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.
One result of the 2010 campaign is clear before any ballots are counted: Democracy is in danger.
That sounds hyperbolic. But whatever remains of the quaint notion—call it a myth—that in a democracy citizens are more or less equal is in the process of being shredded, due to the rise this year of super PACs and secretive political nonprofits. Thanks to the Supreme Court's notorious Citizens United decision and other rulings, a small number of well-heeled individuals (or corporations or unions) can now amass a tremendous amount of political influence by throwing an unlimited amount of money into efforts to elect their preferred candidates. And certain political nonprofits, such as Crossroads GPS—the outfit set up this year by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie (which with an affiliated group is spending about $50 million)—can pour tens of millions of dollars into the elections without revealing the source of their campaign cash.
The secret and unlimited flow of dollars into congressional campaigns this year is largely unprecedented—at least since campaign finance reform was implemented following Watergate in the 1970s. Almost half a billion* dollars have been spent so far by outside groups—with about one-quarter of that coming from dark-money groups that don't disclose donors. And it's not just a Republican phenomenon. Unions and Democratic-leaning advocacy outfits are playing the game. Still, the advantage goes to the GOP. Of the outside groups not connected to either political party, those supporting Republicans and opposing Democrats have so far spent $119.2 million, and those supporting Democrats and opposing Republicans have dumped $73.8 million into races. This split is dramatic, but there's another factor to consider: Much of the pro-Democratic money comes from large membership groups (including the SEIU and the National Education Association), yet much of the pro-Republican money originates from a small number of millionaires (or billionaires). Consequently, fat cats have gained even more disproportionate influence.
The White House has complained about the rise of super PACs and the spread of secret money, though it miscalculated by focusing on the possible flow of foreign money into these endeavors—blasting the Chamber of Commerce's pro-Republican efforts—when the issue is the overall boost in special interest money. And here's the kicker: The 2010 campaign is merely a warmup for 2012 and campaigns after that.
It's Elizabeth Warren's first day in the new offices. The walls are bare. The chairs still have manuals attached to them. The pungent odor of new carpeting permeates the entire fifth floor of the downtown Washington office building that houses the under-construction Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that Warren is putting together in her dual position as an adviser to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and an assistant to President Barack Obama. The new agency's 54 staffers are still learning how to navigate the maze of cookie-cutter cubicles.
Warren, the straight-talking and populist-minded 61-year-old Harvard law professor who until recently headed the Congressional Oversight Panel monitoring the TARP bailout, is on a conference call with the CEO of a major financial institution. In her first weeks on the job, she has been checking in with the titans of finance—the too-big-to-fail guys—to discuss the initial initiatives of the CFPB. First, the two chat about the firm's call centers. Warren asks why some are based in the United States, not overseas. The CEO explains that his company considers these offices "revenue centers"—because the workers fielding questions or complaints also peddle new services and products to the customers on the line. Basing these facilities in the United States, the CEO notes, gives his company better control. Warren says that the CFPB will eventually have its own call center, and the CEO offers to share tips.
Warren then points out that a lot of Americans "struggle with" credit cards and asks, "What should I know?" The CEO appears to bristle, insisting that almost all of his clients are current. That is, they pay their bills on time. Ticking off all the positive features of credit cards, he maintains that policymakers in Washington only hear the gripes of a limited number of consumers and insists his firm does not receive many complaints. Warren politely raises the issue of credit card agreements loaded with fine print. One of her first policy priorities for the CFPB is to push for "greater simplicity" in credit card contracts. She asks the CEO if he expects his clients to read through the dozens of pages of legalese. As the CEO starts to respond, one of his company's lawyers, who is also on the line, interrupts to say, Of course, we do. The CEO then adds, "I expect them to understand what they've gotten into." But he's being diplomatic. He goes on to say that he would indeed like to work with Warren and the CFPB on how best to simplify these agreements. "You've gotten my attention," he says, asking if he should "wait for your recommendations."
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.
ON HIS FIRST DAY back from summer vacation, President Obama appeared in a sweltering Rose Garden to talk about the economy. The latest numbers were disheartening—growth slow, consumer spending weak, housing sales down, unemployment near 10 percent. Obama reported that he'd just met with his economic team. He pointed out that his administration had already taken "a series of measures" to boost the economy, and that his aides were "hard at work" looking for more. He offered no specific proposals, and after five minutes he went back inside, taking no questions from the sweating reporters.
One natural query would have been: Mr. President, how did you lose control of the economic message? Only months earlier, the administration had announced a push to remind the public of the positive impact of the stimulus. But the "Recovery Summer" campaign—press releases, big road signs, presidential and vice-presidential events—barely registered, and the "ground zero mosque" controversy dominated the summer's silly season instead.
And now, with the Democrats' poll numbers falling in tandem with the economic indicators, the best Obama could offer were a few modest proposals. At a moment when his party was facing a possibly catastrophic drubbing, the president appeared on the defensive, his economic leadership anemic. How had Obama lost his groove?
Joe Miller, the Sarah Palin-endorsed, tea party-backed GOP Senate candidate in Alaska, hasn't campaigned much on his opposition to gay rights. In a July letter to Alaskan voters, he noted that "the traditional Christian view" is that "homosexuality is a sin, and therefore immoral." He added, though, that the "central issue of the campaign" has been the federal debt and government spending. But Miller did place on his campaign payroll a self-described "Christian educator" who leads a religious right organization so virulently anti-gay that it denounced Rush Limbaugh for hobnobbing with Elton John.
According to Miller's campaign disclosure forms, Miller has paid Terry Moffitt of High Point, North Carolina, $2500 for consulting services. Moffitt is not known as a political consultant. But he is a man of many interests. He's been a dean at a Christian high school (where he taught creationism), and he has traveled around the world to promote Christianity. (He refers to himself as the "Christian Indiana Jones.") He also owns a security business, and the firm's website says Moffitt is able "to provide security consultation services, perform technical threat assessments, and design pre-emptive security measures" for education and nonprofit organizations. His personal website notes he "had a contract put on his head by organized crime, received death threats from radial [sic] Islamic groups and been bitten by a very nasty spider in Australia." On top of all this, Moffitt is the chairman of the Family Policy Network, a group that passionately opposes homosexuality.