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Today, It’s an Infrastructure Proposal from the President

By | Energy, Infrastructure, Taxation | No Comments

President Obama will promote infrastructure spending in his speech today at the annual Laborfest in Milwaukee. It’s taxes on Wednesday in Cleveland. But today …

New York Times, “Obama to Call for $50 Billion Spending on Public Works“:

WASHINGTON – President Obama on Monday is to call for as much as $50 billion in government spending to start up a long-term public works plan emphasizing transportation projects – roads, rail and airport runways – over the next six years. …

While Mr. Obama’s plan would call for investment over six years, the White House says it would be front-loaded with an initial investment of $50 billion in taxpayer money, to help create jobs in the shorter term. The administration says it would work with Congress to find ways to pay for the plan, so that it would not add to the nation’s rising deficit. One possibility would be to cut existing subsidies for oil and gas exploration and production.

Perhaps anticipating the announcement, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers released a statement from its president, Dennis Slater, this morning. From “America’s Manufacturers Need More to Celebrate This Labor Day“:

Jobs and the economy are popular topics in Washington right now, and many are talking about investing in America’s infrastructure as an important first step.  But almost nobody is addressing the elephant in the room:  America needs a fully-funded, multi-year transportation bill, and we need it now.  There are few, if any, better drivers of economic growth and job creation than infrastructure investment, and it can’t be done piecemeal.  We need a strategic vision for modernizing our country’s infrastructure, and leaders with the courage to make it happen.  That’s what will build America’s manufacturing sector and our economy, and bring lasting benefits to America for generations to come.

Verily. The surface transportation bill expired on Sept. 30, 2009, and since then the federal highway spending has been reauthorized several times on a short-term basis. The President’s renewed focus on infrastructure is welcome: Perhaps he will include  a demand that Congress reauthorize the highway bill before it leaves to campaign. (We’d love to hear something like: “Jobs are the priority, and so I urge Congress to drop extraneous, partisan and divisive legislative proposals from its agenda. This is no time for such destructive distractions as the DISCLOSE Act.”)

The National Association of Manufacturers has long identified transportation infrastructure as a competitive imperative, well summarized in our NAM ManuFact. The economic value of investing  in infrastructure was a central thrust of the Milken Institute study the NAM released in January, 2010, “Jobs for America: Investments and policies for economic growth and competitiveness,” and the NAM prominently cites the need for infrastructure investment in our policy guide and call to action, “Manufacturing Strategy for Jobs and a Competitive America.”

Circumnetting the Cabinet

By | Communications, First Amendment and Lobbying, General, Infrastructure, Innovation, Taxation | No Comments

Cabinet officials were on the road last week, making announcements and promoting the Obama Administration’s priorities.

Des Moines Register blog, Aug. 17,Vilsack: Estate tax won’t hurt most farmers“:

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today defended proposals to reinstate the estate tax, despite concerns raised at an Iowa State Fair roundtable about the need for more rural capital and incentives for young farmers.

Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, said he thinks the estate tax will be restored. The key is having appropriate exemptions for people who want to pass their farm down to a family member or someone else, he said. He expects to see a large enough exemption to cover the “vast majority” of farms and ranches in the country, he said.

St. Louis Post Dispatch, Aug. 20, “Salazar views Arch designs, says ‘We will get this done.’“:

Salazar called the five designs exciting and said that better use of the Arch grounds and connections to St. Louis and East St. Louis are important goals in even in a recession.

“We will make this one of our highest priorities,” he said. “I cannot find any place in the U.S. that has the frame for an urban park lilke you have here with the Arch and river.”

Tech Daily Dose, Aug. 17, “Broadband Grants Totaling $1.8 Billion Announced“:

Read More

The Priority is Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. That and Limiting Political Speech

By | Briefly Legal, First Amendment and Lobbying, Labor Unions | One Comment

We’re struggling to make the connection: Passage of the DISCLOSE Act will create jobs, how exactly?

From Hotline on Call, “DISCLOSE Act Will Get Second Look”:

Senate Dems plan to bring up a campaign finance measure once again, according to the bill’s supporters who hope to win cloture by wooing key GOP senators.

The DISCLOSE Act, which could not clear Senate hurdles when it came up just before the Aug. recess, will head back to the floor for a vote when the Senate returns next month, according to spokespeople for Senate Maj. Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the bill’s lead sponsor.

The DISCLOSE Act is to free speech as the Employee Free Choice Act is to freedom of association.

That is, antithetical.

