The Revolving Door Project Launches Website

The Revolving Door Project is pleased to announce the launch of its first-ever dedicated web home. This new website makes it easier than ever to learn who we are, what we are about, and what is keeping us busy. 

Visit www.therevolvingdoorproject.org to see a record of much of the project’s work since its founding, including blog posts, op-eds, public comments, letters, and FOIA requests. Also, be sure to check out the Revolving Door Project and the Demand Progress Education Fund’s newly-launched Agency Spotlight, which is easily accessible from our new homepage. 

Reporters who are looking for new sources should take note of our “Staff” page, which includes biographies and key areas of focus for the members of our growing team. Please reach out if you’d like to talk. 

Finally, if you are a grassroots fan of RDP’s work, we encourage you to click “Support Us” and make a contribution to help keep the project going strong!

Introducing the Agency Spotlight

Newsletter 30: New and Improved Tool Makes it Easier to Keep Track of Independent Agencies

Independent Agencies

With so many things competing for our finite attention, from the 2020 race to this president’s corrupt antics, it is easy to forget about the ongoing crisis in the leadership of independent federal agencies. These agencies establish and enforce the rules that define the shape of our economy and society, and when they function properly they prevent the next financial crisis and enforce everything from antitrust laws to workers’ rights and beyond.

Luckily, the Revolving Door Project, in partnership with the Demand Progress Education Fund, has just launched a new website - the Agency Spotlight - that makes it easier than ever to keep abreast of the situation. 

The Agency Spotlight not only improves on the functionalities of the Independent Federal Agency Monitor but also, thanks to the work of the Demand Progress Education Fund, incorporates a new vote tracker for three of the agencies: the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Furthermore, this new site brings together both organizations’ extensive published works on independent agency leadership, including blog posts, op-eds, public comments, and letters. 

We’re very excited about this new and improved tool and encourage all of you to check it out!

2020 (and Potentially 2021)

With the Nevada caucus bearing down on us this Saturday, our ever-so-brief respite from the horse race is over. With that in mind, let’s check back in with the candidates to see what they’ve been up to. 

It’s safe to say that all are working as hard as they can to build momentum ahead of the contests in Nevada, South Carolina, and on Super Tuesday. However, not all candidates are adopting the same strategy to do so. Some, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have focused on getting time with voters to build enthusiasm. Others, like Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar, however, are keeping their attention focused on the money with a jam-packed schedule of high-dollar fundraisers. 

Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, for example, hosted a Seattle brunch last weekend where particularly well-heeled supporters raised $75,000 or more to earn the moniker “co-host.” Meanwhile, Joe Biden was expected to raise $1 million in one day late last week between two fundraising events in New York City, primarily from Wall Street elites. 

But while these candidates are clearly applying themselves with great vigor to the task at hand, there is simply not enough time in the day for each to get all the money they need alone. That is where campaign surrogates come in. Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, for example, has been the featured guest at many fundraisers on Biden’s behalf. Meanwhile, Buttigieg has been leaning on his national policy director, Sonal Shah, for help on the fundraising circuit. Shah, you’ll likely remember, is an alum of both Goldman Sachs and Google. 

But while all candidates rely on surrogates, making your policy director your campaign’s interface between you and wealthy funders is unusual. It’s not exactly a mystery why this would be frowned upon. However flimsy it is in reality, most campaigns like to maintain at least the pretense of a firewall between the fundraising and policymaking operations. 

Even if Shah isn’t trading specific policy concessions for checks — which is admittedly unlikely — her time spent rubbing elbows with present-day robber barons undoubtedly influences how she sees the policy landscape and how she sets policy priorities. It’s also likely to reinforce the advantage that these individuals have when it comes time to pick personnel. Shah, who has been with the Buttigieg campaign since it’s early days, is almost guaranteed a spot at the table when it comes time to picking appointees for a Buttigieg administration. And who is most likely to be at the front of her mind? Why those titans of industry she’s spent so much time mingling with, of course!

The money imperative is also prompting some disappointing backsliding (capping what has really been a whole campaign season of regression). In the past week, super PACs have formed to support Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren’s bids. You might remember that, only a couple of weeks ago, Warren cited both women’s lack of super PAC support as a point of pride. Of course, now that they’ve formed neither can make these new entities go away, but both should certainly be louder in their opposition to them. 

