The First Amendment broadly protects political speech and the use of resources (printing presses, the internet, money) to facilitate that speech. Yet when someone wants to engage in the most obvious kind of political speech — supporting election campaigns — the government is allowed to restrict this important constitutional right. In a new case coming to the Supreme Court, Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy political donor, and the Republican National Committee contend that the limits on political donations are unconstitutionally low and not supported by a sufficient governmental interest.
Currently, an individual may contribute up to $2,500 per election to federal candidates, up to $30,800 per year to a national party committee, and up to $5,000 per year to any non-party political committee. The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended most recently by McCain-Feingold in 2002, also imposes an overall limit on the aggregate amount one may contribute in a two-year period. For 2011-2012, an individual could contribute up to $46,200 to all federal candidates combined, and $70,800 to political action committees and political party committees—a total of $117,000.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the Supreme Court has dealt with contribution limits. In the seminal 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Court held that while contribution limits implicate fundamental First Amendment rights, such limits are justified if they’re closely tied to an important governmental interest, such as preventing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance thereof.
But the Court also decided that restrictions on campaign spending put a heavier burden on political expression, one which the government couldn’t justify. One of the plaintiffs’ arguments here is that the biennial contribution limits are simultaneously a limit on expenditures—a position which Cato elaborated in a new amicus brief.
We argue that Buckley’s distinction between contributions and expenditures, with limits on the former but not the latter being constitutional, is problematic. Not only does it allow infringements on the freedom of speech, but it has led to an unbalanced and unworkable campaign finance system.
Various justices over the years, some even in Buckley itself, have questioned the Court’s logic on this point. Justice Thomas in particular has assailed the distinction, pointing out that both contributions and expenditures implicate First Amendment values because they both support political debate. Moreover, candidates must spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising instead of legislating because they face an unlimited demand for campaign funds but a tapered supply. At the same time, money has been pushed away from politically accountable parties and candidates and towards unelected advocacy groups, leading to a warping of and decrease in political competition.
The special three-judge district court that first heard this case was legally bound to the framework the Supreme Court laid out in Buckley and restated that contribution limits are constitutional as such, dismissing the lawsuit. Still, Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote that “the constitutional line between political speech and political contributions grows increasingly difficult to discern.”
In a truly free society, people should be able to give whatever they want to whomever they choose, including candidates for public office. We urge the Supreme Court to strike down the biennial contribution limits and give those who contribute money to candidates and parties as much freedom as those who spend money independently to promote campaigns and causes.
The Supreme Court will hear argument in McCutcheon v. FEC this fall.
View full post on Cato @ Liberty
Senator Reid spins out, This is not the first time the IRS was used as a tool to target political opponents. (Thanks for the newsflash Senator, guess that makes it OK)
The IRS and the income tax are very powerful tools of coercion. Do I think the tactics employed against Tea Party groups recently would be employed by a big government “conservative” against groups which challenged his or her authority?
ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A KOREAN?
Posted on 11th May 2013 by Administrator in Economy |Politics |Social Issues
Asians smart, Koreans cheating on SAT
This is not shocking news to me. It is a well known fact that Asian students pay thousands of dollars to have others write their essays to get into the top flight U.S. Universities. It is also a well known fact among some people that even at the best business schools in the world, Asian students pay American students to write their papers for them. I guess Asians are just as dishonest, corrupt and underhanded as Americans. That is heart warming to know. We’ve now found two things they’re not good at.
For the First Time, SAT Test Gets Canceled in an Entire Country
By Kayla Webley
Some 1,500 South Korean students who dream of attending elite American colleges are scrambling after the U.S.-based administrator of the SAT cancelled the scheduled May 4 session of the exam due to allegations of widespread cheating. It’s the first time the SAT test has been called off in an entire country.
