Thursday, December 8, 2011

Principles and Commitments

Yesterday an anonymous commenter drew attention to the text of the "Gang of 14" agreement to argue that Sen. Collins had committed to the "extraordinary circumstances" standard for judicial nominee filibusters only for a set period of time.

Indeed, the text of the agreement specifies that its provisions are "related to...judicial nominations in the 109th Congress." So it's certainly fair to say that Collins, by backing filibusters in less than extraordinary circumstances several years later, hasn't violated the letter of the agreement.

On the other hand, I don't remember anyone stressing the time-limited nature of the Gang of 14 compromise when it was put into effect. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that there was a widely shared sense that the "extraordinary circumstances" standard in particular was being put forward as a "new normal"--one the Gang of 14 members didn't just settle for but actually believed in.

And the contemporaneous news accounts that show up near the top of a Google search do nothing to undercut that impression.

But of course, the best way to evaluate Collins' integrity on the issue is to look at her own statements. Here's her press release on the agreement:

This agreement is based on trust. And most important, it helps preserve the unique culture of this institution. It is a culture that is built upon a foundation of collegiality and cooperation that transcends partisanship. It is a culture in which legislative goals are reached with patience and perseverance, and through the art of negotiation and compromise. This agreement preserves that Senate culture and shows a respect for the important principles that make the Senate such a great institution.
And here she is in 2010, several years after the end of the 109th Congress:
In 2005, a group of senators came together to negotiate an agreement for considering judicial nominees. This "Gang of 14," of which I was part, sought to avoid what was known as the "nuclear option," a change in the Senate rules that would have brought about a legislative meltdown.

[...]

While leaders on both sides hardened their positions, the 14 of us--seven from each party--joined to forge a solution. We established a new standard, stating that we would support filibusters of judicial nominees only in "extraordinary circumstances."

[...]

Our deal restored trust and helped preserve the unique culture of the Senate.
If in 2010 Collins thought that her commitment to the culture-preserving, principle-respecting "extraordinary circumstances" standard had long lapsed...she sure had a funny way of expressing it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Promise Breaking

Can anyone sincerely believe that Collins' bizarre interest in pruning the judiciary meets the "extraordinary circumstances" threshold that she committed to back in 2005?

Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine joined all but one other Republican today in blocking the nomination of Caitlin Halligan for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

[...]

Collins told reporters on Capitol Hill that she voted against the former New York state solicitor general because the seat has been vacant for six years and is no longer needed because the D.C. Circuit’s case load is on the wane.

[...]

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was among those pointing out that there are three vacancies currently on the D.C. Circuit, so two seats would remain vacant if Halligan is confirmed.

[...]

Snowe and Collins are part of a group of senators who have promised not to use the filibuster to block judicial nominees from receiving final Senate votes except under extraordinary circumstances.
As with Collins' decision to block the nomination of Goodwin Liu and her vote against the confirmation of trailblazer Alison Nathan, what's involved here--other than hypocrisy--is naked partisan politics.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stonewall

PPH:

President Obama hopes to persuade Maine's two senators and several other Republican lawmakers to break party ranks and help confirm his nominee to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

A Senate vote is expected this week, but so far Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are apparently not budging.

Both have said they are concerned about oversight of the bureau.

[...]

Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray is Obama's nominee to head the bureau.

[...]

Collins has met with Cordray and found him to be "an intelligent, qualified individual," said Kevin Kelley, Collins' spokesman.
Remember in 2008 when Collins ran on a platform of blocking qualified nominees to extract political concessions? Me neither.

But then maybe there's another explanation for what's going on here?

Collins is disappointed "the White House is choosing to make this a partisan issue," Kelley said.
Got that? The Obama administration has the temerity to try to stand up a regulatory agency mandated by law--a law Collins voted for--and they're the ones engaged in partisan politics.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Standing Corrected

Sen. Collins surprises your humble narrator and does the right thing, coming out in favor of the payroll tax cut being offered up by Senate Democrats:

Collins said in a phone interview tonight that her goal is to make sure "working families aren't faced with a tax increase come January, frankly at a very bad time given the fragility of our economy."

And while Collins doesn't want to see small business owners hit with a surcharge on the income tax paid by people making more than $1 million, she said the Senate Democrats' proposal does help offset the impact of the surcharge by also applying the payroll tax cut to the first $5 million of an employer's payroll as well as to employees' wages.
Since the bill doesn't have enough support to make it to the floor, the vote is more or less symbolic.

But it's an important symbol.

And when a pol as typically obsequious to corporate interests as Susan Collins feels compelled to align herself with working people at the expense of the wealthiest among us, you know the political winds have shifted.

Quote of the Day

Sen. Collins:

"What we've been hearing over and over again is that the reason Republicans are opposed to the surtax [on the rich] is because of the concern on its impact on job creation," she said. "Well if you carve out employers you take away that argument."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Carve Out

Press Herald:

A number of Republicans say they are agreeable to extending the payroll tax cut, but don't want its cost -- about $250 billion -- added to the deficit. They also say that the surcharge on millionaires will hurt small businesses and hinder job creation. Other Republicans are ambivalent about the tax cut, saying they aren't sure it will do much in the long run to strengthen the economy.

Collins told reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday that she might be willing to compromise on the issue if Senate Democrats agreed to exempt small business income from the surcharge on the income taxes paid by millionaires.

"I have advocated that we do a carve out for small business out of the so-called millionaires tax to make sure that it is not hitting subchapter S corporations, for example, and discouraging small employers from doing more hiring," Collins said.
Set aside the question of whether folks making more than $1 million per year in personal income should be seen as engaging in "small business."

Here we have Sen. Collins saying that she's got no problem raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires--she just want to tweak the plan currently on the table.

Has a bit of a familiar ring to it, no?

Any chance Collins is looking to associate herself with a popular proposal while giving herself an out--in the form of an unworkable amendment with no constituency--so that she can avoid actually having to vote for it?

No, of course not.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Deference

Unless you're a hard right Republican, isn't the whole point of electing someone like Sen. Collins that she doesn't defer to a fringe radical like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)?

Neither Maine Republican is a supporter of Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act...Collins...hopes negotiations going on over Lautenberg’s bill will lead to an agreement large numbers of senators can support.

[...]

