "
But in Germany, Immelt pointed out, Chancellor Angela Merkel huddles with corporate leaders and says, "Let's kick some rear." The Germans exhibit stronger "public will" and national "vision," Immelt says. "The companies roam as a pack. They stick together. And the government supports the companies to be exporters."...
"If we stand on the sidelines," the president said Thursday, "while they [China and Germany] go after those customers, we'll lose out on the chance to create the good jobs our workers need right here at home. That's why standing on the sidelines is not what we intend to do. ... We need to up our game."
By "up our game," Obama largely means increase government subsidies for exporters -- greater taxpayer funding for export promotion programs, new "public-private partnerships" and more aggressive government advocacy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boeing gets tailwind from subsidy bank

Think Big Business fears Big Government? My column should help dismiss that notion:
A government agency that finances U.S. exports directed 90 of its loan guarantees last year to subsidize one company: Boeing.
Before President Obama unfurls his export-promotion plan at the Export-Import Bank's annual conference this Thursday, he should review the agency's recent annual report, which documents an unparalleled case of corporate welfare -- a government program dedicated almost entirely to serving one well-connected company.
Of the $9.3 billion in loan guarantees Ex-Im issued in fiscal 2009, $8.4 billion subsidized Boeing sales....
Candidate Obama assailed government policy that enriched the wealthiest in the hope that "somehow prosperity will trickle down." But this is this mission of Ex-Im -- subsidize Boeing's profits in an effort to create jobs.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The cautionary tale of the student loan industry

The student loan industry will soon be dead. Other subsidy sucklers should learn a lesson here. My column teaches the lesson:
But this nationalization should serve as a cautionary tale for others — such as health insurers and the tourism industry — looking to latch onto Leviathan’s teat.

For a business, getting in bed with Uncle Sam is like marrying Henry VIII — you may reap benefits you never could have gotten on your own, but history suggests the affair won’t end well for you.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cashing out of the Obama Administration

The revolving door Obama pledged to "close" -- it's still spinning. My column:
A top aide to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has cashed out this week, joining a lobbying and consulting firm with a client list that includes the nation's largest banks.

Damon Munchus is at least the third top Obama official who has exited the administration through the revolving door that opens to K Street -- in keeping with President Obama's ethics rules, but contrary to his clean-government rhetoric. The White House Web site last April stated that Obama was "cracking down on special interests and, in particular, lobbying abuses," by issuing "the toughest rules in history closing the revolving door between K Street and the executive branch." But he hasn't "closed" that door.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Obamanomics: Business rows; Government steers

My column today explores how Obama is simultaneously "pro-business" and anti-market:

If not for high taxes and targeted tax credits, capital would flow toward whatever technologies or business investors thought most promising -- this is how markets help society. Thanks to the web of taxes and credits, though, capital instead flows wherever politicians and bureaucrats have decided is best.

Obama, to be fair, offsets some of the distortion inherent in subsidies and tax credits, because he is trying to create so many -- not just wind, but solar, natural gas, nuclear, and biomass. While this avoids the error of putting all of our energy eggs in one basket, it still is less efficient than the free market.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

With reform dead, health care debate becomes pure politics

What are Obama's latest health-care proposals about? My column delves into that question:

Question: When should you start suspecting President Obama isn't serious about a health care proposal?

Answer: When he doesn't have the pharmaceutical industry on his side.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Under Obamanomics, industry realizes that not everybody wins

The corporate lobby for cap-and-trade is collapsing -- which is what you should expect. My column explains:

Alternating with his disingenuous populist anti-big-business rhetoric, Obama has also offered the opposite: Hope & Change, the-wolf-will-live-with-the-lamb talk of cooperation between business and government.

This cooperation talk is not new. During and after World War I, business giants sought to perpetuate the War Industries Board. WIB member and historian Grosvenor Clarkson described the "contempt" industry leaders had for "the huge hit-and-miss confusion of peacetime industry, with its perpetual cycle of surfeit and dearth" -- replacing competition with government-guaranteed profit....

