Stange Bedfellows for a Popular but Dumb Idea

Andrew Donaldson

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home.

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77 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Commercial speech is constitutionally protected but subject to regulations that are not allowed for other kinds of speech. I admit that determining what is and what is not commercial speech can be very hard at times.

    Do you remember the Lisa Blatt affair from when Brett Kavanaugh was before the Senate? This was possibly before the allegations of teenage sexual assault came up. Lisa Blatt wrote a column for Politico or some equivalent publication with the title “I’m a feminist, liberal Democrat. My fellow Democrats better support Brett Kavanugh for the Supreme Court.” Or something very close to that. What was unsaid but obvious from anyone that can spend two minutes on Google is that Lisa Blatt is a big-time partner at Washington powerhouse Arnold Porter Kaye Scholer. This was a firm formed by Abe Fortas in the late 1940s. They are indeed Democratic leaning.* But they make their massive profits (net income was 383.5 million in 2018 according to an April 2019 National Law Journal article) from representing big, corporate clients. Brett Kavanaugh is much more likely to make decisions favorable to big Corporate clients than any Democratic-appointed Justice.**

    Lisa Blatt made some lip-service comments about abortion and precedent in her essay but what rankled many on the left is that she is from a class (white, wealthy, connected, well-educated) that will never have any problems seeking an abortion or access to birth control for herself or people in her circle that need it. Abortion rights are for those without such connections. Lots of liberals were able to see that while Ms. Blatt might vote straight-down Democratic, she is essentially a careerist looking out for the size of her bank account and what helps her career first over any of her other values.

    The most “bipartisanship” in politics seems to come from a small group of high-level party functionaries that switch from government to private work based on the party in control of the White House. They are always in high-level positions in both sectors. This group has known each other since they were eighteen if not before. They represent the same clients that they later regulate. Or they regulate the clients that they later represent. It should be pretty easy to see how this is a big problem and might lead to regulations being less tough than they should be and need to be. There should be a way to combat this.

    *In the field of BigLaw, there are firms that lean Democratic and firms that lean Republican. Arnold Porter was always known for attracting Democratic types because of the Abe Fortas connection. Kirkland & Ellis and Williams Connelly lean Republican.

    **A good example is this case which went well for plaintiffs’/ordinary Americans only because Justice Thomas’ idiosyncraticies lead him to unique positions from time to time. If Merrick Garland was appointed, the corporate Defendants would not have had a chance:

  2. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Let’s start with the problems with the premise here: Bipartisanship good, lobbyist bad.

    Nope, that’s not the premise. For starters, the premise of the AOC/Cruz convergence has nothing to do with bipartisanship being good. For seconders, the view isn’t that lobbyists are bad, but that CCers-becoming-lobbyists are bad. And honestly, if the libertarian view is to let the nexus of money, government and connections roll, I’m disappointed in libertarians.Report

  3. Avatar Philip H says:

    Oh please. The issue isn’t that lobbying is bad per se, its that Congresspersons go to firms that are not lobbying for you and me – because those don’t exist and instead go to the big cushy firms that handle large donor clients. None of those congressman are using their private citizen stature to lobby for something they personally believe in (which is what the Framers were after since in England you had to be a Courtier to get the Kings favor).Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    So it’ll create an additional layer of inefficiency?

    Rep. John Jackson is barred from being a registered lobbyist, but Lobbyist Jack Johnson has to hire former Rep. John Jackson as a consultant?

    Eh, that’d be a good way to give sinecures to nephews and whatnot.

    I guess I’m for it.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

      The issue as I see it isn’t that lobbying is inherently corrupt (I don’t think it is) or even that big money lobbying firms lobby for people with big money (sure but that really is a free speech issue even if the speech is distasteful).

      It’s that the promise/prospect of a lobbying job in the future can create a conflict of interest where a Congresscritter might decide to do something the a lobbying firm wants in order to get a cushy gig once they’re done Crittering.

      And even the appearance of impropriety is bad.

      Does this make it a good idea, or even Constutional? No, but there’s a big difference between obviously not good and not obviously good.

      If it is a good idea, does that change the fact that AOC and Cruz are grandstanding? Of course not. But grandstanding is at least as essential to the way Congress works as lobbying is.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

        Of course they’re grandstanding. I don’t care about that. I don’t even see it as a relevant criticism.

        Will it work? No. But I don’t care about that either.

        Is it actively harmful? No. This is a point in its favor.
        Is other stuff that they’d be likely to agree on going to be more harmful than this? Yeah, probably.
        So is this preventing harm from being done? Yeah, probably.