Collins...noted that there are behind-the-scenes, talks reportedly going on between environmental and industry groups and staffers from the offices of Lautenberg and GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the environment committee.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Revolving Door Watch

And so it goes:

Blank Rome has been hired by Tiburon Associates Inc., an Alexandria, Va.-based government contractor, to lobby for "congressional assistance regarding compliance with federal acquisition rules governing small-business set-asides," according to lobbying disclosure records. C.J. Zane, ex-chief of staff to Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), and Katherine Scontras, once a legislative correspondent to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), are lobbying for the contractor.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Collins: Palestinian PM Concedes UN Error

Sen. Collins:

[Salam Fayyad, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority and I] discussed the PA's unilateral appeal to the UN to grant recognition to a Palestinian State, a move that I strongly oppose. He seemed to concede that this approach was a mistake.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Quote of the Day

Via Andrew Sullivan, here's former Sen. Rick Santorum:

"We'll repeal Obamacare and get rid any idea that you have to have abortion coverage or contraceptive coverage. One of the things that I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the sexual liberty idea and many in the Christian faith have said, you know contraception is okay. It's not okay because it's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
Sen. Collins worked to re-elect Santorum in 2006. (And no, this isn't much more outrageous than the kinds of things he was saying at the time.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Define "Open-Ended"

Sen. Collins:

"I have never supported an open-ended and unconditional commitment of U.S. troops in Iraq. However, I do remain concerned that many U.S. military officials have repeatedly said that they believe a residual force of U.S. troops might have to remain in order to continue training Iraqi troops to help ensure that the significant gains we have made there, at great cost to American blood and treasure, are not lost."
Flashback to May, 2007:
CNN reports that Sen. Collins "will consider calling for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq if sufficient progress has not been made in the country by September."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ayotte Amendment

Via e-mail, ACLU of Maine Executive Director Shenna Bellows says that her organization is "very concerned" about Sen. Collins' vote in favor of the Ayotte amendment, which would have banned the use of civilian courts for many terrorism cases.

Some more background from an ACLU prepared statement:

The failure of the Ayotte amendment...should be a wake-up call to anyone who still thinks there is a binding deal for the National Defense Authorization Act detention provisions. Top leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee have repeatedly said they struck a deal on detention issues when the Committee passed its bill behind closed doors earlier this year. But now it turns out that literally all six Republicans on the Armed Services Committee who supported the NDAA detention deal by voting against a nearly identical Ayotte amendment in committee markup (McCain, Graham, Wicker, Chambliss, Scott Brown, and Collins) flipped sides this morning and voted for the Ayotte amendment.

“It should be clear now that the bipartisan NDAA detention 'deal' is a farce.
Sen. Snowe also supported the amendment.

Quote of the Day

Lawrence Lessig:

Forget the 99 percent. We are the 99.95 percent of people who have never maxed out in a Congressional election campaign by giving the maximum amount. It is .05 percent of America who have given $2500 in the last election to a Congressional candidate, .05 percent, and Congress listens to them.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Drum Roll Please

We're excited to announce the 2012 Margaret Chase Smith Journalism Award competition.

The $100 award, named after an American who spoke uncomfortable truths to powerful people, will go to a Maine journalist with the fortitude to press elected officials to answer difficult, important questions.

For the 2012 round, the award will be given to the first Maine-based reporter who asks Sen. Snowe or Sen. Collins how she would balance the federal budget and then provides readers/viewers/listeners with the context necessary to assess the plausibility of the answer and see how it squares with the pol's legislative record.

Fine print:

--No, this is not a joke.

--Want to make a commitment of $5 toward the $100 prize to help defray our costs? E-mail us at the address at right.

--The contest period begins today. The deadline for eligible reporting is October 13, 2012.

--Maine-based print, radio and TV journalists are eligible for the prize. Reports must run on Maine TV, radio or in the print edition of Maine newspaper to be eligible. (Sorry, no blog posts.)

--Judgments as to eligibility will be made by Collins Watch at our sole discretion.

--Judgements as to whether a particular piece of reporting meets the award criteria will be made by Collins Watch at our sole discretion.

--No application necessary. $100 prize will be sent automatically to the author of the first piece of reporting that meets the award criteria.

--Collins Watch reserves the right to grant no award if no Maine-based reporting is found to qualify during the award period.

--Collins Watch reserves the right to amend the rules governing the award at any time, as necessary.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

No On Nathan

In spite of no votes from Sen. Collins and Sen. Snowe, the nomination of Alison Nathan to US District Court was approved today by the US Senate. She will become only the second "out" lesbian to serve in the federal judiciary.

It's not clear why Collins opposed the nomination--there's no explanatory press release on her website as of this writing.

But given her support for truly fringe Bush administration nominees like Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, you'd think she might want to explain her decision to vote against a trailblazer like Nathan, about whom Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine said, via e-mail, "[her] qualifications are superb and [her] presence reflects the diversity of our country."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Collins Filibusters Jobs Bill

Sen. Collins, who played a pivotal role in shaping the largest Keynesian stimulus in US history just three years ago, has voted to block even a debate on the administration's jobs bill:

Collins said, the administration's "take it or leave it" proposition in an effort to score political points persuaded her to vote against the bill. She added that the administration also changed the bill to retain "sweetheart tax breaks for the five biggest oil and gas companies."
Got that? Unemployment is at 9%. Incomes are falling. The middle class is struggling mightily.

But since the administration went ahead and offered a "take it or leave it" proposal (which was somehow substantially rewritten just days ago) everyone should suffer.

And besides, the bill didn't get rid of tax breaks which have nothing to do with its goal. Ergo, the whole thing is a bad idea.

To call this incoherence is to be way too generous.

Which is why Collins ought to be pressed to explain herself more clearly, and to offer something closer to an honest explanation for her vote.

If only there was a group of people--a corps you could say--whose job it was to report back to their fellow citizens about what accountable representatives are up to and why...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Collins Defends Scott Brown

After Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren noted--in response to a debate question referencing Sen. Scott Brown's (R-MA) nude Cosmopolitan centerfold--that she had "kept [her] clothes on" while paying for law school, Brown had a sharp, tart response: "Thank God."

Too bad it was classless, ugly and kind of icky.

But that hasn't stopped Sen. Collins from coming to the aid of the Brown campaign's furious spin operation:

Collins similarly turned the spotlight on Warren, saying Brown was "merely responding" to comments first made by the Harvard professor, in which she "made light of the difficult choices in his life"--a reference to Warren's recent jab at Brown's decision to pose nude for a magazine in his 20’s.
Set aside Collins' one-sided take on what transpired. Set aside her decision to use "difficult choices" as a euphemism for Brown's decision to pose nude.

Remember, Collins is a civility scold. She's literally made a career out of the proposition that our country would be stronger if politicians treated each other more politely.

And yet Scott Brown comes along and says "thank God" Elizabeth Warren didn't take her clothes off. And we all know exactly what he means. And Collins doesn't just give Brown a pass. She defends him.

It's enough to make you wonder.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The "Small Business" Canard

There's been a noticeable improvement in the quality and diversity of political writing on BDN Op-Ed page in recent months. This piece from Nate Libby, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition, exemplifies the trend:

Small-business owners know what's happening in our communities because we serve and employ the workers who make our local economies thrive.

[...]

Too often, we hear arguments for "business-friendly" policies that don’t match up with our experience--mostly coming from big-business lobbyists who claim to speak for our interests. The latest example is the “business” support for Sen. Susan Collins' "regulatory time out" and "regulatory accountability" proposals.

[...]

Take the "time out" proposal, which puts a freeze on new health and workplace safety rules or standards. When a football team calls a time-out, play stops on the field. But that's not what Sen. Collins is proposing at all. She is proposing to let big polluters, big banks and big insurers keep playing their games, but to take the officials out of the game so they can't throw flags on penalties.

