Gorsuch is Right: Congress Should “Pass a Law” Requiring Disclosure

Congress and Dark Money

In the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday March 22, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, if he would ask donors to the Judicial Crisis Network to identify themselves.

As reported by the The Hill, Whitehouse said the conservative group is spending an estimated $10 million to support the Gorsuch nomination and previously spent $7 million to oppose the nomination of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee, who was never given even the courtesy of a hearing before Congress.

“It would be a politics question and I’m not, with all respect senator, going to get involved in politics,” Gorsuch told the Committee in response to Whitehouse. “If you want more disclosure, pass a law,” he said.

Whitehouse is sponsor of “The DISCLOSE Act of 2015,” currently before the Senate Rules Committee, that would require large organizations, including labor unions, corporations and non-profits, to reveal the names of persons giving more than $10,000 during an election cycle. An earlier, identical bill, failed in 2012 to garner the necessary 60 votes to override a filibuster and was defeated in a near party line vote.

On the surface, it sounds as if Gorsuch was being at once clever and evasive. In reality, he was right on the money. As TDV has written in a previous blog, there are two major kinds of money in politics:

  • Big Money / No Limits
  • Dark Money / No Accountability

The Supreme’ Court’s decision in Citizens’ United (and similar cases) opened the flood gates to big money without limits, and that is a big problem that needs to be addressed by overturning Citizens’ United. But that could take years, if not decades, especially with Republicans in control of the White House and several more vacancies potentially coming up over the next several years.

In the meantime, let’s be clear.

As Gorsuch suggested, Congress has the power to require transparency in political donations – to shine a light on “Dark Money” – but it has failed to fully exercise that power.

In short, Federal legislation has not kept pace with a rapidly changing legal landscape, resulting in big loopholes. Currently, candidates and their Super PACS are required to report major contributors. Corporations and non-profits – such as social welfare agencies and trade associations – are not.

After the original DISCLOSE Act was defeated in 2012, and as the Obama Presidency drew to a close in 2016, 155 Democrats asked the President to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political contributions. The Obama Administration debated the issue internally, according to the NY Times, but ultimately failed to act.

Maybe that was because the defense industry, the biggest of the so-called “government contractors,” is an equal opportunity donor to Republicans and Democrats alike, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Whatever the reason, the flood of both big money and dark money into politics is undermining the foundations of our democracy, as previously discussed in TDV’s “A Call to Action.”.

For starters, Democrats should redouble their efforts in Congress to pass The DISCLOSE Act requiring full disclosure of all campaign contributions from whatever source.

It may not pass in the current Congress, but it would help keep the issue, where it belongs, at the forefront of public debate. There is no excuse whatsoever for a lack of accountability in political contributions.

We Have a Right to Know and Congress Has a Duty to Act.

It Is Not Rocket Science: Here’s How To Fix Obamacare

Donald Trump meeting with health insurance executives at the White House

What’s wrong with Obamacare?  Is it rising premiums and lack of choice, as some Republicans would have you believe?  Or is it that insurance companies don’t like the increased transparency and competition that comes with health care exchanges?

Or, as Libertarians such as Ron Paul argue, is Obamacare just another expensive “entitlement” program that fosters a culture of dependency on government handouts?

To be sure, rising health care costs are a problem.  But that was the case long before Obamacare, and the recent Republican proposal is likely to make matters worse, not better.  Simply providing tax credits, as Republicans propose, does virtually nothing to constrain costs or improve quality of care.

Instead, the way the Republican plan controls costs is to pay individuals a fixed amount based on age.  This approach effectively cuts benefits and disproportionately hurts the poor and middle class.

What is really going on is Republicans (and some Democrats) appear most concerned about protecting insurance companies from competition – and from the government using its leverage to negotiate prices.  Others seem to want to limit health care subsidies in order to constrain the size and scope of government and avoid higher taxes – even if that means most Americans will not have access to decent, affordable health care.

It is not rocket science: To fix Obamacare, we should provide everyone with a Medicare buy-in option with subsidies scaled to age and income.  Government would continue to negotiate prices directly (or through subcontractors) with health care providers.

Medicare has the advantage of a network infrastructure already in place.  Providers are accustomed to using it.  It is efficient and cost effective and the quality of care, as many Medicare participants will attest, is excellent.

A similar proposal was debated when Obamacare was first introduced, but dropped because it was considered unlikely to pass at the time.

However, now is the time to act.  Democrats must push back hard on Republican orthodoxy that big government is universally bad.   Not only is single payer health care efficient and cost effective, it is good for the economy.  Providing health care to employees is a major cost of doing business, and lower overall costs have the potential to make American business more competitive.

Moreover, under a Medicare buy-in approach, individuals could still be given the option of using credits to buy directly from the insurance companies (although it would likely be more expensive), or purchase supplemental or “Cadillac” coverage.

