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Watchdog Groups: Ex-Lawmakers Find Easy Ways Around Lobbying Curb

By Greg Gordon, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Under a law that took effect seven years ago, retired U.S. senators such as Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas were constrained from lobbying their former congressional colleagues for two years after leaving office.

But congressional watchdogs contend that these and numerous other members have capitalized on a long-standing loophole in federal ethics laws to join a seemingly endless migration into the lucrative world of lobbying even during the proscribed period. They participate extensively in the lobbying process and just avoid speaking directly to their ex-colleagues about those subjects, the watchdogs say.

Much of the job of lobbying entails advance work and strategizing, and veteran senators can easily advise underlings on what to say during visits to their former colleagues, said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen. The group sought tighter restrictions when the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act was crafted, but its appeals got nowhere in the House of Representatives, he said.

As a result, the law is “easily evaded by simply doing lobbying activity without actually making a lobbying contact,” Holman said.

Of 104 former members of Congress or top congressional aides whose “cooling off” periods are due to lapse during the first session of the new Congress, 29 already hold jobs in government relations, public affairs or serve as counsel at firms that lobby, according to a new joint study by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation.

Thirteen of the 29 are even registered as lobbyists, which they can be so long as they don’t contact ex-colleagues for two years (one year in the House), the groups found.

“The cooling-off period is the critical time in which a lawmaker still has very, very close connections with his colleagues in Congress,” Holman said. “After two years it may start fading somewhat. Within those first two years, it’s almost as if they’ve never left Congress.”

Hutchison serves as counsel to the firm of Bracewell and Giuliani, co-founded by former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York. The firm has a sizable portfolio of lobbying clients, from Chicken of the Sea International to Chesapeake Energy Corp. What work Hutchison does behind the scenes is not clear.

A spokeswoman for the firm did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

After leaving the Senate two years ago, former Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut joined the rapidly expanding law firm of Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman as senior counsel. In June 2013, the firm announced that Clarine Nardi Riddle, a former Connecticut attorney general who served as Lieberman’s chief of staff for a decade before he retired from the Senate, would be joining the firm to lead a new lobbying practice.

Riddle is a registered lobbyist. Lieberman is not.

DeMint left Congress to become president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research center that frequently circulates papers and policy blueprints among Washington decision makers. The job now pays him over $637,000 per year, according to the foundation’s federal tax return.

Holman maintained that DeMint and other ex-senators in similar roles, such as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, should register as lobbyists.

But Heritage spokesman Wesley Denton said the foundation is a “a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan research and educational institution” and its affiliated lobbying arm is Heritage for Action, an entirely separate grass-roots lobbying entity that has two registered lobbyists.

Daschle, who left Congress in 2004, exemplifies another loophole, said Holman. He has never registered as a lobbyist while working with the law firm DLA Piper, saying he spends less than 20 percent of his time lobbying, one registration threshold.

“Yet we see his name show up over and over in the White House logs, so we know he’s lobbying,” Holman said.

Last October, Daschle and the law firm of Baker Donelson announced that he would be joining that firm to lead a new lobbying shop, The Daschle Group.

Johanna Burkett, a spokeswoman for Baker Donelson, said Daschle “provides strategic counsel to a number of leading companies, but does not and has never lobbied.”

The new unit, she said, includes several “advisers” who have registered. Will Daschle also register?

“It’s impossible to predict the future,” Burkett said, “but Sen. Daschle will always make professional decisions based on what is best for his clients.”

Photo: Tobym via Flickr

Kingmaker Or Royal Pain To GOP: DeMint Building Heritage Into Conservative Force

By William Douglas, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — As a senator, Jim DeMint sometimes ran afoul of fellow Republicans by personally recruiting, nurturing and supporting his own stable of conservative candidates for Congress.

Now, as president of the Heritage Foundation, the former South Carolina lawmaker is poised once again to flex his political muscles, entering his third year of running the influential conservative think tank that he believes will be an incubator for Republican ideas in next year’s Congress.

But questions persist as to whether DeMint will be a helping hand to the incoming Republican majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate or a thorn in their side, as several establishment Republicans view him, because of his uninvited forays into the party’s campaign and policy matters.

“Most guys don’t expect us to influence what’s going on,” the 63-year-old DeMint said in an interview in his spacious office near the Capitol building. “But that’s why I’m here.”

Said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich: “Jim DeMint will be very aggressive.”