Following her breakout performance in New Hampshire, Amy Klobuchar is finally getting some more scrutiny on other fronts as well. It seems that other outlets are finally catching on to the thesis put forward by the Revolving Door Project’s Max Moran last month: there is a consequential divide in this primary when it comes to fundraising, and Amy Klobuchar falls squarely on the Biden-Buttigieg side of the fault line. Take, for example, the generous support she is receiving from “the worst company in the world,” Cargill, or the fundraising help she is getting from Brad Karp, registered lobbyist and chairman of the notorious law firm, Paul Weiss. 

Unfortunately, none of this featured in last night’s debate. And while the blood-letting certainly made for better TV than the usual debate fare, we were still disappointed that so little time was spent on these would be presidents’ actual plans for the presidency. For example, when asked about their plans to address climate change (I know, we were also pleasantly surprised!), candidates missed the opportunity to talk about all they could do without the help of Congress. That includes the things we typically think about when we talk about climate — raising clean air standards or placing a moratorium on drilling on public lands, for example. But it also includes less obvious solutions, like forcing financial institutions to consider climate risk and to divest carbon intensive investments.

As always, reach out to us in order to discuss how personnel is policy and also all of the fresh, disturbing money in politics angles we keep accumulating.

Congressional Oversight

It’s been a bit eclipsed of late, but some in Congress are still keeping a close eye on the myriad scandals in the Trump administration. Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren drew attention to the fact that Trump might once again be illegally withholding aid, this time to Puerto Rico. We continue to believe that Trump’s racist (and dare we say, impeachable?) attacks on Puerto Rico have gotten far too little attention relative to their importance.

In the House, the Natural Resources Committee is escalating its fight for documents from the Interior department. Last week, the committee voted to give Chair Raul Grijalva subpoena power. Certainly should have happened sooner, but better late than never. 

Want more?Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last couple of weeks:

The Top Lawyer Bankrolling Democrats

Will Amy Klobuchar Carry Water for the ‘Worst Company in the World’?

As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands

After His Acquittal, Trump Has Unleashed New Heights of Vindictiveness

January 2020 Update on the State of Independent Federal Agencies

Ring of Fire Radio on 2/14

The Rick Smith Show on 2/13

Mike Bloomberg’s ‘Wizard Of Oz’ Campaign Hid His Record Behind The Curtain

A New, Progressive Vision for Personnel

Newsletter 29: What the next president needs to be looking for (hint, debate moderators, hint!)

The discussion around the Democratic nomination battle this week has understandably been centered on the fiasco in Iowa, but with votes (mostly, kinda) tallied... it’s time to turn our attention back to substance before the next votes are cast. Voters still deserve to hear more about how each candidate would do the job of being president, and time is running increasingly short. 

2020 (and Potentially 2021)

Although it was largely eclipsed in the fracas, we did learn last week that Bernie Sanders’ team has been preparing potential executive orders that a President Sanders would sign on day one. Measures under consideration include allowing the importation of drugs from Canada, declaring climate change a national emergency, legalizing marijuana, and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour for government contractors, among others. 

Sanders is not the only one to consider the extensive use of executive orders. Amy Klobuchar, for one, has released a long list of actions that she would take in her first 100 days in office, including many executive orders and other executive actions. And Warren has often centered executive branch administration in her plans. With more and more candidates stepping into the fray when it comes to executive power, it’s really time that debate moderators and the rest of the media started asking about it. 

However, it will surprise no one to know that we want more than just talk of executive orders or even specific actions. We also want to know who is going to be carrying them out. No president can accomplish all that they want alone but must lean on a wide network of personnel. The people that they pick have the ability to make or break their legacy. 

So how does the next president ensure that they pick good people? Our founder, Jeff Hauser, and David Segal, Executive Director of the Demand Progress Education Fund, have taken a crack at that question in their new article, “Personnel is Policy” in the journal Democracy. They propose a broad set of criteria by which to assess potential appointees. Ideal personnel will have the following positive attributes:

  1. A proven commitment to the public interest

  2. An ability to creatively apply the tools of government

  3. A reflectiveness of the country as a whole

  4. A willingness to engage affected communities and work with movements

Almost by definition, adherence to these positive criteria would sideline the more traditional candidates for positions in the executive branch.  However, Hauser and Segal make explicit what sort of attributes should not be welcome in a future administration:

  1. A willingness to represent interests at odds with the public good

  2. Compromising ties to industry

  3. Policy positions at odds with the public good

  4. A record of using public service for personal gain

  5. A strong likelihood they will seek to work in a regulated industry after a stint in government and, in so doing, tilt outcomes toward the industry and away from the preferences of democratically elected government.