Big government, unlike the free market, doesn't create wealth -- it redistributes it. In a free market, a rising tide can lift all boats. Under Obamanomics, businesses can rise only by pulling someone under -- usually taxpayers, competitors, consumers or workers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Village with 292 population hires a Washington lobbyist

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential.]

Bald Head Island in North Carolina is accessible only by ferry, and no cars are allowed on the island -- people drive golf carts. Weekend at Bernie's was mostly filmed there. The Census Bureau says that the Village of Bald Head has a population of 292.

That means Bald Head might be the smallest municipality to hire a federal lobbyist.

The K Street firm Akerman Senterfitt registered Monday as the lobbyist for the Village. Thomas Donnelly Jr. and Richard Spees Jr. will represent these 292 folks (and presumably plenty of summer vacationers) on "Maintenance of beach and shipping channel sand affected by erosion," as well as endangered species issues, according to the lobbying registration.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Obama's cronies thrive at intersection of K and Wall

Is Obama battling "Wall Street lobbyists"? Hardly, as I point out in my column:

Amid President Obama's saber rattling at Wall Street's "army of lobbyists," and his lieutenants' vilification of these hired guns, it's easy to forget that the administration is talking about actual people, who have faces, and names -- names like Gephardt, Breaux and Podesta.

Similarly to his imaginary war against health care "special interests" last year, the president portrays his push for financial regulation as a battle against intransigent Wall Street lobbyists. And as with health care "reform," we can expect that any financial "reform" to pass both chambers will have the stamp of approval of the industry's biggest players -- in part because the big guys' lobbyists are the president's friends, donors and former employees.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dan Coats, lobbyist for fat cats, plots Senate return

My latest column at the Washington Examiner explores the lobbying record of Republican Senate candidate Dan Coats:
Democrats have been quick to attack Coats as a lobbyist who has done the bidding of the fattest fat cats. But, ironically, the policies Coats advanced on behalf of his corporate clients are the same bailouts, regulations, and overspending that President Obama has championed in the name of "change." And Coats' biggest clients -- Google and the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America -- have been intimate Obama allies.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Government Motors Adds Another Lobbyist

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

When bailed-out automaker General Motors went bankrupt, the company laid off most of its K Street lobbyists. When it came out of bankruptcy, although the majority owner was still the taxpayer, Government Motors lobbied back up, hiring top-shelf revolving-door veterans.

This week, GM discloses that it has hired -- on your dime -- another lobbyist, Lee Godown at Public Strategies, Inc. Godown reports he will lobby on "issues relating to restructuring; funding for technology, science and energy initiatives; taxation relating to employee benefits, alternative minimum tax and alternative simplified credit; and border trade, competitiveness and market access."

Godown was chief of staff to Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., from 2000 until he cashed out in 2007.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Another Obama administration official cashes out to K Street Read more at the Washington Examiner

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

Obama has made a big deal about not hiring lobbyists, and so we've made a big deal about shooting down his overblown rhetoric on this score (for instance, here's our spreadsheet of more than 40 ex-lobbyists in the administration). But the real problem, when it comes to potential impropriety and undue influence, is when government officials cash out to industry or K Street -- there's the risk that they were serving their future employers in their government job, and there's the unfair access it gives their private employer and clients.

Today, I learned of another Obama administration official to cash out to K Street: Grant Leslie of the Agriculture Department is now at Glover Park Group, (which has also just poached a Banking Committee staffer, as I blogged earlier). Here's the Glover Park Group's write-up on her Democratic bonafides:

[Grant] a leading Washington strategist, most recently a Senior Advisor to Secretary Tom Vilsack at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has joined the firm as a Vice President in its Government Affairs practice.