By almost every major measure, costs are lower and overall health outcomes better in countries, such as Canada and the Netherlands, that offer single payer, universal health care.

What’s not to like about quality health care at affordable prices for all Americans – along with additional options for those who want it and can afford it?

Well, for one thing, insurance companies likely won’t make as much money.  And members of Congress would probably see a sharp reduction in campaign contributions from the insurance lobby.

It comes down to this:  high quality, affordable health care for all Americans v. bigger profits for insurance companies.

We’ll let you know how that works out.

Will Progressives Bolt the Democratic Party?

KeithEllison

On Saturday, Democrats meet in Atlanta to elect a new chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  The leadership fight has been taking place largely behind the scenes with two main candidates, Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, vying for the leadership position.

Ellison, a Muslim, has the support of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others in the Progressive wing of the Party.  Perez, who served in the Obama Administration, was the Hillary Clinton supporter and is the more mainstream of the two candidates.

Meanwhile, the U.S economy is in bad shape.  Growth and productivity have slowed significantly since 2000.  We now have a dual economy where the wealthy and highest wage earners are doing quite well, thank you, while average workers have seen their wages stagnate since the Great Recession of 2008.

We need policies that address these issues, including raising the minimum wage and trade and tax measures that encourage investment and job creation in the U.S.

But we also need major tax reform, so that the wealthy pay their fair share.  That will provide the resources needed to invest in infrastructure to create jobs, improve the quality of health care and education, and to end income inequality – in other words, to level the playing field and provide equality of opportunity for all Americans.

We did it in the decades after WW II when the U.S. enjoyed robust economic growth.   We can do it again.  Nickel and dime tweaks to the existing tax code and paltry increases in infrastructure spending, policies championed by Hillary Clinton during her presidential bid, just won’t cut it.

Into this Democratic policy vacuum, the Republican Party is gearing up – yet again – to cut taxes for the wealthy while simultaneously reducing coverage and raising out-of-pocket health care costs for average Americans.

Those in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, including Tom Perez, just don’t seem to get it.    Workers are getting hammered as never before.  But major tax reform, and robust investment in the economy and people, is not on the agenda of the Party they envision.

We suspect that’s because they spend too much time soliciting contributions and cozying up to the same moneyed interests that support Republicans.

Among the privileged in the U.S., policies that favor the wealthy seem to have bipartisan support.

So If moderates, led by Perez, win the race for DNC chair, look for Progressives potentially to bolt the Democratic Party.

A third party may not  be the a long term solution, but it could serve as a wake-up call to those Democrats who were (and continue to be) asleep at the switch, failing to acknowledge the pain felt by American workers, and allowing the likes of Donald Trump to become President.

We have had enough – it is time for real change.

This is Democracy. We, the People, Decide

On Wednesday, January 25, Donald Trump signed an executive order withholding Federal aid to “Sanctuary” cities such as Philadelphia.  The next day, as Republicans met in Philadelphia to set their legislative agenda for the upcoming year, the people of Philadelphia, protesting in the shadow of William Penn atop City Hall, took to the streets to protest the President’s order, and The Democratic View as there (see video below).   Philadelphia was founded by Quakers as a Sanctuary City.  It will always be one.  The President can’t unilaterally renege on the founding principles of this great country.

This is democracy.  We, the People, decide.

Now Let’s Get to Work: Reflections on the Women’s March

Women's March in New York

By Mary Noland

It was women of all ages, colors, and sexual orientation.  People came from everywhere and wanted to know where you were from.

Mary_MarchOnWasnington2The signs were homemade.  They were great.  One read: “One Step Forward for One Man, a Giant Leap Back for Mankind”.

There were four generations of one family from Maine. The marchers looked out for each other even when squeezed into a tiny space near Independence Ave.  A very short, seventy year-old mother was looking for her equally short fifty year-old daughter, and we all pitched in to help them find each other.

Unfortunately, the media let Trump distract attention from the overwhelming success of the March.  The size was clear: half a million in Washington, a quarter million in NYC, and four- plus million worldwide.

All were marching peacefully, now and for the long haul, for women’s right to equal pay for equal work, reproductive freedom, LBGT rights, and respect and economic justice for all.

I marched against the Vietnam War, worked for civil rights, and most vigorously for women’s rights in the 1970’s.  Part of me couldn’t believe that some of the signs at the March on Washington – “Protect our Reproductive Rights” – reflected words we wrote on signs some 45 years ago.

But there was a much stronger part of me that knew we were marching for this generation, for the wonderful young women in our lives, for my ”strong smart respectful and kind” granddaughter, Little Rosie, and her Mom, our loving daughter in law.

And we will continue to march for as long as necessary to protect their right to live in a decent, caring world.