In the most recent example, 18 newly elected Congress members journeyed last month from freshman orientation sessions on Capitol Hill to attend separate orientation meetings at Heritage’s headquarters.

And just as it did when it delivered a governing road map to President Ronald Reagan in 1980 with a 3,000-page “Mandate for Leadership,” the foundation is putting the finishing touches on a legislative blueprint that it hopes to guide conservatives in the 114th Congress.

This time, the working theme is “Opportunity for All, Favoritism for None,” and DeMint plans to deliver it as the new Congress takes office in January.

“A lot of what we’re doing is pushing Republicans, not just with a positive agenda, but to recognize things like corporate welfare are favoritism,” he said. “They can’t talk about welfare reform if they’re not getting at corporate welfare first.”

Heritage has changed under his leadership. It has stepped up its advocacy activities largely through Heritage Action for America, a political arm created four years ago to help convert Heritage’s academic work into political reality.

The Heritage Foundation is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization under the tax code, which restricts lobbying activities. Heritage Action is a 501(c)(4) group and has the ability to lobby.

“We’re here to influence outcomes,” DeMint said. “And to do that requires the education and communication components of the foundation. And I know (that) unless we have (an) activist component, people are going to pat you on the head over there and say, ‘Nice study, DeMint,’ and I don’t want that to happen, because our country is at stake.”

The one-two punch of scholarly research and grassroots activism has made Heritage formidable in the world of think tanks. A 2012 study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program ranked Heritage 18th among the world’s top 150 think tanks and ninth among the best 55 think tanks in the United States.

“Whether you agree with their philosophy or not, Heritage has been successful in raising funds and creating programs that have influence in Washington,” said James McGann, director of the program.

But Heritage’s impact is rubbing some Republicans raw. They complain that Heritage Action’s grassroots activities outside Washington and aggressive score-keeping of lawmakers’ votes inside the Beltway for conservative purity have changed the tone of the foundation for the worse.

Heritage Action, for example, aggressively lobbied Congress to let funding for the Export-Import Bank lapse even as House Republican leaders were negotiating — and eventually winning — a stopgap measure to keep the bank operating to mid-December. Another battle over the bank looms.

Heritage Action was also at loggerheads with lawmakers over a Republican-crafted farm bill in the House, to the point that members of the Republican Study Group barred Heritage employees from its weekly meetings.

DeMint acknowledges the criticism from Capitol Hill. Saying, “We’re not a Republican organization,” he makes no apologies for Heritage’s approach.

“Heritage has always been unashamed to fight for conservative policies because we know they’ll make life better for Americans,” he said. “Politicians always promise to end wasteful spending, but the expensive farm bill didn’t make any meaningful reforms while being larded up with risky loan programs and corporate welfare. … There’s no purity in politics, but Americans expect more from their leaders than just tapping the brakes as we drive off a fiscal cliff.”

Clashes with the Republican establishment are not new. As a senator, DeMint often clashed with party leaders for inserting himself and money from his Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee into political races — including ones with incumbent Republican candidates.

He backed some winners: candidates such as Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, who are all senators today. Both Rubio and Paul are potential Republican presidential candidates.

But some Republicans charge that DeMint cost the party winnable seats by supporting controversial Republican candidates such as Richard Mourdock, who beat Sen. Richard Lugar in the 2012 primary but lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly in the general election, and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, who defeated moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle in the 2010 primary but lost to Democrat Chris Coons in the general election.

“I thought when he got to Heritage he’d do what he did, only on a larger scale,” said Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor and a political consultant who once worked for DeMint. “That’s what Jim DeMint likes to do: find political diamonds in the rough and polish them up.”

But DeMint stayed on the sidelines in 2014, focusing on his work at Heritage and enjoying his ability to shape things outside the halls of Congress.

“I think I’ve run my last election,” he said. “I really do believe I can do more here than in political office.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Heritage Tries Its Hand At News, But Forgets The Facts

The Daily Signal,  The Heritage Foundation’s online “news” website, debuted Tuesday, offering up vagaries and unverifiable assertions aplenty, but too few empirical facts and little in the way of attribution. Its first video was a publicist’s dream, a puff piece that no serious news organization would air.

What appears in The Daily Signal matters because it is assured a large audience eager for reinforcement of deeply embedded views, but no real evidence that would challenge or even bring into question the factual basis of those views.

