2010 - %3, October

Politics in Orange County

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 1:19 PM EDT

Over in my mother's congressional district, the Republican candidate is getting creative:

Republican Van Tran, the upstart challenger to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), is betting on voters sniffing out his opponent's struggles — literally.

Tran is sending out a scratch-and-sniff direct mail piece attacking Sanchez that features a hideous odor emanating from it....On the inside of mailer, the piece says, "Something smells rotten about Loretta. It's the stench of Washington." Below that is the scratch and sniff panel.

A GOP source who experienced the Eau de Sanchez put it this way: "It is a horrible odor, like the combination of the five or six worst possible scents you can imagine."

Of course, keep in mind that this used to be a district represented by A-list loon Bob Dornan, and this seems like exactly the kind of thing he would have done. It's good to see that north Orange Country Republicans are keeping the flame alive.

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Pay for Non-Performance

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 1:01 PM EDT

The Economist's Matt Steinglass, responding to yesterday's post about skyrocketing incomes of the rich, offers this note:

A few years back, this paper did an extended investigation of increasing CEO compensation, and found that while "abuses and downright crookery" were part of the story, CEO pay gains were justified by increased returns to investors. That, however, was in 2007, before the global financial crisis erased many of those gains.

This is revealing about high-end pay packages on two levels. Increased compensation has mostly been the effect of huge pay increases in the financial sector and among Fortune 5000 executives. But as Matt points out, the increasing returns their companies enjoyed were largely illusory. That's now a lot more obvious than it was five years ago, but there's nonetheless been no movement to reduce executive/financial pay in response.

Still, not all of those increasing returns were illusory. A lot of it was perfectly real. More broadly, then, the question is this: if returns are increasing everywhere, do CEOs as a class deserve ever increasing pay packets? Why? If a single company does significantly better than its competitors, that's a sign that its executive team is doing something right. But if the global economy as a whole is booming, and most companies are just riding the wave, that's a sign of absolutely nothing. CEOs as a class aren't responsible for global economic conditions, and individual CEOs deserve no special consideration for merely benefitting from a growing economy.

This, to me, has always been the smoking gun in conversations about executive pay. If corporate executives are really being paid for performance, they should be paid richly if their performance is significantly better than the competition and less if their performance is worse. They shouldn't be paid richly if their performance merely matches the overall growth rate of their industry or the economy as a whole. For the most part, though, that's exactly how they've been paid ever since the early 80s. Merely average performance drives outlandish pay increases, and the penalty for poor performance is almost nonexistent. Corporate executives, as a group, are wildly risk averse, and over the past few decades have mostly been paid simply for going along for the ride when the economy is doing well.

As soon as that changes, I'l be open to arguments about CEOs deserving their astronomical pay packets. But there's no sign of it yet.

The Mystery of Obama

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 12:24 PM EDT

What happens if Republicans win control of one or both houses of Congress in November? Ezra Klein says he'll put money on a bigger tax cut getting passed but thinks the odds of big deficit reduction are tiny. Matt Yglesias thinks the odds of a big deficit reduction are even tinier, since Republicans don't actually care about deficit reduction.

And me? I don't know, because I don't really feel like I understand President Obama's position in all this. It's pretty obvious what House Republicans will do: extend all the Bush tax cuts and possibly try to make a few modest cuts in spending. It's less obvious what the Senate will do, but even if Democrats retain control there are going to be several members of their caucus willing to compromise on the kind of program House Republicans want to pass. So that means big tax cuts and small spending cuts, and therefore an increase in the deficit.

But what about Obama? Would he veto such a program and risk shutting down the government? Or is he still dedicated to looking postpartisan? Will he become a born-again deficit fighter after the elections? That's the wild card, and I honestly have no idea where he stands on this. To make it even worse, he's going through a lot of staff changes, and there's no telling what kind of advice he'll be getting compared to the past couple of years.

So Obama is the central mystery here, I think. If I could figure out what he's going to do, I'd be a lot more willing to make a prediction. But I can't.

Lisa Murkowski's Dirty Energy Supporters

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 11:32 AM EDT

Incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is not on the ballot in Alaska this November, but she's still favored to win, with the most recent polls showing her in a dead heat with Joe Miller, the tea party candidate that unexpectedly defeated her in the primary. She's also crushing Miller and her Democratic opponent Scott McAdams in fundraising—but as her campaign disclosures show, it's not Alaskans that are dumping money into her write-in campaign. The vast majority of her funds have come from out-of-state oil, gas, and coal interests.

Murkowki's raked in more than $2.3 million this year, to Miller's $1.4 million and McAdam's $687,000. As I noted last week, Murkowski has benefited from the support of a new Super PAC, Alaskans Standing Together, which has received contributions exclusively from corporations. But at least they are Native Alaskan corporations. Eighty-nine percent of her money is coming from out of state, according to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, and energy companies are by far her biggest industry supporters.

