Capital Briefs September 28, 2009

IS MCCAIN-FEINGOLD NEXT? A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week issued a sweeping decision overturning campaign “reform” regulations that have long impeded fund-raising and spending by independent expenditure groups. Acting on a lawsuit brought by the pro-abortion EMILY’s List, the judges ruled that the group’s 1st Amendment rights were violated by limiting its ability to raise and spend money independently on campaigns. (Reagan-named Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson and George W. Bush-named Judge Brett Kavanagh wrote the ruling that said free speech was violated, while another Bush-named judge, Janice Rogers Brown, wrote a separate opinion saying the regulations were unconstitutional for other reasons). The 44-page decision has fueled conservative optimism that the Supreme Court may make a landmark decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case to not only overturn the McCain-Feingold regulatory rules, but also lift the limits on personal and corporate donations to candidates. During the oral arguments before the high court on September 9, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Samuel Alito all asked pointed, unfriendly questions of counsel for the government and other defenders of spending limitations. And Justice Clarence Thomas has long been critical of most forms of campaign regulation.

GOP HEALTHCARE PLANS DISCUSSED AT TOWN HALL: Late last week, Americans for Prosperity conducted a Teletownhall run by AFP President Tim Phillips to provide an update on the progress of Obamacare. Rep. John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.) and Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation were on the call to an estimated 14,000 participants. Shadegg discussed the many Republican alternatives to Obamacare, while providing insight into the Baucus healthcare bill. Conservative opponents found the level of enthusiasm over the healthcare battle and the large number of people calling in to get information about Obamacare very encouraging.
So concluded most political reporters following the recent National Governors Association meeting in Washington. They believe that Republican Governors Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota will at least explore a bid for the presidential nomination in 2012. Barbour made trips to Iowa and New Hampshire over the summer and addressed Republican events. However, the onetime Republican National Chairman repeatedly emphasizes that “every Republican ought to be focused on governors’ races in 2009 and 2010” and says he won’t make a decision on a presidential campaign until after next year’s House elections. Pawlenty, who is stepping down as governor in 2010 after eight years, just set up his own political action committee, the Freedom First PAC, and has laid out a busy nationwide speaking schedule for the next few months. On October 16-17, Pawlenty will be a featured speaker at the Western Conservative Political Action Conference in Newport Beach, Calif.

“CAP AND TAX” UP AGAINST WALL IN SENATE: While the fate of healthcare “reform” remains uncertain in the Senate, opponents of the controversial “cap and trade” climate-control legislation that they call “cap and tax” (because of the higher energy taxes it will cause) are beginning to feel “cautiously optimistic” about its demise. Senate sources privately expect that Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) will now offer a Senate version not much different from the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House earlier this year. “And I can’t think of a single Republican who would support that,” Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Environment committee, told HUMAN EVENTS last week.

HUCKABEE WINS VALUES VOTERS STRAW POLL: The most-reported story to come out of the Values Voters summit in Washington last week was the presidential straw vote. With 597 votes cast in the poll, Mike Huckabee topped the field with 29% of the vote as the first choice of the participants for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Indiana Rep. Mike Pence all came in second with about 12% each. The remaining votes were spread among Newt Gingrich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Ron Paul, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. More than 1,900 social conservatives from throughout the country came to the summit and, organizers told us, more than 219,000 participated on-line, although they could not vote in the poll

KIRK’S HEALTH INDUSTRY TIES: Liberals who were initially happy with the appointment of former Democratic National Chairman Paul Kirk, a long-time Kennedy associate, to fill the seat of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.) then became more aware of the 71-year-old Kirk’s background as a retired lobbyist. Kirk is also a board member at Hartford Financial Services, the umbrella for The Hartford, which sells health coverage to retirees. As the Boston Globe noted, “Until a successor is elected in January, Kirk would wield a critical vote in health insurance and financial industry reforms, raising concerns about potential conflicts.”

“Why in the world would they choose someone who has close ties to the insurance industry?” Wendell Potter, a former health insurance exec-turned-whistleblower, said to the Globe. According to Potter, the health insurance industry has much to gain in the current reform package, especially if coverage is mandated without competition from a government insurance option.