We encourage you to read the whole piece and to consider what would be possible should a future administration take its suggestions seriously.  

Sadly, some candidates are sending decidedly worrisome signals that they would not. If Biden’s Super PAC donors are any guide (and we would argue rather forcefully that historically they have been), his administration is likely to be filled with former executives from private equity, hedge funds, and yes, even oil and gas. The volume of support that both Biden and Buttigieg are receiving from the country’s most notorious anti-union law firms also portends disappointing progress for labor rights in a Biden or Buttigieg administration. 

News that Buttigieg is returning a donation from yet another unsavory figure - this time a donor who previously led a major ICE contractor - should also raise alarm bells. As President, Buttigieg will be responsible for leading a team that vets thousands of personnel picks; his repeated failure to successfully vet donors as a candidate does not inspire confidence that he will excel at this essential responsibility. 

Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch

The President has been acquitted after a Senate “trial,” but that should not mean that the work of oversight is finished. As John Podesta argued in the Washington Post yesterday, “The country needs the House’s oversight now more than ever.” We could not agree more! 

The House has, almost without exception, failed to take its oversight responsibilities seriously, leaving a veritable mountain of corruption untouched. It’s time they got to work on that backlog and that they began responding to the new issues emerging under their noses in real time. That should include EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson’s decision to go work as a lobbyist for a mining company, the abrupt firing of the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Fiona Hill’s replacement, and much more that we’re undoubtedly missing. 

Want more?Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last couple of weeks:

Personnel Is Policy

Attorneys From Union-Busting Law Firms Are Throwing Support Behind Joe Biden

Biden and Buttigieg Take Big Bucks From Union-Busting Lawyers

Who Exactly Are Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg's Bundlers?

Ecos del 'impeachment' en Iowa: cómo afecta a Biden lo que se dijo de él en el proceso contra Trump

THE PROGRESSIVE VISION VS. TRUMP’S LIES

And video and a transcript of the Capitol Forum event we helped plan should be available soon -- please contact us or Capitol Forum for more information! 

Analyzing the final campaign finance disclosures pre-Iowa

A short newsletter on campaign finance and what recent filings could possibly foretell about the makeup of the next president's team.

Amidst a Senate trial of an impeached president that, well, has hardly been a meaningful “trial,” and analysis of Iowa polls that tends to exaggerate how much we can know right now (“For a candidate polling at >=10, the empirical margin of error on the polling average as it stands right now is +/- 16 percentage points! Polling Iowa is really hard, last minute swings are common, and this doesn't seem to be reflected in news coverage of the state,” per Nate Silver)... 

Revolving Door Project wants to offer a quick extra newsletter focusing on some things that are what they purport to be and are actually knowable: Rich people spending a lot of money trying to win the Democratic primary for either themselves (Bloomberg, Steyer) or for their favored candidates (Biden, Buttigieg, and to a lesser extent, Klobuchar).

As always, we do not approach these issues as purists. Can big money spending be gauche? Sure. But that’s not RDP’s concern. We focus on how political spending can impact how a winning candidate might or might not build out their Cabinet and the whole swathe of 4,000+ appointments they will make if they are in office as president in less than a year’s time.

Toward that end… check out our thread on Biden’s SuperPAC, which unveiled its first accounting for its funding yesterday, accounting for roughly 50% of what it has raised thus far. Biden’s campaign has been running on financial fumes due to a marked inability to raise grassroots funds. That’s why Biden’s SuperPAC has been critical to stabilizing his status in Iowa in order to avert what could have been -- and still might end up being -- an embarrassment. (Biden led Iowa for almost all of the first 9 months of 2019) And it’s clear that Biden’s SuperPAC relies on a dangerous combination of private equity (e.g., $200,000 from four senior members of the Blackstone team responsible for, among other travesties, “surprise” medical billing outrages), real estate titans, investment bankers, a former defense contractor who sold American military secrets to China, and even a sizable dollop of union-busting lawyers.

