January 28th, 2009

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Should Bail Out Money Be Used to Lobby Congress?

Larry Lessig writes this piece on Bank of America taking a leading role in organizing resistance to passage of the Employee Free Trade Act.

I'll slide by for a moment the question of whether corporations should have the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" under the First Amendment and the current extent of this right. Rather, I'll make a point about funding companies at the public trough and whether these companies should be allowed to lobby Congress if they take money.

As a non-profit, my employer faces restrictions on its ability to "lobby" or otherwise engage in political activity. The idea is that we accept this limitation in exchange for exemption from taxes. (It is not a blanket ban, as many suppose, and "lobbying" does not apply to representations before the Executive Branch or the courts.) Foundations are even more limited in their ability to fund lobbying or other sorts of political activity that directly supports a political party as opposed to a platform or issue. (So, for example, Olin can fund CATO to push deregulation, and CATO can say that McCain is better on this than Obama, but Olin can't fund CATO to go out and campaign for McCain.)

So, should we put similar restrictions in place for use of federal bail out money? And if so, at what level? Perhaps we should say "if the feds give you an amount of money equivalent to some percentage of your net worth, we will apply the same anti-lobbying rules to you that apply to Executive Branch agencies." (Agencies may send staff to meet with members of Congress, but are prohibited from "grassroots lobbying" -- making a direct appeal to voters on particular issues.)

I'm reasonably certain that such restrictions would pass constitutional review under the Rust v Sullivan test. The question is therefore whether they are a good idea.
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House Republicans Continue Unbelievable Self-Destructive Streak

As I have noted before, I'm not a huge fan of delaying the DTV transition, but I can bow to the inevitable political realities. Despite the constant blah blah blah about how the internet has replaced television and no one uses free over the air TV anymore, turns out lots of people will be seriously inconvenienced -- and therefore annoyed -- when the DTV switch happens in February.

So the Obama Administration -- seeking to avoid the telecom equivalent of the Bay of Pigs fiasco -- asked Congress to delay the transition 4 months and to fully fund the coupon program so that everyone can get their converter box subsidy. The Senate -- no dummies -- passed this unanimously Monday night.

So the House leadership tried to move it through on a suspension vote, requiring 2/3ds approval. this was not unreasonable, given the unanimous vote in the Senate and the rather non-partisan nature of the bill. But SURPIRSE!!! A sufficient number of Rs voted to block the bill. These Rs are dancing in the street over dealing Obama his first defeat, whoooo hoooooo!!!!!

Not only are their constituents likely to be rather annoyed with them, but they have just made any screw ups in the DTV transition officially "not Obama's fault" for all but that portion of the electorate that is convinced the heartbreak of psoriasis is Obama's fault, along with the current economic downturn and the attacks on 9/11. And while these Rs probably have a fair number of such folks in their districts, the Rs hanging on by their fingernails are no doubt right appreciative of this legislative counting coup.

I swear I keep thinking:
(Obama surrounded by Republican leadership, armed with shotguns).

Obama: All right Doc, you got me, would you like to shoot me now or wait 'til you get home.

Boehner: Shoot him now! Shoot him now!

Obama: You keep out of this, he doesn't have to shoot you now.

Boehner: Well I say he does! OK fellow Republicans, Shoot Him Now!!!!

[Obama ducks, House R leadership fires, executing a perfect circular firing squad.]

Boehner: (weakly rising from ground) Obama, you're dethspicable!

And, just for more fun, the House leadership can always bring it back on a regular vote where a simple majority will be sufficient.