Dear Senator Merkley: anybody can write a bill

Anybody in Congress can write a bill.

That, in itself, isn’t much of an accomplishment. The real test is whether you can get your bill passed. Jeff Merkley, after 6 years in the Senate, doesn’t seem to understand that.

Senator Jeff Merkley

Senator Jeff Merkley

In an effort to portray himself as an accomplished legislator, Merkley has a TV ad out asserting, “….I wrote a bill to make China play fair on trade.” The problem is Merkley’s bills never passed.

When I served in Washington, D.C. as staff on a subcommittee of the House of Representatives, I worked with the Legislative Counsel’s office to draft dozens of bills at the request of the subcommittee chairman and ranking minority member. That’s the easy part. The tough part is getting something through the entire legislative process in the Senate and House and signed into law. That is the grueling work, depending on persistence, personal relationships, hard work and knowledge of the legislative process.

As a newspaper reporter after leaving Washington, I argued on numerous occasions against writing up lengthy stories on bills submitted by Oregon’s members of Congress just because they’d been put in the hopper. It’s a too common tactic by legislators to garner media coverage on a topic without actually having to do anything substantive.

The public is too often fooled by this tactic because they either don’t understand the legislative process or don’t assiduously follow the progress, or lack thereof, of proposed legislation.

Merkley’s clearly trying to pull a fast one. The ad should come down.

Merkley’s money: pick your poison

I got a friendly personal note from Senator Jeff Merkley the other day. Well, it was addressed to me and had his signature, so I think it was personal.

Anyway, he told me that if I’m “fed up with special interests always getting their way in Washington” he needs my help because “the special interests that are used to calling the shots are hell-bent on defeating me in 2014.” And in a kind of ironic twist, he said he needs lots of money because every supporter he adds today will be “a rejection of the big money politics that’s created a government by and for the powerful.”

This is the same man who has raised nearly $8 million from the special interests that he embraces, particularly unions, lawyers and law firms, and real estate interests. In the DC game, it’s more a matter of picking your poison than staying pure.

specialinterests

During 2009 -2014, principal contributors to Merkley’s campaign have been:

 

Industry    Total raised       From Individuals From PACS
lawyers/law firms $337,313 $259,615 $77,698
Leadership PACs $166,500 0 $166,500
Real estate interests $146,868 $74,358 $72,510
Building trade unions $117,000 0 $117,000

 

The lawyer/law firm contributors include the American Association for Justice, also known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America ($26,000) and the Boston-based law firm, Thornton & Naumes ($25,000). Thornton & Naumes is a heavy hitter in the contributions game, having contributed $326,250 so far during the 2014 election cycle. That made it the top contributor to 23 members of Congress, all but one a Democrat.

The trial lawyers have been long-time big-time money machine for the Democratic Party. Already losing tort-reform battles in states run by Republican governors and legislatures, and threatened by the GOP-led House, the trial lawyers are deathly afraid of having to deal with a GOP-led Senate, too, so they’re manning the barricades and handing out cash..

Another special interest heavily invested in Merkley is the real estate industry, blamed by some for exacerbating the housing collapse by promoting easy-credit policies.

Then there are the unions. Now there’s a special interest.   Unions making big contributions to Merkley in the 2014 election cycle include:

  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, $30,000
  • Communications Workers of America, $25,000
  • National Electrical Contractors Assn., $25,000
  • International Association of Fire Fighters, $23,500
  • Operating Engineers Union, $20,000
  • Teamsters Union, $20,000
  • Painters & Allied Trades Union, $18,000
  • International Longshoremen’s Association, $18,000
  • International Association of State/County/Municipal Employees, $16,500.

In 2013, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–was 11.3 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, was 14.5 million.

The strongest union representation in 2013 was with public-sector workers, which had a union membership rate (35.3 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.7 percent). This reflects a fairly steady decline in union membership over the years. Thirty years ago, for example, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

Unions in the United States are waging an aggressive effort to maintain their membership and to support union-friendly government policies. And Merkley’s on board.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merkley’s money: what a difference a term makes

HandsOut

Things are different now.

When Democrat Jeff Merkley first ran for the U.S. Senate in 2008, he raised a total of $6,512,231.

Now that he’s a Senator, he’s already reported raising $6,286,013 for his reelection and the 2014 race, in theory, hasn’t even begun. The Republicans haven’t even chosen who will run against him.

That means Merkley’s total haul is likely to go much higher as individuals, special interests and Democratic Party funds ramp up their donations to keep him in office.

The two parties are in a no-holds-barred struggle for control of the Senate, where pollsters and analysts think the Republicans have a shot at taking control with a good showing in the November 2014 elections. Merkley isn’t often mentioned as being in a high-risk race, but then former Senator Gordon Smith wasn’t thought to be vulnerable early on either.

