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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on July 21, 2014

  • Bruce Braley’s “farmer” gaffe might hurt long-term because it fits into a wider pattern about the would-be Iowa senator [John Tabin/Rare, earlier]
  • Disbarred ex-D.A. and longtime Overlawyered favorite Andrew Thomas running for GOP Arizona governor nomination [Phoenix New Times]
  • Did Wisconsin John Doe probe include email dragnet? Yahoo billed DA for “costs associated with subpoena compliance” [M.D. Kittle/Wisconsin Reporter, more]
  • “We need a Democratic sweep. Stay focused.” — work-hours tweet by former Federal Election Commission enforcement lawyer whose hard drive, like that of her former FEC boss Lois Lerner, now tragically missing [House Oversight report, Daily Caller]
  • Texas hurricane claims: megadonor Steve Mostyn “successfully drags state senator into TWIA lawsuit” [Legal NewsLine, TLR]
  • No more pay to play? Two Ohio lawmakers seek to curb campaign giving by law firms hired by state’s attorney general [Aurora Advocate]
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s research on medical bankruptcy may be shaky, but it’s hard to fault her taste in English sports cars [Ira Stoll, American Spectator]

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“It is a truism that laws tend to be arranged for the benefit of the political class.” Even so, would you expect Connecticut law to provide that private employers must hold open the jobs of full-time elected officials for as much as eight years in case they decide to return? My new blog post at Cato has details.

Paul Caron at the justly admired TaxProf blog has been patiently documenting the IRS scandal since the start and his daily link roundups are now as relevant as they have ever been. More: CNN, John Hinderaker/PowerLine, A. Barton Hinkle (finger of responsibility points at Congress), Peter Suderman. Earlier here, etc.

Update: IRS said on Tuesday that computer crashes swallowed without a trace the emails of several other employees central to the nonprofit-targeting probe, and admitted it waited months to tell congressional investigators that it did not expect to produce Lois Lerner’s emails.

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From a September New Yorker profile by writer Ryan Lizza of Tom Steyer, the billionaire political donor promoting environmental causes:

Steyer is, at first glance, an unlikely leader of the environmental movement. He is rangy and square-jawed, and he has exquisite establishmentarian credentials, to say nothing of a vast pile of money. He honed his raffish sense of humor at Phillips Exeter Academy, and went on to get degrees from Yale and Stanford business school. Before starting his own fund, he worked at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley….

This must represent the New Yorker editors’ special idiomatic use of the word “unlikely” to signify “clichéd, stereotypical, and exactly as you would expect.” William Tucker has written at more length about the subject.

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on May 26, 2014

  • NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver hangs blame for a retrospectively unpopular position on the *other* Sheldon Silver. Credible? [NY Times via @jpodhoretz]
  • Julian Castro, slated as next HUD chief, did well from fee-splitting arrangement with top Texas tort lawyer [Byron York; earlier on Mikal Watts]
  • 10th Circuit: maybe Colorado allows too much plebiscitary democracy to qualify as a state with a “republican form of government” [Garrett Epps on a case one suspects will rest on a "this day and trip only" theory pertaining to tax limitations, as opposed to other referendum topics]
  • “Mostyn, other trial lawyers spending big on Crist’s campaign in Florida” [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine; background on Crist and Litigation Lobby] “Texas trial lawyers open checkbooks for Braley’s Senate run” [Legal NewsLine; on Braley's IRS intervention, Watchdog]
  • Contributions from plaintiff’s bar, especially Orange County’s Robinson Calcagnie, enable California AG Kamala Harris to crush rivals [Washington Examiner]
  • Trial lawyers suing State Farm for $7 billion aim subpoena at member of Illinois Supreme Court [Madison-St. Clair Record, more, yet more]
  • Plaintiff-friendly California voting rights bill could mulct municipalities [Steven Greenhut]
  • John Edwards: he’s baaaaack… [on the law side; Byron York]
  • Also, I’ve started a blog (representing just myself, no institutional affiliation) on Maryland local matters including policy and politics: Free State Notes.