Officials decided to cancel the exam after discovering test questions circulating in test-prep centers in the country, according to the Wall Street Journal. The College Board, which administers the SAT in the U.S., and the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the non-profit organization that develops, publishes and scores the tests, issued a statement, saying they had made the “difficult, but necessary” decision to cancel the exam. “This action is being taken in response to information provided to ETS—the College Board’s vendor for global test administration and security—by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office regarding tutoring companies in the Republic of Korea that are alleged to have illegally obtained SAT and SAT Subject Test materials for their own commercial benefit.”
The details are scarce, but a CNN report says the prosecutors’ office confirmed it had raided several testing centers for evidence and the WSJ story notes that at least 10 staff members of test centers have been barred from leaving the country while the prosecutors’ office investigates.
Test center managers told the WSJ that the problem is widespread and that official test booklets can be purchased from brokers for about $4,575—a relatively small price to pay for families fighting to gain admittance to Harvard, Stanford and other prestigious American schools no matter the cost. According to the Institute of International Education’s most recent annual report, South Korea sent 72,295 students to study in the U.S. in the 2011-12 school year, making the country the third largest provider of foreign students to U.S. colleges after China and India. Worldwide, international student enrollment at U.S. colleges has soared in recent years with a record 764,495 foreign students attending American universities in 2011-12.
This is not the first incident of SAT cheating in South Korea. In 2007, some 900 students who took the exam in January of that year had their scores canceled after an investigation found an unknown number of students had seen at least part of the exam before the test was given. The latest incident, plus a string of scandals in the country over the past year that saw at least seven lawmakers accused of academic plagiarism, caused a South Korean national newspaper to question whether its citizens are unusual in their willingness to cheat.
But South Korea is hardly alone—the high stakes nature of the exam has fueled cheating elsewhere, although on a smaller scale. Of the nearly three million SAT exams taken worldwide each year, at least a few thousand are canceled because of suspected cheating. Several hundred other potential test takers are turned away at the door each year because of questionable identification. In 2011, 20 students in Long Island, New York were charged with cheating on the SAT—five were accused of taking the test for others and 15 were accused of paying them $500 to $3,600 to take the exams.
The College Board and ETS say they expects to be able to offer the SAT in South Korea in June, but in the meantime, and out of fear of additional problems, there have been reports of students flying to Japan and Hong Kong to take the test there in order to get their scores in time to apply for college in the U.S. this summer.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun May 12, 2013 2:18 am
View full post on opinions.caduceusx.com
Rich got richer, everyone else got poorer during first two years of U.S. recovery: Report
Top 7 per cent of Americans owned 63 per cent of nation’s household wealth, Pew Research Center says.
By: Pauline Jelinek The Associated Press, Published on Tue Apr 23 2013
WASHINGTON—The richest Americans got richer during the first two years of the economic recovery while average net worth declined for the other 93 per cent of U.S. households, says a report released Tuesday.
The upper 7 per cent of households owned 63 per cent of the nation’s total household wealth in 2011, up from 56 per cent in 2009, said the report from the Pew Research Center, which analyzed new Census Bureau data released last month.
The main reason for the widening wealth gap is that affluent households typically own stocks and other financial holdings that increased in value, while the less wealthy tend to have more of their assets in their homes, which haven’t rebounded from the plunge in home values, the report said.
Tuesday’s report is the latest to point up financial inequality that has been growing among Americans for decades, a development that helped fuel the Occupy Wall Street protests.
A September Census Bureau report on income found that the highest-earning 20 per cent of households earned more than half of all income the previous year, the biggest share in records kept since 1967. A 2011 Congressional Budget Office report said incomes for the richest 1 per cent soared 275 per cent between 1979 and 2007 while increasing just under 40 per cent for the middle 60 per cent of Americans.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Tue Apr 23, 2013 11:05 am
View full post on opinions.caduceusx.com
Daniel J. Mitchell
I’ve never been a big Shakespeare fan, but that may need to change. It seems the Bard of Avon may be the world’s first libertarian.
Some of you are probably shaking your heads and saying that this is wrong, that Thomas Jefferson or Adam Smith are more deserving of this honor.
