Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama's New Lobbying Rules

As a professor who has taught a class on Lobbying and Ethics for many years, I want to commend President-Elect Barack Obama on the historic new ethics rules for his administration. The President-elect’s record as an ethics and lobbying reformer continued yesterday with his new requirements for members of his transition team and prospective members of his administration. His campaign pledge to change the way Washington works with the lobbying industry became a reality yesterday with the toughest ethics rules of any presidential transition in the history of the United States. His revolving door and gift ban rules for the transition team will help bring trust in government and the way decisions are made in Washington. He shuts the revolving door of lobbyists working on issues in government that they were advocating outside of government. The new ethics rules are great for our democracy. The rules include the following:
  • Federal lobbyists cannot contribute financially to the transition.
  • Federal lobbyists are prohibited from any lobbying during their work with the transition.
  • Lobbyists are prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied if they have lobbied in that area in the last 12 months.
  • If someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the transition, they are prohibited from lobbying the administration for 12 months on matters on which they worked.
  • There is a gift ban that is aggressive in reducing the influence of special interests.

In sum, this is a great start for the Obama administration and the renewal of our democracy and the way Washington works.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blogging from NBC

It is really quiet here in the NBC studio in Washington, DC. Most of the action tonight is in New York... unfortunately, we have no giant ice rink with the electoral map painted on it here.

Along with Professor Thurber one of the experts here tonight is Ken Duberstein, a Republican strategist. He just said, "If Sarah Palin is Cinderella, it's just about to strike midnight for her."

Also, off camera he was just told that NBC is calling Ohio for Obama. His response: it's over.

I am actually surprised that it is taking so long for the networks to call this thing...

Live on NBC

Professor Thurber is in the NBC studio tonight in Washington, DC, sitting at the anchor desk with Pete Williams. I am here too, providing research assistance and election analysis as needed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Election Forecasting Event

Professor Thurber moderated a panel discussion Monday, October 27, at the National Press Club, hosted by the American Political Science Association and featuring three prominent political scientists who will present their forecast models for the upcoming election.

The power point presentations can be viewed and downloaded from the CCPS website.


  • James E. Campbell is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. He is editor of the presidential election forecast symposium in the October 2008 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics and author of The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections, Cheap Seats, and The American Campaign and the co-editor of Before the Vote. His research interests include election forecasting, swing voters and presidential elections, congressional district competition, electoral realignments, and the polarization of the electorate. He has been widely published, including numerous books and in the major political science journals.

  • Alan Abramowitz is the Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science at Emory University. His areas of specialization include American politics, political parties, elections, and voting behavior and his current research involves party realignment in the U.S. and its consequences for presidential and congressional elections. He is the author of dozens of scholarly publications, including Voice of the People: Elections and Voting in the United States (2004).

  • Michael Lewis-Beck is Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa. His areas of specialization include American and Comparative Politics, and he has authored or co-authored dozens of publications on American and European politics—including most recently The American Voter Revisited (2008).


James A. Thurber is Distinguished Professor of Government and Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. He is author and co-author of numerous books and more than seventy-five articles and chapters on Congress, congressional-presidential relations, congressional budgeting, congressional reform, interest groups and lobbying, and campaigns and elections. Recent publications include Campaign Consultants, Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Voters in American Elections (with Candice J. Nelson and David A. Dulio, 2005).

Election forecasts are a biennial feature of the APSA journal PS: Political Science & Politics, and draw upon the expertise of prominent political scientists from around the country to forecast the outcome of U.S. presidential and congressional elections. PS is a quarterly journal of the APSA (est. 1903), the leading professional organization for the study of politics, which has over 14,000 members in 80 countries. For more news and information about political science research visit the APSA media website at

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Panel 3: Working with a Polarized Congress

Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress is chairing this panel. Before coming to CAP, Scott was Staff Director of the House Appropriations Committee and served in many other leadership roles in his 30 year career on the Hill.

Other panelists are:

Tom O'Donnell, who was chief of staff to House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt

Professor Jim Pfiffner of George Mason University and Professor Stephen Wayne of Georgetown University

Clay Johnson keynote speech

1:30 question from National Journal reporter:
With all of the secret natl security memos in the Bush admin, how can we be sure the next intelligence officials will be knowledgeable about everything they need to know?
Johnson: Confident that the director of National Intelligence (Mike McConnell) will prepare the incoming team to the best of his ability.

Thurber follow up: Are the pres candidates being briefed now on intelligence matters?
Johnson: Not sure if they are specifically on this, but he agrees that this should be part of their preparation.

Question on budget:

1:25 Josh Bolton (WH CoS) asked Johnson to organize the preparation of agencies for transition. On July 18, Johnson send a list of "to-dos" to the agencies, such as appointing an agency coordinator for all transition activities. Many of the things he asked them to do are supposed to be completed by Nov. 1. Others: have a senior career person in charge of every part of the agency until a political appointee is assigned; prepare senior career people for the event of a national security incident (if one occurs before a political apointee is in place).

1:20 Johnson: The next president needs to be ready to take over right away - there is no time once he gets into office to say he is "preparing to govern". The outgoing administration is taking its responsibility very seriously to make sure the incoming administration is prepared.

