Archive for March, 2010

Testimony Helps Defeat Public Financing

This past Thursday, I had the chance to testify against a HB-1156 that would have provided for limited public financing of state legislative campaigns.  The bill was being carried by Rep. Court, and would have created a 2-for-1 matching system, up to $5,000 in matching funds for a State House of Representatives campaign, and up to $10,000 for a State Senate campaign.  While it’s true that I oppose public funding of campaigns on philosophical grounds, my testimony focused primarily on practical concerns: the bill would have failed even on its own terms.  I’m pleased to say that the committee voted it down 7-4, eventually voted to postpone indefinitely, 8-3.

The full audio of my remarks, and those of Rep. Court, will be available soon, but for the moment, here are the basic points that I made.

  • In a time of fiscal constraints, it makes no sense to be providing welfare for politicians while we’re cutting K-12 education
  • While a taxpayer checkoff would be available, it would likely produce little actual revenue, much like the federal campaign checkoff
  • Funding is not truly voluntary, as the campaign account could be funded by general fund dollars
  • The fund balance is not good measure of voter interest in the idea, since gifts and contributions could also fund the account.  Funding all expenses for a campaign cycle would could somewhat more than $1 million, well within the means of a number of Coloradoans who routinely contribute more than that in independent expenditures
  • There are conflicting provisions for distributing funds if there isn’t enough money to go around.   These provisions produce an advantage for incumbents and those with existing political machines, and do nothing to promote competitiveness
  • Campaigns are expensive because printing, mailing, and airtime are expensive, and since campaigns make up only a small part of the whole media market, they have almost no pricing power
  • If a $400 limit is too low, a better route would be to seek relief under the Supreme Court’s Randall v. Sorrell ruling.  It invalidated Vermont’s $200/person contribution limits, for districts that average 1/17th the size of Colorado’s
  • There is little actual public concern; California turned down a public financing initiative by a 3-1 vote, while Alaska’s voters rejected it 2-1.
  • In fact, according to the Justice Department, the cleanest states, like Nebraska, have few or no limits.  And the best-run states, according to Governing magazine, Utah and Virginia, similarly have no limits
  • Arizona’s public financing has failed to increase the diversity of its legislature, as measured by race, sex, or occupation

The proper response should be for the legislature to raise the campaign finance limits and require greater transparency and immediate reporting of who’s paying.  This will encourage money to flow to campaigns, rather than to unaccountable 527s.

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Norouz Mubarak

It was delightful to be able to spend a little time Friday celebrating Norouz, or the Persian New Year, with Denver’s Persian community.  The Persian New Year is celebrated at the onset of Spring, and, like our own New Year, is essentially secular, celebrated by the entire country.  So when my friend Ana Sami invited me to drop by, it was a no-brainer.  I also had a chance to meet Tim Ghaemi in person, after having interviewed him for the Rocky Mountain Alliance’s Blog Talk Radio show last year.

In addition to the actual food, there’s usually a special table set, with a number of symbolic items:

For some reason, they all begin with “S” in Farsi, but here’s the list:

  • Sabzeh – wheat or lentils grown in a tray or dish prior to Noe-Rooz to represent rebirth,
  • Samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ, symbolizing affluence,
  • Senjed – the dried fruit of the lotus tree which represents love,
  • Seer – which means garlic in Persian, and represents medicine,
  • Seeb – which means apple in Persian, and represents beauty and health,
  • Somaq – sumac berries, which represent the colour of the sun rise,
  • Serkeh – which means vinegar in Persian, and represents age and patience,
  • Sonbol – the hyacinth flower with its strong fragrance heralding the coming of spring, and
  • Sekkeh – coins representing prosperity and wealth

There’s also usually a copy of the community-appropriate religious book, be it a Chumash, a Bible, or a Koran.  This being an inclusive celebration, they had a copy of both the Koran and the Bible on the top shelf there, but the big red book there in the middle is actually neither.  Instead, it is a book listing the 12,000+ vicitms of political executions under the current Iranian regime, a reminder that as is often the case, immigrants to America are freer to celebrate their holidays here than they would be back home.

Norouz Mubarak to Ana, Tim, and the rest of the Persian-American community here in Denver.

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Lipstick On a Pig

Bruce Nussbaum over at BusinessWeek reports that the Obama Administration has hired Edward Tufte, probably the most innovative data design guy around, to help explain the stimulus spending:

“I will be serving on the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel. This Panel advises The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, whose job is to track and explain $787 billion in recovery stimulus funds.”

Make no mistake.  Tufte is brilliant.  He didn’t invent either one of these graphs, but he popularized them in his book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.  In both cases, click to enlarge.

Here is a Paris train timetable:

And here is a chart of Napoleon’s Moscow campaign.  The thickness of the line is proportional to the number of men remaining, and the bottom line is the temperature, which tracks from right to left, as it follows the retreat:

They’re brilliant, simple, clean, and convey huge amounts of information.