Others would argue we should go back earlier in time and give that title to John Locke.
But based on some new research reported in Tax-news.com, we need to travel back to the days of Shakespeare:
Uncertainty over the likely future success of his plays led William Shakespeare to do “all he could to avoid taxes,” new research by scholars at Aberystwyth University has claimed. The collaborative paper: “Reading with the Grain: Sustainability and the Literary Imagination,”…alleges that, in his “other” life as a major landowner, Shakespeare avoided paying his taxes, illegally hoarded food and sidelined in money lending. …According to Dr Jayne Archer, lead author and a lecturer in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth: “There was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright – a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximize profits at others’ expense and exploit the vulnerable – while also writing plays.”
In that short excerpt, we find three strong indications of Shakespeare’s libertarianism.
- What does it mean that Shakespeare did everything he could to avoid taxes? His actions obviously would have upset the United Kingdom’s current political elite, which views tax maximization as a religious sacrament, but it shows that Shakespeare believed in the right of private property. Check one box for libertarianism.
- What does it mean that the Bard “illegally hoarded food”? Well, such a law probably existed because government was interfering with the free market with something like price controls. Or there was a misguided hostility by the government against “speculation,” similar to what you would find from the deadbeats in today’s Occupy movement. In either event, Shakespeare was standing up for the principle of freedom of contract. Check another box for libertarianism.
- Last but not least, what does it mean that Shakespeare “sidelined in money lending”? Nations used to have statist “usury laws” that interfered with the ability to charge interest when lending money. Shakespeare apparently didn’t think “usury” was a bad thing, so he was standing up for the liberty of consenting adults to engage in voluntary exchange. Check another box for libertarianism.
To be sure, it appears that Shakespeare was more of an operational libertarian rather than a philosophical libertarian.
And now that I’m giving it more thought, perhaps that doesn’t qualify him for the honor of being the world’s first libertarian.
After all, does the former Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, deserve to be called a libertarian for evading taxes? Does the new Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, somehow become a libertarian simply because he utilized the Cayman Islands?
Or what about lawmakers such as John Kerry, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and others on the left who have utilized tax havens to boost their own personal finances? I very much doubt that any of them deserve to be called libertarian (though the burden of government shrank under Bill Clinton, so maybe we can consider him an unintentional libertarian).
But maybe with a bit of literary license, we can make Shakespeare a full-fledged libertarian.
“O liberty, liberty! Wherefore art thou liberty?”
“Double, double, statism and trouble;
Taxes burn, and regulations bubble!”
Hmmm… perhaps instead of my budding second career as a movie star, I should become a playwright instead?
View full post on Cato @ Liberty
Michael F. Cannon
At Forbes.com’s Apothecary blog, the Manhattan Institute’s Avik Roy is cool to the idea of states implementing ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion by putting those new enrollees in ObamaCare’s health insurance “exchanges”:
When Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D.) first announced that he had reached a deal with the Obama administration to use the Affordable Care Act’s private insurance exchanges to expand coverage to poor Arkansans, it seemed like an important, and potentially transformative, development. The myriad ways in which the traditional Medicaid program harms the poor have been well-documented, and it looked like Beebe had come up with an attractive—albeit expensive—way to provide the poor with higher-quality private insurance. A Good Friday memo from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, however, splashes cold water on that aspiration. It’s now clear that the Beebe-HHS deal applies a kind of private-sector window dressing on the dysfunctional Medicaid program, and it’s not obvious that the Arkansas legislature should go along.
The first reason states should not pursue the Beebe plan is that, like a straight Medicaid expansion, it would inhibit the pursuit of low-cost health care for the poor.
The second reason is that it would cost even more than putting those new enrollees in the traditional Medicaid program. Economist Jagadeesh Gokhale, who advises the Social Security program on how to make these sorts of projections, estimates a straight Medicaid expansion would cost Florida, Illinois, and Texas about $20 billion in the first 10 years. And that’s in the wildly unrealistic event that the feds honor their committment to cover 90 percent of the cost. President Obama has already proposed abandoning that committment. Congressional Budget Office projections suggest the “Beebe plan” would increase the cost of the expansion by 50 percent. That too should be enough reason to reject the Beebe plan. Neither the state nor the federal government have the money to expand Medicaid at all. Volunteering to make the expansion even more expensive is lunacy.