1:15 pm Clay Johnson is well known in Washington for being a longtime close friend and confidante of President Bush. He has been invited to speak to many groups working on the transition, including the House admin subcommittee hearing last month. He speaks passionately about his role in Bush's transition, and he seems genuinely committed to working hard to make the next transition smooth.

(sorry for the formatting problems below... no time to fix now)
Prof. Thurber reminds us in his intro that Clay Johnson led what was perhaps the most difficult WH transition – George W. Bush’s, a transition that couldn’t really start until after the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore made Bush the winner.

Balancing act between rewarding your loyal friends and people who helped get you elected, and the people who are really best for the job.

Getting the leadership team in place (cabinet secretaries). This needs to be done quickly – but they need to go through Senate confirmation. In 2001, it took 90 days on average for a cabinet official to be confirmed. Clay says this time needs to be cut in half (45 days from the time the president names the official to the time they take office).

Panel 2: From the Election Through the First Hundred Days: Opportunities and Hazards

11:30 Sullivan analyzes his presidential scheduling data to see what presidents spend their time on in the first 100 days.
Working alone: Carter and Nixon did this most
Traveling: Nixon traveled most, Eisenhower traveled least
Bush spent the most time on "Commander in Chief" issues; Kennedy spent the most time on "economic" issues

Sullivan also creates an "isolation index" to measure how much advice presidents get from advisors: external advisors, cabinet members, congressional leaders, WH staff, and heads of state.

11:15 Terry Sullivan has a handout showing the work schedules of the first 100 days of presidents from Eisenhower through George H. W. Bush. I will try to get an electronic copy to post here. A few of his findings, which are based on 50,000 observations of 20,000 events over 4 decades (drawn mostly from presidential diaries and presidential papers):
- modern era (post-Nixon) presidents have an average workday of 13.5 hours
- pre-modern presidents worked around 9.5 hours per day
- workdays of presidents get longer and more efficient over the 100 days

11:10 Kumar reminds us of the stories in the news media last Spring, that criticized Obama for already thinking about his transition team ("he is already measuring new drapes for the Oval Office, and he hasn't even been given his party's nomination!"). Kumar says that Clay Johnson (who is delivering the keynote lunch speech today) was brought on as Bush's tranistion director in 1999. It is important for these candidates to be planning early for the transition of the federal government; the news media should not be mocking them for it.

11:00 am Martha Kumar recently testified before a congressional hearing on the upcoming transition. Cong. Adolphus Towns is chairman of the subcommittee of the House administration committee that is responsible for overseeing the transition - along with several other federal agencies (including OMB, OPM and GAO) and other congressional committees (including the Senate Government Affairs Committee).

Kumar: some of the big problems in the first days of new administrations is with the appointment (and approval from Senate) of cabinet members. The failed nomination of Zoe Baird as Clinton's attorney general took up lots of time and energy in Clinton's first weeks. If she had been properly vetted, they could have avoided this.

10:45 am Michele Jolin, who is running a transition project at CAP, introduced the panel. CAP has a big transition report coming out on November 12.

Prof. Martha Kumar of Towson University is Director of the White House Transition Project.

Prof. Terry Sullivan of Univ. of North Carolina Chapel Hill is Executive director of the WH Transition Project (WHTP)

The WHTP was orignally funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to create an archive of past presidential transitions -- to create an instittutional memory that will last after the staff of the outgoing president is gone.

Martha and Terry will likely provide some good historical perspective, and some good stories from transitions dating back to President Johnson.

Panel 1: Structuring a White House Legislative Affairs Office

The first panel is going now. It includes Patrick Griffin, who worked in President Clinton's legislative affairs office, and Gary Andres, who worked in the first President Bush's legislative affairs office. They are sharing lessons learned from their experiences working with Congress from the perspective of the White House. Even when the president shares the same party as the majority in Congress - as President Clinton did when he took office in 1992 - there are still many obstacles to a President getting his agenda passed. Remember health care reform? So even if Obama wins (as many polls are now predicting) and there is a strong Democratic majority in Congress, his path to legislative success will not be an easy one.

Live at the Presidential Transitions Conference

We are at maximum capacity here at the Center for American Progress -- every seat is full and the standing room-only lobby is just about full too. If you were not lucky enough to get in the room today, you can watch us live on C-Span 2 which is also live-streamed to their website:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Presidential Transitions Conference: From Campaigning to Governing - October 15, 2008

American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies and the Center for American Progress Action Fund will host a conference discussing this shift in power and how the next president will work with Congress titled “Presidential Transitions: From Campaigning to Governing,” from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Center for American Progress offices located at 1333 H St., NW, 10th Floor, Washington, D.C.

The conference will include both academic and professional participants, who will comment on the upcoming presidential transition by looking at the successes and failures of past transitions. There will be a specific focus on the promise made by both presidential candidates to change the way Washington works, exploring how these changes can take place, if these changes should take place, and how presidential-congressional relationships can improve.

