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Wonkbook: Outside election spending up sevenfold; Obama gets incremental; how cap-and-trade failed; Lady Gaga on airplane safety


I'm not very excitable when it comes to elections. My usual take is that they're decided by the economy, and most everything beyond the change in real disposable income is noise. But it's hard to wave away the news that special interest groups have increased their spending fivefold since the 2006 election, particularly given that fewer than half of them are disclosing their donors. And yes, that money is going pretty much where you'd expect: Democrats have been outspent 7:1 in recent weeks.

That's a lot of cash. Gamechanger cash, in fact. And it highlights one of the Democrats' odder difficulties going into the election. They've passed a lot of high-profile laws that were about restraining corporate behavior -- but those laws required long negotiations and compromises with the very interests they were attacking. The health-care reform bill, for instance, and financial reform. TARP, of course, was passed by George W. Bush, but most voters blame the Obama administration for it. The GOP has effectively attacked them for this, arguing that the Democrats have sold out to various corporations. At the same time, those same corporations hate those laws, small concessions to them notwithstanding, and are now pumping millions of dollars into the GOP's 2010 campaign.

So the Republicans are simultaneously able to stand against corporate interests and get funded by them, and in the post-Citizens United world, there are few limits, or even disclosure requirements, able to shine light on their play. It's a neat trick, and one that Democrats don't have much time to figure out how to counter before the polls open next month.

Welcome to Wonkbook.

Top Stories

Interest groups have increased their spending fivefold since the last midterm elections, report T.W. Farnam and Dan Eggen: "In [the 2006] election, the vast majority of money - more than 90 percent - was disclosed along with donors' identities. This year, that figure has fallen to less than half of the total, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post...The bulk of the money is being spent by conservatives, who have swamped their Democratic-aligned competition by a 7 to 1 ratio in recent weeks. The wave of spending is made possible in part by a series of Supreme Court rulings unleashing the ability of corporations and interest groups to spend money on politics. Conservative operatives also say they are riding the support of donors upset with Democratic policies they perceive as anti-business."

See the Post's map of interest group spending across the country:

Two Fed officials hinted that additional bond purchases are coming, reports Neil Irwin: "William C. Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech that 'further action is likely to be warranted unless the economic outlook evolves in a way that makes me more confident that we will see better outcomes for both employment and inflation before too long.' Charles Evans, president of the Chicago Fed, said in Rome that 'the size of the unemployment gap, combined with the fact that inflation has been running below the level I consider consistent with long-term price stability, suggests that it would be desirable to increase monetary policy accommodation to boost aggregate demand.'"

Read Evans' speech:

Read Dudley's speech:

Obama is considering a more incremental legislative strategy, reports Jonathan Weisman: "White House officials...are talking about a new, more incremental approach, championed by former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, to fulfilling campaign promises on energy, immigration and on closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. The new White House chief of staff, Pete Rouse, is far more steeped than Mr. Emanuel in the culture of the Senate, where comprehensive approaches to some of these issues have fared poorly. White House officials hope Mr. Rouse's expertise will help navigate smaller measures through the chamber."

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Ryan Lizza explains why cap and trade failed in the Senate: "Reid and Graham didn’t trust each other. Reid’s aides thought the Republican leadership was trying to trick Reid into supporting something that sounded like a gas tax. The fact that Kerry and Lieberman were also supporters of the proposal did little to allay Reid’s fears. His aides drafted a pro-forma statement for Graham that promised simply that Reid would review the legislation. Graham dismissed the statement as meaningless. During one phone call, Graham shouted some vulgarities at Reid and the line went dead. The Majority Leader had hung up the phone."

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

'90s nostalgia interlude: Fiona Apple's "Fast As You Can".

Still to come: An IMF study says that austerity does not boost growth; US policymakers are looking into geoengineering as a way of tackling global warming; welfare isn't helping many families through the recession; and Lady Gaga helps with a surprisingly well-choreographed airplane safety advisory.


An IMF study suggests that fiscal austerity doesn't boost growth, writes The Economist: "The IMF reckons that on average a rich country attempted a fiscal contraction of more than 1.5% of GDP about once a decade. (There were also many smaller consolidations; see left-hand chart.) It finds that the typical such episode is clearly contractionary: a fiscal consolidation equivalent to 1% of GDP leads on average to a 0.5% decline in GDP after two years, and to an increase of 0.3 percentage points in the unemployment rate. Spending cuts do less damage than tax rises. This is mainly because they seem to be associated with bigger declines in interest rates."

Alberto Alesina defends research supporting austerity:

The Obama administration will announce a new job retraining program today, reports Catherine Rampell: "The program will be run by the Aspen Institute, a not-for-profit, private research organization based in Washington, but will be accompanied by a new government task force with representatives from the Department of Labor, the Department of Commerce and other agencies. So far five major private employers — Gap Inc., Accenture, United Technologies, P.G.& E. and McDonald’s — have been named as partners, in part to build on existing training programs they already run....As yet there are no plans to request government money to support these efforts, White House officials said. Ms. Pritzker said she was working with other foundations to shore up financing."