        There’s no downside and it will irritate those in power.
        So I’m for it.Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Weird how in the efficient private sector, the idea an employee can take their insider knowledge of how things work, then turn around and use it for personal enrichment with a competing firm is widely understood, and made illegal.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      [Note: Private sector efficiency = private sector profits in this discussion.]

      The most interesting thing to me about this post is that it reduces Cruz’ and AOC’s position on lobbying to “two individuals who really, really like such attention.” The wonderful thing about that take is that it’s even more cynical than the politicians it’s ostensibly critiquing. Yet libertarians consistently shoulder that heavy burden – no one’s coercing them! – and persist.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      The key word there is “insider”. Companies hire people away from their competition all the time on the basis of their expertise. There’s nothing wrong with that. Now, if former Congressmen were working for foreign governments against the interests of the US, that would fit your analogy, but it’d be treason. Lobbying the US government on behalf of a foreign government or entity is legal, but under restrictions.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Pinky says:

        The whole point of hiring an ex-Congressperson is that they have insider information about their former organization, not expertise.

        And the point of this lobbying is to have that insider knowledge used to the advantage of special, not public, interests.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Or, alternately., the “expertise” justifying those folks hiring is how to leverage specific politicians’ votes in favor of preferred legislation and against their retail political instincts. If it all could be done above board, on the up and up, their “expertise” wouldn’t be in demand.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          I would say that the point is the connections. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. If Ford brings aboard a GM exec, he’ll potentially have information about a new car line or something. That’s not the case for governance. I mean, maybe in defense contracts. But when present and former Congressmen get together, the influence is the fraternity.Report

          • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Pinky says:

            I think the notion that a Congressperson has expertise, influence or connections that would make him/her a better lobbyist is speculative.

            The value of lobbying services is difficult for the purchaser to ascertain. After all the lobbyist cannot exactly guarantee that he or she can get a law passed (or killed). So its an area that the consumer is likely to overpay because price is believed to be a signal of value; other signals can include having prominent former politicians in the lobbying group, an elite address, giving out free football tickets, etc.Report

        • Avatar pillsy in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          The whole point of hiring an ex-Congressperson is that they have insider information about their former organization, not expertise.

          Huh? What insider information?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

            “I know that I have this job because I helped pass H.B. 302-2012 seven years ago.”Report

          • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to pillsy says:

            The only useful insider information I can think of:

            ‘Bill 2472 is just supposed to whip up a lot of political contributions; the Speaker/Leader doesn’t intend for it to actually pass in any shape or form.’Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to pillsy says:

            They know which CCers can be bought off and each one’s leverage points.

            Do folks reading this blog know those things?Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

            I’m making a comparison to an employee who has inside knowledge of how the product is made, and uses that non-public knowledge to the benefit of a rival.

            its not a perfect overlap, but in this case, the main reason someone hires a former Congressperson is NOT that they have any expertise about the issue;
            What they have is intimate knowledge and access to other Congresspeople;

            Its the access that you pay for, and is being used against the citizens since it is for a private gain.Report

            • Avatar Ozzy! in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              The first of those examples would fall under theft of property and the second would be learned knowledge/experience. There is a very real difference in the eyes of the law, and there should be.

              Insider trading is a better parallel/example in the private sector. Unfortunately, that also is based on the idea of theft.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Ozzy! says:

                Yeah, but defining things in such narrow legal terms ends up being a wordsmithing contest of how creative we can define “property”.

                “What’s in your secret sauce?”
                “Mayonnaise and ketchup- yours?”
                “Mayonnaise, ketchup, and relish.”

                “Hands up! You both are under arrest for theft of intellectual property!”

                The stronger moral logic for both cases is not property, but trust.

                That the employee or Congressperson is being entrusted with power and knowledge which is to be used, not for their own personal gain but the company or public’s benefit.Report

  6. Avatar Pinky says:

    It seems to me that a principled conservative and a principled liberal could both arrive at this position. So I can’t judge them negatively on that respect. As for them reaching across the aisle, I hope to see more of that. If politicians can find common ground, and the only thing stopping them from cooperating is the letter after their names, we should want to see them work together. Isn’t that what we always hear, that both sides have supported common sense (blank) reform, but they refuse to work together because it would give the other side a win? Personally, I’d like to see more compromise where people vote a little bit against their interests for an overall win. I’m not going to complain about two politicians supporting something they arguably both believe in.Report

  7. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    Bipartisanship is usually confused with non-partisan. Bipartisanship is often the most partisan partisanship of them all.Report