Also sponsored by AU’s Kennedy Political Union, the conference will include three panel discussions: structuring a White House legislative affairs office, policy making in a polarized Congress, and working with Congress: lessons from past presidential transitions. A key note speech will be given by Clay Johnson who organized President George W. Bush’s transition in 2000.

DRAFT Agenda

8:30 – 9:00 a.m. Registration and light breakfast

9:00 – 9:15 a.m. Welcome
Scott Lilly, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and former Staff Director of the House Appropriations Committee
Dr. James A. Thurber, Distinguished Professor and Director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University and editor of Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations

9:15 – 10:30 a.m. "Structuring a White House Legislative Affairs Office"
Chair: Dr. James A. Thurber
Dr. Patrick Griffin, Former Assistant to President Clinton for Legislative Affairs and Academic Director of the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute at American University
Dr. Gary Andres, Former Assistant for Legislative Affairs to President George H. W. Bush and Vice Chairman of Public Policy and Research at Dutko Worldwide

10:30 – 10:40 a.m. Break

10:40 – 12:00 p.m. "From the Election through the First Hundred Days: Opportunities and Hazards"
Michele Jolin, Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress Action Fund and Editor, "Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President"
Dr. Martha Joynt Kumar
, Professor of Political Science at Towson University and Director of the White House Transition Project
Dr. Terry Sullivan, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Executive Director of the White House Transition Project

12:00 – 12:45 p.m. Buffet lunch

12:45 – 1:30 p.m. Clay Johnson III, Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management Budget and former Executive Director of the Bush-Cheney Presidential Transition

1:30 – 1:45 p.m. Break

1:45 – 3:30 p.m. "Working with a Polarized Congress"
Chair: Scott Lilly

Thomas J. O’Donnell, Executive Vice President at the Gephardt Group and former Chief of Staff to House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt
Dr. Jim Pfiffner, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University and author of The Strategic Presidency: Hitting the Ground Running
Dr. Stephen Wayne, Professor of Government at Georgetown University and author of The Road to the White House and The Legislative Presidency

3:30 – 3:45 p.m. Closing Remarks

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Professor Thurber on the Diane Rehm Show 10:00 am

Professor Thurber will be on the Diane Rehom show today at 10:00 am.
Click here to listen live.

Congressional Reaction to Pressure for a Wall Street Bail-Out

Guest host: Frank Sesno

President Bush warns the economic damage will be "painful and lasting" unless a financial bailout bill is passed. Guest host Frank Sesno and guests examine how record low approval ratings for Congress and the White House are affecting efforts to convince the nation that a Wall Street rescue plan is vital to the country's economic future.


Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press

Prof. James Thurber, Director and Professor at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University

Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; coauthor with Thomas Mann of "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track"

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

NY Times Story Outlines McCain's Ties to Indian Gaming Industry

An article by Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr. of the New York Times went largely unnoticed on Sunday due to the nation’s focus on the ongoing financial crisis. The story was a lengthy examination of the relationships cultivated between lobbyists representing the Indian gaming industry and Senator John McCain over his 22 years in the U.S. Senate. Both presidential candidates have pledged to change the way Washington works, emphasizing their Senate records as champions of lobbying and ethics reform.

In a move that is emblematic of the rapid-response mindset in modern campaign advertising, the Democratic National Committee wasted no time in producing an eerie web video, portraying McCain as a “betting man” who stacked the deck in his favor during the explosive growth of a now $26 billion Indian gambling industry.

While on the stump, the candidates have downplayed their own ties to lobbyists while publicly ignoring the fundraising role policy advocates and their firms play in presidential campaigns. This has not prevented Senators McCain and Obama (and their surrogates) from ramping up the attacks against each other, however.

The junior senator from Illinois has attempted at times to portray McCain and his campaign as hypocritical: “This is somebody who has been in Congress for 26 years, who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign,” Obama quipped at a recent campaign rally. “And now he tells us that he's the one who is going to take on the old boy's network. The old boy's network, in the McCain campaign, that's called a staff meeting.” Senator McCain, for his part, has not been reluctant to send barbs in Obama’s direction: “The crisis on Wall Street, my friends, started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence-peddling, and [Senator Obama] was right square in the middle of it.”

In spite of these zingers flying back and forth between the candidates in what is a very competitive race, the Times article raises some interesting questions for McCain, who, as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, presided over the congressional investigation into the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff. While both Senators McCain and Obama have been at pains to distance themselves from any close association with Washington lobbyists and “special interests,” it is clear that both candidates could be more forthright on this issue.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Questions from tonight's debate

Early in the debate, McCain said that the amount spent on earmarks has increased greatly in recent years, that earmark spending has gotten out of control. We have done some research on this at CCPS, and have found that it is not necessarily true that earmarked spending has gotten so much worse. Although it is hard to count "earmarks" (in part because they are defined differently by different committees and agencies) and even harder to count the actual dollar amounts attached to them, we pieced together an aggregate dollar amount for each year from 1994-2006 and found that although the number of earmarks increased, the value of the earmarks as a total percentage of the discretionary budget did not change.