While at the Department of Agriculture, Grant focused on energy, climate, and rural development issues while also overseeing the political nomination process for the Agency. She was an integral part of the Obama transition team, serving as the team leader for Secretary Vilsack’s confirmation in the Senate.

Prior to her engagement at the Department of Agriculture and Obama transition team, she worked in Senator Ken Salazar’s office for four years, most recently as his Legislative Director. Specifically, she was in charge of developing and overseeing the Senator’s entire legislative agenda as well as his Senate floor activities and also oversaw and coordinated the Senator’s actions on the Senate Committees on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; Energy and Natural Resources; and Finance.

Grant also served on the staff of former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). As part of Senator Daschle’s legislative team, she focused on range of issues, including agriculture, rural development, trade and transportation.

Ken Salazar is now secretary of the Interior, and Daschle, famously, is a close confidant of the President. Vilsack, her old boss at Ag, was himself recently a K Street lobbyist.

Presuming Leslie, as a "Senior Advisor" to the Secretary, counts as an "appointee," she is prohibited by Obama's executive order from lobbying any senior executive branch officials.

The other Obama alumnus I've noticed on K Street is Oscar Ramirez who went from the Labor Department to the Podesta Group.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Obama makes a mockery of his own lobbyist ban

My column today, as heard on the Laura Ingraham show:

More than 40 former lobbyists work in senior positions in the Obama administration, including three Cabinet secretaries and the CIA director. Yet in his State of the Union address, Obama claimed, "We've excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs."
Did Obama speak falsely?
Well, it depends on what the definition of "excluded lobbyists" is.
I asked the White House if he chose his words poorly, but the media affairs office defended the president's statement: "As the President said," a spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail, "we have turned away lobbyists for many, many positions."
So, the country may have heard, "we haven't hired lobbyists to policymaking jobs," but the White House tells us Obama meant, "we only hired some of the lobbyists who applied for policymaking jobs." In other words, they've excluded some lobbyists.
And this was in the context of reducing the "deficit of trust."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Special interests dominate Obama's State of the Union

Obama's state of the Union reflected his belief in government aggressively steering the economy. In my column, I list who wins under Obama's proposals:
For instance, he called for more funding to build high-speed rail. Why rail? Rail is only one way to travel or to ship things.
A likely clue: lobbying. Lorenzo Simonelli, chief executive officer of GE Transportation, said in May, "We are ready to partner with the federal government and Amtrak to make high-speed rail a reality."
Subsequently, GE Transportation hired two new lobbying firms. One new GE lobbyist on high-speed rail: Linda Hall Daschle, the wife of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, an Obama confidant.
Samuel Whitehorn is another new addition to GE's train lobby. He served as senior counsel on the Senate commerce committee and a senior lawyer at Bill Clinton's Department of Transportation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The audacity of Barack Obama's populist posturing

It's becoming the Democrats' theme for the 2010 elections: populism. My column today pokes some holes in that balloon:
But the image of Obama as a reformer is at odds with his behavior as president. He signed a massive spending bill that benefited the biggest companies, ratcheted up Wall Street bailouts, signed a tobacco regulation bill written in part by the largest tobacco company, handed ownership of Chrysler to a union that had spent $4.9 million to help elect him president, rallied behind a porked-up climate bill that gave away tens of billions of dollars to the largest energy companies, and cut a backroom deal with the top drug industry lobbyists to get them on board with a health care plan derided by his own party's former leader as "a bailout for the insurance industry."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Beware the Goldman Sachs populist

My column today takes a first stab at Obama's purported war on Wall Street:

All along, we know Wall Street lobbyists will be at the table. The Wall Street "fat cats," as Obama calls them, probably aren't really looking for a fight as much as a seat at the table -- and the numbers suggest they've earned that seat.

For his presidential campaign in which Wall Street regulation was a mantra, Obama's top source of funds was investment bank giant Goldman Sachs, whose employees, partners, and executives gave him $995,000 -- that's the most any politician has raised from any one company in a single election since the age of "soft money" ended.

