Thursday, July 31, 2014

No Labels-- Further Stinking Up The Sewer That DC Already Was Without Them


Yesterday we looked at how Steve Israel's "bipartisan" conservative group, the Center Aisle Caucus, so dear to the heart of Establishment imbeciles like David Broder, destroyed any chance the Democrats had to retake the House (in 2012 and again this year). So brilliant of Pelosi to appoint a bipartisan with his chains to so many vulnerable Republicans to head the post that should be the most partisan in the Democratic conference!

Previously, we talked about Big Business shills Patrick Murphy and Kyrsten Sinema working with teabaggers to undermine Democratic values in Congress in their United Solutions caucus. That helps why Israel calls Murphy's race the top race in the country (even though Murphy has no plausible GOP opponent) and why Debbie Wasserman Schultz is already pushing Murphy for statewide office. Poor Florida, barely even has a Democratic Party any longer thanks to Wasserman Schultz. They're running a Republican for governor and Murphy is also a Republican who conveniently calls himself a Democrat.

A few days ago, while we were laughing at Schumer's Wall Street whine about partisanship, Meredith Shiner was covering another one of these slimy, self-serving "non-partisan" Beltway groups, No Labels. She also exposed the secret donor list of shady multimillionaires who finance the operation, a list (above) that has never been seen before. It sounds so high-minded; they all do. But none of them ever work out that way. And No Labels sure hasn't. If anything, No Labels is even more corrupt and more disgusting than its predecessors. It's no coincidence that No Labels uses the empty term "problem solvers" to describe its members-- just like Steve Israel tells the idiots he recruits for the DCCC Red to Blue program.
In 2010, a group of political veterans who said they were tired of the extreme partisanship paralyzing Washington created an organization to advance their new cause. The founding mission of No Labels was "to move America from the old politics of point scoring toward a new politics of problem-solving." Through a combination of congressional engagement in Washington and grass roots organizing around the country, No Labels’ lofty aspiration was to promote bipartisanship by providing political cover for lawmakers to work across the aisle and creating incentives to slowly erode the culture of polarization and intransigence in Congress. But four years later, it appears the group designed to combat the insidious habits of the Washington establishment has been engulfed by it.

Like many other outside political groups, No Labels spends a disproportionate part of its budget maintaining and promoting its own organization, trying to keep its profile high while ensuring a steady flow of fundraising dollars, whose donors they keep secret, in a cluttered nonprofit environment. As part of its efforts to gain legitimacy and grow its membership, No Labels has also occasionally waded into congressional contests in ways that have raised suspicions among Democrats about the group’s own commitment to bipartisanship.

And though No Labels has positioned itself as a warrior against gridlock, an internal document obtained by Yahoo News suggests the group is banking on more political dysfunction in an attempt to find “opportunity” and relevance for itself.

The confidential document, distributed at No Labels’ May executive board meeting, outlines a “break through strategy” for the group, which despite raising millions and a buzzy-for-cable-news-talk launch, has struggled to find a foothold on the campaign trail or in the halls of Congress. The first point in that strategy is a “balance of power shift in the U.S. Senate,” an awkward position to outline, if not advocate, given No Labels’ aim of bipartisanship and that one of the group’s co-chairs, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, currently sits in the majority caucus.

“Should the balance of power in the U.S. Senate flip following the 2014 midterm elections and Republicans gain control, No Labels sees an opportunity to bridge the gap between Congress and the White House,” the document reads in its “Break Through Strategy” section. “With Republicans holding control of both chambers in Congress and a Democrat in the White House, the likelihood of gridlock will be higher than ever before.

“We have already begun back door conversations with Senate leaders to discuss this increasingly likely scenario,” the document continues.

This privately stated position exacerbates an already publicly spoiled relationship with Senate Democrats, who are still fuming from an April incident in which the group supported conservative Republican Cory Gardner in Colorado over Manchin’s colleague, incumbent Democrat Mark Udall. The endorsement, which No Labels later tried to clarify by saying that any candidate could be backed by the group if they just agreed to be a member, was touted by Gardner in press releases and caused the few Senate Democrats involved with the group to threaten to pull their membership, according to Democratic sources.

