David Corn

David Corn

Washington Bureau Chief

Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.

Get my RSS |

Was Obama Economic Envoy Part of the Problem?

| Wed Nov. 12, 2008 1:17 PM EST

The Obama transition office announced on Wednesday that the president-elect will send two representatives to meet with delegates attending the G-20 economic summit being held this weekend: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a Democrat, and former Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican. The pair, according to a press release, will hold "unofficial meetings to seek input from visiting delegations on behalf of the President-elect and Vice President-elect." Afterward, Albright and Leach will brief Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Leach is both a curious and obvious choice. First, the obvious: he's a Republican who led the Republicans for Obama effort during the presidential campaign. By calling on Leach, who had a long career in the House as a liberal GOPer, Obama can show he does believe in bipartisanship. Now the curious: during part of his stint in Congress, Leach chaired the House banking committee and shared responsibility for passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley legislation, which broke down the wall between commercial banks and investment banking.

Since the current Wall Street collapse began, policy wonks have debated whether this 1999 law led to the present troubles. But let's look at an Obama campaign statement released last March (when he gave a speech on financial regulation) that referred to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act:

Instead of finding the right level of government oversight in a vibrant free market, we've let the special interests set the agenda. Changes in the financial landscape, driven by technology and globalization, made the 1930's era Glass-Steagall Act--the New Deal era law that required that investment banking be kept separate from commercial banking--increasingly inefficient. While reform was desirable, the banking, insurance and securities industries spent over $300 million lobbying Congress to shape that reform to meet their own interests. In the two years before Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999, financial service industries gave $58 million to congressional campaigns; $87 million to political parties; and spent $163 million lobbying Washington. But though the regulatory structure was outdated, the need for oversight was not. Unfortunately, in the rush to repeal the law to create immediate opportunities for certain Wall Street firms, little effort went into modernizing the government's supervision of the financial industry--to guard against the potential for conflicts of interest, to insist on transparency, or to ensure proper oversight of new and complex financial products or the dramatic rise of investment banks and non-bank financial institutions, like hedge funds and Structured Investment Vehicles. Nearly a decade later, our financial markets--and everyday Americans--are paying the price.

Paying the price--for a bill that Leach helped to usher through Congress. That's a tough critique.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Responding to Obama's Win, Michael (Son of) Reagan Says, Go After Dems on Sex

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 6:08 PM EST

The Obama win is driving some conservatives crazy. On Tuesday, Michael Reagan, talk show host and son of Ronald, sent out an email announcing a new outfit called Reagan Action, which among other things, will seek to "expose" the sexual "corruption" of leading Democrats. And he was characteristically over the top:

Dear Conservative Friend,
My father wasn't afraid to call evil what it was -- and neither am I. He defeated the "Evil Empire" called the Soviet Union -- but now we face a new "Evil Empire." It's called Socialism, and it's taken over our once-free nation through the victories of Obama, Pelosi and Reid.
We MUST do this. Really -- what choice do we have, except to fight back and WIN? As my father, President Ronald Reagan, once said, "We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow."
It's official: America has its first truly Socialist president... and it's the Republican Party's fault.
No, scratch that -- it's the so-called "leaders" of the GOP who are at fault for this humiliating defeat -- and I say it's time to name names and make heads roll in our party. Because, my fellow conservatives, we have been BETRAYED by the very people who promised that, if we would just elect them, they would get into office and vote OUR conservative values.
THEY LIED... THE GOP DIED.

Michael Reagan, who sure likes bold face and capital letters, notes that he is angry with President Bush and

the so-called "leaders" of our party, who promised us that if we'd just vote for who they put up for election, we'd finally get what we wanted: smaller government, lower taxes, dramatically lower spending, pro-life laws, pro-marriage constitutional amendments, pro-American economics... well, YOU AND I put them in power, and they gave us nothing but BIG GOVERNMENT, BIG DEFICITS, and LIBERAL COMPROMISES.

So what's he going to do about it? Reagan is declaring "the NEW Reagan Revolution to bring Conservatism BACK!" And how will contributing to Reagan Action--yes, this was a solicitation letter--bring back conservatism? This new group, Reagan promises, will

EXPOSE LIBERAL CORRUPTION-- With the Democrats back in power in both Congress and the White House, you KNOW that they'll be falling right back into their habits of taking lobbyists' money under the table, trading votes for campaign contributions, spying on and sabotaging Republican legislative plans, covering up their leaders' sexual "flings," and spending taxpayer money on personal expenses like never before. But this time, YOU AND I will be there every step of the way, making sure that no stone is left unturned, every dark corner is filled with light, and every illegal act is paid for with censure, impeachment, recalls, investigations, and jail time for every criminal we expose in Washington, D.C.

And Reagan will also be directing "Reagan Activists to "fill the news media with letters to the editor, guest editorials, and news articles detailing the socialistic and corrupt policies of the new liberal regime."

This is some effort he has planned--mounting an army of Reagan-loving volunteers to go up against the "evil" Obama administration and take the country back from the socialists. And Reagan is even willing to probe the sexual "flings" of Democrats.

Reality check: is the United States now a socialist state about to be headed by a socialist leader? (Let's leave aside the Wall Street bailout.) There are two explanations for Reagan's letter. (A) He's become totally unhinged by the Obama victory, and (B), he's crassly trying to squeeze whatever cash he can out of conservative donors by exploiting their ideological paranoia. Maybe the correct answer is all of the above.

Obama Announces Transition Ethics Rules--And Keeps on Fundraising

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 4:02 PM EST

The Obama gang can be pretty good when it comes to managing the message. Today, John Podesta, the chief of the Obama transition, announced the ethics rules for the transition. Here they are:

* Federal Lobbyists cannot contribute financially to the transition.