With 5 years as a U.S. Senator now behind him, the sources of Merkley’s donations are shifting. A smaller share is coming from individual contributors and twice as much from political action committees (PACs). Also, more unions are stepping up as big contributors, his big donors have less of an Oregon focus and Merkley isn’t having to dig into his own pocket.

merkleySenate

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, contributions to Merkley’s campaign committee for his 2008 campaign and for his 2014 campaign as of Dec. 31, 2013 break down as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 10.18.34 PM

For his 2008 Senate race, Merkley’s largest 10 contributors (individuals and PACs) to his campaign committee were:

JStreetPAC $78,180
Council for a Livable World $55,889
State of Oregon employees $35,050
Oregon Health & Science University $33,964
Moveon.org $26,731
Stoel, Rives et al $23,323
League of Conservation Voters $21,500
Intel Corporation $17,920
Newmark Knight Frank $17,300
Intl. Brotherhood of Electrical Workers $17,200

The largest contributor to his 2008 campaign, Washington, D.C-based JStreetPAC, makes contributions to candidates who support a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and robust American military aid to Israel. “I am and will continue to be a staunch supporter of the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel,” Merkley said during his 2008 campaign.“I will always seek to ensure its strength and foster its growth.”

The second largest contributor to his 2008 campaign, Council for a Livable World, is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to reducing the danger of nuclear weapons. Merkley subsequently voted in 2010 for a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia and in February 2014, Merkley and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would cut $100 billion over the next decade from the U.S. nuclear weapons budget.

The bill, S. 2070, would shut down all U.S. missile defense activities, reduce from 12 to eight the number of SSBN(X) ballistic-missile submarines that are set to replace the retiring Ohio-class fleet and limit to eight the number of Ohio-class submarines that can currently be fielded. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Armed Services where its languishing.

The largest 10 contributors (individuals and PACs) to Merkley’s campaign committee for his 2014 race as of the end of 2013 are significantly different, with much less of an Oregon focus:

Votesane PAC $31,250
Thornton & Naumes $25,000
Intel Corporation $22,050
Honeywell Intl. $20,000
Operating Engineers Union $20,000
Intl. Association of Firefighters $18,500
Blue Cross/Blue Shield $17,100
League of Conservation Voters $15,314
American Crystal Sugar $15,000
Communications Workers of America $15,000

Votesane PAC, a non-partisan channel for political donations, has funneled $1.6 million to candidates in the 2014 election cycle, with almost all of it going to Democrats.

The only union showing up in Merkley’s list of top 10 contributors for his 2008 race was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers at $17,200. Three unions show up as his biggest contributors for the 2014 race so far with a total of $53,500.

Also making their debut as major Merkley contributors are individuals from Thornton & Naumes, a Boston, Mass. law firm with class action expertise that has represented people claiming they were victims of asbestos and toxic exposure, defective products, financial fraud, and personal injury accidents.. Law firms and lawyers have been the top contributors to Merkley’s 2014 campaign as of Dec. 31, 2013, donating a total of $296,363.

This only reveals, of course, donations up the end of 2013. Expect a lot of shifts as the campaign progresses.

Merkley has already spent $3,045,241, or almost half, of the funds he’s raised since 2008. Recently, the largest single amount has gone to Mandate Media,a Portland-based internet strategy,services,and advertising firm specializing in progressive political candidates and advocacy organizations. Mandate is also associated with BlueOregon, a widely distributed progressive e-newsletter.

The top 5 recipients of the campaign’s recent expenditures were:

Mandate Media $200,485
CHS Mailing $141,305
Kauffman Group $125,163
Linemark Printing $ 71,639
Benenson Strategy Group $ 47,000

It’s important to recognize that much of the money now being spent on campaigns is so-called independent expenditures, spending by groups and individuals who claim they are not coordinating their activities with a candidate’s campaign committee.

In Merkley’s 2008 race, for example, according to FindTheBest, the following outside groups spent about $675,000 in support of his candidacy:

Committee Amount

Service Employees International
Union Committee on Political Education
(SEIU Cope) $430,238
League of Conservation Voters Inc. $145,317
Democratic Senatorial Committee $ 47,746
League of Conservation Voters
Action Fund $ 40,862
Moveon.org Political Action $ 7,026

It’s likely that similarly large amounts of independent expenditures will occur in the 2014 race.

Data sources: The Center for Responsive Politics (http://www.opensecrets.org), a non-profit, non-partisan research group based in Washington, D.C.; FindTheBest (www.findthebest.com; http://bit.ly/1nYKKSA),a network of for-profit websites connected to help consumers and businesses make informed decisions.

merkleySenate