Galliano, Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore, which provides vessels for offshore drillers, is her biggest donor at $36,250. Maryland-based Constellation Energy comes in second, at $34,646. ExxonMobil, which is based in Houston, has ponied up $20,500. In fourth place at $17,400 is Van Ness Feldman, a DC-based lobbying shop that works for a number of electric utilities, natural gas and oil services companies, and mining interests. The Texas-based pipeline company Energy Transfer Equity and Missouri-based coal company Peabody Energy come fifth and sixth among her top donors, respectively.

As ranking minority member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski holds quite a bit of sway in her post. In the past few years she has worked closely with chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) on a number of bills. She was also at the helm of multiple attempts to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse gases and has been the leader in pushing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling. Even though some of her GOP colleagues have not hidden their unhappiness about her write-in bid to upset Miller, so far they've allowed her to keep her seat on the committee. If Republicans manage to take the majority in the Senate, she'd be in line to serve as the panel's chair.

In turn, Murkowski's been busy touting how much her leadership position means for the state. (Her website is topped with a big drop-down banner asking, "What has Lisa's seniority in the Senate delivered for Alaska?" and links to a page that lists things like securing funding for the first mobile geothermal turbine and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium among her accomplishments.) Yet Murkowski's campaign records show exactly whose priority it is to keep her in the Senate—and it's not Alaskans.

Victim in Ken Buck Rape Case Speaks

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

I have a story today explaining why it's so odd that Ken Buck, the tea party Republican Senate candidate in Colorado, didn't prosecute a controversial rape case while serving as Weld County district attorney. While reporting the story, I conducted a lengthy interview with the victim in the alleged rape. I wasn't able to get all of her comments into the article, but I wanted to share a few of them now. Perhaps the most interesting news in our interview was the victim's contention that Buck's office was totally unwilling to compromise on prosecuting the case. She says she suggested that they at least offer the suspect a plea deal, with no jail time and sex offender treatment, but that Buck's assistant district attorney rejected that idea outright. Here's a rough transcript of the rest of what she told me (you'll probably need to read the story itself to understand all the details):

Five Memes That Deserve to Die

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

My latest for the magazine is online now, and it's a pre-election piece called "Five Memes That Deserve to Die." That's the subhead, anyway. The real headline is "Invasion of the Brain-Devouring Platitudes," which goes better with the conceit of our horror movie cover featuring Sarah Palin as a 50-foot woman. (Explained here.) Basically, it's a collection of five memes about the election that I'm pretty sure are wrongheaded regardless of how things turn out next Tuesday. Which is convenient, since I don't know how things are going to turn out next Tuesday.

As it happens, I wasn't very happy with how the piece turned out. But I've always wondered what the journalistic etiquette is for that kind of thing. Go ahead and admit it? Or just promo it as usual? I'm not sure. Besides, I read through it again this morning and it didn't seem all that bad after all. So maybe I was just in a cranky mood the week I wrote it. I'm sure you'll all let me know in comments.

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2010 Spending Smashes Election Records

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 10:30 AM EDT

Two billion dollars. That's more than the GDPs of 46 of the world's countries. More than the total value of exports of 96 countries. Forty thousand times greater than the US median household income.

It's also the total amount of money House and Senate candidates are on track to raise this election season, with House races expected to drum up around $1.5 billion and Senate races $550 million. Or as the Washington Post put it today, that's about $4 million for every seat in Congress up for grabs on November 2. And the $1.5 billion already raised by congressional candidates smashes the previous records in 2006 and 2008.

So where's that money coming from, and who's spending it? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top donors in 2010 include the usual big corporations and unions: AT&T ($3.3 million), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($2.9 million), Boeing ($2.3 million), and the American Bankers Association ($2.3 million). Among the most expensive races are the Connecticut Senate showdown, pitting state attorney general Richard Blumenthal against former World Wrestling Entertainment executive Linda McMahon; the candidates have together raised more than $48 million, of which they've spent $44 million. 

But the big story of the 2010 midterms, as Sid Mahanta and I point out today in a new MoJo video, is the massive fundraising and spending clout of shadowy outside groups that, under federal tax rules, don't have to disclose their donors until well after Election Day—if ever. These secretive players, including group's like the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS and the American Future Fund, could spend upwards of $400 million by the time this election is over, cutting attack ads targeting candidates across the country.

Here's more from the Post's Dan Eggen:

The surge is driven in part by the unusually broad battlefield in the House, where an estimated 90 seats are in play, almost all of them held by Democrats. Many Democratic incumbents are emptying their coffers in an attempt to win the message wars against GOP-allied interest groups.

"Both members of Congress and their challengers need to raise a huge amount of money to respond to these outside groups," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director for the Public Campaign Action Fund, which advocates for public financing of elections. "Candidates are losing control of their elections unless they get on the phone to raise money to get their own ads on the air."