* Federal lobbyists are prohibited from any lobbying during their work with the transition.

* If someone has lobbied in the last 12 months, they are prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied.

* If someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the transition, they are prohibited from lobbying the Administration for 12 months on matters on which they worked.

* A gift ban that is aggressive in reducing the influence of special interests.

As he talked to reporters about these rules, the transition team sent out an email to reporters listing these prohibitions. Included in the email were positive reviews of the rules from two veteran Washington experts on government: Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. They are two go-to sources for Washington reporters on government and reform issues. And here--for reporters' convenience--were we-love-this quotes from the pair.

Mann noted:

The ethical guidelines released today for the Obama transition are tough and unequivocal. They will prevent some honorable people with rich experience from serving in the transition. That is a real cost but it is more than balanced by the strong signal sent by the President-elect. He aspires to attract to government able individuals whose highest priority is to serve the public interest. This is a very constructive step in that direction.

Ornstein said:

Restoring trust in government is a prerequisite to enacting good policy and the tough choices the country needs. This ethics policy for the transition is a far-reaching, bold and constructive step to do just that. The policy may exclude some good people with deep experience in their fields, but it will also exclude those who see government service as a springboard to financial success, or who are more intent on pleasing future potential employers or clients than making tough choices in the public interest. As much as anything, this ethics policy is a statement about the tone and tenor of the Obama administration. It is a good sign.

There--I did just what the Obama camp wants reporters to do: make use of these served-up-on-a-silver-platter quotes.

But there is a question: why does the transition accept any contributions at all? Podesta noted that the Obama transition will cost $12 million, but that the government will only pick up $5 million of this tab. Consequently, President-elect Barack Obama and his supporters will raise another $7 million. According to the new rules, contributions from federal lobbyists, corporations, and political action committees will not be accepted. Individuals cannot give more than $5000. And all donations will be disclosed.

Yet when the top priority for Obama and his aides is preparing to govern, why should any time be spent on raising money for the transition? Given that the nation is spending trillions of dollars to rescue the financial industry, it shouldn't be too hard to fund fully the transition effort. Can't Congress just appropriate another $7 million--which is chump change these days--and let Obama get on with the show?

That $700 Billion Wall Street Bailout May Be Closer to $3 Trillion

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 2:50 PM EST

How much will the Wall Street bailout cost? Remember that the widely-used number was $700 billion. Well, it may be over three times that amount. Bailoutsleuth.com reports that the actual (and perhaps rising) price tag now stands at over $2 trillion:

Adding together the $170 billion that the Treasury Department has currently agreed to provide banks in additional capital, the $150 billion that the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are providing to AIG and the $2 trillion that the Federal Reserve has provided banks in emergency loans brings the total assistance to $2.32 trillion.
If the estimated savings from the new tax breaks are included, the assistance would climb to $2.46 trillion. That total does not include other measures not focused directly on banks, such as Treasury Department's $200 billion in support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration's $300 billion HOPE for Homeowners program.

Add all of that together and you reach almost $3 trillion. (How many solar panels can you buy for that?) Remember that Bill Clinton came into office and he and his aides encountered deficits much bigger than expected. What's going to happen when Obama moves into the White House and has to contend with the real cost of the so-called rescue? (Yes, the Treasury is supposed to get some of this money back--eventually.) By the way, to provide some context, the current (and falling) GDP of the United States is $14.4 trillion. The total bailout tab is over one-third of the nation's entire output of goods and services.

David Plouffe For Democratic Party Chief?

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 3:28 PM EST

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder reports that Plouffe sent him an email saying he won't be taking the DNC chair. But Plouffe wouldn't say what he might be doing post-election.

Howard Dean is stepping down as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. This is no surprise; it's been known for months he would be departing after the election. The question is, who's next?

HuffingtonPost reports one possibility is that Dean will be replaced by a duo: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who would be the talk-show face of the party, and an operative who would do the operating (perhaps Steve Hildebrand, who was deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama's presidential bid).

But shouldn't the DNC job go to David Plouffe?

As the manager of Obama's campaign, Plouffe steered the best-run presidential campaign in years. He put together an effective campaign structure. He efficiently matched man, message, money, and machine. Developing his own version of Dean's 50-state strategy, Plouffe expanded the electoral map for Democrats. In public, he projected an image of calm, confidence, and competence. His public spin was always tethered to reality. He came across a master mechanic who believed in the mission, not an ideologue or a grandstander. And he beat the toughest, most experienced operation in politics: the Clintons.

It's no put-down of McCaskill to suggest Plouffe. Naming her DNC chief--with or without a partner--would have symbolic value. And she was an effective advocate for Obama, especially when he was locked in a fierce battle with Senator Hillary Clinton, though Obama appears to have lost her home state by 6000 votes. Perhaps if McCaskill becomes DNC head, that would help Obama and Dems narrow that narrow gap next time.

Mon Dec. 15, 2014 3:28 PM EST
Thu Jun. 19, 2014 1:19 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 28, 2014 10:15 AM EDT
Thu Mar. 27, 2014 3:49 PM EDT
Fri Mar. 14, 2014 7:59 AM EDT
Tue Jan. 28, 2014 11:40 AM EST
Tue Jan. 28, 2014 10:40 AM EST
Mon Nov. 25, 2013 1:09 PM EST
Fri Oct. 11, 2013 12:20 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 10, 2013 10:10 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 10, 2013 1:02 PM EDT
Mon Sep. 9, 2013 10:13 AM EDT
Tue Apr. 30, 2013 4:32 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 8, 2013 1:00 PM EDT