Who wins in that situation? The big guys do. And who loses? The little guys.
It's striking to see a Maine small business owner--let alone the leader of a 2,500 business coalition--calling out Collins' bogus "small business" posturing. But Libby's basic point in the piece isn't controversial--at least not in the small business community.

The fact is, very few business owners spend their days obsessing about government regulations.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Collins "Unfamiliar" With DOMA Impact

Sen. Collins, who has won plaudits and awards from several gay rights groups in recent months--and is slated to be honored by another prominent group next week--professes not to know how the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is affecting gay couples:

When Metro Weekly spoke with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) about her views on the repeal of DOMA, the senator celebrated by many LGBT advocates for her prominent role in ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" said she was unfamiliar with the federal impact of DOMA on same-sex couples and with the law aimed at repealing DOMA...

Speaking with Metro Weekly at [the Sept. 20 Log Cabin Republican's dinner honoring her], Collins had no view on the bill and claimed to be unaware of the impact of Section 3 of DOMA--which defines "marriage" and "spouse" in federal law as referring only to marriages between one man and one woman.

Asked about and given a brief description of the [Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA], Collins said, "I was going to say, I'm not sure what the Respect for Marriage Act is." She then added that she would "have to look at that."

Collins then said that she hadn't "looked at" the federal limits on marriage recognition put in place by DOMA, stating that she was not aware of how Section 3 of DOMA impacts same-sex couples.

Collins's comments are particularly confusing given that she was the sole Republican Senate co-sponsor of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act in the 111th Congress, a bill to extend health insurance benefits to federal employees in same-sex relationships--legislation made necessary by Section 3 of DOMA.

Asked on Sept. 28 for follow-up information about Collins's position on DOMA and the RMA, Collins's office was unable to provide immediate comment and a spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Friday, September 23, 2011

They Write Op-Eds

Jonathan Shenkin, former president of the Maine Dental Association, on potato consumption and childrens health:

Our senators' argument, which appears to have originated with the potato industry, is that the potato is full of nutrients. In a recent press release, Snowe detailed all the healthful components of the potato, but neglected to mention its established association with obesity.

Collins claimed that the potato is much healthier than iceberg lettuce, which is low on nutrients. Iceberg lettuce, however, is not associated with weight gain and obesity.

I decided to call my medical colleagues in Maine and throughout the United States to hear their opinions about the Institute of Medicine's recommended changes in school nutrition.

Physicians were unanimous in their belief that we must moderate potato consumption among children in the country to tackle the obesity epidemic. No one I spoke with supported the senators' views...

Their political strategy, not based on scientific evidence, greatly concerns me.

Taking A "Breather"

The Center for American Progess isn't happy with Sen. Collins

On September 12, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and 20 of her colleagues introduced the Regulatory Time-Out Act, S. 1538. This bill would establish a one-year moratorium on regulations from the executive branch and independent regulatory agencies...

This moratorium would halt the implementation of rules to reduce mercury, dioxin, and other toxic chemicals from coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, and cement manufacturing. The American Lung Association noted that allowing these sources to continue unchecked will inflict real harm on Americans, particularly children, seniors, and the sick:
These emissions can make breathing difficult and can worsen asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis and other lung diseases. These pollutants can cause heart attacks and strokes, lung cancer and other cancers, birth defects and premature death.
The American Lung Association projects that these two pollution reduction requirements would save at least 51,000 lives and prevent over half a million asthma attacks every year...

In Sen. Collins’s home state of Maine, her bill would continue the emission of at least 12,000 pounds of mercury and other toxics from Maine power plants and cement plants. At least 2.6 million pounds of airborne toxics are emitted into Maine’s skies every year—or two pounds for every Maine resident. The energy and natural resources companies have contributed over $400,000 to Sen. Collins since she was elected...

Sen. Collins’s most recent bill continues her yearlong assault on the health and safety of Mainers and other Americans. In February she targeted the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule, which would require facilities with large industrial boilers to reduce their emissions of mercury, lead, and other pollutants that harm our health. These chemicals have proven, damaging effects on the heart, lungs, and brain. By clearing the air of these toxics, the boiler MACT rule would save 2,600 to 6,600 lives per year.

Sen. Collins has also sponsored the Clearing Unnecessary Regulatory Burdens Act and the EPA Regulatory Relief Act. Both acts target regulations that would reduce emission of hazardous air pollutants.

Sen. Collins says she is proposing S. 1538 in order to give U.S. companies a “sensible breather” from the regulations that suppress job creation. But this would make breathing harder for children, seniors, and the ill by prolonging emission of millions of pounds of toxic pollution.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Inflation

Way back in 2008--in the middle of a re-election campaign--Sen. Collins supported raising taxes on people with annual income of more than $1 million.

Here she is this week:

Collins said she favors overhauling the tax code and hiking taxes on the extremely wealthy, perhaps people making $5 million a year or more.
Seems like something of a moving target, no?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Collins: Debt Plan Step In Right Direction

The junior senator will back the debt ceiling plan:

While this plan is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction. It averts default, puts real controls on spending, makes significant reductions in our long-term debt, protects Social Security, and provides much-needed certainty to our job creators.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Round and Round

Last November:

As of today, Matt is now serving as the Director of New Media Communications for United States Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) in her Washington, DC office.
Yesterday:
@MatthewGagnon: Excited to announce I'll be the new conservative columnist for my home town paper, @bangordailynews. You'll see me every Friday!
Years ago:
"In the 1996 senatorial race...[BDN] again [intervened] on behalf of Collins on both its editorial page and in its reporting and analysis.

Cynics of all party affiliations could see a pattern in subsequent events. The managing editor of BDN, Mark Woodward, went on after the election to become communications director for Senator Collins--although he soon returned to the old job."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Collins Backs $3.7 Trillion In Cuts

It's still not clear what the so-called "Gang of Six" deficit reduction plan is--and what it isn't.

But in any case, Sen. Collins is embracing it:

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has signed a letter backing a bipartisan plan in the Senate that aims to cut the deficit by at least $3.7 trillion over 10 years through a mix of spending cuts and increased revenues from closing some tax loopholes.

The Maine Republican is one of 33 senators, 15 of them Republicans, to sign the letter, as the Senate searches for a compromise plan to hike the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and avoid a federal debt default looming on Aug. 2.
This seems like smart politics: The plan has little chance of passing, and even if it does, its lack of specificity gives Collins plenty of wiggle room to decry the cuts to entitlements and other programs that it would inevitably require.

If it doesn't pass, Collins can point to her support as evidence of her fiscal conservatism. And then go back to voting for all of the tax cuts and nearly all of the big ticket programs.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Friends In High Places

Lobbyist Jane Alonso, Sen. Collins' former legislative director, has been promoted to senior vice president at her lobbying firm:

"Jane has played an invaluable role with the Senate, in particular on a wide range of issues from energy to health care to telecommunications and has helped the firm land significant new business in these growth areas for the firm," said founder Stewart Verdery in a statement.