Senator McCain keeps referring to General Petraeus (who I love and have followed his story, in part because he has a PhD and has surrounded himself with a staff full of PhDs, something I am hoping to have soon). Does McCain know that Petraeus is actually no longer in Iraq, that he left on September 16? Here's the "Change of Command" video from Pentagon TV.

The First Debate

Watching Obama and McCain debate tonight reminds of the first time they were in a public debate, during the effort to pass lobbying reform legislation way back in 2006 (when not very many people thought either Senator had a chance of ever being president). In February 2006,they got into a disagreement over some of the details of the legislation. They exchanged tersely written letters - McCain would later say they had become "pen pals" - and when they were scheduled to testify together before the Senate Rules Committee meeting on February 8, 2006, lots of cameras were there to document their "make-up" handshake. Professor Thurber had been working closely with Senator Obama and his staff on the legislation, and he was also at the hearing that day to testify. A New York Times photographer caught the Obama-McCain handshake, and managed to get Prof. Thurber in the shot too.

Here is the story from the New York Times where this photo ran.

And here are copies of the letters that Obama and McCain exhanged on the lobbying reform bill.

February 2, 2006

The Honorable John McCain
United States Senate
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear John:

Thank you for inviting me to participate in the meeting yesterday to discuss lobbying and ethics reform proposals currently before the Senate. I appreciate your willingness to reach out to me and several other Senate Democrats to discuss what should be done to restore public confidence in the way that Congress conducts its business. The discussion clearly underscored the difficult challenge facing Congress.

You and many in the Democratic Caucus have played a major role in reform efforts in the Senate. In fact, the Indian Affairs Committee hearings you led were instrumental in promoting public awareness of the culture of corruption that has permeated the nation's capital.

As you know, Senator Harry Reid and others in the Democratic Caucus have taken an important step by introducing S. 2180, the Honest Leadership Act, which imposes many of the same disclosure requirements for lobbyists that you have proposed, while also strengthening enforcement, eliminating "pay to play" schemes, and imposing more restrictive rules on meals, gifts, and travel that Members and their staff can receive from special interests that advocate before Congress. This bill, which now has the support of 40 members of the Democratic Caucus, represents a significant step in addressing many of the worst aspects of corruption that have come to light as a result of the Justice Department investigation of Jack Abramoff.

I know you have expressed an interest in creating a task force to further study and discuss these matters, but I and others in the Democratic Caucus believe the more effective and timely course is to allow the committees of jurisdiction to roll up their sleeves and get to work on writing ethics and lobbying reform legislation that a majority of the Senate can support. Committee consideration of these matters through the normal course will ensure that these issues are discussed in a public forum and that those within Congress, as well as those on the outside, can express their views, ensuring a thorough review of this matter.

Given the state of affairs in Washington, we have a historic opportunity to make fundamental changes in the way our government operates so that the actions we take as public officials are responsive and transparent to the American people. Thank you again for your interest in this important matter.


Barack Obama
United States Senator

February 6, 2006

The Honorable Barack Obama
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Obama:

I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere. When you approached me and insisted that despite your leadership's preference to use the issue to gain a political advantage in the 2006 elections, you were personally committed to achieving a result that would reflect credit on the entire Senate and offer the country a better example of political leadership, I concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions with your letter to me dated February 2, 2006, which explained your decision to withdraw from our bipartisan discussions. I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble. Again, sorry for the confusion, but please be assured I won't make the same mistake again.

As you know, the Majority Leader has asked Chairman Collins to hold hearings and mark up a bill for floor consideration in early March. I fully support such timely action and I am confident that, together with Senator Lieberman, the Committee on Governmental Affairs will report out a meaningful, bipartisan bill.

You commented in your letter about my "interest in creating a task force to further study" this issue, as if to suggest I support delaying the consideration of much-needed reforms rather than allowing the committees of jurisdiction to hold hearings on the matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. The timely findings of a bipartisan working group could be very helpful to the committee in formulating legislation that will be reported to the full Senate. Since you are new to the Senate, you may not be aware of the fact that I have always supported fully the regular committee and legislative process in the Senate, and routinely urge Committee Chairmen to hold hearings on important issues. In fact, I urged Senator Collins to schedule a hearing upon the Senate's return in January.

Furthermore, I have consistently maintained that any lobbying reform proposal be bipartisan. The bill Senators Joe Lieberman and Bill Nelson and I have introduced is evidence of that commitment as is my insistence that members of both parties be included in meetings to develop the legislation that will ultimately be considered on the Senate floor. As I explained in a recent letter to Senator Reid, and have publicly said many times, the American people do not see this as just a Republican problem or just a Democratic problem. They see it as yet another run-of-the-mill Washington scandal, and they expect it will generate just another round of partisan gamesmanship and posturing. Senator Lieberman and I, and many other members of this body, hope to exceed the public's low expectations. We view this as an opportunity to bring transparency and accountability to the Congress, and, most importantly, to show the public that both parties will work together to address our failings.

As I noted, I initially believed you shared that goal. But I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party's effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness. Again, I have been around long enough to appreciate that in politics the public interest isn't always a priority for every one of us. Good luck to you, Senator.