The media needs to stop being distracted by Donald Trump’s ridiculous tweets and cover the real people, out in the streets, peacefully marching to protect their rights and those of their children and grandchildren.

A foreign reporter, French I think, was doing so much better on the Mall.  She tried to explain to her audience the principles of freedom and equality for which all these folks were marching. She said the marchers held these principles sacred.

We did. It was a great March. Now let’s get to work.

The Women’s Marches: Affirming Democratic Principles

In a BBC video (below), conservative commentator and author Andrew Sullivan, quoting Plato, argues that the very principles of freedom and equality inherent in democratic government inevitably descends into chaos which, turn, precipitates the rise of demagogues like Donald Trump.

“As the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, democracy willingly, inevitably repeals itself,” Sullivan says as the video concludes with a parade of smiling emojis, “the obedient mob,” as he derisively calls them.

Well, that’ one point of view.  Here’s another.  The very “elites” that Sullivan seems to hold up as protectors of democratic order against “the obedient mob” are the same ones who have systematically hijacked our government to advance their private interests at the expense of the public good.

Donald Trump is just the latest and most extreme example.

Drawing on history somewhat more recent than Plato, including the American Revolution and the Progressive Movement of the early 20th Century, we’re betting that Sullivan’s “obedient mob” will soon rise up and, exercising the power of the people in a representative democracy, throw the bums out.

The Women’s Marches taking place today across the country  are not, as some would have you believe, some random exercise in chaos by unwashed masses.  Rather, they are the forefront of a movement, an affirmation of democratic principles,  of freedom and equality.

 

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King

MLK_MarchOnWashington2

It’s 1963. In the spring of that year, Eugene “Bull” Connor, the Birmingham, Alabama police chief, unleashed high-pressure water cannons and police dogs on civil rights marchers, including children. By early June, George Wallace, the Governor, was standing on the steps blocking the admission of black students to the University of Alabama. After watching the scene at the University unfold on television earlier that day, President Kennedy addressed the Nation on his intent to introduce Civil Rights legislation guaranteeing African-Americans equal voting rights and an end to segregation. Sadly, the same night the President spoke to the Nation, Medgar Evers, one of the leaders of the NAACP, was shot dead in the driveway of home returning from a civil rights meeting.

African-Americans began mobilizing as never before. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders, including A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, black leaders planned a massive protest in Washington in support of civil right legislation and economic opportunity. They met with President Kennedy, who initially was cool to the idea of a March on Washington because he was concerned, as were many, with the potential for violence and thought it would jeopardize passage of civil rights legislation.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on August 28, 1963. A quarter of a million people jammed the Mall, streaming in by bus and train, walking up Capitol Hill from Union Station. At the Lincoln Memorial, Joan Baez, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary and Mahalia Jackson performed for the massive crowds while millions more watched on television. Baez sang “We Shall Overcome” while Dylan sang “Only a Pawn in their Game” about the death of Medgar Evers.

But it was Mahalia Jackson, the “Queen of Gospel” who sang just before Martin Luther King’s famous speech and who rocked the crowd with her famous rendition of “How I Got Over,” referring to the struggle of African-Americans to conquer slavery, racism, discrimination and injustice down through the centuries.

YouTube recording of Mehalia Jackson’s “How I Got Over” at the March on Washington on in 1963

The recording powerfully takes you back in time. You can see, hear and feel the enthusiasm of the crowd as it sways and claps with Mahalia to the rhythms of “How I Got Over.” And you begin to understand why, just a short time later, as Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech, he hesitated a moment, and from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just below the podium came a voice. It was Mahalia exhorting Dr. King to:

“Tell Them About the Dream, Martin”.

And so he did. In one of the most eloquent and enduring speeches in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, departed from his prepared text, and clearly feeling the enthusiasm of the crowd, infused with the rhythms of righteousness in Gospel song, as if the Mall in Washington was grand church which is was on that day, lifted his voice and proclaimed:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

YouTube recording of Martin Luther King’s I Have and Dream Speech at the March on Washington in 1963

Later that year, in November, President Kennedy was assassinated, but his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, secured passage of the Civil Rights Act passed in June 1964. Even after passage of the Act, King continued to work on issues related to economic justice, housing segregation and poverty, and famously spoke out against the Vietnam War in a 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam.”

Dr. King himself was tragically assassinated in April 1968 around the time he was planning the “Poor People’s Campaign” to include an occupation of Washington, DC.

Today, much of Dr. King’s work remains unfinished, particularly on the economic front. More than a half century after his speech, far too many African-Americans and others continue to live in poverty, particularly in major cities of this country, denied basic rights to decent housing, education and health care, and often unjustly incarcerated because they are forced to live in poverty-stricken environments where crime and drugs prevail. We can address these issues, but it won’t happen with politics as usual. It will take another movement reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, one that picks up where Dr. King left off.

