Category Archives: Elected Officials

The shutdown: Drowning government in the bathtub

Source: William E. Nelson, The Conversation, February 12, 2019

…. Shuttering the government for the third time since Trump took office remains possible, but is less likely now, given Monday’s progress towards a deal in Congressional talks over securing the border. Meanwhile, bipartisan support, including among prominent Republicans like Sens. Chuck Grassley, Lisa Murkowski, Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman, is rising for bills that would prohibit shutdowns.

The president’s observable objective in this political conflict is getting money from Congress to build the border wall.

As legal scholars who have spent much of our careers analyzing the interaction between government and society, including the economy, we believe that intentionally or not, the shutdown also was consistent with a goal long sought by a subset of the Republican Party – not to be confused with traditional, moderate Republicans – that wants to dismantle the government.

Starve the beast

These advocates of limiting government’s size have a traffic cop theory of the state, featuring a minimalist state focused on safety and security.

Many believe that government is at best superfluous and at worst a drag on a free market. It has long been their aim to cut taxes to “starve the beast.” ….

Executive Branch Ethics and Financial Conflicts of Interest: Disqualification

Source: Cynthia Brown, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10250, January 31, 2019

Newly proposed legislation in the 116thCongress concerns government ethics reform, including conflicts of interest among executive branch officials.Federal officials have a basic duty not to allow private gain to influence their government service, which includes “not hold[ing] financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty.” Federal statutes, as well as a code of conduct for executive branch employees, make this principle part of a federal regulatory scheme intended to prevent officials from benefiting personally from their offices. The current federal statutory scheme regulating conflicts between an official’s personal financial interests and his or her official duties has three prongs: disclosure, disqualification, and divestiture (i.e., a 3-D system). This discussion of the disqualification requirement, also known as recusal,is the second in a three-part series examining conflicts of interest in the executive branch…..

Presidential Travel: Secret Service and DOD Need to Ensure That Expenditure Reports Are Prepared and Submitted to Congress

Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), GAO-19-178: Published: Jan 17, 2019. Publicly Released: Feb 5, 2019.

From the summary:
We were asked to examine the cost of 4 trips to the Mar-a-Lago resort by the President and 3 international trips by Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump between January and March 2017.

We estimate
– that federal agencies spent about $13.6 million for the Mar-a-Lago trips. The Departments of Defense and Homeland Security incurred most of the costs—about $8.5 million and $5.1 million, respectively. This excludes certain classified cost information.
– the Secret Service spent about $396,000 protecting the President’s sons and their spouses on 3 international trips.

We recommended that agencies comply with reporting requirements for protection costs.

Conquerors of the Courts

Source: David Montgomery, Washington Post Magazine, January 2, 2019

Forget Trump’s Supreme Court picks. The Federalist Society’s impact on the law goes much deeper.

…. The conservative and libertarian society for law and public policy studies has reached an unprecedented peak of power and influence. Brett Kavanaugh, whose membership in the society dates to his Yale Law School days, has just been elevated to the Supreme Court; he is the second of President Trump’s appointees, following Neil Gorsuch, another justice closely associated with the society. They join Justice Clarence Thomas (who said last spring he’s “been a part of the Federalist Society now since meeting with them … in the 1980s”), Chief Justice John Roberts (listed as a member in 1997-98) and Justice Samuel Alito (a periodic speaker at society events). The newly solidified conservative majority on the court will inevitably decide more cases in line with the society’s ideals — which include checking federal power, protecting individual liberty and interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning. In practice, this could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.

But having allies on the highest court of the land is just the top layer of the Federalist Society’s expanding sway. For one thing, there is the judicial nomination process itself. When Trump was campaigning in 2016, he made the shrewd and un­or­tho­dox move of publicizing a list of 11 conservative legal stars that he promised to draw from if he got a chance to pick a Supreme Court justice. Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, played a key role in suggesting the names, along with Trump’s future White House counsel, Don McGahn (also a society member), and the conservative Heritage Foundation. The list was expanded twice to include Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and others. Leo took a leave from his job at the Federalist Society to advise the White House on the confirmation process for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — reprising a role he played for the George W. Bush White House in putting Roberts and Alito on the court.