Nussbaum is right when he says that this is a smart choice, although I think just emphasizes that the Administration thinks their stimulus problem is one of presentation rather than substance.  Bad data can’t be fixed by good presentation, at least not honestly, and I wonder if and when Tufte will get frustrated with the lousy data he’s being asked to present.  In fact, it may almost be worse if he succeeds.  We’ve seen how poor the stimulus data is already, and superb presentation will only act as propaganda.

For an example of equally inventive data visualization, see here.  (h/t: Powerline)

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Free Speech Extends to Colorado

In other news, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled today on the questions presented to it by the Governer and Secretary of State in light of the Citizens United case:

Pursuant to Section 3 of Article VI of the Colorado Constitution, the Governor submitted two interrogatories to the Colorado Supreme Court on February 9, 2010, concerning whether various provisions of Article XXVIII of the Colorado Constitution were unconstitutional in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC US 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010).

The supreme court answered both interrogatories in the affirmative. It held that to the extent section 3(4) of article XXVIII of the Colorado Constitution makes it unlawful for a corporation or labor organization to make expenditures expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate, it violates the dictates of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Similarly, it held that, to the extent section 6(2) of article XXVIII of the Colorado Constitution makes it unlawful for a corporation or a labor organization to provide funding for an electioneering communication, it violates the dictates of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The uncertainty having been cleared up, this will no doubt be the green light for the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee to take up the bill providing for public funding of political campaigns.  With my luck, they’ll take it up over Yom Tov.

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Political Effect of the Lawsuit

Despite the fact that this is a legal decision, not a political one, I do believe that it will have at least one positive political effect.

Go ahead, tell me you didn’t feel deflated last night.  No, you’re lying.  I read your comments on Facebook and on the blogs and on the newspaper sites.  I know what you were thinking: France called, they want their statue back.

Now, tell me you don’t at least have a little hope that we can pull back from the precipice.  That week-long planned media celebration of historic achievements is stopped cold, even before the bill is signed into law.

Tell me you don’t feel better now than you did 4 hours ago.

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Mandate This!

The Colorado legislative Republicans held a press conference this afternoon to announce that they had sent a letter (text below the fold) to Attorney General John Suthers, asking him to join with other states’ attorneys general in challenging the constitutionality of the individual health mandate here in Colorado.  Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute joined them, making an impassioned plea and invoking, as he has recently and reluctantly, his heroic son who has undergone 9 life-saving surgeries in his 5 years.  The legislators also pointed out a number of bills that the current Democrat majority has killed this session, including, reviewing new health care manates for cost and individual deductibility of health insurance.

The presser went on for a little over 20 minutes, so it’s in three segments:

For the record, the legislators were quite clear that they were signing sending the letter, and had not coordinated with the Attorney General in advance.  In fact, I saw the letter delivered with mine own eye, since I had headed over to the Law Office for…

About 90 minutes later, Attorney General John Suthers announced that he would, in fact, be joining the lawsuit.   The lawsuit not only challenges the constitutionality of the individual mandate, but also of the IRS enforcement of that mandate, the fine they’d be able to impose, under the guise of a tax.  While the Congress can regulate insterstate commerce, it can’t regulate commercial inactivity, which is what this bill tries to do.  In addition, the legislation mirrors what the Democrats here in Colorado have done by labeling “taxes” to be “fees,” in this case, labeling a fine a “tax” in order to give jurisdiction to the IRS.  As Randy Barnett points out, this essentially would give Congress the power to regulate anything, and the IRS power to enforce it.  Moreover, the tax, even as a tax, would violate Article I Sections 2, 8, and 9, which provide that any direct tax has to be proportional to a state’s population, not tied to an individual’s economic (in)activity.

Regardless, this collective action is almost certainly only the first of many that will be filed, both by the states and by third parties.

I hate to turn this into a media criticism piece, but the fact that Congress can’t regulate anything, and that the IRS can’t enforce it seemed to be unexplored territory for the other reporters in the room.  One lady tried twice to understand why this was different from the state requiring auto insurance (hint: the federal government isn’t a state, and there’s an action tied to car insurance, i.e. operating your car; merely being a breathing citizen isn’t sufficient justification for mandating interstate commerce, or punishing the refusal to participate in a market.

Second prize goes to Eli Stokol of Fox 31, who left the room convinced that this was a political decision, because thus far, only Republican attorneys general were involved.  The notion that the lack of participation by Democrats could be just as political apparently didn’t register.  Also, there are very liberal Democrats who don’t buy the mandate (so to speak) for a slightly different reason, that the government can’t force you to buy a private product, such as professor Tom Russell of the University of Denver School of Law.  (Mr. Russell ran in last election’s primary for HD-6, as it happens.)

Young Mr. Stokol also asked why, if the 10th Amendment were applicable, why it hadn’t broken through in discussion before.  The answer is that it has, and that if he had showed up having done his homework and done any sort of reading on the legal matters on display he’d know that.