We have no cause to suspect the next tranche of donor information revealed by Biden’s SuperPAC will look much more appetizing.

But our analysis extends much further than SuperPACs. Our research on conventional funders through the end of September figured heavily in this piece last night onThe Intercept about the surprising role of America’s leading anti-worker law firms in supporting the candidacies of Biden and, to a lesser extent, Pete Buttigieg. It’s hard to see how one runs an executive branch with a coalition that juggles America’s leading union busting law firm, Jackson Lewis, and working people. We wonder if Biden will renounce the financial support from Jackson Lewis and some other similar firms as many unions contemplate endorsement decisions…. 

Similarly, our newest team member at Revolving Door Project, Andrea Beaty, highlighted Buttigieg’s close relationship with a leading Midwestern union busting firm. As Andrea noted, Barnes & Thornburg “has an enthusiastic Labor and Employment practice that boasts “favorable results in more than 96% of the campaigns” in which they represent employers facing union organization. Buttigieg has over 20 donors from the firm in total.”

Revolving Door Project’s Eleanor Eagan and Max Moran also have offered up a vast swathe of analysis of the bundlers that Biden and Buttigieg belatedly released under pressure (from us and others) in December. We urge everyone to read the extensive research here

This research only represents the tip of the iceberg of what RDP is working on with respect to 2020 and the possible transition to a new president, and we’re always happy to answer questions about the work we have not yet made public. Given how we are constantly learning anew from Donald Trump the perils and corruption of in person fundraising and how it can connect to executive branch favors… we hope the media will look to us and others for insight into the right questions to be asking about how fundraising and running the executive branch might interconnect.

So in awaiting for Iowa or digesting Iowa en route to New Hampshire… please feel free to email our founder at hauser at cepr.net

Late Breaking Disclosures…Not Involving A Mustachioed Man

Newsletter 28: Late night disclosures from campaigns and belated transparency from Biden’s Super PAC set for Friday evening

As longtime readers know… Revolving Door Project is focused on the promise and perils of the executive branch of the federal government. We believe that who is appointed to these jobs and for whom they fight -- themselves and their past or future employers, or the public interest -- is of enormous consequence.

That’s why we’re proud to be a co-convener and planner of an upcoming event, “Populism and Political Economy: Looking Ahead to 2020,” hosted at the Capitol Forum on February 5. Ideas for executive branch action across every topic area, from finance to antitrust and from labor to science policy, will be discussed by leading progressives. If you want to understand the push and pull within and around a potential Democratic Party presidency, it will be critical that you hear from and get to know the people in this room. 

2020 (and Potentially 2021)

In less than a week, Iowa caucus-goers will cast their votes after having been inundated with candidates’ time and their legislative promises for over a year. One thing they could definitely have heard more about, however, is what each candidate would plan to do with his/her executive branch powers. 

As we have highlighted before, in the absence of explicit commitments, motivated voters can look to other indicators for a sense of how a candidate would actually do the job of being president. They might, for example, consider the fact that Pete Buttigieg has been taking advice on antitrust policy from an attorney at Wells Fargo. Or might peruse a candidate’s list of bundlers with interest.

Unfortunately, one crucial source of information will remain hidden to them until the very last minute. The Super PAC that was formed to support Joe Biden will release the names of its donors for the first time on Friday, January 31, just three days before votes are cast. And, if Biden world past practice is guidance… we expect near midnight Friday night, so maybe 68 hours before votes are cast… assuming immediate analysis! Feel free to ping our founder Jeff Hauser at hauser AT cepr.net if interested in first blush takeaways… and we will potentially be back in your inbox over the weekend or next Monday morning with some rapid response.

This belated transparency is no small consideration; Biden’s Super PAC — “Unite the Country” — has spent millions on TV ads in Iowa and is on pace to spend $5 million in Iowa alone when all is said and done. Indeed, Biden’s SuperPAC has been spending more on TV in Iowa than the Biden campaign most weeks; perhaps relatedly, Biden’s Iowa numbers have solidified after a long downward trajectory throughout the fall. 