The next most important segment of the judiciary — the federal appeals courts — is also filling up with Federalist Society members: Twenty-five of the 30 appeals court judges Trump has appointed are or were members of the society ….

Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich Get Richer

Source: Center for Public Integrity, 2019

An in-depth look at how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 avoided scrutiny and made the rich richer.

The first part in our new series, “Trump’s Tax Cuts: The Rich get Richer,”  investigating the origin and impact of the 2017 tax law: 

THE TRUMP TAX LAW HAS BIG PROBLEMS. HERE’S ONE BIG REASON WHY
Source: Peter Cary, Allan Holmes, Pratheek Rebala, Center for Public Integrity, January 15, 2019

There’s no shortage of agenda items for the new Congress that’s just been seated in Washington. But lost among the anguished cries to reopen the government and enact ethics reform will be a lesser-advertised but crucial item: addressing major problems in the 2017 tax bill that President Donald Trump signed into law a year ago.

That the law needs fixing is not in dispute. Why it needs fixing is most vividly illuminated by contrasting it with another massive piece of tax legislation, the Reagan-era Tax Reform Act of 1986.

In the months leading up to passage of the 2017 tax act, Trump administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress giddily compared the scope of their bill to that very law. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, called their new bill, “the first action in 31 years since President Reagan’s reforms in 1986.” Then-National Economic Director Gary Cohn said the legislation represented the “most significant tax reform legislation since 1986.”

Measured by the magnitude of changes to the tax code, that is true. But in terms of how the bills were developed, deliberated and drafted by Congress — not to mention their substance — the bills could not be less alike. And therein lies an illuminating — some would say frightening — story.

Evaluation of GSA’s Management and Administration of the Old Post Office Building Lease

Source: Office of Inspector General of the General Services Administration (GSA OIG), JE19-002 (Redacted), January 16, 2019

From the press release:
GSA Inspector General Evaluation of Old Post Office Building Lease Finds Agency Improperly Ignored Constitution

The Office of Inspector General of the General Services Administration today issued its “Evaluation of GSA’s Management and Administration of the Old Post Office Building Lease.”

The Old Post Office (OPO) building, located on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., was erected in the 1890s. In 2008, Congress directed the General Services Administration (GSA) to redevelop the property, which had become costly to maintain. GSA selected Trump Old Post Office LLC as the developer in 2012, and executed a lease of the building with that entity as Tenant in 2013. The Trump International Hotel officially opened there in October 2016. The next month, Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States.

The Inspector General report concludes that, following the 2016 election, it was necessary for GSA to consider whether President-elect Trump’s business interest in the OPO lease might cause a breach of the lease upon his becoming President. The evaluation found that GSA, through its Office of General Counsel (OGC) and its Public Buildings Service, recognized that the President’s business interest in the lease raised issues under the Foreign Emoluments and Presidential Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution that might cause a breach, but decided not to address those issues. The report also found that the decision to exclude the emoluments issues from GSA’s consideration of the lease was improper because GSA, like all government agencies, has an obligation to uphold and enforce the Constitution, and because the lease, itself, requires that consideration. In addition, GSA’s unwillingness to address the constitutional issues affected its analysis of Section 37.19 of the lease, a provision addressing participation by elected officials. This analysis led to GSA’s conclusion that Tenant’s business structure satisfied the terms and conditions of the lease. As a result, GSA foreclosed an early resolution of these issues and the uncertainty over the lease remains unresolved.

Election 2018: Midterm Analysis

Source: Tim Storey and Wendy Underhill, State Legislatures Magazine, November-December 2018

Republicans Still Control Most of the Nation’s Legislative Seats, but the Gap Between the Parties Narrowed Considerably

Related:
Voters Make Policy
Source: Patrick Potyondy, State Legislatures Magazine, November-December 2018

Citizens Had Their Say on More Than 150 Ballot Measures That Could Transform Their States

Women in State Legislatures for 2019

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, November 27, 2018

NOTE: This is preliminary post-election information, which is subject to change due to recounts, resignations, appointments and special elections.

Approximately 2,090 women will serve in the 50 state legislatures in 2019. Women will make up 28.3 percent of all state legislators nationwide.

This represents a significant increase from the 2018 session’s ratio of 25.3 percent, and the most women elected at one time.

Information about women in legislative leadership for 2019 coming soon.