On July 27, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on S.3628, the DISCLOSE Act, by a vote of 57-41. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voted no in order to retain his parliamentary ability to bring the measure back up.

To again quote from the National Association of Manufacturers’ “Key Vote” letter in opposition to the bill:

Put simply, this bill threatens First Amendment freedoms and is a direct assault on the U.S. Constitution. Its purpose is to hinder the ability of organizations, including associations such as the NAM, to give a voice to their members’ views and priorities. The U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has recognized that voluntary associations are key participants in the public debate, and that government’s attempts to curb participation in associations in order to stifle their voice in the public debate violate the First Amendment. There need be no further discussion on whether First Amendment freedoms should apply to some and not to others.

(Hat tip: Center for Competitive Politics, which posts, “DISCLOSE back from the dead?”

DISCLOSE Act: Hide or Hides?

By | Briefly Legal, First Amendment and Lobbying | One Comment

Funny how both the verb and noun were used by Senate leadership Tuesday to summarize their arguments over S. 3628, the DISCLOSE Act.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Republican leader, closed his floor comments commenting: “We’re here to protect the Constitution, not our own hides.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) closed his remarks by saying: “The only ones fearful of transparency are those with something to hide. That is what this legislation is all about.”

The AFL-CIO opposed the legislation.

The ACLU issued a statement declaring its opposition, “Bill Raises Serious First Amendment Concerns.”

What do they have to hide?

Senate Turns Back Disclose Act, 57-41

By | Briefly Legal, First Amendment and Lobbying | 2 Comments

The cloture vote to end debate on S.3628, the DISCLOSE Act, failed by a vote of  57-41.

 The First Amendment remains safe for one more day.

Senate Majority Leader Reid voted no, preserving the right to bring the bill back — “reconsideration” — at some future date. Just a gesture, we think. Otherwise, it was a partisan vote, Democrats in support, Republicans opposed. [Here’s the roll call vote.]

Again, here’s the National Association of Manufacturers’ Key Vote letter opposing the legislation. NAM Executive Vice President Jay Timmons also issued a statement urging the bill’s defeat.

In the just-completed debate, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky methodically demolished the arguments for the speech-limiting legislation. The Republican leader frankly addressed the partisan issues at play and added substantive critiques to make his case:

In order to make sure this bill isn’t held up by something as inconvenient as a challenge on first amendment grounds, its authors have made sure no court action interferes with their new restrictions this election cycle and maybe next. They add multiple layers of review. …

The authors of the bill labored behind closed doors to decide who would retain the right to speak; In direct defiance of what the Supreme Court made clear this past January, when Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, “[W]e find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”

That is precisely what the Disclose Act does. It imposes restrictions on speech. And I would note that the one category of speakers upon whom the so-called reformers have bestowed the greatest speech rights in this bill are corporations that own media outlets. So a company that owns a TV network, newspaper or blog can say what they want, when they want, as often as they want.

Yes, newspaper editorialists often prefer to ignore that last point.

UPDATE (4:30 p.m.): The Center for Competitive Politics, an essential resource throughout Congress’ consideration of this ill-conceived bill, has issued a statement, “DISCLOSE Act blocked in Senate.” As is the Center’s wont, the release contains numerous substantive examples of how the bill targeted specific groups with its speech restrictions: Read More

DISCLOSE Act, Cloture Vote Today, Various and Sundry

By | Briefly Legal, First Amendment and Lobbying | 2 Comments

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today and debates a motion to proceed to S. 3268, the DISCLOSE Act, with a cloture vote scheduled for 2:45 p.m.

Several developments:

President Obama made a statement in the Rose Garden Monday afternoon in support of the legislation. The President portrayed people he disagrees with as bad actors, who seek to subvert U.S. democracy and silence critics. The statement was shockingly hostile toward the companies that create jobs in the United States.

At a time of such challenge for America, we can’t afford these political games.  Millions of Americans are struggling to get by, and their voices shouldn’t be drowned out by millions of dollars in secret, special interest advertising.  The American people’s voices should be heard. 

A vote to oppose these reforms is nothing less than a vote to allow corporate and special interest takeovers of our elections.  It is damaging to our democracy. 

Accusing business leaders and corporations of malign intent reinforces the sense of uncertainty that afflicts the economy.  The message to business: Join us in Recovery Summer, invest in America, you corrupt merchants of greed.