Reader comments on the Signal’s first investigative piece – the only solid piece of fact-based journalism it published Tuesday – showed just how eager Signal readers are to read confirmation of their biases into pieces and to ignore inconvenient facts, especially subtly presented truths that run contrary to the Heritage Foundation’s well-established perspectives.

Heritage opened its doors in 1973 and has since worked to ensure business dominance of American politics and government. It likes to describe itself as the true champion of the poor in America. A realistic appraisal of its policies shows that it favors protecting existing wealth against the creative destruction by which the existing economic structure is constantly under siege from new wealth seekers.

Heritage also turns a blind eye to the many stealth forms of welfare for the already rich that I detailed in my books Perfectly Legal, Free Lunch, and The Fine Print.

America needs fact-based, insightful and aggressive journalism — both opinion and fact — from every point on the spectrum. But sadly, much of what we get from what mainstream news organizations mislabel  “conservative” is radical rhetoric that far too often has little basis in fact or even reality.

Progressives and liberals in particular should encourage, and read, quality journalism from the right because it will help weed out flabby, half-baked ideas by everyone not in accord with the Koch brothers and Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Without rigorous journalism from the far right, the whole country suffers a paucity of informing debate.

The framers used empiricism and reason to make their case for our Constitution and were critical of naked assertion, vague accusations and failure to test hypothesis with verifiable facts.

The breathtaking distortions and even lies by some of our best-known opinion journalists who self-identify as conservatives drew my scrutiny in National Memo columns this year, which you can read here, here, here and here.

The Signal surely cannot quarrel with my call for fact-based news and opinion, as its website says, “We are committed to news coverage that is accurate, fair and trustworthy. As we surveyed the media landscape, it became clear to us that the need for honest, thorough, responsible reporting has never been more critical. That’s a challenge in today’s fast-moving world. And it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept.”

The website then proclaims:

We are dedicated to developing a news outlet that cuts straight to the heart of key political and policy arguments – not spin reported as news. The Daily Signal is supported by the resources and intellectual firepower of The Heritage Foundation – a dedicated team of experienced journalists to cover the news and more than 100 policy experts who can quickly help put issues in perspective. We believe this combination of news, commentary and policy analysis will establish The Daily Signal as a trusted source on America’s most important issues.

We believe that high-quality, credible news reporting on political and policy issues is of paramount importance to an informed and free society. This is a reflection of that Jeffersonian notion that the greatest defense of liberty is an informed citizenry.

So, let’s take a look first at the Signal’s featured first-day video, an interview with Sharyl Attkisson, a former reporter and anchor for CBS, CNN and PBS.  The headline is hyped, describing an interview with the Signal’s own correspondent as “exclusive.”

The headline also promises a report on “Journalism’s Very Dangerous Trend” but presents zero verifiable evidence of anything dangerous or even of any trend.

After Attkisson quit CBS, she told Bill O’Reilly in April that her Benghazi, Obamacare and “Fast and Furious” gun stories did not make the air because senior producers lost interest. O’Reilly, an entertainer possessed of masterfully honed commercial instincts, skillfully conflated that into an implication of foul motives at CBS without a shred of empirical evidence that anyone could verify. Classic O’Reilly.

At The Daily Signal, producer Kelsey Harkness tossed Attkisson softballs, even puffballs. As edited, the video shows zero effort to get beyond rhetoric to empirical evidence — names, dates, specific stories, etc. Naked assertion without verifiable specifics is not reporting, it is propaganda, an irony evidently lost on the Signal’s editors.

Harkness promises two more installments, so perhaps we will see some actual reporting by her in the days ahead. Hopefully she will improve with experience, but if not, she can look forward to a superb career as a flack, as reporters call publicists.

The Daily Signal let Attkisson mix and conflate issues in a way no serious and experienced journalist would let pass. Her vague assertions about CBS newsroom managers, as edited, flowed seamlessly into a different issue — non-journalists who use social media to confuse the public.

Attkisson gave no specifics, nor did Harkness ask for any. Attkisson did express a belief that stories want to “tell themselves” in “natural” ways, whatever that means.

News does not exist in nature. It does not just happen. News is made by reporters who gather facts, check and crosscheck them, seek out a range of perspectives and present what they learn in the time available as narrative, attributing facts to sources. Reported columns, like this one, combine those facts with expert knowledge gained through years of study and practice.

Differences between reporters in the field and editors at their desks are, and always will be, sources of disagreement and even angry words.