The videos of the presser are here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Happy Passover

Because of the tremendous amount of kitchen and household preparation involved in an Orthodox celebration of Passover, many affluent families choose to spend the holiday at hotels, with the seders and meals catered.  These deals are expensive, and sometimes a family can spend well into the five figures for them.  The complaints can be endless, over things you or I would normally consider trivial.  But when the eggs are underdone, or the french fries a little overdone, remember that to that family, it’s a $20,000 omelet, or a $30,000 burger platter.  It had better be perfect.

Obama and the Democrats are about to find out what it’s like to run a Pesach Program.

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Straw Polls

As part of the caucus process this year, both Democrats and Republicans in Colorado included a non-binding straw poll, essentially a test of grass roots strength among the candidates. Not surprisingly, the activitst-friendly candidates did well. Andrew Romanoff took about 50% of the vote to Senator Bennet’s 41% on the Democratic side. For the Republicans, Dan Maes got 40% of the vote to Scott McInnis’s 60%, which will probably be interpretes as a win for Maes, and Ken Buck barely edged out Jane Norton by 25 votes, which will certainly be considered a win for him.

How much does it matter? It’s hard to say. On the Democrat side, it may help boost Romanoff’s heretofore anemic fundraising. I have no insight as to whether or not folks were electing delegates based on their Senate preferances, though. For the Republicans, I suspect there’s a strong correlation between not supporting Jane Norton and supporting Dan Maes. This matters, because for the most part, people didn’t have to choose between delegates for Senate and delegates for Governor. It means that if Maes decided to continue on after convention (assuming he can’t make up the difference), he’ll go in as an underdog, but not a massive one. And it says that McInnis still faces significant discontent within his own party.

This suggests that the Colorado governor’s race is beginning to look a little like last year’s Presidential race. Hickenlooper is playing the part of Obama, positioning himself as a reasonable moderate, atlhough he’s actually quite liberal. McInnis is playing the part of McCain, the presumptive nominee that the party really doesn’t quite buy as being conservative enough. For all his harping on “unity,” McInnis is going to find that line increasingly irrelevant. And Dan Maes is playing the role of The Field: in addition to his own support, he’s picking up the protest vote against McInnis.

This doesn’t mean that things will play out the same way at all. Obama was running with a favorable political environment, Hickenlooper has to overcome the current distrust of the Democrats. McInnis is certainly more conservative than McCain. And Maes is a single individual, meaning that someone who votes for him is less likely to switch to McInnis down the line, if there’s a primary.

As for the Senate race, Tom Wiens and Cleve Tidwell were both banking on a strong showing at caucus, and didn’t get it. Fairly or unfairly, the race really narrows down to two candidates, and the question is whether or not, at or after state convention, Wiens’s and Tidwell’s supporters will split up or coalesce behind Buck. And while Norton has worked hard to court the activists and the Tea Partiers, it may not be enough this year.

Of course, there’s no real precedent for correlating straw poll support with election performance. In 2008, the only straw poll was at the presidential level, and Romney, the winner in Colorado, dropped out a few days later. The straw poll results will almost certainly correlate more strongly with County Assembly results – and thus with State Convention results – than with the broader party electorate in a primary. And a lot can happen at County. A disciplined voting bloc can win a disproportionate number of delegates.

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Caucus Night 2010

It’s humbling to get such a warm reception from my fellow Republicans and from unaffiliated voters in attendance as well. I’ll work hard to earn it!

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Alfonse and Gaston

With the ruling by the Senate Parliamentarian that having a law means, you know, actually having a law in force, the self-Slaughter Strategy seems dead, further complicating matters for Democrats who are trying to find the procedural loopholes necessary to pass health care.  In effect, the Slaughter Strategy – a frankly bizarre attempt to redefine “passed” – was a way for the House to get the Senate to go first, even though right now, it’s the House’s turn.  The House clearly doesn’t trust that Senate will make changes, especially since, as far as the White House is concerned, it doesn’t really matter.  Remember, the Republicans are the opposition, but the Senate is the enemy.

Now, the House will actually be on the record on substantive, not procedural votes, and it will have to find a way to pass either the Senate bill or something acceptable to the Senate before reconciliation can move forward.

The Democrats will try to paint this as “raising the bar,” but of course, reconciliation simply cannot act on something that isn’t in force.  Voting that something is conditionally in force, never presenting a finished law to the President for his signature, doesn’t actually pass a bill out of Congress, so this ruling should be taken as common sense and perfectly reasonable.  That common sense and reason have departed from the Democratic camp by now should be evident to all.

One thing we should have learned by now is not to declare this thing dead until the new Congress is sworn in next January.  But if the House is resorting to parliamentary contortions like the Slaughter Strategy, it’s clear they don’t think they have the votes at this point.

And the Senate majority leader is “sending a letter to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in which he dared the GOP to vote against reform,” which reminds me of nothing so much as this:

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