John McCain
United States Senate

February 6, 2006

The Honorable John McCain
United States Senate
241 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear John:

During my short time in the U.S. Senate, one of the aspects about this institution that I have come to value most is the collegiality and the willingness to put aside partisan differences to work on issues that help the American people. It was in this spirit that I approached you to work on ethics reform, and it was in this spirit that I agreed to attend your bipartisan meeting last week. I appreciated then - and still do appreciate - your willingness to reach out to me and several other Democrats.

For this reason, I am puzzled by your response to my recent letter. Last Wednesday morning, you called to invite me to your meeting that afternoon. I changed my schedule so I could attend the meeting. Afterwards, you thanked me several times for attending the meeting, and we left pledging to work together.

As you will recall, I told everyone present at the meeting that my caucus insisted that the consideration of any ethics reform proposal go through the regular committee process. You didn't indicate any opposition to this position at the time, and I wrote the letter to reiterate this point, as well as the fact that I thought S. 2180 should be the basis for a bipartisan solution.

I confess that I have no idea what has prompted your response. But let me assure you that I am not interested in typical partisan rhetoric or posturing. The fact that you have now questioned my sincerity and my desire to put aside politics for the public interest is regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you nor my willingness to find a bipartisan solution to this problem.


Barack Obama
United States Senator

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shades of Gray: When Campaign Consultants are also Lobbyists

In Professor Thurber's chapter in the book, Shades of Gray: Perspectives on Campaign Ethics (2002, editors Candice Nelson, David Dulio and Stephen Medvic), he writes about the ethical dilemma surrounding political consultants who are both campaign advisors and lobbyists. The simplest case is of a campaign staffer who helps a candidate get elected, then goes on to lobby the now-elected official on behalf of some private interest. The former campaign staffer has unique access to the elected official, especially if he helped get them elected.

The case we are seeing play out in the McCain campaign is more complicated, since Rick Davis (McCain's campaign manager who is accused of being paid as a lobbyist for Freddie Mac until just before the bailout of Fannie and Freddie) is said to have "recused" himself from his firm's dealings with Fannie and Freddie. The ethical question here is whether Davis, as the top staff person on the McCain campaign, should have been involved with Fannie and Freddie (*especially* during the worst housing crisis and the bailout of these firms) and if he was, did he tell his boss the extent of his involvement.

Thurber's chapter, "From Campaigning to Lobbying," reviews the American League of Lobbyists Code of Ethics, and it seems pretty clear that Davis violated Article IV - "Conflicts of Interest" (since on Sunday night in a CNBC interview McCain said that Davis was no longer involved with the mortgage giants). But the funny thing is that Fannie and Freddie probably kept Davis' firm as its lobbyist BECAUSE of his connection to McCain, so the "conflict of interest" is apparently a one-way street.

This happened to a Dem consultant during the primaries: Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's top strategist, who was doing work for the government of Columbia at the same time that he was working on Clinton's campaign. This was such a conflict of interest, that he was actually helping the Columbian government advocate for something that his candidate opposed.

Is this what we should come to expect of our country's top political consultants? They can't pay their bills working just for presidential candidates, can they - since presidential campaigns only happen every 4 years? (Even though the campaigns never really stop, do they?) So we have to expect that they will have other clients besides candidates and campaigns. It seems to me that the burden here lies with the candidates as much as it does with the consultants. Candidates should expect their high-paid consultants to work only for them, not their private-interest clients, when a campaign is underway. Candidates should know about the Lobbyist Code of Ethics, and consultants should be expected to adhere to them.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

40 Days Left

With just 40 days left until Election Day, today seems like a great day to resurrect the CCPS blog. Even though Senator McCain is suspending his campaign at the same time we're restarting our blog, we bet that there will be great campaign stories just about every day until November 4.

I can't promise that we'll have the same kind of original analysis of polls and trends that Brian Schaffner offered when he was the chief blogger here, but we here's what we will do:

- Keep you updated on CCPS events and activities.

- Post research and reports written by CCPS fellows and board members.

- Share with you some of the interesting political analysis that we're reading.


Today the CCPS phones were ringing with reporters calling to ask Professor Thurber about the McCain campaign's ties to lobbyists for Freddie Mac. Here's the story, which became more interesting this weekend when Senator McCain denied to reporter John Harwood in a CNBC interview that his campaign manager, Rick Davis, was involved as a lobbyist for Fannie or Freddie. Here is a transcript of the exchange:

HARWOOD: You mentioned cronyism and corruption on Wall Street and in Washington, and you've criticized Obama for self dealing here. How do you square that with the fact that your campaign manager, Rick Davis, was involved in some lobbying activities on behalf of Fannie Mae? And secondly, what specifically would you prevent, would you outlaw--what activity would you outlaw in Wall Street to make sure this doesn't happen again?

Sen. McCAIN: Now, on Wall Street, I'd--obviously we need to stop--we need to more--have more transparency. We need to take the regulatory agencies and merge them together in one effective agency. These regulatory agencies, this alphabet soup, was really designed for a different era. We're now in global transactions. We need more transparency. We need to combine the regulatory agencies, and we need to give them some more authority, if necessary, to do so. You know, Secretary Paulson had a package of recommendations sometime ago that basically did not really go anywhere. Maybe we can look at those and other recommendations in the future.

