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.
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