How the court's campaign finance ruling hurts Wall Street favorite Chuck Schumer

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

Politico provided my favorite reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling today that Congress shall, in fact, make no law abridging the freedom of speech, even when it's called "reform":

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) "This activist and far reaching decision is even worse than we had feared. This opens the floodgates and allows special interest money to overflow our elections and undermine our democracy. The bottom line is, the Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of next November’s election. It won’t be the Republican or the Democrats and it won't be the American people; it will be Corporate America."

This is entertaining -- and enlightening -- in the context of some numbers from Check this screen capture of the most active industries in the 2010 elections:

So, of the five most politically active industries (not counting "retired"), Schumer is the top recipient of campaign cash from three of those. You might say he's awash in "special interest money," and sniff some hypocrisy or political posturing here.

But Schumer does have a legitimate gripe. Until now, if corporations wanted to influence politics and policy, their ability to speak directly to politicians was limited by law. That meant they needed to make their case through indirect means, such as contributing to politicians -- mostly to Schumer, it seems. Or it meant paying big bucks to hire lobbyists from among the staffs of powerful lawmakers, such as:

> Carmencita Whonder, Schumer's former banking aide, now representing Fannie Mae, Merrill Lynch, the Private Equity council, Western Union
> Izzy Klein, Schumer's former press secretary now representing Bank of America, General Dynamics, Oracle, Tyco, National Association of Broadcasters
> Ipyana Critton, Schumer's former director of appropriations, now representing Deutsche Bank and Abyssian Development Corporation
> Or any of the other 9 former Schumer staffers now serving as registered lobbyists.

Now, set free of from Congress's speech regulations, non-profits and corporations might not rely so much on these indirect means of political influence. That means less campaign cash coming into Schumer, fewer corporations courting Schumer's staff, and less sucking up to Schumer by lobbyists.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Another sweetheart deal tarnishes health 'reform'

Late health-care reform negotiations reportedly included a little favor a well-connected drug company. My column reports:
If the Democrats keep pressing their health plan, they will have to persuade the public to swallow another nasty nugget. It's a provision crafted to benefit one well-connected drug company by keeping generic competitors off the market for an additional 4 1/2 years, and it would cost patients and hospitals $1 billion.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Obama's pledges of open, clean government increasingly look like smoke and mirrors. My column explores the latest:

Mark Ernst, in December 2007, was chief executive officer of H&R Block, the nation's largest tax-preparation company. Thirteen months later, once President Obama took office, Ernst was named a deputy commissioner at the Internal Revenue Service, where he would spend his first year drafting new regulations for tax preparers -- regulations that H&R Block welcomes and market analysts say will benefit the company.

With Ernst in mind, recall Barack Obama's campaign pledge: "No political appointees in an Obama administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's at stake in Masschusetts? My column explains:

If Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, Democrat, hangs on to win the special election next week for Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat, she will have to thank the cadre of elite K Street lobbyists who hosted a high-powered, high-dollar fundraiser for her Tuesday night on Capitol Hill.

And if Coakley, as promised, delivers vote No. 60 for President Obama's package of health care regulations, taxes, subsidies, and mandates, these hired guns -- who have spent this year doing the bidding of drug makers, hospitals, and insurers -- will be fitting saviors of a health care "reform" that will enrich the special interests at the expense of consumers, taxpayers, and small businesses.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Regulate your way to riches: Michael Oxley

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

Very few former congressmen have household names, but Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, is an exception, because he co-sponsored the sweeping post-Enron regulations of pubicly traded companies, now known as Sarbanes-Oxley.

So what do you do after imposing complex and burdensome new regulations on the stock market?

You become the lobbyist for the stock market.

Oxley, an advisor to the board of NASDAQ, which is a for-profit company, is now officially a lobbyist for NASDAQ. This is not too different from when the hedge-fund industry hired Rep. Richard Baker, one of the first congressmen ever to propose hedge-fund regulation, as its top lobbyist.