The Beebe administration is trying to make its plan seem no more expensive than a straight Medicaid expansion. How? By simply assuming state officials would voluntarily make a straight Medicaid expansion so expensive that the Beebe plan wouldn’t cost a penny extra. The illogic goes like this. If Arkansas were to expand traditional Medicaid, the state would likely need to increase Medicaid payments to doctors and hospitals in order to secure adequate access to care for new enrollees. That would make a straight Medicaid expansion so expensive that the Beebe plan would be no more costly, and might even cost less.
It’s true, states that implement ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion would have to increase provider payments to give new eligibles decent access to care. The problem is that Medicaid never does that. Medicaid is notorious for paying providers so little that it access to care is lousy. Medicaid does so year after year, even if people sometimes die as a result. The Beebe administration simply assumed that state officials would magically change such behavior, increase Medicaid’s provider payments to the same levels private insurers pay, and thereby volunteer to make an already-expensive Medicaid expansion even more unaffordable. In that fantasy world, the Beebe plan would be no more expensive. As an indication of how implausible that assumption is, no one had been talking about combining a straight Medicaid expansion with higher provider payments until the Beebe administration needed to make the governor’s plan seem slightly less unaffordable.
Roy has soured on Beebe-style plans since reading some of the terms and conditions the Obama administration issued on Friday. Yet he still imagines there might be free-market-friendly ways to implement a massive expansion of the entitlement state. Thus he counsels states only to expand Medicaid in exchange for real reforms. We’ve heard that song and dance before. Republicans said the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicare Part D – two Republican initiatives – would lead to Medicaid and Medicare reform. Instead, government got bigger and reform went nowhere. Lucy is going to pull the football here, too. If it is Medicaid reform you seek, the only free-market Medicaid reforms are Medicaid cuts. Roy’s criticisms of the Beebe plan are welcome, though it’s odd to find him to the left of officials in the 15 or more states that are flatly rejecting the expansion.
View full post on Cato @ Liberty
Should You Move To Another Country To Escape The Collapse Of America? 10 Questions To Ask Yourself First
Why are so many people leaving the United States right now? Over the past couple of years, an increasing number of Americans have decided that moving to another country is the best way to prepare for the collapse of America. According to the U.S. State Department, an all-time record of more than 6 million Americans are now working or studying overseas. Of course many of those that have left the country do not believe that the U.S. economy is going to collapse, but without a doubt there are an increasing number of preppers that believe that now is the time to “escape from America” while they still can. And certainly there are a lot of reasons why the U.S. is becoming less appealing with each passing day. In addition to our economic problems, crime is on the rise in our cities, our liberties and freedoms are being eroded at a frightening pace, political correctness is wildly out of control, and our corrupt politicians continue to make things even worse. But is life really that much better in the rest of the world? The sad truth is that life in most other nations is more difficult than it is in the United States. Yes, there are some nations that are relatively stable and that look promising at first glance, but the truth is that moving to another country is never easy. If you plan to do it, there are some hard questions that you need to ask yourself first.
If you plan to move permanently to another nation, it would be wise to visit first. The way that things work in a foreign country is often very, very different from how things work in the United States. If you are not accustomed to being in a foreign culture, it can feel like your whole world is being turned upside down.
But of course it is definitely possible to make a successful transition to another culture. Millions of Americans have done it. The following is from a recent RT article…
Ever dream of leaving it all behind and heading out of America? You’re not the only one. A new study shows that more US citizens than ever before are living outside of the country.
According to statistics from the US State Department, around 6.4 million Americans are either working or studying overseas, which Gallup says is the largest number ever for such statistic.