Monday, June 27, 2011

About That Event

Wondering whether Sen. Collins spoke about gay marriage at the EqualityMaine event? So were we.

Here's the take of Betsy Smith, the group's executive director, on what was said:

Members of EqualityMaine's staff did ask the Senator about marriage.

My understanding is that she said she felt it was a state not federal issue, although she pointed out that she had voted against an amendment to the US Constitution banning marriage equality.

She also noted that like many Americans she is on a journey on the issue and noted that public opinion was changing rapidly on the issue and that she found that to be a very positive thing.

Advocacy Done Right

I was amused--and may even have let out a chuckle--when I read that EqualityMaine was honoring Sen. Collins for what the group called her "unique leadership" in the drive to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."

Don't get me wrong: The junior senator played a key role in reviving the repeal effort when it stalled during the Senate's lame duck session late last year. (And we applauded her for it at the time.)

But it's also true that Collins' intransigence and transparent partisanship were a big part of why repeal ran into trouble to begin with. Remember, Collins voted to filibuster the military authorization bill that contained repeal--a bill she professed to support--on the grounds that some of her Republican colleagues had issues with it.

If that's not putting politics ahead of principle, I don't know what is.

Collins also insisted that repeal be put off until wealthy Americans were awarded giant tax cuts, effectively demanding a mulitbillion dollar ransom in exchange for supporting equal treatment under the law.

"Unique" leadership indeed.

Still, given the historic nature of the policy shift, Collins' meandering path from repeal obstacle to repeal supporter is basically a footnote. It's easy to understand why EqualityMaine would want to celebrate a home state senator's critical role in the realization of a cherished goal.

But the full story, it turns out, is more complicated than that--and more interesting: Because unlike almost every other advocacy organization in the country, EqualityMaine actually has a track record of accountability and truth-telling when it comes to Maine's senators.

Here's Executive Director Betsy Smith responding to votes by Snowe and Collins to filibuster repeal:

EqualityMaine is extremely disappointed in U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who today voted lockstep with their Republican colleagues Mitch McConnell and John McCain in a display of pandering to the right to avoid repeal of the military's discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. (Emphasis added.)
Here she is blasting both senators for putting tax cuts for the rich ahead of repeal:
It is particularly distressing to myself and our members across the state of Maine that both Senators Collins and Snowe have chosen a path of partisan rancor instead of reflecting Maine values of independent spirit for the common good...They have committed to voting for repeal of this grossly unfair policy in the past. It's time for them to live up to that commitment. (Emphasis added.)
And here she is calling out Collins for her record as a Bush enabler:
Senator Collins chose to vote with this anti-LGBT administration 77 percent of the time. She has also supported the confirmation of highly conservative court appointees, setting back progress on relationship recognition issues and endangering critical protections for our allies, for women and for choice.
In short, EqualityMaine has confronted Collins--repeatedly and forcefully.

And in the case of repeal, that approach got results.

The straight-talk strategy is a marked contrast to the approach adopted by groups like Human Rights Campaign and the Maine and national arms of League of Conservation Voters--which tend to coddle Collins, praising her effusively whenever possible, while overlooking bad acts in a seemingly desperate attempt to preserve access.

And against this backdrop of harsh criticism, the EqualityMaine event with Collins seems downright savvy--an attempt to demonstrate to Collins and other wavering pols that while egregious behavior will be called out, there is an upside to doing the right thing.

Meanwhile, if the junior senator strays again, she knows that she'll be facing persistent, pointed criticism from an entrenched local advocacy group that isn't afraid to mix it up.

Seems like a lot stronger motivator than vapid plaudits and unearned awards.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Op-Ed Reax

A couple of reactions to this disingenuous op-Ed.

Democracy 21:

In her op-ed article attacking the Executive Order, Senator Collins states:
If more transparency is truly the goal, why don't these requirements apply to organizations receiving federal grants? Campaign contributions to candidates and political committees already are required to be reported to the Federal Election Commission and, with a click of a mouse, can be viewed on FEC.gov.
This is an interesting comment coming from Senator Collins, since she abandoned her past support for transparency last year and refused to provide the deciding 60th vote for the DISCLOSE Act. If the DISCLOSE Act had been enacted last year, we would today have full campaign finance disclosure for all groups, including organizations receiving government grants.

If Senator Collins thought that this government grants information was important information to have, her vote alone for the DISCLOSE Act last year would have made the difference in enacting the law and ensuring that the American people had this campaign finance information and all of the campaign finance information currently being hidden from the American people.

Furthermore, the statement by Senator Collins that campaign contributions can be viewed with "a click of a mouse" masks the fact that more than $135 million in secret donations to section 501 (c) tax-exempt groups were spent by those groups to influence the 2010 congressional races...

As for the claim made by Senator Collins that the Executive Order would politicize the contracting process, Senator Collins has this backwards. It is widely recognized that pay-to-play prohibitions and disclosure requirements protect the integrity of the contracting process. Absent disclosure, the donors and the recipients know who gave and who received the benefit of campaign funds. The only people who don’t know this information are the American people.
David Vance of the Campaign Legal Center adds:
To say that this type of disclosure would politicize the process is laughable. Everyone knows the process is already hopelessly politicized and it's one of the reasons Americans think so little of the "inside the Beltway" culture. The status quo equation with contracting and campaign finance has everybody in the know except citizens and changing that will only help to depoliticize the process.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hypocrisy and Worse On Liu

One of the "Gang of 14" senators who promised not to block judicial nominees from up-or-down votes except in "extraordinary circumstances", Sen. Collins voted yesterday to filibuster the nomination of constitutional scholar, Berkeley law professor, former Rhodes Scholar and Stanford Board of Trustees member Goodwin Liu to a US circuit court vacancy.

Why did she vote to prevent a majority of senators from approving the obviously qualified Liu, whose confirmation has been endorsed by right wing court watchers like Kenneth Starr and John Yoo?

After some snarky throat-clearing--Collins complains about Liu's demonstrably true claim that Justice Alito "is at the margin of the judicial spectrum, not the mainstream"--we get this:

It is Mr. Liu's views that are far outside the mainstream. His writings demonstrate what National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor calls his "sweeping vision of court-ordered social justice." Mr. Liu has written that "Some [say] that courts...can only do so much to change society, that some things, some problems are best left to politics and not principle....I want to disagree with this view...." In other words, Liu embodies the very essence of judicial activism.
That's the entire substance of the junior senator's critique of Liu.

But aren't you just a little bit curious about what Liu said inside those ellipses? Here's the full passage, minus the selective editing:

You know, it has become fashionable, I think today, fifty years after [Brown v. Board of Education] to believe that Brown was not all that it was cracked up to be. Schools are still segregated. The achievement gap is still too wide, and equality of opportunity is still more a theory than a reality.

And from these facts some observers conclude that the legacy of Brown is that courts, and more broadly law, can only do so much to change society. That some things, some problems are best left to politics and not principle, and that to believe otherwise is to indulge a hollow hope. I want to disagree with this view.
Is Liu embodying the very essence of judicial activism here? Or is he simply making a point about pessimism and the law--a point that has absolutely nothing to do with judicial activism?