The Washington Post this morning editorialized again in favor of the DISCLOSE Act.  “Vote for disclosure” is restatement of familiar arguments — and familiar omissions. It’s irritating to read an editorial from a major newspaper on disclosure that fails to report that the speech-chilling DISCLOSE Act would not apply to media outlets like the Post, which would be free to editorialize, publish opinion columns, and slant the news with its motivations and interests all kept under wraps. That’s the First Amendment at work, of course, but newspapers editorialists should acknowledge their self-interest: The DISCLOSE Act reinforces the power of mainstream media to shape public opinion.

The National Association of Manufacturers sent a Key Vote letter to the Senate yesterday reaffirming its members’ strong objection to the DISCLOSE Act. The letter is here.

Also Monday, 309 business groups and trade associations (including the NAM) joined in a letter stating their objections to the legislation. To those critics who claim big business and foreign corporations are out to scuttle the legislation, we offer these signators: The Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce, the IEC of the Texas Panhandle, Nebraska Agri-Business Association, Transportation Intermediaries Association. There are more than 300 more.

NAM Key Votes Against Anti-Speech DISCLOSE Act

By | Briefly Legal, First Amendment and Lobbying | One Comment

The National Association of Manufacturers has just sent a “Key Vote” letter to the U.S. Senate, expressing strong opposition to S. 3628, the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act.


Put simply, this bill threatens First Amendment freedoms and is a direct assault on the U.S. Constitution. Its purpose is to hinder the ability of organizations, including associations such as the NAM, to give a voice to their members’ views and priorities. The U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has recognized that voluntary associations are key participants in the public debate, and that government’s attempts to curb participation in associations in order to stifle their voice in the public debate violate the First Amendment. There need be no further discussion on whether First Amendment freedoms should apply to some and not to others.

The DISCLOSE Act would curb the First Amendment rights of many companies that regularly participate in contracts with the federal government or have limited foreign ownership or control. We believe its onerous disclosure provisions could easily be used to create “political enemies” lists or to promote boycotts – all aimed at chilling companies’ legitimate advocacy activities. It is unconscionable that these same restrictions do not apply equally to unions representing government workers or unions with foreign members or directors.

The NAM uses “Key Vote” letters to rate a member of Congress’ voting record on manufacturing issues.

Earlier today, “DISCLOSE Act: Still Chilling Political Speech

DISCLOSE Act: Still Chilling Political Speech

By | Briefly Legal, First Amendment and Lobbying | 2 Comments

President Obama is scheduled to make a statement in the White House Rose Garden at 2:20 p.m. today about the DISCLOSE Act, pending legislation in the Senate that supporters call “campaign finance reform” but is really legislation meant to chill political speech during the 2010 campaign.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) on Thursday introduced a new, slightly modified of the DISCLOSE Act, the legislative response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which affirmed the First Amendment rights of groups — including trade associations and corporations — to spend money to express a political point of view. The new bill, S. 3628, offers marginal improvements, but the underlying attack against political speech remains unacceptable.

The Schumer changes — or change: requiring disclosure when unions transfer funds among affiliaites — allow supporters to pretend sans guffaw that the bill isn’t quite as one-sided for Big Labor as critics claim.

Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics outlines why the bill remains hostile to business while favoring labor. From “DISCLOSE Act still overwhelmingly favors unions“:

Then as now, the two main provisions of DISCLOSE that severely restrict the First Amendment rights of business corporations while ignoring unions with similar alleged conflicts are the ban on government contractors and on business corporations with even minimal foreign investment making expenditures.

The contractor ban is the most sweeping and far reaching, and would effectively prohibit political speech by most large corporations in the country. The fact is that most companies of any large size in the country probably has some government contract…[snip]

Meanwhile, unions who represent workers at these companies are free to run all the ads they want. While there have been a few feeble attempts to justify this sort of disparity, the fact is that the likelihood of undue influence, corruption, or its appearance is identical at government contractors as it is with the unions at government contractors.

The conventional wisdom is that Senate Majority Leader Reid is bringing the DISCLOSE Act to a vote this week as political calculation, knowing that he lacks the votes to break a filibuster but still believing the measure will be popular with voters. But the polling we’ve seen on the issue has been tendentious, designed to produce the desired results and sound-bites about “foreign oil companies drowning out the public.” Supporters of the bill are the usual suspects: either partisans or goo-goo activists who are offended by robust speech.

Opponents, on the other hand, span the political spectrum, from the American Civil Liberties Union — which urged a Senate no vote today — and the National Right to Life Committee, which sent Senators a letter expressing strong opposition last week. What unites these groups is a belief in the rights of citizens to express their political views.