The polling organization came across the number after conducting surveys in 135 outside nations and the information behind the numbers reveal that this isn’t exactly a longtime coming either — numbers have skyrocketed only in recent years. In the 24 months before polling began, the number of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 living abroad managed to surge from barely 1 percent to over 5.1 percent. For those under the age span wishing to move overseas, the percentage has jumped in the same amount of time from 15 percent to 40.
But picking up and moving to a foreign nation is not something to be done lightly.
The following are 10 questions to ask yourself before you decide to move to another country…
Do You Speak The Language? If Not, How Will You Function?
If you do not speak the language of the country that you are moving to, that can create a huge problem. Just going to the store and buying some food will become a challenge. Every interaction that you have with anyone in that society will be strained, and your ability to integrate into the culture around you will be greatly limited.
How Will You Make A Living?
Unless you are independently wealthy, you will need to make money. In a foreign nation, it may be very difficult for you to find a job – especially one that pays as much as you are accustomed to making in the United States.
Will You Be Okay Without Your Family And Friends?
Being thousands of miles away from all of your family and friends can be extremely difficult. Will you be okay without them? And it can be difficult to survive in a foreign culture without any kind of a support system. Sometimes the people that most successfully move out of the country are those that do it as part of a larger group.
Have You Factored In Weather Patterns And Geological Instability?
As the globe becomes increasingly unstable, weather patterns and natural disasters are going to become a bigger factor in deciding where to live. For example, right now India is suffering through the worst drought that it has experienced in nearly 50 years. It would be very difficult to thrive in the middle of such an environment.
Many of those that are encouraging people to “escape from America” are pointing to Chile as an ideal place to relocate to. But there are thousands of significant earthquakes in Chile each year, and the entire nation lies directly along the “Ring of Fire” which is becoming increasingly unstable. That is something to keep in mind.
What Will You Do For Medical Care?
If you or someone in your family had a serious medical problem in the United States, you would know what to do. Yes, our health care system is incredibly messed up, but at least you would know that you could get the care that you needed if an emergency arose. Would the same be true in a foreign nation?
Are You Moving Into A High Crime Area?
Yes, crime is definitely on the rise in the United States. But in other areas where many preppers are moving to, crime is even worse. Mexico and certain areas of Central America are two examples of this. And in many foreign nations, the police are far more corrupt than they generally are in the United States.
In addition, many other nations have far stricter gun laws than the United States does, so your ability to defend your family may be greatly restricted.
So will your family truly be safe in the nation that you plan to take them to?
Are You Prepared For “Culture Shock”?
Moving to another country can be like moving to a different planet. After all, they don’t call it “culture shock” for nothing.
If you do move to another country, you may quickly find that thousands of little things that you once took for granted in the U.S. are now very different.
And there is a very good chance that many of the “amenities” that you are accustomed to in the U.S. will not be available in a foreign nation and that your standard of living will go down.
So if you are thinking of moving somewhere else, you may want to visit first just to get an idea of what life would be like if you made the move.
What Freedoms and Liberties Will You Lose By Moving?
Yes, our liberties and our freedoms are being rapidly eroded in the United States. But in many other nations around the world things are much worse. You may find that there is no such thing as “freedom of speech” or “freedom of religion” in the country that you have decided to move to.
Is There A Possibility That The Country You Plan To Escape To Could Be Involved In A War At Some Point?
We are moving into a time of great geopolitical instability. If you move right into the middle of a future war zone, you might really regret it. If you do plan to move, try to find a country that is likely to avoid war for the foreseeable future.
When The Global Economy Collapses, Will You And Your Family Be Okay For Food?
What good will it be to leave the United States if you and your family run out of food?
Today, we are on the verge of a major global food crisis. Global food reserves are at their lowest level in nearly 40 years, and shifting global weather patterns are certainly not helping things.
And the global elite are rapidly getting more control over the global food supply. Today, between 75 and 90 percent of all international trade in grain is controlled by just four gigantic multinational food corporations.
