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Yes, if you stumbled here by accident, or because you never took this site off your RSS reader, you'll notice that there is some new content here. After letting The Decembrist lapse about 15 months ago, because group blogging (at The American Prospect's TAPPED, and at TPMCafe) was more suited to my pace, I slowly realized that this blog did have an amazing core of loyal readers (I was blown away when a prominent DailyKos front page contributor told me a few months ago that this was the first political blog she ever read, and from here she found her way to others) and that I need a single repository, if only of links, to everything else I write.

For now, at least, everything here will be cross-posted, mostly from TAPPED, which is terrific these days, with a good mix of the Prospect's young writers and other contributors like Tom Schaller and Adele Stan. I'll also post by monthly column for the magazine, as soon as it's available to non-subscribers, and other writing for TPMCafe, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, Democracy, and elsewhere. I'm also involved in a terrific project at the New America Foundation on The Next Social Contract, and I'll post some of the products of that initiative.

It's possible that there will be some content here that won't be posted elsewhere, if it doesn't fit. Over the next few weeks, I'll be backfilling the last few months of material, mostly from TAPPED.

Thanks for returning! 

Posted by Mark Schmitt on April 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Reform Group That Came In From the Cold

At last, one campaign finance reform organization has stepped up to its obligation to the public interest, with regard to Senator McCain's machinations. And it's a big one: Common Cause, under the welcome new leadership of Bob Edgar, formerly head of the National Council of Churches, and earlier a member of Congress from Pennsylvania, one of the best of the legendary class of 1974.

Common Cause sent letter to McCain that gets it exactly right:

[W]e are concerned that your recent actions in regard to public funding in the presidential primaries may undermine respect for the federal campaign finance laws, especially the presidential public financing system. Having opted into the system last summer ā€“ and having signed a binding certification agreement with the FEC ā€“ it is clear to us that you need an FEC vote to allow you to withdraw.

You can read the full letter here (pdf) and the press release here. Common Cause says it "is not prejudging the legal ins and outs of whether your campaign can still withdraw from the system after using the prospect of public matching funds as an active ingredient in a private $4 million loan agreement and to secure free ballot access in several states," which is appropriate -- it's all totally unprecedented, which is why the FEC has to decide. The letter goes on to strongly encourage McCain to support reform of the public financing system, and to support for full public financing for congressional elections and encourages him to return to it, and it asks him to do all he can to break the impassed on nominations to the Federal Election Commission, which are currently held up by Mitch McConnell's insistence on packaging four nominations together, including that of Hans von Spakovsky. My favorite thing about the letter is its straightforward declaration that "As a presidential candidate, you have set aside the reform mantle," and the absence of the fulsome, obsessive, you-still-love-us-don't-you praise of previous reform-group letters to McCain.

The phrase "your actions...may undermine respect for...the presidential public financing system" is particularly important. Right now, a number of candidates who honestly and earnestly opted to participate in the public financing system, such as Chris Dodd, Mike Huckabee, and Dennis Kucinich are still waiting for their checks. The reason they haven't received the funds yet is that the system doesn't have enough money. It doesn't have enough money because taxpayers don't have enough confidence in the system to check of the $3 box. And given McCain's manipulation of the system, why should they? So McCain's manipulation is not a victimless crime. The victims are those candidates in both parties who tried to use the public financing system as it was intended.

A few years ago, McCain and his allies made life very difficult for Common Cause, for not following their line on 527 committees and other regulations. So this letter cannot have been an easy.

I've often been critical of some of the campaign reform groups. But as the only group with a real sizable membership, with a history as "The People's Lobby" that goes back to its opposition to the Vietnam War, Common Cause is different. We need it to be strong, and unafraid. I've long been a supporter of Common Cause, today, I became a member.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on April 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Superdelegates and the "Responsible Parties" Tradition

Who would imagine that there was more to say on the subject of the Democratic Party's superdelegates? Yet two posts this week on The Democratic Strategist and on PolitickerNJ add some important context to the historical role of superdelegates, and make clear that their role amounts to a lot more than avoiding an unelectable candidate. On the New Jersey site, former Senator Robert Toricelli recalled the Hunt Commission, which devised the superdelegates, drawing on his role in his youth as Walter Mondale's representative to the commission:

The most important [goal] was to get Members of Congress back in the process. First, unless Congressional leaders participated in the process, they would feel no accountability to the platform and no responsibility for the nominee. To choose a candidate without Members of Congress and Governors participating was bad politics and bad government.

