June 2007

Supremes loosen the rules on ‘issue ads’

Monday, June 25th, 2007

tice.jpgThe central importance of Supreme Court appointments among the powers of a president was reinforced yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a somewhat subtle but very important First Amendment ruling. To a great extent it sets political advertising by independent organizations free from scotus.jpgsweeping restrictions enacted, and upheld by the high court, just a few years back.

The case involved a Wisconsin anti-abortion group and a set of so-called issue ads it broadcast shortly before the 2004 election. Sen. Russ Feingold was running for re-election that fall and he was mentioned in the ads.

Those ads were a crime under the dramatic 2002 campaign finance reform law popularly known as McCain-Feingold. Perhaps the most remarkable provision of that law prohibited independent ads — those sponsored by advocacy groups, corporations, unions and so on — within 60 days of an election if they could be construed as favoring or opposing the election of a federal candidate.

Guestposter Bob von Sternberg on the transportation chairman’s victory lap

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Political reporter von Sternberg says Rep. Oberstar dwelt mainly on what he and the Democratic majority have accomplished:

vonste.jpgIt was billed as another high-minded Humphrey Institute forum over the lunch hour Monday, carrying the portentous title, “Transportation Policy and America’s oberstar.jpgFuture.”

The event was to showcase the thoughts of DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar, the 17-term dean of Minnesota’s congressional delegation and the powerful chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

In fact, the hour-long session at the University of Minnesota was something of a victory lap by Oberstar after the opening months of the 110th Congress. He reveled in his use of the levers of power, touted how much has actually been accomplished, and backhanded the erstwhile Republican majority for its do-nothing ways.

“With the position I’m in now, I’m chairman and I can make this happen,” Oberstar said in so many words more than once, his face lit up with a smile.

Website touts plans to disrupt 2008 GOP conclave in the Twin Cities with freeway blockades

Monday, June 25th, 2007

tice.jpgIt is clear that protesters of various stipes and levels of zeal are planning in earnest to make their presence felt in the Twin Cities next year when the GOP national convention comes to town.

Here is a group that has what sounds like carefully thought out plans to “smash the conventions” both here and in Denver (where the Dems will meet). Among the goals:

“To shut down the cities, delay and disrupt the conventions and media coverage.
“To deter cities from wanting to host the conventions in the future.”

Big talk? Maybe. But give a look to the rather detailed concept for blockading key Twin Cities intersections simultaneously, especially accesses to I-94, the key artery connecting the convention site in the St. Paul with Minneapolis, where hotels and other meeting facilities that will be heavily used by delegates.

Minneapolis is also the home, the group notes several times, of the “capitalst media” in Minnesota

The groups involved are called The San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center and Unconventional Action.

I’m not sure what to make of this and would be glad to hear from anyone who knows anything about these groups, and whether they’re to be taken seriously.

Guestposter Jake Sherman on the only Minnesota pol to disclose his/her earmarks

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Washington reporter Sherman found one Minnesota member eager to disclose requests, another opposed to the idea, and most mum:

CNN’s look at earmarks in Washington has put pressure on members of Congress to disclose requests for program-specific funding.

Earmarks are items inserted into bills that provide funding for projects in a member’s district.

The network, styling the inquiry as a kind of test of the new Congress’s stated commitment to openness, said it asked all members of the House for their earmark requests and fewer than 100 have responded. tim_walz1.jpg

Rep. Tim Walz, first-term Democrat from Minnesota’s First District, released all of his 38 earmark requests.

Rep. Jim Oberstar, the veteran Democrat from the Eighth District, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will not release any earmarks, a spokesperson said.

oberstar.jpg“Jim’s position is he wants to have a situation where a member is free to make a request, explore the option to see if he can get the funding and if there’s some reason it can’t go forward they can’t be blamed,” said John Schadl, Oberstar’s press secretary.

Walz’s camp took a completely different approach.

“If it’s something our district is interested in, we’re glad to release it,” said Meredith Salsbery, Walz’s communication director.

As of the end of last week, no other members from Minnesota had responded one way or another to CNN.

Jake Sherman

Let’s Ask an Expert

Elementary physics meets elementary economics

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

(Herewith, The Big Question launches a new, occasional series in which we’ll discuss questions of current interest, big and small, with the best experts we can find. Readers of the blog are invited to submit questions. We’ll take the most interesting ones to those who may have useful answers. — The Management)

tice.jpgA thought-provoking Associated Press story ran on the Star Tribune’s front page the other day (I’ve linked here to a somewhat fuller version of the piece that ran in the Tennessean).