More specifically: Does Collins think the desegregation sought by the Brown plaintiffs--which is what Liu is clearly referring to when he alludes to "chang[ing] society"--should have been denied by the Supreme Court? Should it have been dealt with through "politics and not principle"? Or is she simply bent on smearing Liu, and mangling his words to fit the preconceived rhetorical frame of "judicial activism" whether it fits or not?

I think the evidence here is pretty clear.

What's also clear: This kind of deliberate, ideologically-motivated misrepresentation is ugly, cynical and undignified. It's the kind of thing the "Susan Collins" you hear about in the Maine media and elsewhere would never indulge in.

And yet there it is.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Learned Helplessness and Interest Groups

Last week I had an interesting back and forth on Twitter with Bruce Lesley, president of DC-based children's advocacy organization First Focus, after he praised Sen. Collins for refusing to endorse the budget proposal put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

I found the praise irksome: In the context of the junior senator's history of disingenuousness, bad faith and hypocrisy on fiscal issues--and given that she's never come anywhere near articulating how she'd balance the budget, even as she demagogues the issue--his kind words seemed misplaced. To put it mildly.

In fact, the rejection of Ryan's draconian proposal seemed to me like just another example of Collins sidestepping the logical implications of her own actions and policy commitments: Ryan, at least, is owning up to the fact that large new tax cuts will require shredding Medicare. Collins, who favors such tax cuts, has made no similar admission.

So when Lesley doubled down on his praise, asserting that, "[Collins] has never supported gutting Medicare and Medicaid" I thought it was necessary to note that he was giving a vastly incomplete picture of her stance.

I also drew attention to Collins' recent vote for the 2011 House budget--a piece of legislation Lesley's own organization condemned. And I noted the irony that First Focus had given Collins an award for work on children's issues just two weeks after she'd voted to slash funding for food stamps and Head Start, a move that earned her condemnation, by name, in The New York Times.

And that's when things got weird.

Lesley informed me that Collins was merely presented with the award last month, and that it was given earlier, based on her work in 2010. And that's fair enough.

But he seemed totally ignorant of Collins' vote for the 2011 House budget proposal, which his own organization had blasted, even after I made a couple of attempts at clarification.

What's more, rather than researching the issue to find out what I was referring to, or entertaining the idea that I might be correct, he tried to make me the issue ("I get that you don't like her") and lashed out at me for drawing attention to the tension between his organization's praise of Collins and the reality of her recent record ("Do you hate Obama for signing that bill [sic] into law?")

In short, Lesley seemed more interested in challenging me--and putting me on the defensive--than he was in exploring Collins' children's issues bona fides, holding the junior senator accountable, or accurately conveying the substance of her record.

What does it all mean? Maybe not much. But it underscores a couple of unhealthy dynamics:

--Most DC interest groups seem to think that the best way to win the junior senator's loyalty is to shower her with awards. There are exceptions, like NRDC. But whether it's because of political gamesmanship, inside-the-beltway coziness or economic self-interest, the fact is that speaking truth to Collins and/or holding her accountable almost never figures into the plans of left-leaning DC-based groups.

--As the Republican party moves further to the right, there are a slew of nominally "nonpartisan" progressive organizations that are willing to go through all sorts of unseemly contortions to maintain the fiction that their issues transcend partisanship. But this often requires some airbrushing. And so these organizations find themselves coddling unworthy pols rather than telling their constituencies the unvarnished truth.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Collins on Bin Laden

Via WGME:

The junior senator told News 13 she was contacted by the director of the National Counterterrorism, Michael E. Leiter, at 10:20 p.m. Sunday. She released the following statement shortly before midnight.

"The director of the Counterterrorism Center informed me tonight that Osama Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. Operation. This welcome news is a credit to our intelligence efforts and brings to justice the architect of the attacks on our country that killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Learned Helplessness in the Maine Press

It's worth taking a couple of minutes to unpack what happens at the 13:30 mark in Pat Callaghan's recent interview with Sen. Collins.



After a lobbing a few simple, open-ended questions at the junior senator (i.e. softballs) a discussion of port security ensues. Then we get the following:

Callaghan: What about preparations and protection from cyber attack on this country--I mean this is the kind of thing that, when you think about it, could take down your electrical grid, it could shut down water supplies. There's all sorts of problems that the right computer hacker could really wreak on this country.
The question--really a statement and an invitation for a response--seems unremarkable as long as you know nothing about the context.

But given that Collins recently reintroduced extremely controversial cybersecurity legislation, panned by prominent commentators and institutions across the political spectrum (even after a spin campaign was launched to muddy the issues) Callaghan's way into the topic is just plain weird. And telling.

He doesn't inform viewers about the controversy or the substance of the critiques of the proposed bill. Instead, he simply tees the topic up for Collins. And he lards up his formulation with questionable, Collins-friendly premises. (Is it really true that hackers can take down "your electrical grid"? Does Callaghan know this for a fact?)

Don't get me wrong: I'm used to Maine reporters treating Sen. Collins more like a visiting dignitary than an accountable pol, and internalizing the idea that she should be handled with kid gloves.

But here Callaghan is taking that cowed, sycophantic posture a step further, playing something closer to the role of infomercial sidekick than classic journalist: Collins has a product to sell (cybersecurity legislation and, more generally, the notion that she's a "serious" legislator) and he clearly does his best to frame the issue in a way that will make her shine.

This is journalism?

I e-mailed Callaghan to ask how he came to choose the cybersecurity question and how he decided to frame it the way he did. Here's his response:

The topic was not suggested by the senator or anyone on her staff. And I don't tell anyone specifically what questions I will ask in advance.

I did tell her communications director Kevin Kelley that I would be asking questions about the budget, homeland security and whatever else came up.

The internet security question was just something that seemed worth discussing, especially in light of the fact that it is a homeland security matter, something with which Sen. Collins is very involved.

The "In The Arena" segment is an opportunity for the guest to talk about a subject at greater length than the typical news story allows. So, I brought the question up in a general way and let her have her say.

I don't think the context was obscured. Viewers can judge for themselves whether they think her proposal is a good idea or not.
I take Callaghan at his word. And maybe he didn't know about the controversy swirling around the legislation.

But either way, there's simply no place in legitimate political journalism for the cozy, collaborative approach that Callaghan adopts here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nothing To See Here

If a media organization is willing to use $47,000 in stealth political contributions to help swing an election, chances are it won't see anything untoward about creating awards to dole out to incumbent politicians:

MaineToday Media will honor 15 women in its first "Great Women of Maine" event.

The women selected as Great Women of Maine will be recognized for their leadership, excellence, community involvement and contributions to the community.

Maine's two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, will be among those honored.

Collins and Snowe will share the Margaret Chase Smith Award, which was created to recognize women pioneers who are not only successful, but well known for leading distinctive careers.

[...]

Full stories about each woman will be published in a special section on April 24.

