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
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


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."