Some Oversight is a Better Disinfectant than No Oversight

Newsletter 22: In which we wish we could perform oversight of presidential bundlers… but we lack the requisite campaign transparency.

2020 (and Potentially 2021)

As we predicted, last week’s debates failed to broach the subject of candidates’ campaign finance strategies. That’s too bad. Instead of round four of the same healthcare funding debate, for example, moderators could have asked candidates who have received donations from executives at Big Pharma, hospitals, and insurance companies if they planned to contravene their benefactors interests once in office. As president they would have wide latitude to do so, including by using “march-in rights” to lower drug prices--voters ought to be informed about who can be trusted to do so.  

Meanwhile, interested parties are severely constrained in their ability to get relevant fundraising information themselves because the majority of campaigns are still not disclosing their bundlers. These individuals, who mine their networks to deliver thousands, if not millions, of dollars for their candidates are particularly likely to get influential spots in the next administration, or at least get a say in who fills prime positions. While there is no federal requirement that candidates release this essential information, many past candidates have chosen to do so. That includes Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain. 

This time around, however, only one of the candidates relying on bundlers, Kamala Harris, is releasing bundler information in a timely manner. Her campaign is posting the name of any individual who raises more than $25,000, although it does not specify how much each has raised. Buttigieg released a list of bundlers in April but has not updated it, despite the fact that he has almost certainly brought more fundraisers on board since then as his fundraising has exploded. (neither Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren is relying on classical bundlers)

Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch

Although the voices frantically urging Democrats not to impeach Trump have largely faded away after having definitively lost their cause, a new strain of naysayer has emerged. They warn Democrats that they must rush impeachment or face the political consequences. According to this view, investigating any of the newly emerging aspects of this or other scandals will turn public opinion against Democrats. 

It is unclear, however, what if any evidence supports this conclusion. From our vantage point, it sure seems like House lawmakers’ decision to finally scratch the surface of Trump’s corruption is yielding abundant results. As we predicted, public support for the impeachment inquiry jumped after Democratic leadership embraced a real impeachment investigation last month (and support for Trump’s actual removal appears to be on the rise). The administration can hardly be said to be holding up well under the pressure and the president’s Senate firewall is showing distinct signs of weakness. In the meantime, Trump’s fear of defections is giving Republican lawmakers unusual leverage to rein him in. Trump has refused to remedy any of thousands of illegal emoluments, but with impeachment hanging over his head, he quickly reversed his decision to hold the G7 summit at his Doral resort after receiving Republican pushback

Just because House Democrats are moving in the right direction doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be doing even better. While we recognize that all impeachment related testimony cannot yet be taken publicly, House lawmakers could seek must-see TV opportunities to educate the public about the breadth and real world impact of the President’s offenses. That’s why we believe that impeachment should consider a broad swathe of Trump’s abuses of power, including his unconstitutional attacks on the Affordable Care Act, instrumentalization of executive power to punish California’s lawmakers and voters, and knowingly illegal infliction of pain upon the American citizens of Puerto Rico. 

If impeachment is treated as a conveyor belt that extends from the House to the Senate for as long as there is ample supply of high crimes, one could imagine partisan loyalties which are showing some fissures now beginning to actually fracture for good.

Hall of Shame: Even as we call on lawmakers to consider a wide range of Trump’s offenses within the impeachment rubric, we recognize that it could never encompass all of the wrongdoing that this administration has facilitated and perpetrated. That is why we continue to insist that other committees must perform vigorous oversight of the personnel, agencies, and corporations under their jurisdiction. In Washington Monthly last weekend we made our case that the Agriculture Committee must perform oversight of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, his Department, and Big Ag. In rural America, as elsewhere, oversight constitutes good politics as well as good policy.  

Spotlight: Representative Katie Porter is the poster child for this assertion. Her star has risen in no small part thanks to her incisive, fiery interrogation of some of this administration and corporate America’s worst actors. And it is paying off. For the second quarter in a row, the freshman lawmaker has pulled in over $1 million to defend the seat that she flipped in 2018.  