But grain is not the only thing that the food giants control. Just check out the following statistics from a recent Natural News article…
The paper said three mega-multinationals now control better than 40 percent of global coffee sales, for example. Eight companies control the supply of cocoa and chocolate. Seven control the lion’s share – 85 percent – of tea production. Five multinationals control three-quarters of the world banana trade. And the largest half-dozen sugar traders account for about 66 percent of world trade, the new report by the Fairtrade Foundation said.
The elite are also buying up food producing real estate all over the globe. That is why farmland prices in the United States have been absolutely skyrocketing lately.
The people that run the world are rapidly getting a stranglehold over the global food supply.
So wherever you end up – whether it is in the United States or in another country – you will need to make sure that you can provide enough food for you and your family to live on independently of the system.
These are all things to think about when considering whether or not to move out of the United States.
But there are many, including some of those that regularly read my website, that have made the transition successfully.
If you have some advice that you would like to share with those that are considering moving away from America, please feel free to share it below…
View full post on The Economic Collapse
Mexico manufacturing output falls for the first time since 2009
Krista Hughes and Alexandra Alper
Published Monday, Feb. 18 2013
Strong spending by Mexican consumers drove an acceleration in Latin America’s second-biggest economy in the final months of last year but a fall in manufacturing raised concerns about resilience in a key export sector.
Mexico’s economy grew twice as fast in the fourth quarter as in the third with an expansion of 0.8 per cent quarter-on-quarter, the national statistics agency said on Monday, beating expectations in a Reuters poll for 0.6 per cent growth.
But although full-year growth of 3.9 per cent matched 2011’s rate, fourth-quarter growth compared to a year earlier came in at 3.2 per cent, missing expectations for a 3.57 per cent rise.
The economy is seen losing steam in the first half of 2013 amid fears U.S. tax hikes and spending cuts will sap demand for Mexican exports, which had been supporting growth.
The figures showed manufacturing output fell in the fourth quarter for the first time since 2009, when Mexico was battered by a deep recession. Growth was instead driven by an expansion in services, which make up two-thirds of economic output and are seen as a litmus test for domestic demand.
Services have grown in importance over the last five years and some analysts think planned structural reforms will help boost incomes and access to credit and unleash more spending.
“All of the recovery since 2008, 2009 has really been in industrial exports and … consumer spending has sort of lagged behind, but now it’s almost a role reversal which is helping to sustain growth,” said David Rees, an economist at Capital Economics in London.
Rees projects growth of 3.5 per cent this year, in line with government expectations, on strong domestic demand and a pick-up in industry in the second quarter, helped by robust U.S. factory activity last month. Most of Mexico’s exports go to the United States and factory activity is closely linked.
But some analysts were not so sanguine. Banco Santander economist Rafael Camarena said industrial weakness supported bets for a benchmark interest rate cut, something the central bank warned last month it might pursue if inflation continues to cool and economic growth slows.
“We’re seeing a slower economic expansion rate and low inflation, which creates a window of opportunity for the central bank to make this cut,” said Camarena, who expects a 50-basis-point cut at the bank’s March meeting.
Markets are pricing in a 64 per cent chance of a 25-basis-point cut in March to the central bank’s 4.50 per cent benchmark rate and have fully priced in such a cut by April.
SERVICES SAVING GRACE
The figures showed industry contracted by 0.21 per cent in the fourth quarter. The services sector expanded 0.68 per cent while agricultural activity grew 2.09 per cent.
Industrial production posted its biggest monthly drop since 2009 in December as Mexican factory managers burned through inventories amid uncertainty about U.S. budget tightening that was due to start at the start of 2013.
U.S. lawmakers managed to avert across-the-board tax hikes, but they could still fail to reach an agreement on spending cuts that could drag on growth, and that uncertainty may cast a pall over manufacturing during the first part of this year.
Construction in Mexico also fell in the fourth quarter as public infrastructure spending dried up at the end of former President Felipe Calderon’s term, hitting companies such as cement maker Cemex, whose fourth-quarter local sales missed expectations.