Do you think Oxley would have the lobbying gigs he has now had he decided that deregulation was called for post-Enron?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Coakley in Trouble? Pharma and HMO lobbyists to the rescue

[Originally posted at Beltway Confidential]

With Democrat Martha Coakley in trouble in the Massachusetts special election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat, Democrats could lose vote No. 60 for President Obama's health-care bill. In response, an army of lobbyists for drug companies, health insurance companies, and hospitals has teamed up to throw a high-dollar Capitol Hill fundraiser for Coakley next Tuesday night. The invitation is here.

Of the 22 names on the host committee--meaning they raised $10,000 or more for Coakley--17 are federally registered lobbyists, 15 of whom have health-care clients. Of the other five hosts, one is married to a lobbyist, one was a lobbyist in Pennsylvania, another is a lawyer at a lobbying firm, and another is a corporate CEO. Oh, and of course, there's also the political action commitee for Boston Scientific Corporation.

All the leading drug companies have lobbyists on Coakley's host committee: Pfizer, Merck, Amgen, Sanofi-Aventis, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Astra-Zeneca, and more. On the insurance side of things, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cigna, Humana, HealthSouth, and United Health all are represented on the host committee.

Those HMOs (like Aetna) or drug companies who don't have lobbyists in Coakley's top tier of fundraisers? They're covered, because the host committee includes four lobbyists representing the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), two representing America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), and one representing the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO)

So think of these top donors to health-care reform's 60th vote next time President Obama claims that he's battling the special interests in this battle. The army listed below is on Obama's side, and these clients will all benefit from "reform."

Here are some of Coakley fundraiser hosts with some of their current health care clients:

  • Thomas Boggs, Patton Boggs: Bristol-Myers Squibb
  • Chuck Brain, Capitol Hill Strategies: Amgen, BIO, Merck, PhRMA
  • Susan Brophy, Glover Park Group: Blue Cross, Pfizer
  • Steven Champlin, Duberstein Group: AHIP, Novartis, Sanofi-Aventis
  • Licy Do Canto, Raben Group: Amgen
  • Gerald Cassidy, Cassidy & Associates: U. Mass Memorial Health Care
  • David Castagnetti, Mehlman, Vogel, Castagnetti: Abbot Labs, AHIP, Astra-Zenaca, General Electric, Humana, Merck, PhRMA.
  • Steven Elmendorf, Elmendorf Strategies: Medicines Company, PhRMA, United Health
  • Shannon Finley, Capitol Counsel: Amgen, Astra-Zeneca, Blue Cross, GE, PhRMA, Sanofi-Aventis.
  • Heather Podesta, Heather Podesta & Partners: Cigna, Eli Lilly, HealthSouth
  • Tony Podesta, Podesta Group: Amgen, GE, Merck, Novartis.
  • Robert Raben, Raben Group: Amgen, GE.

If Coakley pulls it out, this is the crowd that will have brought her here. If health-care reform passes, this is the crew that will have won.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Big tax-prep companies welcome IRS regulation

Another Obama regulation, and more applause from the biggest businesses being regulated. This time, my column explains, it's the tax preparers:
The Internal Revenue Service has proposed new regulations on paid tax preparers, and the biggest companies in this business have quickly responded -- roundly endorsing the new regulations, whose primary effect may be to kill off their smaller competitors. H&R Block's recent chief executive officer, appointed deputy commissioner of the IRS by President Obama, participated in crafting these new regulations, which benefit his company.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Once Obama's target, lobbyist Tauzin now his pet

My Examiner column follows Obama's turnabout on Billy Tauzin:
White House visitor logs dumped late in the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve show that Billy Tauzin, the top lobbyist for the prescription drug industry and once a favorite target of Barack Obama, visited the White House at least 11 times in Obama's first six months in office.