“It's wrong to read the memo suggesting there is a greater opportunity coming out of Republican [vs.] Democratic leadership in the Senate. We are a bipartisan group-- whose problem-solving seal is carried by both Democrats and Republicans,” No Labels co-founder and chief operating officer Nancy Jacobson said. “We are happy to work with whoever the voters choose. The memo was just a ‘what if’ document preparing if there was a change.”

But to openly discuss its role in a future, hypothetical Republican-led Congress is especially unusual, given that of the 10 senators who belong to No Labels, three-- Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Warner of Virginia-- are embroiled in difficult re-election races and might have to lose in order for the GOP to take back the Senate. Asked about “back door conversations” with Senate leadership cited in the memo by the group, aides to the five Senate GOP leaders told Yahoo News that their bosses have not discussed a Republican majority with No Labels, though No. 2 Republican John Cornyn of Texas did attend a May campaign event with the group in New York City and No. 3 Republican John Thune talked taxes and Obamacare in a meeting last month.

Though a flip of the Senate majority is a key expectation in the group’s strategy, officials at No Labels told Yahoo News they are more focused on the 2016 presidential race than the 2014 midterm elections. The group’s memorandum briefly addressed its “role” in the midterms in a bullet point that indicated No Labels provided $300,000 “in financial support through direct candidate contributions” at a May forum.

The group failed to carve out much of a niche for itself in the 2012 presidential contest. Its backing of a 12-point “Make Congress Work!” action plan and promotion of a bill that would “withhold congressional pay if members of Congress fail to pass spending bills and the budget on time” went nowhere.  Since then, its focus on fostering bipartisanship in Congress has not gone far, except to the extent that there is now bipartisan stagnation and gridlock so severe some members report becoming depressed and hating their jobs. Members of Congress seem all too eager to accept the mantle of civic responsibility offered by No Labels, only to return to partisan warfare.

In July 2013, No Labels held a rally where lawmakers of both parties crowded a park outside the Capitol, stood on a grandstand and one by one declared themselves “problem solvers.” The government shut down a few months later as Republicans, including some who appeared on that stage, refused to allow a budget to pass unless it defunded the president’s health care law.

Even in its own May document, No Labels claimed only one legislative victory: a bill that passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by voice vote, but which never came up for a vote in the House or became law.

It turns out that for a group that consistently bills itself as above the partisan politics and the corrosive culture of Washington, No Labels has come to exemplify some of the most loathed qualities of the town’s many interest groups.

Much of the group’s budget goes toward sustaining or promoting itself. According to No Labels’ confidential document, the group employed 22 paid staffers and eight consultants as of May. Of its projected $4.5 million budget for 2014, only 4 percent-- or $180,000-- of spending was slotted for “Congressional Relations.” By contrast, administrative and operational expenses got $1.035 million over the same time period. Another 5 percent was set for travel. A further 30 percent ($1.35 million) was earmarked for digital growth and press, and 14 percent for fundraising.

It’s unclear how the group’s budget broke down in previous years, as No Labels is not obligated to fully disclose its finances or donors because of its 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. But many of the organization’s biggest detractors question why a group advocating for a better Washington would embrace the same practices as the groups profiting from dividing it.

Outside groups have become a cottage industry inside the Beltway, where they pay lush salaries to staffers and consultants while talking loudly and doing little to achieve their missions in this age of legislative stasis.

“The reality is that No Labels is a front group to raise money and pay consultants,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They should release a full disclosure of not only how they’re raising their money but also how they’re spending it.”

…No Labels’ judgment, however, of which politicians are best suited to reduce congressional gridlock is perhaps what makes the group the most vulnerable to attack from its detractors. And it has diminished its credibility with those it needs the most: the people who actually influence and make decisions on policy. Multiple Senate Democratic aides characterized the relationship between No Labels and Senate Democratic leaders as “hostile,” and said that the current distance stems from the controversy surrounding Gardner and the Colorado Senate race.