Richard L. Connor, Editor and Publisher of MaineToday Media, will present the awards along with Ira Rosenberg, owner of Prime Motor Group.
No word on whether Jeannine Guttman, Mark Woodward or any of Sen. Collins' many other friends in the Maine media will be in attendance.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Times Takes Aim

Along with the rest of the national media, The New York Times has long followed the unwritten beltway rule: Everyone has to be very very nice to Sens. Snowe and Collins.

Skepticism about their motives? Off-limits. Scrutiny of their actions and how they line up with their words? Afraid not.

But something seems to have changed:

Sightings are reported of that rarest of Washington species--Republican moderates. If only.

The Republicans in question are Senators Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The four voted in lockstep with the rest of their caucus in support of the House Republicans' ludicrous and destructive budget-slashing bill. But then they put out word that they did not much like it that the bill had eliminated one popular and valuable government program: funds for family planning.

[...]

Ms. Snowe and Ms. Collins once creatively worked the middle ground. In recent years all we've heard is how they'd like to reach across the aisle, but somehow the time or the deal or the we're not sure what else isn't right.

They, as well as Mr. Brown and Ms. Murkowski, certainly could have voted no in the first place and--who knows?-- struck a spark for the art of compromise...
Scathing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Editorial of the Year

I've posted a series of tweets about this editorial from Bangor Daily News, and the last paragraph in particular:

Both senators have broken ranks on occasion, and being independent minded, they can be expected to do so in the future. Who is a better judge than our senators themselves on where to break ranks? If you like them, why not leave the decision to them? They probably know better than anyone else when to go along with their party and when to resist. The choices depend not only on rights and wrongs, but also what it takes to get re-elected. And in our system, re-election can be a lot better than going down fighting.
The message is clear: Voters should avoid judging their senators, and instead just trust Snowe and Collins to do what they think is right. They have their reasons.

Because of the clunky phrasing and facile reasoning, at first I figured the text was surely an improperly labelled letter to the editor. But that seems not to be the case.

Like their counterparts in the North Korean press, the editors of Bangor Daily News really do seem to believe that some powerful officials ought to be considered beyond reproach and immune to scrutiny.

At this writing, a Wednesday e-mail to Editorial Page Editor Susan L. Young asking for clarification had not received a reply.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Delayed Reaction

After four days of silence about the internationalization of the Libyan conflict (but just hours after Sen. Snowe made her own views known) Sen. Collins took to Twitter late this afternoon and declared herself troubled by President Obama's decision to take military action without congressional approval.

Presumably, the series of tubes the junior senator uses to access the internet were stopped up on Saturday. And Sunday. And Monday.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Military-Industrial Round-Up

This week in war making:

--Late Friday, Sen. Collins passed along the news that General Dynamics subsidiary Bath Iron Works had received a $28 million contract from the Navy to build a new a DDG-1000 destroyer. No word on whether the vessel, once assembled, will be deployed to the Navy's Fifth Fleet, hosted by US military partner Bahrain, an autocracy that this week adopted a policy of killing its own people in the street. (Warning: link contains gruesome video.)

--Elsewhere, General Dynamics won even more business.

Defense giant General Dynamics has been awarded a $7.8 million contract to produce Gatling gun systems for the U.S. Navy.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine said about half the work for 22 lightweight Gatling gun systems used on fighter jets will be done at General Dynamics' plant in Saco, Maine.
It just so happens that through its PAC and via its employees, General Dynamics has funneled more campaign contributions to Collins over the course of her career than all but one other corporation. (For Snowe, General Dynamics has been the third largest contributor.)

--To our knowledge, there was no word this week from Sens. Snowe or Collins on their views of military intervention in Libya.

Collins, it should be remembered, visited Libya and its leader Muammar Qadhafi in 2009, as part of a US delegation tasked with discussing a possible military equipment sale or transfer. (Video here.)

UPDATE: Some context that may or may not be relevant: Jefferson Consulting Group, the lobbying shop that employs Sen. Collins' investment partner Tom Daffron, has purportedly worked on behalf of defense giants BAE Systems, Dyncorp, Halliburton and Northrop Grumman among others.

(For some reason, none of those companies appear on the client list posted on Jefferson's website.)

It is not known whether Daffron or his colleagues have lobbied Collins formally or informally on defense-related issues.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Incoherence

Did Jonathan Riskind at PPH botch the story on the Senate budget vote? Did Sen. Collins flip-flop?

Those seem like the only two possibilities, but there may actually be a third: That Collins wants Mainers to swallow the idea that she voted for a bill which she nonetheless does not support.

It's actually not as crazy as it sounds. After all, pretty frequently legislators face votes where the outcome is in doubt, and where the bill has some provisions they love and others they loathe. In those situations, pols have to choose between backing a bill they see as fundamentally flawed or voting against legislation with lots of goodies buried inside it.

It's a professional hazard and it happens all the time. But let's be clear: This isn't one of those situations.

Why? Because as Collins acknowledges in her press release, the House GOP budget was never going to pass. The vote was all about sending a message.

And in that case--when symbolism is the only thing at stake--there's simply no reason to vote for a bill unless you actually support it. To suggest otherwise is to be guilty of incoherence.

The junior senator, of course, is not above a little strategic incoherence every now and then.

But if that's what she's up to here, shame on the Maine press for letting her get away with it.

UPDATE: From Collins' press release:

"I am left with a choice between a proposal that doesn't go nearly far enough and one that makes many wrong choices."
That's just false. There were two separate, up-or-down votes on two separate bills. At no time was the junior senator forced to choose one over the other.

Susan Collins is lying.

Rewriting History

Portland Press Herald, March 9:

Collins dismissed a proposal by Senate Democrats, backed by the White House, that would cut $4.5 billion through the end of the 2011 fiscal year as not nearly sufficient "given the seriousness of the deficit problem."

But Collins said in a Capitol Hill interview Tuesday that she also doesn't support the House GOP-approved bill, which would cut $61 billion.
Portland Press Herald, later the same day:
As expected, Maine's two GOP senators voted against a Democratic budget proposal and for a House GOP proposal, even as they expressed unhappiness with the latter option, too.
(Emphasis added.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Deficits and Double Standards

Politico:

When the requests were coming from President George W. Bush, moderate Republicans in the Senate such as Susan Collins and Dick Lugar had no problem voting to hike the federal debt ceiling year after year.

Now, with a Democrat in the White House and full-blown deficit anxiety taking over Congress, these Republicans are avoiding taking a firm stand, realizing that unquestioned support for increasing the U.S. borrowing limit is politically toxic with voters--not to mention many in the right wing of their party.
I've seen no evidence that increasing the debt limit is "toxic" with general election voters--given that the alternatives are shutting down the government or making draconian cuts.

But beltway reporters seem to feel obligated to advance that faith-based narrative.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

They Ask "Questions"

Keith Shortall of MPBN (an organization capable of excellent, incisive reporting) had five minutes with Sen. Susan Collins.

He asked the following questions--and only the following questions:

--So you're talking about the erosion of etiquette or rules of decorum in the Senate or the House?