Some of the most striking increases are evident on the House Republican side, where a deep bench of competitive candidates could wrest control of the chamber from Democrats. Republicans have also raised more and spent less, giving them an even larger advantage in the last week of the campaign. Through the third quarter of 2008, Democratic House candidates had outraised their opponents by $64 million. This year, the balance has been reversed, with Republicans outraising Democrats by $30 million, according to the action fund's analysis, which is based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

GOP political consultants say the reasons for the shift are simple: Republican voters are more enthusiastic and they are eager to give money to challengers seeking to oust Democrats.

DC Ticker on ABC News: Tom Donohue, buy; Joe Miller, sell

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 10:24 AM EDT

I've previously explained the DC Ticker I compile most days, which is now being featured on ABC News' website show, Political Punch, hosted by Jake Tapper. Here are the picks featured on this week's PP:

Tom Donohue, buy. His Chamber of Commerce is not your father's Chamber of Commerce. No matter how many House and Senate seats the Republicans gain next week, Donohue's standing as a DC powerbroker goes up.

Joe Miller, sell. The Tea Party Republican Senate candidate in Alaska used to be a local government attorney, but he left that post under a cloud. Now a judge has ordered his personnel records made public. Will any skeletons come dancing out of the closet before Halloween—and the election?

Mike Huckabee, buy. He's blasting Karl Rove and other Republican elitists for being dismissive of Christine O'Donnell. This is not about defending an ex-witch. It's about making a play for social conservative voters in the 2012 Republican primaries.

Denis McDonough, buy. He was just named deputy national security adviser. Whether Obama is a one- or two-term president, there's still time for McDonough to reach the top national security job at the White House.

Tom Coburn, buy. Unless a Democratic miracle occurs, there will be more tea party Republicans in the Senate after the election, and that could earn Coburn, a conservative senator from Oklahoma, a spot in the Senate Republican leadership, as its ambassador to those extreme-as-we-want-to-be Senate newbies.

You can receive the almost-daily DC Ticker report by following my Twitter feed. (#DCticker is the Twitter hashtag.) Please feel free to argue with my selections—though all decisions of the judges are final. And please feel free to make suggestions for buy or sell orders in the comments below or on Twitter (by replying to @DavidCornDC). Don't forget: DC Ticker is merely an advisory service. It and its author cannot be held liable for any investments made in politicians, policy wonks, or government officials on the basis of the information presented. Invest in politics at your own risk.

Rand Paul Supporter Stomps on the Head of a MoveOn Activist

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 10:07 AM EDT

A Rand Paul supporter stomped on the head of a MoveOn activist who was protesting outside of last night's Kentucky Senate debate between Paul and his Democratic opponent Jack Conway. The volunteer was trying to give Paul a satirical award from "RepublicCorp"—to highlight corporate contributions to his campaign—when she was assaulted. Here's Politico with the details:

Just minutes before the candidates were slated to face off in Lexington, MoveOn.org representative Lauren Valle was walking through the crowd of Paul boosters with a sign when she was grabbed by several men, one of whom pulled a blonde wig off her head while another pushed her to the curb and stomped on her face.

"These supporters were not very nice to me and my message, which is the same as everyone else—I just wanted to get out here with a sign, but I got my head stepped on," Valle told a reporter from Louisville's Fox41, trying to regain her breath. "I have a bit of a headache.

A local TV news crew also caught footage of the attack, which you can watch here.

There haven't been any arrests yet, and it's unclear whether anyone will be charged. But apparently it wasn't the only scuffle at the event. TPM flags a Kentucky Post story citing a separate incident in which "a Conway supporter stepped on the foot of a female Rand supporter, who recently had foot surgery." It's unclear whether the second incident was intentional, but the victim says she plans to file charges. Neither incident speaks too well of the candidates' supporters, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that head-stomping trumps foot-stomping in terms of eyebrow-raising violence, and Rand Paul's campaign can't be thrilled that this all went down just a week before the election.

Inside Tennessee's Lucrative Anti-Jihad Industry

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 8:00 AM EDT

In case you missed it, Bob Smietana at the Tennessean has a must-read investigation following the money behind the self-styled "Anti-Jihad" activists fueling the backlash against a planned mosque in Murfreesboro. Conclusion: It's kind of a racket:

Former Tennessee State University physics professor Bill French runs the Nashville-based, for-profit Center for the Study of Political Islam. He spoke recently to a group of opponents of the Murfreesboro mosque gathered at a house in Murfreesboro...

"This offends Allah," said French, pointing to the flag on the wall. "You offend Allah."

French, who has no formal education in religion, believes Islam is not a religion. Instead, he sees Islam and its doctrine and rules—known as Shariah law—as a totalitarian ideology.

"Center for the Study of Political Islam" sounds harmless, right? It gets worse, though. Last year, Steven Emerson, founder of the totally innocuous-sounding Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, funneled $3.4 million from IPTF (a tax-exempt non-profit) to a for-profit company he also founded, SAE Productions. The two organizations share the same address in Washington, DC, and in both cases, he's the only executive.