In Washington, I still think that it was the special interest money that went--and Fannie and Freddie money that went, and everybody was involved in this--not everybody, but certainly Senator Obama got next amount of money, except for the two Democratic chairman. His vice presidential search team was headed by Mr. Johnson, and...

HARWOOD: And your campaign manager?

Sen. McCAIN: And my campaign manager has stopped that, has had nothing to do with it since, and I'll be glad to have his record examined by anybody who wants to look at it.

(The entire transcript of the interview is available here.)

So after examining Rick Davis' record, it looks like his lobbying firm was getting about $15,000 a month from Freddie Mac until just before the bailout.

Friday, August 8, 2008

E-Voting Conference in Austria

I am at the 3rd International E-Voting Conference in Bergenz, Austria. There are people here from about 30 different countries - political scientists, election administrators, voting system experts and vendors, computer scientists. Many are leading efforts in their countries to introduce electronic voting (which includes remote e-voting, also called Internet voting, as well as e-voting machines in polling places). Yesterday, I presented a paper from my dissertation research on Internet voting (my powerpoint presentation will be posted here soon).

I was hoping to blog live from the conference, but unfortunately (and ironically) the hotel's wireless Internet access has been disabled during the conference proceedings (and all of last night) so the presentations can be streamed live on the conference's website. The presentations (and live streaming) start today at 9:00 am (that's 3:00 am in Washington, DC), available at:

Below is the conference program.

The 3rd International Conference on E-Voting promises to become a meeting point for Experts from all over the world, discussing technical, social and legal aspects of E-Voting in the Castle Hofen, in Bregenz.

Like in the last years, we have had a double-blind review system to guarantee a high quality of speakers and papers for the Conference. In total we have received more than 30 contributions. The following papers were selected to be presented and discussed at the Conference:

Wednesday, 6th August

Pre-Conference Programme
(Admission is included in the participation fee)

09:00 Competition

19:00 Welcome Cocktail

Thursday, 7th August

09:00 Welcome Notes by Michael Remmert, Rüdiger Grimm and Robert Krimmer

Session 1: E-Voting Experiences
Chair: Robert Krimmer

11:00 E-Voting in the Netherlands; from General Acceptance to General Doubt in Two Years
Leontine Loeber

11:45 Improving the Transparency of Remote E-Voting: The Estonian Experience
Epp Maaten; Thad Hall

Session 2: Empirical Findings of E-Voting
Chair: Gregor Wenda

14:00 Assessing the Impact of E-Voting Technologies on Electoral Outcomes: an Analysis of Buenos Aires’ 2005 Congressional Election
Gabriel Katz, R. Michael Alvarez, Ernesto Calvo, Marcelo Escolar, Julia Pomares

14:45 Assessing Internet Voting as an Early Voting Reform in the United States
Alicia Kolar Prevost

Session 3: Legal & Procedural Issues of E-Voting
Chair: Susanne Caarls

16:00 A Methodology for Assessing Procedural Security: A Case Study in E-Voting
Komminist Weldemariam, Adolfo Villafiorita

16:45 Secure Remote Voter Registration
Victor Morales-Rocha, Jordi Puiggali, Miguel Soriano

17:30 Long-term Retention in E-Voting – Legal Requirements and Technical Implementation
Rotraud Gitter, Lucie Langer, Susanne Okunick, Zoi Opitz-Talidou

18:15 International Programme Committee Meeting

19:30 Reception in Bregenz

Friday, 8th August

Session 4: Comparison of E-Voting
Chair: Thad Hall

09:00 The E-Voting Readiness Index: A Survey
Robert Krimmer, Ronald Schuster

09:45 Malfunction or Misfits: Comparing Requirements, Inputs, and Public Confidence Outcomes of E-Voting in the U.S. and Europe
John Sebes, Gregory A. Miler

Session 5: Verification of E-Voting
Chair: Melanie Volkamer

11:00 Simple and Secure Electronic Voting with Prêt à Voter
David Lundin

11:45 Improving the Farnel Voting Scheme
Roberto Araújo, Peter Y. A. Ryan

Session 6: Certification of E-Voting
Chair: Thomas Buchsbaum

14:00 Development of a Formal IT Security Model for Remote Electronic Voting Systems
Melanie Volkamer, Rüdiger Grimm

14:45 The Certification of E-Voting Mechanisms. Fighting against Opacity
Jordi Barrat i Esteve

16:00 Workshops
Workshop 1: Regulation & Certification
Workshop 2: Observation & Evaluation
Workshop 3: E-Voting - Where are we heading?