--You mentioned occupying the center. Are you not maybe feeling more of the brunt because you're getting it from both sides [chuckling]?

--Are there colleagues do you think who agree with you on the civility issue but sort of feel pressure to be loud and to be divisive in order to protect themselves politically?

--And it's your belief that colleagues who go along with that [a more civil approach] and make an effort will not suffer politically?
In short, he prods Collins to flesh out her views; commiserates with her about her position in the debate; and then lobs a couple of softballs that implicitly accept her basic thesis.

No push back. No attempt to play devil's advocate. Not even a hint of an effort to hold her accountable for her own words and actions.

Why does a serious, aggressive news organization switch over to propaganda mode when the subject is Sens. Snowe and Collins?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bait And (Kill) Switch

A spate of headlines yesterday spread the word that a chastened Sen. Collins, stung by criticism from across the ideological spectrum, had revamped her "cybersecurity" legislation, abandoning efforts to give the government power to shut down parts of the internet:

--US Bill Would Prohibit Internet "kill Switch"

--Senators Dump Internet 'Kill Switch' for Cyber-Attack Response

--New Cyber Security Bill Kills the 'Kill Switch'

But did Collins and friends really revise the bill fundamentally to address concerns and answer objections?

Or did she and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) instead just make a few cosmetic changes in a bid to reframe the debate and snooker lazy reporters into showering their pet project with a flurry of press release journalism?

What do you think?

The revised wording (PDF) continues to alarm civil liberties groups and other critics of the bill, who say the language would allow the government to shut down portions of the Internet or restrict access to certain Web sites or types of content.
And:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said today that it continues to have concerns about the Lieberman-Collins bill. "The president would have essentially unchecked power to determine what services can be connected to the Internet or even what content can pass over the Internet in a cybersecurity emergency," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "Our concerns have not changed."
And:
Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the free-market Cato Institute and a member of a Homeland Security advisory panel, says that supporters of the bill have yet to make the argument that such governmental emergency powers will do more good than harm.

"They recognize that a total Internet kill switch is totally unacceptable," Harper said today. "A smaller Internet kill switch, or a series of kill switches, is also unacceptable...How does this make cybersecurity better? They have no answer."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

LIHEAP Then and Now

Sen. Collins is aghast at the prospect of cuts in LIHEAP funding. But she didn't make so much as a peep when funding for the program was trimmed in 2009 during the stimulus debate--even though she was arguably the key player on that legislation.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dodge In His Own Words

Via Dirigo Blue, we learn that Andrew Ian Dodge has announced that he'll challenge Sen. Snowe in the 2012 Republican primary.

Here are some excerpts of an e-mail interview I did with Dodge earlier this week.

--On the key issues in a GOP primary

"I believe the key issue of the 2012 election cycle will be the state of the economy and the effect government is having on it. Factors like the debt burden, spending and taxation will be as important in 2012 as they were in 2010.

The fact is that in order for the economy to recover, the Federal budget needs to be drastically cut, the debt needs to be paid down and the tax burden on Americans needs to be decreased."

--On Sen. Snowe

"Sen. Snowe's record is absolutely terrible, both in the areas of preserving our freedoms and of creating a responsible fiscal policy.

She was the cosponsor of a proposal to give the government power to shut off the internet, and has come out in favor of the unconstitutional McCain-Feingold legislation, so she obviously doesn't care very much about the First Amendment.

She claims to be a fiscal conservative, but what kind of fiscal conservative would help vote a massive new entitlement out of committee in the teeth of her party and the people? She also voted against making the Bush tax-cuts permanent while voting for TARP and every other bailout."

--On Snowe's lurch to the right

"I'm not surprised Sen. Snowe has been making efforts to reach to the tea party movement. When you're staring down a group that could end your career, you don’t tend to antagonize them...If she wins, she'll go right on being moderate and won’t bat an eye about having lied to her constituents."

--On the Maine media's fawning coverage of Sen. Snowe

"Politicians aren't answerable to the media; they're answerable to the people...I hope Snowe keeps up her strategy of only talking to those who sing her praises. It'll keep her from ever hearing that she has weaknesses."

--On the conventional wisdom that he's not a serious challenger

"Spreading this meme is one that has worked successfully in the past for the Snowe machine. That and the one claiming that only Snowe can win in the general election. I wonder how that worked out for Robert Bennett or Charlie Crist.

I remember a time when the conventional wisdom said the tea party movement would not be a factor in the 2010 cycle. That turned out to be wrong...I know the burden of proof is on me to prove skeptics wrong, but I welcome that challenge."

--On raising enough money to be competitive

"The Snowe machine is an impressive leviathan to stand up against. However there are millions of people in this country that loathe Snowe with every inch of their being. Its not just the tea party movement that reviles her. While not letting on too much, we will be tapping into resource streams that look to defeat Snowe wherever they might be."

Friendship and Scrutiny

One idea that seems to be circulating is that Collins' participation in a $705,000 investment is unworthy of scrutiny because Collins and Daffron are friends who have known each other for a long time. But that's crazy.

The potential conflict of interest inherent in a pol and lobbyist participating together in a $705,000 investment doesn't dissolve simply because the two are friends.

And while there's no reason to assume that a financial transaction between friends is automatically suspect, the existence of a friendship doesn't preclude the possibility of impropriety either.

Bottom line: When two people call each other "friends" that designation should not function as a trump card shielding all dealings between them from press scrutiny.

Facts and Questions

It's worth stressing upfront: I have no grounds to believe there's anything improper or untoward about Sen. Collins' recent Washington house purchase.

That said, none of the public discussion so far has addressed--let alone answered--the very salient, public interest-minded questions that the purchase raises.

Since no one seems particularly inclined to put these questions to the junior senator, what follows is an attempt to get a handful of relevant facts on the table and draw attention to some of those outstanding questions:

--Collins and Thomas Daffron, with whom she bought the $705,000 house, have a professional relationship going back to the 1970s. He has worked on at least one of her political campaigns and donated at least $6350 to Collins over the course of several election cycles.

--Daffron is currently the Chief Operating Officer at Jefferson Consulting Group, a lobbying shop that helps clients "win access to the government contracting market." The firm also does consulting for government agencies.

Recent clients include the Lewin Group and the Department of Homeland Security. The company appears to have also done work for the Halliburton unit Kellogg Brown and Root.

--Whether Jefferson Consulting Group employees have lobbied Collins on behalf of these and other clients isn't clear. What kind of professional access Daffron has had to Collins (who is ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is charged with oversight of "the management, efficiency, effectiveness and economy of all agencies and departments of the Federal government") is not clear.

--During the early 2000s, Daffron was a lobbyist with Chesapeake Enterprises at a time when one of its largest clients was the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. Prior to that, he worked in the same capacity at American Defense International.

--Whether Daffron lobbied Collins on behalf of his clients during this period--or informally on behalf of his firm's other clients--is not clear. Whether other lobbyists at Chesapeake Enterprises and American Defense International lobbied Collins during this period is not clear.