We await the President’s remarks this afternoon, hoping that he, too, believes in that right.

DISCLOSE: A Tougher Time in the Senate for Bill to Limit Speech

By | Briefly Legal, First Amendment and Lobbying, Regulations | No Comments

It appears unlikely that H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, can be pushed through the Senate as quickly as it was shoved through the U.S. House. It’s not devotion to the First Amendment but rather practical scheduling matters and Senate rules that are slowing the bill’s consideration. We’ll take it …

National Journal
, Rules of the Game column, “Any Hope For DISCLOSE Act?

The bill, which sets out to shed light on corporate and interest group campaign spending, faces an uphill battle in the Senate. A constitutional challenge would be inevitable. And even if the legislation is enacted and upheld, it will do little to fundamentally shift the balance away from private money in American elections.

Even the political advantage Democrats may have hoped to gain by championing reforms is blunted by the perception that the DISCLOSE Act includes special carve-outs for the National Rifle Association and other influential groups.

Was it “championing reform” that was supposed to provide the political advantage? We thought it was the shutting up of critics. True, the House debate last week revealed populist talking points to accompany the claims of reform — BP is bad, Big Oil is bad, insurers are bad, corporations are bad, etc. But it’s hard to see how attacking the First Amendment is a political winner; the legislation looks like an act of cynical incumbent protection in an anti-incumbent year.

The Hill
also speculated on the bill’s fate in the Senate in “Election clock ticks for campaign finance bill facing a crowded Senate agenda“:

Advocates of the Disclose Act have long pointed to July 4 as a deadline for enacting the law so that its provisions could be implemented and enforceable during the hotly-contested midterm congressional campaign. But with the Senate bogged down in fights over tax legislation, a Supreme Court nomination and energy proposals, that marker will almost surely pass without action on campaign finance.

“Every week we go past the July 4 recess is going to spill into the campaign season,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a backer of the Disclose Act.

Both pieces cited were written before the death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), which further complicates schedules and attempts to break filibuster.

Maybe the anti-speech scheming was more Byzantine than we thought: Supporters of the DISCLOSE Act used an exemption to sucker the National Rifle Association into backing the bill, provoking a backlash from NRA members. At radio host and lawyer Hugh Hewitt writes in his Examiner column today, “NRA blew it big time on Disclose Act“:

So, another day, another jam-down — and another unforeseen eruption of populist blowback, this time not just against the Democrats but against the NRA as well. A significant portion of its membership is appalled by a bill that elevates the Second Amendment over the First.

The backpedaling has been furious as the Beltway Bigs among the gun folk have struggled to explain exactly what they were doing when the NRA did not take to the ramparts to defend free speech.

Perhaps the exemption was intended first to discourage NRA members, who will now be less likely to contribute and go door-to-door in the fall campaigns. Even if the DISCLOSE Act dies in the Senate, sponsors have already achieved a disheartened NRA membership. Success!

House Votes Against First Amendment, Passes DISCLOSE Act

By | Briefly Legal, First Amendment and Lobbying, Labor Unions, Regulations | No Comments

The House has just voted to pass H.R. 5175, the DISCLOSE Act, 219-206, legislation to deprive people of their constitutional rights based on who is speaking and the content of their speech. The debate was profoundly cynical as supporters of the bill claimed it was all about disclosure, even as they carved out specific exemptions that let labor unions escape transparency and engage in political activities denied to corporations and other, less favored organizations.

The cynical, partisan nature of the bill can be demonstrated by two things:

1. The bill, once signed into law, goes into effect within 30 days, with no opportunity for the Federal Election Commission to draft rules to guide the implementation and enforcement of the law. The bill includes criminal penalties for violations, but provides citizens no clear way to know whether they might be committing a violation. The uncertainty and risk will chill political speech — just time for the November 2010 elections.

2. The bill does not contain any provisions to permit expedited judicial review. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulation bill allowed challenges to the law to move immediately to  a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. If supporters of H.R. 5175 truly believed their bill was constitutional, they would have embraced such an expedited review. Instead, the provision was kept out of the bill, and a motion to recommit from Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) that included McCain-Feingold-like review language was voted down, 208-217. (Roll Call Vote.)

It’s a sad day for the Constitution.

UPDATE (5:10 p.m.): We Tweeted the entire debate, starting at 10:50 a.m. or so. You can follow the posts here. The morning debate on the rule featured the low points of the day, including behavior that indicated a belief that saying “BP! BP!” amounts to an argument.