Different news organizations also have different takes on what is significant and where the heart of the story lies, as shown by academic studies. Long ago, a front-page series in the Los Angeles Times by the late David Shaw, the pioneering news-as-a-beat reporter, documented how little the front pages of the nation’s major newspapers have in common. That’s competition for you.

Attkisson has done serious work, winning Emmys and once being named a finalist for an Investigative Reporters and Editors award. But as presented by The Daily Signal, she comes across as a disgruntled former employee who does not offer even one telling detail to back up her vague implications of news distortions.

News distortions do sometimes occur. In 1973 I exposed how for years the owner of what was said to be the most profitable TV station in America and five other broadcast outlets issued orders to manipulate the news to advance his commercial interests, which eventually resulted in the forced sale of those stations.

Attkisson’s own words describe what is nothing more than routine disagreements about significance, yet The Daily Signal gullibly presented her story without a single tough question.

Attkisson also indicates she may have been late on some of the stories, coming up not with solid facts, but merely tantalizing leads she wanted to pursue. In TV news, where immediacy is paramount, potential new angles on last week’s news to be offered sometime next month is not a formula for success. But The Daily Signal failed to explore this perfectly legitimate and routine basis for telling Attkisson to move on to more pressing stories.

This puff video comes with the Signal’s first investigative piece, a report by Attkisson about deceiving parents of premature babies into participating in a federally funded medical experiment. It is a troubling tale that I recommend.

But unless you are a careful reader, you could miss that these experiments all took place during the George W. Bush administration.

That brings us back to Heritage’s new outlet feeding an audience what it wants rather than what it needs to know. Deciding what matters among an overwhelming array of choices is the judgment for which journalists get paid.

One of the first to comment on Attkisson’s investigative piece wrote: “Don’t forget that this is the Obama administration. The same people that burn aborted babies to generate electricity.”

Many of the other comments on the piece, and the video, are also mindless screeds against Obama, Democrats and anyone with whose views the posters viscerally disagree. Plenty of liberal and centrist websites post equally mindless comments, a practice that would diminish if people had to sign their real names.

America needs well-informed, thoughtful and fact-respecting conservative journalists. Without serious and fact-based, issue-oriented journalism, we get civic debates that confuse rather than enlighten, we get poorly conceived ideas that sometimes become law. The quality of our civic debate matters so long as we intend to choose our own fate.

Going forward, I hope that new websites managers demonstrate that they are in fact in the business of news, a difficult task given that The Daily Signal is an arm of an advocacy organization with a well-established reputation for ignoring important issues, not the least among them how its supporters sup with big spoons at the public trough. They are not off to a good start, but that can change if The Daily Signal is really about what its website asserts.

Screenshot: The Daily Signal/YouTube

This Week In Crazy: ‘Super Gay Male Soldiers’ Are Killing Christians, And The Rest Of The Worst Of The Right

Welcome to “This Week In Crazy,” The National Memo’s weekly update on the wildest attacks, conspiracy theories, and other loony behavior from the increasingly unhinged right wing. Starting with number five:

5. Jim DeMint

Jim DeMint

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Heritage Foundation leader Jim DeMint continued to make a mockery of the term “think tank” this week, when he offered a spectacularly stupid theory about the Civil War.

During an interview on the Christian radio show Vocal Point, the conservative think-tank leader uncorked the following explanation of how the government didn’t actually have much to do with freeing the slaves:

Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.

Welcome to Jim DeMint’s America: Where big government can’t claim credit for ending slavery, but it can stop women from talking about abortion on the internet.

Of course, as Ian Millhiser points out at Think Progress, DeMint’s argument seems to overlook the fact that the Thirteenth Amendment came less from the love in Lincoln’s heart, and more from the “massive big government program known as the ‘Civil War.'” And DeMint seems to have confused the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. And William Wilberforce died three decades before the abolition of slavery in the U.S.

But then, nobody has ever confused DeMint with a historian.
4. Glenn Beck

You can always count on Glenn Beck to come up with a boneheaded response to a tragedy.

While discussing the stabbing attack that rocked a Pennsylvania school earlier in the week, Beck explained that God didn’t make the attacker assault his classmates with a knife — Marxism did. And apparently, mass starvation is coming next.

“God doesn’t punish us. We punish ourselves,” Beck lamented. “By going against universal principles, we end up going down this road.”

“The hunger, and dare I say it, starvation that this nation will face in the coming years will not be a punishment from God. It will be an acceptance of principles that are wrong,” he added, noting the high price for embracing “Marxist principles.”