18:30 Conference Dinner & Best Paper Ceremony

Saturday, 9th August

Session 7: Technological Issues of E-Voting
Chair: Rüdiger Grimm

09:00 Code Voting with Linkable Group Signatures
Jörg Helbach, Jörg Schwenk, Sven Schäge

09:45 CAPTCHA-based Code Voting
Rolf Oppliger, Jörg Schwenk, Christoph Löhr

Session 8: Political Issues of E-Voting
Chair: Jordi Barrat

11:00 E-Voting in Brazil – Reinforcing Institutions While Diminishing Citizenship
José Rodrigues Filho

11:45 The Voting Processes in Digital Participative Budget: A Case Study
Cristiano Maciel, Gleison Pereira de Souza

12:30 Closing Remarks by Robert Krimmer

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

CCPS, International

After a long summer break and the departure of Brian Schaffner to U-Mass and, we are relaunching the CCPS blog with an international tour, starting with the publication in today's Financial Times of an op-ed piece by Professor James Thurber, the founder and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies.

Tomorrow, I will be live blogging from the International Electronic Voting Conference in Austria, and I will explain why this important for American elections and how it relates to our research agenda at CCPS.

Democrats can cash in on public anger at Congress

By James Thurber

Financial Times -

Published: August 5 2008 19:22 | Last updated: August 5 2008 19:22

Public confidence in the US Congress is at a historic low, with 12 per cent of respondents to a recent Gallup poll expressing confidence in the legislature. It is the worst rating Gallup has found for any institution in the 35-year history of this question. Will the low approval have an impact on the November elections?

Voters accuse Congress of fostering a crippling partisanship that has led to inertia, overspending, failure to end the Iraq war or stand up to President George W. Bush and inattention to the needs of the American people. There is also anger at the continued scandals and unethical behaviour of members.

Public trust in Congress has been dismal since the early 1960s, but this new low has members of Congress worried about the 2008 election. Even so, there is usually a paradox in public attitudes: voters dislike the institution, but re-elect their members at high rates. Incumbents have been re-elected in the 90 per cent and above range for the past 30 years and there is little evidence that poor evaluations have had demonstrable effects on elections. Will this year be different?

What is the foundation for the dissatisfaction? Consider these factors, which have become more pronounced in recent years. The public clash of egos and bickering, combined with the complexity of the institution (more than 200 committees and subcommittees), the partisan stalemate and the overall messiness of Congress contrast with the immediate needs of the public. It is easy to stop policies, delay appropriations and slow down reforms but hard to move legislation. The primary functions of Congress are lawmaking (solving public problems), representation (of the public interest and constituency interests over specialised interests) and scrutiny of the executive branch. Congress is doing poorly on all accounts and Americans know it.

Will Democrats or Republicans be blamed for these failures? It is early, but a Democratic party wave is building in House races and significant gains may be made in the Senate. In a June Washington Post-ABC poll, 52 per cent of respondents said they would support the Democratic candidate in their local congressional race compared with 37 per cent who said they would vote Republican. Both presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, are running against Washington (and Congress) and calling for change in the way Washington works. Epiphanies are few in Congress: change comes from elections. There will be change in the election; it will be substantial and favour Democrats.

Several factors are at play. The number of safe Republican seats in the House has shifted dramatically towards Democratic challengers. With Democrats holding 236 seats and Republicans only 199, and only 20 seats competitive for the Democrats but 33 competitive races for the Republicans, Republicans have to be worried. Moreover, Democrats surprisingly won in three recent special elections that were solid Republican districts. The predicted gain for Democrats of 10 to 20 seats in the House brings them into a strong position to implement their policies in 2009.

Democrats are also benefiting from a historic surge of new voter registrations, an unprecedented financial edge and the recruitment of quality challengers. Democratic candidates are taking advantage of damage to the “Republican brand”, including the low ratings of the current president, continued Republican scandals (the latest being the indictment of Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska) and the retirement of moderate Republicans. These may be enough to dilute the power of incumbency that has thrived in the atmosphere of little or no competition.

In the Senate, Democrats have a chance to solidify their tentative majority. Currently the partisan split is 51-49 (with two independents voting with the Democrats). There are 10 competitive Senate seats (nine held by Republicans) that are too close to call, 13 solid or leaning-Republican seats and 12 solid or leaning-Democratic seats. A strong wave in favour of the Democrats will translate into more seats but it is not likely they will attain the 60 seats needed for a filibuster-proof Senate, which will leave continued deadlock.

This is shaping up to be the year that Americans’ negative view of Congress matters, and at least some members should be worried.

Coupled with the low public approval of Mr Bush, a bad economy and an un­popular war, the distrust and anger felt towards Congress as an institution is likely to be directed at and felt by the Republicans.

The writer is director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington

Friday, July 18, 2008

Update on My Whereabouts

I know I said I was done, but this is really my last post at the CCPS Blog; I promise.

Some of you have posted comments or sent emails indicating that you'd like to see me posting again at some point. So, for those interested, I wanted to let you know that as of next week, I will become an occasional contributor to When Mark Blumenthal asked if I was interested in contributing to his blog it was a real honor because I have always been a big fan of his site (many of you may remember when Mark was the "Mystery Pollster"). It is also a far more workable situation since I'll be writing a few posts per month rather than the several posts per week that I was doing here during the past several months. In short, it is an ideal situation for me to balance my "day job" and my blogging "hobby" and I hope that you will check out my posts over there.