The greatest tribute we can pay to Dr. King is to carry on his work. Hopefully we are seeing the birth of that new movement today in the recent campaign of Bernie Sanders, the Black Lives Matter movement and others calling for a “revolution” in how this country addresses issues of race, poverty, injustice and economic inequality.

The President’s Farewell Underestimates Threats to American Democracy

ObamaMcCormickPlace1

In his farewell speech at McCormick Place in Chicago earlier this week, President Obama delivered a rousing endorsement of the progress made in the last eight years.   And despite potential threats including economic inequality and continued racial tension, the President affirmed his faith in the future of American democracy.

But is Obama’s optimism misplaced?  Is he too complacent about the state of our democracy?  Indeed, one might reasonably ask: Is America still a democracy in the purest sense?  Despite the trappings of representative democracy, do we still have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people”, as Abraham Lincoln so famously put it?

The answer is not encouraging.    There is far too much money in politics thanks in large part to the Supreme Courts’ Citizens United decision.  Constructive dialogue across party lines is almost non-existent, drowned out by a flood of campaign-fueled attack ads and negative advertising.  There are too many lobbyists writing laws and regulations out of the public eye.  The Federal government, and in particular Congress, is largely dysfunctional.  We have a corporate media much too focused on the daily back and forth of he said, she said politics rather than the important issues of the day.  Meanwhile, despite Obama’s protests to the contrary, the U.S. economy is sputtering, with overall growth averaging less than 2% compared to 3% to 4% in earlier decades.

President Obama did about as good as one can do given the massive recession he inherited and the corrosive political climate under which he was operating.

But let’s not get carried away with unbridled optimism, Mr. President.  We still have many, many difficult challenges to overcome, including rebuilding our economy so the benefits accrue to all Americans, not just a privileged elite.    That will go a long way towards reducing income inequality and systemic racism in America.

But perhaps the greatest challenge we face is reclaiming our government from the crony capitalists, of which Donald Trump is just the latest example, and beginning the long, hard process of rebuilding a truly representative democracy – of, by and for the people.

Memo to Donald Trump: Want to Fix Our Crumbling Inner City Neighborhoods? Here’s How.

Philadelphia Mural Arts

Relocating Federal workers to inner city neighborhoods is one way to help revitalize those neighborhoods and stimulate much needed investment. Federal tax credits would also help …

America has one of the highest poverty rates in the industrialized world.  It is a living tragedy and a national disgrace, as TDV wrote recently.  Much of the poverty is located in rural areas, including Appalachia, the deep South and Southwest.  But many big cities also have high poverty rates, including Philadelphia, which ranks among the most poverty stricken urban areas in the country.

And yet in Philadelphia and other big cities it sometimes feels like a Tale of Two Cities.   Millennials are moving back and downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are booming.  Travel outside the downtown areas, however, and you will still find sections of the city that time forgot, with vacant houses, potholed streets and dilapidated buildings.

Donald Trump has called for increased investment in our inner cities, labelling them “ghettos” and  a “disaster.” He has also been roundly criticized, and rightly so, for overstating how bad things really are.

In many urban neighborhoods, there is a resilience and vibrancy that is easy to miss if you don’t get out of your car.  The “drug bazaars” of old are largely gone; crime is down, and commercial areas are coming back in many areas.

But Trump is right about one thing:  the infrastructure of many urban neighborhoods is in bad shape and now is a good time to invest, to build on the progress that has been made in reducing crime and revitalizing commercial districts.

But we need to throw out the old playbooks, think more creatively, and develop more comprehensive approaches.  These include, in addition to rebuilding infrastructure, attracting business, fixing the often broken school systems and providing quality support services including low and moderate income housing, job training and child care.

A good way to start the ball rolling is to move government agencies into those neighborhoods.  Such an approach provides an economic anchor that can be used to better deliver services while attracting additional investment and jobs.

One model is the Sharswood / Blumberg Transformation Plan in North Philadelphia where the Philadelphia Housing Authority intends to locate it headquarters, anchoring a revitalizing commercial district including low and moderate income housing and rehabilitated public schools.

But why limit it to just local agencies? How  about moving Federal agencies to our inner cities?  Such as approach was recently proposed by Fred Kupiec, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Many towns and cities across America would welcome the economic development and stability that accompanies a well-paid federal-agency workforce like the FBI or the Labor Department. The expense of managing the federal government should be used to spread wealth beyond the nation’s capital and revitalize the economies of America’s ailing cities.

The Federal government should also provide tax credits to those who build affordable housing in our inner cities.  The burden for providing credits to stimulate investment in our inner cities falls too heavily on local governments whose budget is already strained by a diminished tax base and high demand for services.

Let’s hope Donald Trump keeps his word.  Our inner cities can use the help, and it is long past time for the Federal government to do its bit.