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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.