But strong spending on transport, real estate and financial services helped pick up the slack.
Confidence about Mexico’s internal market drove billionaire Carlos Slim to take retailer Sanborns public this month, raising almost $1-billion.
Mexican retailers are eyeing 5 per cent growth in 2013 on continued strength in department store sales and consumer optimism, which dipped in January off a nearly five-year high.
Mexico’s second-biggest retailer Soriana has said it is planning to invest 4.6 billion Mexican pesos ($362.69-million U.S.) to open about 60 new stores and boost its land reserves for development of future facilities.
“We’re very positive about this year, just like last year. I think that Mexico is ready to grow and generate more jobs,” Soriana CFO Aurelio Adan told Reuters in an interview last month.
Separate data showed economic activity slumped in December, after relatively strong expansion in the previous two months.
Mexico’s IGAE indicator fell 0.99 per cent in the month, its biggest fall in almost three years, dragged down again by the industrial sector. Activity was up just 1.42 per cent from December 2011.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Feb 18, 2013 6:00 pm
View full post on opinions.caduceusx.com
“Sunlight Before Signing” was President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to put all bills Congress sent him online for five days before signing them. It was a measurable promise that I’ve monitored here since the beginning of his first term, and I will continue to do so in his second.
It was the president’s first broken promise, and in the first year he broke it again with almost every new law, giving just six of the first 124 bills he signed the exposure he promised.
With his first term concluded last month, we can now assess how well the president did with Sunlight Before Signing. Compliance with the promise got better, but it’s still not great. The president gave 413 of 665 bills five days of public review (and one he acceptably did not give five days due to emergency).
The easy bills almost always got five days review—few bills to rename post offices haven’t gotten sunlight. But more important bills often didn’t. Recent examples are the controversial FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization and the “fiscal cliff” bill.
|Number of Bills||Emergency Bills||Bills Posted Five Days||%|
Would five days of public review have magically produced transparent government? Of course not. But imagine if the president had implemented and enforced his five-day promise from the beginning, and with every law.
Some segments of the public would have developed an expectation that bills slated to become law were available in a single place for their review and comment. That would have produced a small, but important, increment of transparency and public oversight of government.
Whether implemented in Congress or at the White House, a “hold” on final passage of legislation would have changed the “upstream” behavior of legislators not wanting to be caught inserting earmarks or parochial amendments that could take down a bill. Without Sunlight Before Signing in the first year, and with sunlight withheld from key bills, that blend of government process amenable to oversight and public capacity for oversight has not materialized. So we labor on, without the sunlight we could have had.
In a way, Sunlight Before Signing is emblematic of the president’s transparency efforts overall. They have had the form of transparency, but not the substance. This is not for lack of interest or effort. In my paper, “Publication Practices for Transparent Government,” I documented some of the efforts the Obama Administration leveled at transparency, especially in the first half of his first term. The paper was intended to help the transparency community better communicate to governments what it is we want.
But the challenge of producing transparent government coincided with fading urgency, as the Obama Administration collectively got comfortable with power. Transparency is the demand of the outsider, and the incentive structures predict that a presidential administration will walk away from transparency promises as it recognizes that transparency produces constraints on action.
So I feel justified in giving the transparency mantle to the House of Representatives in my paper “Grading the Government’s Data Publication Practices.” After promising great transparency strides, the Obama administration has faltered. The House promised less, and controls far fewer organs of government, but it has delivered modest gains. I often have credited House Republicans—they do control the House—but House Democrats support transparency, and they deserve credit for participating in the House’s forward movement.
And that movement appears likely to continue. At a meeting held by the House Clerk’s Office last week, staff of the Government Printing Office and the Clerk’s Office shared developments such as newly available bulk downloads of House bills and the House Committee Repository, which has committee schedules, relevant documents, and soon—we hope, tantalized—committee votes.
Committees do so much to shape legislation. Having committee vote data available in usable formats will be a large step forward for transparency.