Why do we care about these donors and the massive hand they are lending Biden? Well, just as candidates are likely to feel more beholden to someone who has bundled $100k for the campaign than someone who gave the federal maximum, so too are they going to feel indebted to a super PAC donor writing ten or hundred thousand, or indeed million, dollar checks. The figures behind this PAC are prime candidates for appointments -- or at least input into appointments -- in a Biden administration. That should make them a top concern for voters.

And as our Max Moran notes, Biden is not the only candidate whose key funders have only been revealed belatedly and at a time designed for minimal awareness -- consider co-New York Times endorsee Amy Klobuchar. While we have praised Klobuchar’s long-standing attention to a president’s actual job running the executive branch, as we look at who is working hardest to fund her campaign we do have to wonder about whom she would appoint. 

At least one candidate is not forcing voters to guess at her plans should she come to occupy the White House. In the past fortnight, Elizabeth Warren has made numerous explicit executive branch-focused commitments that go well beyond those that other candidates have laid out. Her plan to “Restor[e] Integrity and Competence to Government After Trump” not only confronts the damage that President Trump has done to the civil service but also many of the deeper problems that have plagued executive branch leadership for years. Her proposed remedies rely almost exclusively on the power of the president. That includes commitments to investigate and remove political appointees from the Trump era who may have broken the law and to end corrupt federal contracting deals that began under Trump. But it also comprises explicit commitments to replace these figures with qualified, unconflicted, public interest-minded political appointees.

Of course, there’s always more than can be said on this topic. What, for instance, would the candidates want their public interest-minded appointees to do with their power? As we mentioned above… attend the upcoming event “Populism and Political Economy: Looking Ahead to 2020,” hosted at the Capitol Forum on February 5 for some ideas.

While Sanders has not made as many explicit and specific commitments about the types of people he will appoint, he has made several promises about what he would do (or have appointees do) with their power. Most recently, he has promised to revoke Trump’s travel ban via executive order. In the past he has made other commitments to, for example, direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use its existing authority to lower internet prices and improve service quality. As polling momentum fuels interest in what a Sanders presidency would look like, we suspect more specific executive branch plans will be forthcoming from the Sanders campaign.

Independent Agencies

With 2019 over we decided to take stock of the past year’s developments in independent agency leadership. Unfortunately, we found very little cause for celebration. One notable observation from our blog post, “Year in Review - What Changed at Independent Agencies in 2019.”: 2019 ended with more vacancies (43 out of 174) than the number with which it began (41 out of 174). While Trump put forward nominees and the Senate confirmed some of them, it was not enough to keep pace with the rate at which seats were expiring or being vacated. Partisan imbalance has proven similarly protracted. At the end of the year, just as at the beginning, 10% more of the seats destined for Democrats were vacant than those destined for Republicans (29 percent versus 18 percent). The number of floor speeches from Democratic leadership that decried this trampling of norms? Zero. 

Even more concerning, it seems quite plausible that the rate of new nominations and confirmations will slow this year amidst the distractions of the presidential election. 

Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch

We know that it’s hard to pay attention to anything on Capitol Hill other than impeachment right now. But, if you are going to watch any non-impeachment-related hearing, we suggest that you make it the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) hearing with Comptroller of the Currency, Joseph Otting. On Wednesday, committee members will grill Otting about his agency’s efforts to undermine the “Purpose and Intent” of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Otting’s vendetta with the CRA is a personal one. Using the CRA, community members nearly succeeded in putting a stop to the merger between OneWest (which Otting was then leading) and CIT Bank. That is among the reasons we included Otting on our Oversight Agenda for HFSC and on our Swamp Tour of DC last October. We’re happy to see that he’s finally being put in the hot seat. 

Want more?Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last couple of weeks:

Take the Money and Run

Drain the swamp? Spending on Washington lobbying rises to 9-year high

The Issue Dividing Democratic Candidates Is Hidden in Plain Sight

How Republicans made millions on the tax cuts they pushed through Congress

Year in Review - What Changed at Independent Agencies in 2019.

Can ‘Atlanta’s own AOC’ make it easier for working-class Americans to run for office?

Will Candidates Be Asked How They Would Actually Do the Job of Being President? With Ian Masters on 1/14

Federal Judge Halts House Lawsuit for Trump’s Tax Returns Because of … the Don McGahn Case?

Wells Fargo Attorney Moonlights as Buttigieg Campaign Policy Adviser

Biden seeks distance from impeachment saga

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