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.

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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?

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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.

Did Palin Declare Her Clothes as Gifts?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2008 3:36 PM EST

Sarah Palin is the gift that keeps on giving--at least to journalists. Newsweek got a pop this week when it disclosed new details of Palin's infamous shopping sprees:

NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin's shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain's top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

The Palin camp--such as it is--continues to deny she did anything wrong. But Alaska government watchdog Andrée McLeod is seeking information to determine whether Palin and her family kept any of these clothes. In recent months, McLeod has peppered Governor Palin's office with various Open Records Act requests. In response to a request McLeod filed in June, the Palin administration refused to release about 1100 emails from her office, claiming they covered confidential policy matters, even though the subject lines in some of these emails referred to a political foe, a journalist and non-policy topics. Now McLeod is focusing on Palin's Neiman Marcus free-for-all. This week, she filed a request for copies of "every record of gift disclosures assigned to Sarah Palin and all family members and/or extended family members (according to state regulations) since July 1, 2008."

The question, of course, is, did Palin declare any of the clothes she and her family acquired as gifts? Or did she consider them loaners (as convicted Senator Ted Stevens unsuccessfully claimed in regards to the gifts he received)? Under Alaska state law, Palin generally has to disclose gifts over $150.00 that she or a family member receives. McCleod wants to see what gift disclosures, if any, Palin has filed.

By the way, McLeod and others (including Mother Jones) have requests pending regarding the emails Palin has sent and received as governor (using her official and private accounts). Palin managed to delay producing these records until after the election. But the requests are still being processed by her office. By the time this information is released--and it may take months--will there still be much interest in the governor of Alaska?

Does John Boehner Have a Point about Rahm Emanuel?

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 3:22 PM EST

Does Republican Representative John Boehner, the in-the-dumps House minority leader, have a point when he criticizes President-elect Barack Obama for tapping Democratic Representative Rahm Emanuel to be his White House chief of staff? Boehner says:

This is an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center.

Boehner misunderstood--or is now, for political gain, misrepresenting--Obama's call for cooperation and productivity in Washington as a vow to govern from the center. The policy proposals Obama presented during the campaign were mostly progressive. Hey, doesn't Boehner remember that Obama was blasted as an anti-American liberal and socialist by Boehner's fellow GOPers? They didn't seem to believe he was going to govern from the center.

Despite the isn't-he-supposed-to-be-a-centrist spin, Boehner is not incorrect in noting that Emanuel is not known as a nonpartisan agent of change in Washington. As the leading fundraiser for Democrats in the House in the 2006 election, Emanuel, a fierce partisan, did do much to change Washington by winning the House back for the Democrats. But he's a walking advertisement for how Washington does business (see here and here)--as is the less-successful Boehner.

By selecting Emanuel as first big appointment, Obama teed up the this-ain't-really-change ball for Boehner. And Boehner whacked it down the fairway. On Friday, Obama is slated to hold a meeting with his top economic advisers. The speculation is that afterward he may have something to say about other appointments. Obama believers ought to hope he doesn't again make it easy for Boehner.

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