The story deals with two sciences, ardent politicians and advocates, and self-interested industry spokesters.

A volitile combination, even if the subject weren’t gasoline.

The story describes a controversy concerning the way changinggaspump.jpg temperatures alter the effective price of gasoline. As temperature rises, gasoline expands; as temperature falls, gasoline contracts. Trouble is, in accordance with a venerable industry/regulatory standard, a “gallon” of gas is defined as a constant volume of fuel — 231 cubic inches — whatever the temperature.

The result is that when it’s hot outside, it takes less gas — less energy value — to fill that volume than it does when it’s colder.

The net effect, industry critics argue, is an artificial price hike on gasoline, particularly in warmer seasons of the year and warmer parts of the country.

The story describes all this as a matter of “elementary physics,” and I for one am prepared to take the reporter’s word for that part of it. Even elementary physics makes my head hurt.

But do the story and the industry critics have their elementary economics right?

I took my questions about this to Timothy Taylor, antim_taylor.jpg economics professor at Macalester College, and editor of The Journal of Economic Perspectives, an academic review published by the American Economic Association.

“You’re fundamentally right about it [an overall price advantage] being competed away,” he said in response to my inquiry. “You would think gas stations would be a pretty competitive market. It would be unusual to have a situation where every July they would make a lot of money and every December they wouldn’t.”


GOP convention committee names key staffers

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

tice.jpgPreparations for the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities next year continue apace. The RNC’s Committee on Arrangements has announced some key appointments. Here are excerpts from the press release descriptions of the leadership team, in case their backgrounds suggest any illuminating connections:

Mel Raines – Vice President
Most recently, Raines served as Assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney for Political Affairs. Previously, Raines served as the Director, Government Affairs Outreach and Communications, for Altria Corporate Services, Inc. She also held positions at the 2000 and 2004 Republican National Conventions, the Republican National Committee (RNC), and in the office of United States Senator Daniel Coats (R-IN).


Guestposter Mark Brunswick puts a prominent legislator on the record about a Vikings stadium

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

State capitol reporter Brunswick interviewed state Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller Thursday about the prospects for a new Vikings stadium as part of a large redevelopment in the Metrodome area of downtown Minneapolis. Here, he provides a fuller version of Pogemiller’s remarks than the newspaper can accomodate:

“I think the Vikings are a valuable asset to the state and I think the general thing is we need to get a way to get these kind of important projects done.

“The size and scope of what Mr. Wilf is talking about is reallypogemiller.jpg pretty significant in terms of construction and activity. I’m certain there will be a very serious and hopefully fruitful discussion about what would be the public participation in that, both in terms of the overall state asset of a facility and the community asset of whatever kind of development would be adjacent to a stadium.”

What kind of public participation might that be?

“I don’t know enough about what the possibilities are. No local unit of government by itself would be able to handle this type of project. It just seems to me that there would some regional and statewide participation of some sort.

“But what that is I don’t know and I don’t think the Vikings know enough to venture a guess about what that would be. Something of this magnitude, any local government could not handle it.”

What’s the time frame?

“We got to get to it. There’s a three or four year time frame for putting a project together. I’ve had no indication that the Vikings are pushing panic buttons or making any kind of discussion of ‘You guys are in trouble of losing the Vikings.’ They are just not doing it that way. It’s kind of ‘Here’s what the owner is thinking about’ and it’s obvious there’s more involved than just a stadium.”

Is there stadium fatigue at the Legislature after bruising battles over the Twins and Gophers stadiums?

“You always run up against the challenge that stadiums are not the highest priority for the Legislature. It’s not the highest priority. But in terms of construction and in terms of public infrastructure it’s a significant undertaking for our community.”

Might you be the author of legislation?

“I would doubt it. I don’t think anyone’s near that far along. I don’t know that anybody’s even talking about that kind of thing.”

Pogemiller said the Vikings wanted to lay some foundation, some groundwork — “How do we talk about this in a way that is digestible, both for the Legislature and the community?” he asked. There has been no indication of an interim stadium task force before the Legislature convenes in February. “It would be fairly informal if there is,” he said.

“People know this is an issue that’s going to be there. I think most thoughtful legislators want to have it in context to what the priorities are. I think there is clearly an intersection between this type of development and transportation issues because I’m guessing that’s why they are looking at that type of development.”

Mark Brunswick

Good Reads

Guestposter Bob von Sternberg on how Bloomberg might affect the presidential race in Minnesota

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Political reporter von Sternberg links to an article suggesting the New York Mayor’s independent run could be good news for the GOP:

vonste.jpgIt might seem to be a stretch, but if newly-independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg throws his hat (and his billions) into the presidential race, it could reverberate as far away as Minnesota.