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Sen. Harry Reid seems to have been central:

“We felt really good the last couple of days,” said the tech lobbyist. “It was a good deal—one we could live with. Then the trial lawyers and pharma went to Senator Reid late this morning and said that’s it. Enough with the children playing in the playground—go kill it.”…

Trial lawyers are heavy donors to Democratic politicians, including Reid. … The long history of the divide over other kinds of legal tort reform loomed over the bill, which was dubbed the Innovation Act in the House. The fact that it was the trial lawyers’ lobby that reportedly delivered the death blow suggests that the rift only got wider as debate dragged on.

Key Litigation Lobby allies like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) spoke out against the legislation on the Senate floor. [Joe Mullin, ArsTechnica]

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A federal judge has quashed the stunningly abusive “John Doe” proceedings that had resulted in midnight raids on the homes of leading conservative activists across the state. I’ve got more in a new Cato post; fuller coverage at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Watchdog.org (and series), and the decision itself is here. Earlier coverage here, here, and here. I conclude:

The citizens of Wisconsin must now demand a full accounting of how these raids could have happened. They should also insist on changes in state law, in particular the “John Doe” law, aimed at ensuring that nothing like them ever happens again.

Update: Seventh Circuit panel stays ruling pending appeal.

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After a long career as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives deeply unsympathetic to business concerns, he became a restaurant owner in Washington, D.C., and discovered a lot of things worth knowing about how the world works [Thomas Heath, Washington Post] More: Greenfield.

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on April 11, 2014

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Laws requiring campaign donation disclosure can reinforce conformist pressures, notes my colleague Ilya Shapiro on the episode of the tech CEO who stepped down after an outcry over his donation to California’s Prop 8 campaign a few years ago. [Forbes] On the wider significance of the episode (not mostly one of law or regulation, since the government did not and in my view should not get involved either way), I recommend Conor Friedersdorf’s careful analysis in the Atlantic.

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Bruce Braley stumbles

by Walter Olson on March 26, 2014

Rep. Bruce Braley, a former head of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, has since his election been perhaps the most diligent advocate of Litigation Lobby interests in the House of Representatives. He had also been considered the front-runner for the Senate seat of departing Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, until a covert video leaked out of Braley apparently fund-raising at a trial lawyer gathering in Texas [Des Moines Register]:

To put this in stark contrast, if you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone’s who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way on the Senate Judiciary Committee or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Almost nothing about the remarks — including the slighting tone toward Grassley, senior senator and a popular figure in the state — is likely to increase Braley’s appeal to Iowa voters. Dan McLaughlin writes:

As a lawyer myself, I like the idea that we should have some lawyers on the Senate Judiciary Committee and on its staff, but the whole point of democracy is that the common man gets a say in how he is governed, not just the experts. Relatedly, Braley’s stress on “your background, your experience, your voice” just emphasizes how he sees the voice and interests of trial lawyers as one that will be very different from that of farmers. …

he manages to sneak in the fact that he’s been a longstanding opponent of tort reform, and doesn’t even bother to come up with some focus-group-tested euphemism for reform. He’s bluntly telling the trial lawyers in the audience that he’s for their interests – not like those Iowa farmers.

A Grassley spokeswoman said that if it was somehow improper for a non-lawyer to lead a committee on legal matters, “a trial lawyer shouldn’t be involved in policy making about agriculture, or energy, or health care.” Per the Washington Post, “Over the course of his legislative career, Braley has raised $3.5 million from lawyers and law firms.”

And Twitter was kind of brutal:

More: James Taranto, WSJ (“So God made a lawyer”). And here’s a flashback clip where Braley badgers well-known health policy expert Sally Pipes over whether she has an advanced degree.

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Texas: a ploy fails

by Walter Olson on March 5, 2014

“Flush with trial lawyer cash, the PAC’s public face is ‘Texans 4 Justice,’ which portrays itself as a conservative grassroots group.” It didn’t work: Texas GOP primary voters yesterday returned incumbent Supreme Court justices. [Texas Observer, Houston Chronicle, earlier]

Related: Plaintiff’s lawyer Steve Mostyn, “omnipresent” in Austin, and his involvement with “Conservative Voters of Texas” [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine]