This Week in Tech

He better watch out, he better not cry: Zuckerberg is coming to town. Ostensibly to defend his shipwreck of a cryptocurrency before the House Financial Services Committee today, it's possible that the Facebook CEO will try to distance himself from the project altogether, as Menlo Park sees the writing on the wall. Libra, after all, isn't "the Facebook cryptocurrency" since its Association recently elected a non-Facebook board...even if that board is mostly companies with strong connections to Facebook

Assuming that Libra fails, we're more interested in two side-stories: first, how a who's who of FinTech CEOs and financial regulators attending the "FinTech Week" schmoozing event in Washington this week will react to the concurrent high-profile scrutiny of their industry from the House committee. Maxine Waters spoke to the executives yesterday, the day before she undoubtedly eviscerates Zuckerberg, so will her critiques be limited to Facebook itself, or broaden to cryptocurrency and FinTech writ large? 

Then there’s the fact that Zuckerberg himself has faced two unflattering stories about his political glad-handing: first, that he hosted private dinners with conservative outrage-peddlers (note how Facebook bends over backwards to appease conservatives' unfounded bias allegations, but swears to "go to the mat" against progressive antitrust proponents), and more recently, that he personally recommended several members of Pete Buttigieg's staff. As Buttigieg rises in the polls, his web of ties to the tech industry in particular becomes all the more relevant. There’s a credible argument that Zuckerberg is now as big of a progressive villain as Charles Koch, so time will tell if these hires end up biting Mayor Pete.

Independent Agencies

This week we’re bringing you a couple even-more-obscure-than-usual stories from the land of independent agencies. The first concerns the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), a board housed within the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which is responsible for settling disputes between federal workers and management in cases concerning the right of federal workers to organize and rules around schedules and hours. Since federal workers do not have the right to strike, this is an important body through which federal unions may gain some concessions. Or, at least, it was. Earlier this month, Trump appointed Maxford Nelsen, an outspoken opponent of federal unions to FSIP. There he will join a whole host of anti-worker appointees. The federal government is the largest single employer in the United States, so while this further attack on federal workers’ rights may not have been front page news, it is inarguably an important story. 

Our second piece of overlooked news concerns the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a federal watchdog set up in the wake of the Enron scandal to audit the auditors. The PCAOB sits within the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and SEC commissioners select its board members. Tradition has held that SEC commissioners in the majority party choose three of the PCAOB’s members, while the minority party commissioners choose the remaining two. That practice, however, appears to be defunct. Earlier this month, the SEC passed over sitting Democratically-aligned board member Kathleen Hamm — who had expressed interest in serving a second term — for former White House aide Rebekah Jurata. This move is a consequential violation of bipartisan norms that could weaken one of the watchdogs responsible for safeguarding economic stability.

We continue to urge Senate Democrats to fight back against the independent agency stealth nuclear option of McConnell, Trump, and their allies.  

Want more?

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

Moderate Democrats Back a Privacy Bill, Minus the Privacy

Update: We Found a “Staggering” 281 Lobbyists Who’ve Worked in the Trump Administration

As Trump sinks, Democrats may face a tough choice

House Democrats Are Failing to Protect Farmers from Trump

Trump Seems to Have No Problem Undermining Independent Unions

Rick Smith Show 10/11/19

A Progressive Congressman’s Oversight Of Donald Trump Inspires Challenge From The Left

Oregon Democrat Steps Up Oversight Of Trump Official Amid Criticism He’s Too Lax

Swamp Tour Clips Thus to Far (more to come!):

GOP Voters Learn Ins and Outs of Trump 'Corruption' on Swamp Bus Inaugural Tour

On D.C. “swamp tour,” a handful of Republican voters look to replace Trump

Republicans HORRIFIED By Trump's Corruption - Video from The Young Turks