The new, counterintuitive, conventional wisdom is that, contrary to the initial conventional wisdom, a Bloomberg candidacy couldbloomberg.jpg hurt the Democratic nominee more than the GOP’s.

According to a column by the New Republic’s John Judis, it all boils down to independent voters.(Registration is required and they’ll try to sell you a subscription, but you can get a couple issues free.)

His argument: “Independents are no longer a catch-all in American politics for people who can’t make up their mind, but a distinct political tendency: liberal on social issues, fiscally moderate (skeptical about new taxes and about large-scale government initiatives), and deeply committed to political reform (that is, convinced that special interests hold sway in Washington and over the two major parties).”

Judis lumps Minnesota into states he calls “Blue-state Independents,” as opposed to Western “Sagebrush Independents.”

“With his strong stand on social issues, including gun control, global warming, and non-partisan government, Bloomberg would stand an excellent chance of winning a share of the Blue-state (although probably not the Sagebrush) Independents,” Judis wrote. “He could make life difficult for Democratic candidates in parts of New England, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, and even California. In a close election, that might be enough to put a Republican in the White House.”

For the record, in Minnesota (an increasingly purple state that nonetheless hasn’t voted for a Republican since Richard Nixon) the November exit poll found that independents made up 24 percent of the state’s voters, compared to 36 percent Republicans and 41 percent Democrats.

Bob von Sternberg

Good Reads

Guestposter Mark Brunswick on journalists’ not-so-balanced political contributions

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

State capitol reporter Brunswick links to an intriguing — if not exactly surprising — report on journalists putting their money where their mouths (most often) are not:

Confirming what many already believe about the leftward leanings of the so-called mainstream media, MSNBC investigative reporter Bill Dedman appears to have done a pretty exhaustive job of ferretting out 144 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign.

Dedman finds that 125 of the scribes gave to Democrats or liberal causes. Only 17 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties.

The almost casual justifications Dedman quotes for the contributions might be surprising to those long-accustomed to the concept of neutrality in journalism.

It’s certainly unsettling to read of a sympathetic 2004 profile of Teresa Heinz Kerry followed 10 days later by a $1,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee by the author of the story.

There are also local connections in Dedman’s report:

Not cited in the main story but listed in the report was part-time Star Tribune copy editor Barbara Haugen, who is listed as giving $250 in October 2006 to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar.

Haugen did not return phone calls made by MSNBC seeking comment, and has yet to respond to the Big Question.

But Star Tribune managing editor Scott Gillespie told MSNBC: “We have a conflict of interest policy. We ask that people who are involved in political coverage – we dissuade them – we actually dissuade the entire staff. We haven’t banned it outright for the entire newsroom. Our policy says that people should avoid doing any partisan politics on their own, avoid any politics. It’s especially emphasized for people who do political coverage.”

In the main story, Dedman also writes:

“Several of the journalists reasoned that their activism is acceptable precisely because the public would not know – unless they go to the trouble to search the FEC records.

“‘A lot of us want to be politically active. But marching in a waralex_kendall.jpg protest isn’t an option, being a recognizable person, so we give with our checkbook,’ said Alix Kendall, the morning anchor for Fox station KMSP in Minneapolis, who gave $250 in September to the Midwest Values PAC, which passed the money on to Democratic candidates.

“‘I don’t think that working for a news organization I give up my rights. I interview plenty of people that I don’t agree with, but I also ask questions to get the other side.’”

Mark Brunswick

Guestposter Patricia Lopez on Sen. Norm Coleman’s lagging poll numbers

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

State Capitol reporter Lopez notes that the latest polls keep Coleman stuck where an incumbent would prefer not to be:

lopez.jpgU.S. Sen. Norm Coleman has not been feeling the love lately from Minnesota voters.

A Survey USA poll shows Coleman’s job approval rating submerged below the all-important 50 percent mark, with 48 percent approving of the job he’s doing and 41 percentcoleman.jpg disapproving.

The poll has an error margin of plus or minus 4.1 percent.

Coleman has been trending downward in Survey’s tracking polls since April, when he hit a 53 percent approval rating. His highwater mark this year was in January, when his job approval rating was 55 percent.

A Minnesota Public Radio poll in May also showed him with a 48 percent approval rating and he has been rated among the most vulnerable Senate incumbents for 2008.

That poll, however, also showed that Coleman would best the leading DFL candidates _ comic Al Franken and attorney Mike Ciresi _ by comfortable margins.

Patricia Lopez

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