“We are now doing things that go against natural law,” he insisted. “And because of that, we will pay a very heavy price.”

Hey, at least he probably won’t get sued this time.

3. Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann 427x321

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Michele Bachmann will only be in Congress for a few more months, and she seems determined to use them to set up a particularly unhinged routine on the Tea Party speaking tour.

Last week, Bachmann launched a new conspiracy theory about the 2012 Benghazi attack. Because former CIA director Michael Morell’s testimony on the tragedy does not match Bachmann’s baseless accusations, the congresswoman reasoned, there can only be one explanation: Hillary Clinton bought him off.

She expanded on her theory on Thursday, during an appearance on The Janet Mefford Show:

“Barack Obama’s failed national foreign policy and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy led directly to the debacle at Benghazi. They need to answer for their failed foreign policy, they couldn’t afford to do that six weeks out from a presidential re-election and so they had to concoct a preposterous story,” Bachmann explained (ignoring the fact that they actually answered for it quite successfully on the way to re-election).

“Hillary Clinton can’t get out of it, but it appears that she has bought Michael Morell’s false narrative and her consulting group or at least sympathizers to her in that consulting group have bought and paid for Mike Morell’s testimony,” Bachmann added.

Sure, she has zero evidence that Clinton bribed the director of the CIA, but hey — evidence is for liberals.

Bachmann’s continued obsession with using Benghazi to destroy Clinton is really starting to get a bit desperate. When even Charles Krauthammer has given up, it may be time to throw in the towel.
2. Rick Wiles

rick wiles

Conspiracy theorist Rick Wiles checks in at number two this week, for becoming the latest in a surprisingly long line of right-wingers to warn that gay Nazis are preparing to conquer the United States.

Wiles shared his fear during the Friday edition of his show.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say homofascist, because the German Nazi Party was homosexual, Hitler was a homosexual, the top Nazi leadership, all of them were homosexuals, it was a radical homosexual movement that gained political power, military power, and they were creating a homosexual special race. That’s what it was all about,” Wiles said. “It wasn’t this thing about an Aryan race of white people, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, white people, Hitler was trying to create a race of super gay male soldiers. That’s what he was creating.”

Wiles went on to add that if gay rights aren’t crushed, then Obama’s “super gay male soldiers” will turn America into “a hellacious place to live” where “you’re going to have to go underground to be a Christian.”

“I’m telling you, this is not an exaggeration,” Wiles warned. “If it’s not stopped, it will end up in America just like it was in Germany but it won’t be the Jews that will be slaughtered, it will be the Christians.” No word on what will happen to devotees of Chrislam.

Stay tuned for next week, when Jim DeMint hires Rick Wiles as the Heritage Foundation’s resident Nazi Germany expert.

Audio of Wiles’ rant is available at Right Wing Watch.

1. Bob Quast

Iowa’s 2014 Senate race has had more than its fair share of craziness, but nobody can top this week’s “winner,” Bob Quast.

Quast, an Independent candidate, is centering his long-shot campaign on his strong defense of the Second Amendment. And his new ad makes that very, very clear.

The spot opens on Quast jogging with his dog and baby, cheerily turning to the camera and announcing his candidacy as happy music plays in the background. The ad then takes a dark turn, when Quast changes the subject to the man who murdered his sister in 1999.

“If you are the sexual predator and sociopath who murdered my sister Lynette and you come to my front door to do harm to my girls, I’m going to use my Glock,” Quast warns. “To blow your balls off.”

He then smiles at the camera, as a cheesy special effect makes his teeth literally sparkle.

The weirdness doesn’t end there. After urging voters not to confuse him with the other Iowa Senate candidate who’s threatened your genitals, Quast whips out a knife and challenges Democratic frontrunner Bruce Braley to a debate.

“Congressman Braley, you have nothing to fear, as we are friendly folks in Iowa,” Quast says as he waves his gun and knife at the camera. “I will leave my gun at home, Joni can leave her knife on the farm, as long as you agree to leave your elite law degree in D.C.”

Because we certainly wouldn’t want a lawyer writing America’s laws.

Ultimately, Quast doesn’t have much of a shot of being Iowa’s next U.S. senator. But he will at least leave us with one of the greatest campaign slogans of all-time: “#GotBalls? Vote for Bob Quast.”

Check out previous editions of This Week In Crazy here. Think we missed something? Let us know in the comments!