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on January 24, 2014

  • John Lott Jr. argues in new book that judicial-nominations system is broken; responses from Michael Teter, Clint Bolick, John McGinnis [Cato Unbound]
  • “Weaponized IRS” meets Administration’s political needs at cost of future public trust [Glenn Reynolds, USA Today]
  • “For some time, however, cause lawyers have moved in and out of government, thus complicating the traditional picture of lawyer-state opposition.” [Douglas Nejaime, "Cause Lawyers Inside the State," SSRN via Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Gun rights: public opinion has changed over the decades in a big way [Bryan Caplan, Steven Greenhut]
  • “Mostyn Law Firm donates $1 million to help Wendy Davis in Texas governor’s race” [Washington Examiner, New Republic] Plaintiff’s bar supporting GOP primary challenges to Texas Supreme Court incumbents Phil Johnson, Jeff Brown, and Chief Justice Nathan Hecht [TLR] More: Legal NewsLine (Mark Lanier Law Firm largely funding challengers)
  • Nassau’s Kathleen Rice: “Anti-Corruption Panel Co-Chair Receives Big Donations From Sheldon Silver’s Law Firm” [Ken Lovett, NYDN]
  • Rule of thumb: a political party leans libertarian in proportion to the number of years since it last held the White House [Orin Kerr]
  • Dept. of Justice indicts a prominent Obama critic on campaign finance charge [Ira Stoll; more above]

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Politics roundup

by Walter Olson on December 11, 2013

  • “Who’s Afraid of Political Speech?” (spoiler: incumbents) [Roger Pilon, Cato] “None of this was perceived as a major problem so long as the 501(c)(4) category was dominated by the political left” [Brad Smith, WSJ]
  • Texas trial lawyers not all of one mind over extent of political involvements [Texas Tribune, Southeast Texas Record]
  • Sen. Mark Pryor, a key architect of the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad CPSIA law, faces tough re-election race in Arkansas [Politico]
  • RNC asked to take stand for Americans overseas hurt by FATCA tax law [McClatchy]
  • Richard Epstein recalls Chris Christie’s unlovely tactics as a prosecutor [Ira Stoll, Future of Capitalism]
  • That time Texas politico Wendy Davis sued the Fort Worth paper over its coverage of her campaign [Andrew Stiles, NRO]
  • “Low political knowledge levels mainly due to lack of demand for info, not lack of supply” [Ilya Somin, Jack Shafer]
  • SEC backs off plan to expose companies to harassment over outlays to politically oriented nonprofits, and NYT (thinking only of shareholders’ welfare of course) is sad about that [Marc Hodak, David Silvers/CEI, NYT] Sen. Warren seems to enjoy new capacity to use position, Durbin-like, to punish political foes [David Henderson]

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A secret special prosecutor wielding “kitchen-sink” subpoenas takes aim at persons and groups who supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in his recent showdown with public employee unions. “The probe began in the office of Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, though no one will publicly claim credit for appointing Mr. Schmitz, the special prosecutor. The investigation is taking place under Wisconsin’s John Doe law, which bars a subpoena’s targets from disclosing its contents to anyone but his attorneys. … [Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O'Keefe] adds that at least three of the targets had their homes raided at dawn, with law-enforcement officers turning over belongings to seize computers and files.” [WSJ "Review and Outlook"]

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Why isn’t there greater revulsion when political mobs assail the personal residences of officials they disagree with? And who will be next? [Mark Krikorian; earlier here, etc.] (& welcome Instapundit readers)

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Friends of liberty? Not exactly:

Sen. Lindsey Graham would propose censoring Americans’ “snail” mail if he thought it would help protect national security, the South Carolina Republican said Tuesday. But for now, he says he doesn’t think it’s necessary.

“For now.” Nice. And Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) wants to prosecute reporters who publish leaked material. Meanwhile, say what you will about Glenn Greenwald, he’s willing to call out by name some “principle-free, hackish, and opportunistic” media lefties whose views on surveillance and civil liberties have proved malleable.

P.S., a reminder: Rep. Peter King made his name as an apologist for unspeakable IRA terrorism [Riggs]

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Apple on the skewer

by Walter Olson on May 27, 2013

“Apple doesn’t have a political action committee to fund incumbents’ re-elections. Apple doesn’t hire many congressional staff or any former congressmen as lobbyists. Apple mostly minds its own business — and how does that help the political class?” [Tim Carney, Washington Examiner]

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