--According to a financial disclosure form made public in June, Sen. Collins recently had assets of between $110,000 and $300,000.

--How the $705,000 home was paid for and/or financed is not clear.

--The structure of the financial agreement between Collins and Daffron is not clear.

--Collins' aim in purchasing the house remains unclear. (A Collins spokesman told the AP that Collins will be using the home as a secondary residence. In the same article, however, the house was described as an "investment property.")

--During her 1994 campaign for Senate, Sen. Collins promised voters she would serve two terms and then "come home" to Maine.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quote of the Day

Duncan Black:

One thing I've learned is that being a senator probably isn't very much fun, at least for most people. To do your job minimally requires a lot of work. You oversee multiple offices of largely underpaid staffers...

It's the Senate, so if you care about getting things done you're inevitably going to be very frustrated...

If you move your family to DC you've moved out of the state you're supposed to represent. If you don't move your family to DC you have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see them...

It's a very high profile position, which means having a private life is almost impossible...

To actually enjoy the job you have to get some enjoyment out of the semi-corrupt aspects of the job such as the fundraising, hanging out with lobbyists, the general thrill of everyone kissing your ass, etc.

A.P. Plays Along

Four days later, the A.P. runs this laughably incomplete 75-word story on Sen. Collins' new house in Washington.

Yet somehow, even in its four short sentences, the piece manages to squeeze in a dollop of Collins-friendly spin ("U.S. Sen. Susan Collins still plans to return to Maine on most weekends") and muddy the waters by referring to the house as both an "investment property" and a "home-away-from-home."

The word "lobbyist" is nowhere to be found.

In other words, about what you'd expect in a banana republic. Or from the Maine media.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Total Deference?

As someone who focuses on politics and policy, I've been wrestling for the last couple of days with how to write about Sen. Collins' recent Washington D.C. home purchase.

Frankly, I'm not interested in Collins' personal life. And I think the national political discussion would be more constructive--and just healthier--if elected officials enjoyed a bit more privacy than they can currently expect.

But the Maine press clearly doesn't share these reservations. For years, prominent outlets have covered the junior senator like a member of the royal family, putting her personal story front and center. (How many times have we heard about Caribou?)

And for months now, the state's larger media organizations have been delving unabashedly into another pol's real estate transactions while exploring the shape and structure of his nuclear family.

What's more (and as in the LePage case) there are a couple of legitimate, hard-to-ignore news angles to Collins' home purchase. It may not demand days of wall-to-wall coverage, but surely it's a transaction worth noting.

So why the radio silence from the Maine media? Why the failure, for two days now, to draw attention to a juicy piece of genuine hard news?

The absence of coverage seems to be another vivid example of the state's sainted senators receiving coverage only when they want coverage.

Put simply: Collins would prefer that Maine papers not write about the purchase of a house 800 miles from Aroostook county, so they don't.

The junior senator doesn't want there to be any scrutiny of the fact that she's just made a $705,000 purchase with a lobbyist who helps run a firm that's done work for Kellogg Brown and Root among others, so there isn't.

The Maine media: Cowed, timid, almost comically deferential. Could it be that simple?

Now, maybe the state's prominent outlets are digging deep into the story, preparing exhaustive, carefully-researched articles that will prove me wrong in the coming hours or days.

But I'm not counting on it.

Quote of the Day

Nick Denton, via Felix Salmon:

Q: What irritates you in the print and online media world?

Denton: Fake news. I don’t mean fake news in the Fox News sense. I mean the fake news that clogs up most newspapers and most news websites, for that matter. The new initiative will go nowhere. The new policy isn’t new at all. The state won’t go bankrupt. The product isn’t revolutionary. And journalists pretend that these official statements and company press releases actually constitute news…

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Putting Down Roots

Gerald notices that Sen. Collins has bought a house in Washington D.C.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

They Write Headlines

The Hill: Egypt's Web blockade raises concerns about 'kill switch' for Internet

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has recently indicated she plan to re-introduce the bipartisan legislation she crafted last year with Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), which passed the Senate Homeland Security Committee last year only to get mired in a standoff with Senate Commerce Committee members over which panel should have oversight of civilian cybersecurity.

CIO Magazine: Internet 'kill switch' bill reintroduced as Egypt remains dark
Sen. Collins said the bill would not allow the President to deactivate the Internet in whole or in part during times of political unrest or protest--just during a "cyber emergency"...At the time of its initial introduction, it was opposed in an open letter by about 24 organizations concerned that it might lead to broader authority, including Internet censorship.

PC Magazine: Shutting Down The Internet
The most specious reason for this mechanism is that if some evil worm or attack on the National infrastructure—a.k.a. "Cyberwar"—would be underway, the Internet would need to be shut down to prevent further damage to the country, which apparently can no longer function without the Net. This is kind of a weird tautology. The country can't function without the Net, so we need to secure it, which includes having the ability to shut it down. But with the Net down, how can the country function?

Business Insider: Internet "Kill Switch" Bill Won't Die
We can't think of a single case where using such a "kill switch" would make sense (if terrorists mount such a strong cyberattack that we have to use it, isn't that still a win for them?) but we can think of many, many potential avenues for abuse. This has implications not just for free speech but also for free markets, as zillions of businesses (including this one!) depend on the internet directly or indirectly.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Collins: Shocked And Saddened

Via KJ:

I am shocked and saddened by the horrific shootings in Arizona today. My prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords, her family and staff, and all of those who were killed and injured in this senseless attack.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Collins Opposing Secret Holds

Good for the junior senator:

As the 112th Congress gavels in this afternoon, the bipartisan coalition fighting to end secret holds has introduced a resolution to eliminate the undemocratic practice and move the Senate closer to an up-or-down vote on their proposal.

U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the Secret Holds Reform Resolution that forces all holds to be disclosed to the public after one day, eliminating the ability of one senator to hijack the legislative process without being held accountable.
Better yet would be to get rid of holds entirely.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dialectic

Brad Delong speculates:

I think the White House's reply [to liberals about the last two years] would look something like this:
Successful governance is about getting 60 votes for things that move the ball forward. The people who tend to control the 55th through 60th votes on any given issue are not like you and me. They are driven by a baffling combination of raging egomania and crippling terror.

They want to be treated like statesmen even as their decisions are based on a paralyzing fear of contested elections, primary challenges, Fox News and party pressure. They have few opinions on what good policy looks like, what opinions they do have on the subject change frequently, and they're not willing to risk very much on them anyway.

Taking a pound of flesh from these people--or even their allies--would mean never getting their votes...
[T]he liberal reply to this would be:
Yes, you're right that these people are driven by fear. But they're afraid of the wrong thing.

You have senators in states that went blue in 2008 who seem unconcerned with crossing the president or his massive list of volunteers and supporters. Instead, they're terrified of the Club for Growth, or Fox News, or they're terrified of them not because they have so much power in their state but because they're willing to use that power aggressively.

If the president had been making frequent trips to Maine, he might find that Maine's senators were a little more interested in partnering with him on his agenda.