As for this blog, it is my understanding that Alicia Prevost and Jim Thurber have plans in the works. So this site will stay operational...stay tuned.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Culture and Presidential Preferences: Obama vs. McCain

Political scientists, pundits, and journalists have noted that partisan divisions in the United States have become increasingly correlated with cultural cleavages. But given that cultural conservatives have not always been quick to embrace McCain, will we see the same cultural divisions this year as we did in 2004?

For this (final) post, I wanted to examine the extent to which a handful of cultural indicators was correlated with presidential vote preferences in the 50 states. To do this, I draw from two sources of data. First, I use to create a measure of the margin by which Obama leads/trails McCain in each state. In most states, I use the average for the state; in states where there was not enough polling to create that average, I used the most recent survey from that state. Second, I use the 2006 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) to create the statewide cultural indicators. The CCES is valuable in this regard because it includes nearly 20,000 interviews conducted across all 50 states, thereby including a significant sample size in each state. So, with that out of the way, on to the analysis...

First, let's start with one factor that is often tied directly into politics--gun ownership. Gun owners have tended to vote more Republican over the years due at least partly to the fact that the Democratic Party has often sided with stricter gun ownership statutes compared to Republicans. However, despite recent attempts to improve his image with gun owners, McCain not typically been a favorite of gun owners and the N.R.A. So how strongly does gun ownership correlate with the breakdown in support for Obama and McCain so far? The figure below plots this relationship.

Obama's margin over McCain decreases significantly as the percentage of gun owners in a state increases. On average, in state's where gun owners comprise about 20% of the population, Obama holds a lead of about 20% over McCain. On the other hand, in states where gun owners make up about 60% of the population, McCain has, on average, a 10% advantage over Obama. Montana is an interesting outlier here. Despite having the highest percentage of gun owners in the country, the last poll out of Montana gave Obama a 5% lead over McCain.

A second cultural indicator we can examine is the pickup truck ownership. Of course, owning a pickup truck is not as obviously connected to politics as gun ownership, but there is often something culturally distinct about a pickup truck owner versus someone who drives a Prius (to take an extreme example). Indeed, we would expect the states with more pickup truck owners to generally be more Republican. As the figure below shows, this appears to be the case.

While the relationship is not as perfect as it was for gun ownership, it is still the case that support for Obama decreases (and support for McCain increases) as the percentage of pickup truck owners in a state increases. Once again, Montana is a big outlier here, along with Hawaii, Vermont and Maine. In each of these four states, Obama holds a bigger lead over McCain than one would expect based on the percentage of pickup truck owners.

As the largest private employer in the world, Wal-Mart is certainly a cultural icon in the United States. As such, it stands to reason that those who shop regularly at Wal-Mart may share a different perspective from those who do not. Indeed, Wal-Mart shoppers tend to be culturally conservative and they were much more likely to vote for Bush in 2004 than Kerry. Thus, it would not be surprising to find a similar relationship in 2008. The figure below shows the relationship between the percentage of a state's population that shops regularly at Wal-Mart and the support for Obama vs. McCain.

For the most part, this is one of the clearest relationships among the cultural indicators that I examine in this post. There are only a few outliers, Obama's home state of Illinois, Hawaii (his childhood home), Vermont, and Maine. Otherwise, the relationship is pretty clear: when more of a state's population shops at Wal-Mart, Obama fares worse and McCain does better. Even Montana (an outlier when looking at gun and pickup truck ownership) falls close to the regression line in this figure.

So, Obama fares better in states with fewer gun owners, fewer pickup truck owners, and fewer Wal-Mart patrons. After looking at those three cultural indicators, it only seems obvious that the last factor we should examine is a state's affinity for Jon Stewart. Respondents to the CCES survey were asked to rate Jon Stewart on a scale from 1 to 7, with 7 being very favorable and 1 being very unfavorable. As a vocal critic of the Bush administration, there is little doubt about the type of relationship we would expect here.

Indeed, when a state's population had a more favorable opinion of Jon Stewart, that state was more likely to support Obama over McCain. In fact, on average, an increase of just 1-point of the favorability scale (from 4 to 5) would turn a state from supporting McCain by about 10 points to supporting Obama by a similar margin. As with the other cultural indicators, there are some interesting outliers. For example, North Dakota has the second most favorable opinion of Jon Stewart, yet Obama trailed McCain by a substantial margin in the last poll taken in that state. On the other hand, Delaware has a relatively low opinion of Jon Stewart, but it favors Obama by a significant margin.

If you put all these cultural indicators together, how well can they actually predict support for Obama vs. McCain? Well, they actually do a pretty good job. In fact, these four indicators can account for about 70% of the variance in support for Obama over McCain (even better if you drop a few of the outlier states like Illinois, Vermont, and Maine). That means that you can probably get a good sense of how your neighborhood is going to vote if you know how many of your neighbors own guns, how many have pickup trucks parked in their driveways, how many of them you see shopping at the local Wal-Mart, and how many of them saw the funny bit that Jon Stewart did on his show the night before. As always, there will be exceptions to the rule (Vermont and Maine are good examples of places where people like their guns and pickup trucks, but still support Democrats), but these cultural traits do appear to be associated with political predispositions.

Now, back to my "day job."