Senate bills are not available in bulk because apparently nobody has asked GPO to publish them that way. (I’ve just signaled an easy way for the Senate to improve its transparency.)
We don’t have the same view of a bright transparency horizon from the Obama administration. There is still no machine-readable government organization chart. (I made a fun pitch for just that at a recent Advisory Committee on Transparency event on Capitol Hill.) The Sunlight Foundation found recently that reports of spending obligations on USASpending.gov failed in terms of consistency, completeness, or timeliness 94.5% of the time.
I’ve seen few signs that any important forward motion on transparency is coming from the administration. But the president can always produce transparency progress in short order by making it a priority. Publish well-structured data going to the heart of transparency: the deliberations, management, and results of the executive branch of government.
A deal is on the table (because, oh yes, favorable bloggy-blogs from Jim Harper are a huuge bargaining chip): If I get a machine-readable federal government organization chart, the Sunlight Before Signing thing is forgotten.
In the meantime, here is the president’s Sunlight Before Signing compliance, law by law, for everything sent his way by the 112th Congresses.
[Brackets indicate a link from Whitehouse.gov to Thomas legislative database]
* Page now gone, but it was either directly observed, evidence of it appears in Whitehouse.gov search, or White House says it existed.
‡ Link to final version of bill on impossible-to-find page.
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Hawaii, no longer content to trample on the Fourteenth Amendment alone, is about to bid a sorry aloha (farewell) to the First Amendment. In a brazen giveaway to celebrities who like to like to vacation on its pristine beaches, Hawaii’s Senate is poised to pass the “Steven Tyler Act.”
The bill, named after – indeed, written by – the Aerosmith frontman, could punish anyone who takes a photograph of a celebrity in public. That includes a tourist who takes out her iPhone to snap a pic of an aging rocker, or perhaps the Obama family. Specifically, the bill would prohibit recording someone “in a manner that is offensive to a reasonable person,” while that person is “engaging in a personal or familial activity.” The Steven Tyler Act not only departs from a century’s worth of privacy laws, but does so at a huge cost to the First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of speech. As my frequent co-author, law professor Josh Blackman explains, there are several constitutional defects here:
First, the bill offers no exceptions for newsworthy content. It simply assumes that if a person is “engaging in a personal or familial activity with a reasonable expectation of privacy,” any photograph would be illegal. Newspapers covering matters of public affairs (that may be personal or familial) could be snared by this staute.
Second, the proposed statute is purposely vague. It offers no guidance of what “personal or familiar activity” means.
Third, courts would have the authority not only to stop the initial publication of a photograph, but allows for restraining orders for future, subsequent reproductions of the same photograph. This type of authority is called “prior restraint” – highly suspect in First Amendment jurisprudence – with nary a compelling government interest at stake.
Fourth, the penalties are severe, and include compensatory damages, treble punitive damages, and disgorgement of profits. Such penalties on a vague statute would easily chill speech far beyond the worst kind of paparazzi any celebrity can imagine.
Fifth, this standard applies not only to the person who takes the photograph, but potentially to anyone who uses the photographs in any capacity. The only existing publication-related laws even approaching such a strict liability standard involve child pornography. As Josh notes based on one of his law review articles, many of these constitutional defects could be fixed by adding a newsworthiness exception to the law and limiting the scope and nature of damages that can be awarded. These tweaks would bring the law more in line with existing privacy law, while still respecting the Constitution. Protecting privacy in public is a laudable goal that in our constitutional jurisprudence dates back at least to the seminal article “The Right to Privacy” by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis. Indeed, we’re all affected by the sweet emotion of seeing celebrities harassed by the paparazzi (viz., Princess Diana). The Steven Tyler Act, however, misses a very important thing – that privacy and the First Amendment can coexist.
Hawaii shouldn’t walk this way, instead promoting the right of privacy that our society should strive for while ensuring the freedom of speech. Let’s not be jaded by the costs of freedom. Anything else is just crazy.
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