In April, No Labels gave its “Problem Solver Seal” to Gardner, the GOP challenger to the Senate Democratic incumbent Udall. Gardner touted the seal as an endorsement from No Labels, a situation that incensed members of the Senate Democratic caucus.

Gardner and No Labels then were forced to clarify the meaning of the seal after Democratic members threatened to leave the group and multiple No Labels board calls were held to discuss the matter. While a group spokesperson told a local Denver Fox affiliate that the seal is an “implied endorsement," No Labels co-founder Mark McKinnon, a former George W. Bush and John McCain strategist, said that anyone-- even Udall-- would be eligible for such a seal were they join the group.

The Problem Solver Seal granted by No Labels to lawmakers requires nothing of those members from a policy perspective, aside from agreeing to be part of No Labels, and to attend meetings with other No Labels members to discuss broad principles of bipartisanship. To be a member of No Labels, a politician needs to pledge to not take any pledge but the oath of office and the Pledge of Allegiance.

“The Seal can be awarded both to incumbents and challengers. It is distinct from a traditional political endorsement in that candidates running against one another might both qualify for the Seal,” said Bill Galston, a No Labels co-founder and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The criteria are simple: to qualify, candidates must agree-- if elected or re-elected-- to attend meetings with their colleagues to work toward creating a National Strategic Agenda, and they must endorse the four goals.”

Gardner was among the top 10 most conservative members of the House in 2012 and the 98th in 2013, according to rankings by the National Journal. But the group has also given the seal to Reps. Peter Welch and Jared Huffman, who were among the top 20 most liberal members of the House in 2013, according to National Journal. It’s not that No Labels has shifted rightward ideologically and deliberately, it’s that its initial design to provide cover to politicians on both sides to work in a bipartisan way also gives cover to politicians who won’t but want to have lapel pins on their jackets saying they do.

No Labels’ critics question the seriousness of a group that includes a number of Republicans whose conservative bent and heated rhetoric have more of an outsize influence on their party than does the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The No Labels website talks about “unprecedented, even dangerous” tactics from the right in trying to defeat health care, but the group also includes some of the most outspoken members on this issue. Democratic critics ask what it says about the group that its “problem solvers” could vote to shut down the government or against raising the debt ceiling but maintain their “problem solver” status by attending No Labels meetings.

Reps. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Diane Black of Tennessee and Jack Kingston of Georgia are No Labels “Problem Solvers,” and ranked among the top 17 most conservative members of the House in 2013. Just this month, it was revealed Kingston spoke to a conservative radio show about Congress looking “very seriously” into impeaching President Barack Obama.

As for the big donors, John Arnold gives mostly to conservative Democrats from the Republican wing of the Party like John Barrow, but also donated to John McCain, Tom Coburn and Ted Cruz. Josh Bekenstein, a Bain guy, has been giving to conservative Democrats like Blanche Lincoln (+ Mitt Romney, of course). Mark McLarty likes Hillary Clinton and Chuck Grassley. One of the half million dollar donors, John Muse of Texas gives pretty much only to right wing Republicans with a scatterings of conservative Democrats. Another half million dollar No Labels donor, Wendy's Chairman Nelson Peltz, is a huge political donor, but primarily to conservatives, regardless of party, like Rahm Emanuel (D), Joe Lieberman (I), Max Baucus (D), Herman Cain ®, Pete Wilson ®, Bob Corker (TN), Charlie Crist (?), Al D'Amato ®, Pat Toomey ®, John Boehner ®, etc. Similarly Marc Rowan of Apollo Management gives a lot of money to a lot of candidates, mostly Republicans and conservative Democrats (think Tom DeLay and Harold Ford, "Mikey Suits" Grimm and Ben Nelson… the real garbage of American politics. So $500,000 from him to No Labels makes total sense.

It's worth listening to this from the Member of Congress who has passed more legislation-- which means working across the aisle-- than anyone else in the House. He understands what bipartisan means… and it isn't the same thing as selling working families down the river-- not ever.

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