Now is the time to invest in infrastructure, writes Ezra Klein: "The stimulus, they realized, had blundered into an incredible bargain. The recession was driven by the collapse of the construction sector. People who built things were now out of work. The materials used to build things were now on fire sale. The companies that organized the building of things were suddenly desperate for jobs. As a result, building things was suddenly dirt cheap. And it still is."

Midnight food runs suggest more families are living paycheck to paycheck, reports Miguel Bustillo: "'If you really think about it, the only reason someone gets out there in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it, and they have been waiting for it,' Bill Simon, the head of Wal-Mart's U.S. store business, said at a Goldman Sachs conference last month. Wal-Mart executives have cited the midnight rush for the past year as evidence that stressed consumers are stretching the limits of the 'paycheck cycle.' The company hasn't disclosed exact figures, but it says purchases made with electronic-benefits cards have surged in the past two years."

Americans have soured on free trade:

Dodd-Frank won't prevent future TARPs, writes Gretchen Morgensen:

Businessmen are contributing to the unemployment problem, writes Robert Shiller: "Why doesn’t the labor market “clear”? If demand falls in markets for other productive factors -- say, wheat as an ingredient in the baking of bread -- the price usually drops until the excess supply is mostly gone. What is unusual about the market for labor is that excess supply, which shows up as unemployment, can be prominent and persistent...Managers say they usually consider it better to protect the crucial workers -- and to engage in sudden mass layoffs of others...Then managers can make sure that remaining employees receive their full wages and can pay their household bills."

Take your grandson to work day interlude: Rep. Ted Poe's grandson falls asleep on the House floor.

Domestic Policy

Welfare isn't helping families weather the recession much, reports Amy Goldstein: "Nationwide, welfare cases grew by 11 percent from the start of the recession through March, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. In contrast, the number of families getting food stamps jumped by 50 percent and the number getting unemployment benefits more than doubled. Medicaid grew by more than 13 percent from late 2007 to late 2009, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. David Hansell, head of HHS's Administration for Children and Families, which oversees welfare, said the reason welfare rolls have lagged 'is a very important question' that is not fully understood."

The White House will focus on education this week:

Robert Menendez will introduce an immigration bill in the lame duck session, reports Carol Lee: "'A lot of senators are retiring and might be willing to look at the issue,' Menendez said on CNN’s 'State of the Union.' 'We need something to jump off from if we’re going to go into it in the early part of the next Congress.' He said his bill has Republican proposals in it to entice GOP senators to get on board. But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who also appeared on the show Sunday, suggested that GOP support will be difficult to get."

Elena Kagan will have to recuse herself from many cases this term:

Our health care system has to do better on weekends, writes Peter Orszag: "It’s never good to be hospitalized, but you really don’t want to be hospitalized on a weekend. There are fewer doctors around, and people admitted on Saturdays and Sundays fare relatively poorly. One study in 2007 found, for example, that for every 1,000 patients suffering heart attacks who were admitted to a hospital on a weekend, there were 9 to 10 more deaths than in a comparable group of patients admitted on a weekday. The weekend patients were less likely to quickly receive the invasive procedures they needed -- like coronary artery bypass grafts or cardiac catheterization."

The real health care bill is worth running on, writes E.J. Dionne:

The influence of billionaires on politics is pernicious, writes Paul Krugman: "Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that when billionaires put their might behind 'grass roots' right-wing action, it’s not just about ideology: it’s also about business. What the Koch brothers have bought with their huge political outlays is, above all, freedom to pollute. What Mr. Murdoch is acquiring with his expanded political role is the kind of influence that lets his media empire make its own rules. Thus in Britain, a reporter at one of Mr. Murdoch’s papers, News of the World, was caught hacking into the voice mail of prominent citizens, including members of the royal family. But Scotland Yard showed little interest in getting to the bottom of the story."

Fun times with air travel interlude: A airplane safety advisory set to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.


US policymakers are starting to look at geoengineering as a solution to climate change, reports Juliet Eilperin: "House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon(D-Tenn.), whose panel will jointly release a report on climate engineering with the British House of Commons this month, said the subject is 'just now starting to get some attention' even though people recognize the danger in trying to change a complex weather system...Over the next few months, whispering about changing the weather will evolve into written recommendations. Several key groups - including the Government Accountability Office and a bipartisan task force of experts - will issue their thoughts on how best to start a modest federal research program on geoengineering."