Ed Kilgore puts it similarly:

As I recall from the original discussions surrounding superdelegates, there was another, much simpler rationale: ensuring that major Democratic elected officials would get to attend the convention as delegates. One of the byproducts of the earlier reforms in the nominating process had been to significantly limit elected official participation, except for those who happened to run for delegate positions on successful candidate tickets. And this in turn reinforced a fear that the Democratic Party was increasingly becoming bifurcated into a national party dominated by constituency groups and issue advocates, and state and local parties (and their elected officials) who represented voters, and arguably, the Democratic rank-and-file.

The language of "accountability" and "responsibility" is an echo of the language of "responsible parties" -- a political tradition Matt Yglesias and I have been trying to revive. The idea that there were two Democratic Parties -- a congressional party which was somewhat more conservative and Southern, and a presidential party which was more liberal but also somewhat dominated by constituency groups was inherent in James McGregor Burns  theory of four parties, although it took a different form by the 1980s. Even then, though, there were a lot of Democratic members of Congress who didn't have much interest in their presidential candidate, and didn't care much whether the president was a Democrat or not. Democratic House members in particular assumed that they would control the institution forever, while presidents would come and go. The contempt with which Bill Clinton was treated in 1992-93 was related to that attitude.

After the successive shocks of 1994, the complete alignment of the Southern white conservatives into the Republican Party, impeachment, the 2000 election and the Bush years it's pretty hard to recreate that mindset. Now every member of Congress is deeply invested in both who the next candidate is and who the president would be. That would probably be the case even without superdelegates, but bringing together a single, ideologically coherent, responsible party is still a worthy goal. With the elected officials who are superdelegates now split evenly between Obama and Clinton, it seems that there are now two congressional parties, defined not by ideology but by attitude: On one side, older liberals like Ted Kennedy joined with those elected more recently who have the combativeness necessary in the Bush years; on the other side, a middle-generation elected and brought up under the assumptions of the '80s and '90, very roughly speaking.  But the gap they have to bridge is far smaller than between, say, Southern committee chairs in 1972 and candidate McGovern.

Toricelli (excuse his sleaziness for a minute) and Kilgore remind me why I don't think there's anything illegitimate about superdelegates (although the DNC members are a little more dubious), and why they should be free to vote as they please. It is part of the reconstruction of the kind of political party that can take concerted action. The next Democratic president will be able to govern with far greater support from congressional Democrats than Clinton or Carter ever had, and for anything that plays even a small role in making that happen, we should be grateful.

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Posted by Mark Schmitt on April 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Public Justice for McCain, Thanks to Bloggers

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake, along with Joe Sudbay of Americablog and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood have done a great service by putting together a well-argued complaint to the Federal Election Commission over John McCain's violation of the campaign finance law. While the Democratic National Committee filed a complaint earlier raising all the complex issues posed by McCain's loan and his promise to use public financing to pay off the loan while also avoiding the limits imposed by the public financing system, the Hamsher/bloggers' complaint is much simpler: It uses McCain's recent campaign filing to establish the simple fact that he is now over the spending limit for the primaries and therefore in violation. Since his last official action at the FEC was to apply for and receive certification for public funding, he is still in the system, a view reinforced by FEC Chair David Mason's letter to that effect to McCain.

Even at the best of times, FEC complaints take months to resolve, and a great many complaints that end in even the Commission's strongest resolution -- that there is "probable cause to believe" that a violation occurred -- go into a "conciliation" process that often end in little or no penalty. At the moment, of course, there isn't even an FEC to hear the complaint.

So the best thing we can do is ask for a public judgment on McCain's scam, which as Jane puts it, amounts to regulation "for thee but not for me." So far, almost 35,000 people have signed the complaint. I certainly have. You can join them here.

[cross-posted from TAPPED]

Posted by Mark Schmitt on April 3, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0)