Venture capital investment in green technology is plummeting:

Some questionable claims are being made to the BP recovery fund, reports John Schwartz: "In all, about 31,000 claims have little or no documentation, and the people who filed them have been asked to provide more information. And 1,000 more are “very, very suspicious,” Mr. Feinberg said, and are being held for further examination. 'They’re not just sitting there,' he said. 'We can’t pay them without more documentation -- minimal documentation, but enough to process the claim.' Suspicious claims are perhaps inevitable whenever a big fund is set up after a natural disaster. The National Center for Disaster Fraud, formed in Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina, has prosecuted more than 1,300 cases arising from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and has begun to take in tips about the oil spill as well."

The administration still hasn't chosen a new fuel economy standard:

The UN is trying a new strategy on climate change, reports James Kanter: "Rather than focus on reaching a legally binding climate agreement, the United Nations should take a stronger role in making sure that countries promote the development and use of cleaner energy sources, Yvo de Boer, the U.N.’s former climate chief, said on Friday. At a time when the U.N.’s long-held ambition of reaching a new treaty to curb emissions blamed for global warming seems out of reach, Mr. de Boer said many countries, as well as companies, wanted 'to be held accountable' for their efforts at promoting greener policies and industries."

The new BP CEO is being called to testify before Congress:

The US and Europe are still making progress on climate change, writes Kate Galbraith: "Europe, for its part, is also adjusting its climate strategy. European nations are deliberating about whether to strengthen their emissions-reduction target to 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The current target is a reduction of 20 percent; E.U. leaders would like any 30 percent target to be contingent on serious climate action by other nations around the world...In the United States, energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions fell 7 percent in 2009 compared with 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration. That was the largest such drop, in absolute or percentage terms, since record-keeping began more than 60 years ago."

Closing credits: Wonkbook compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Mark Wilson-Getty Images

By Ezra Klein  | October 4, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Wonkbook  
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Next: Infrastructure: The best deal in the economy


You guys should stop complaining because, one the health care we have now isnt as good as it was supposed to be. also the law has just been signed so give it some time. so if u want to say u have the right to choose tell that to ur congress men or state official. If you do not have insurance and need one You can find full medical coverage at the lowest price by calling 877-882-4740 or check If you have health insurance and do not care about cost just be happy about it and trust me you are not going to loose anything!

Posted by: millerjame04 | October 4, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

What's most worrying about the corporate cash, is that it's coming from highly educated people who fully understand the ins and outs, snares and pitfalls and opportunities of the issues of our day.

They understand the GOP deceptions and the economic realities of voodoo economics and the lunatics they are helping to get elected. They are donating this cash DESPITE knowing that long-term health of the American middle-class depends on the kinds of reforms Obama and SOME Dems are trying to make.

They know the GOP policies of starve the beast and free-trade and laissez faire economics created our debt and the disintegration of our manufacturing base and this jobs recession.

These TRANSNATIONAL corporate bstrdrs, in league with their activist right-wing Supreme Court, are doing this for the good of their corporations and the good of their personal fortunes--not out of loyalty to America and the middle-class.

This election money is the most darning evidence in existence that corporate execs are in it for themselves and not America.

Alas Babylon my friends. 2008 will be the last time Democrats win an election.

Posted by: Lomillialor | October 4, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

And don't forget, all this new, undisclosed, corporate cash being funneled into the election to Republicans is all made possible by the partisan Republican Roberts Supreme court ruling that corporations are "just like people" and should be able to fund "independent" expenditures to their hearts content.

Republicans fight with all the tools available, legal, ethical and all other considerations but winning pushed aside. Democrats, mistakenly believing that their rightly reasoned policies will win on their merits [Hah!], dilly and get mugged.

And the press with the journalistic "balance" driving the reporting , tells us that "Outside spending up sharply for midterms", "fivefold increase from 2006 elections", "most of the money comes from undisclosed sources" but leaves the party affiliation out of the headlines.

How difficult would it be to write "Secret Corporate Donations to Republicans Drive Midterm Spending"?

Of the $80 million spent so far by outside groups, rightwing spending is 7:1. After you take out the $10 million spent against Blanche Lincoln in the primary by the unions that ratio goes way up. Do the arithmetic. The "left" has spent $12 million -- out of which $10 million was on a single race in a Democratic party primary. The ratio is more like 35 to 1 if that single race is excluded.

What is the "in kind" contribution amount by Fox News worth? We know that they funneled at least $2 million to the election of Republicans, via the Republican Governors Association and the Chamber of Commerce, but what is the value of the misinformation and agenda setting they provide?

Posted by: grooft | October 4, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

How did this weekend's rally turn out? Transcripts of the speeches might help further energize the base of voters.

Posted by: rmgregory | October 4, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Fiona Apple's "When The Pawn..." is one of my favorite albums ever, so thanks for bringing people's attention to that video.


The album was released in November 1999. Calling it 90s nostalgia is kind of pushing it.

Posted by: russell1820 | October 4, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

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