Have you ever felt uneasy about working with a political candidate or political party for fear you might be breaking some arcane campaign finance rule? I have. Digging around the Federal Elections Commission website FEC.gov wasn’t a lot of help at first, but then I found a link there to https://www.youtube.com/user/FECTube. It is a trove in nicely explained information. I haven’t digested more than a fraction of it so far. The video above answered a lot of questions I had.
First, remember these are the FEDERAL (Federal Elections Commission, FEC) rules, not the Washington State rules. The state rules are somewhat different and we’re not dealing with them today.
I got to thinking about this because I know a lot of people who are donating time and effort to political campaigns. It is clear to me that the monetary advantages of a Republican incumbent can only be overcome with “boots on the ground” AND money. I’m delighted to see the ranks swelling every day, folks knocking on doors, talking to neighbors, planting signs…and friends with Republican leanings acknowledging it is time for a change….
I urge you to watch the video above, but the short take is this:
- The volunteering of all personal services, as long as one receives no compensation in return, is NOT considered a campaign contribution. So writing a blog, canvassing, training others, or hosting an event in one’s home related to a federal candidate or a political party…all that is NOT a campaign contribution. Phew!
- The use of space in a home, library, church or community center is also NOT a campaign contribution as long as it is a space that a member or citizen can ordinarily use without paying a fee. If there usually IS a fee then that should be reported as a contribution. A discount offered to whatever is the regular fee is also an “in-kind” contribution and should be reported.
- “Independent Expenditures,” like a billboard not coordinated with a Party or a Campaign have special reporting rules I’d have to study more.
There is always a lot more to learn.
If you want to get out in the nice weather tomorrow as one of those volunteers, there is a canvass in the Perry District from 10A-1PM. Check it out and sign up here.
Back on Monday.
Keep to the high ground,
Megan Perez is leaving McMorris Rodgers’ staff, according to her LinkedIn page, Most of you have probably never heard of Ms. Perez, but I find her story most interesting. Ms. Perez has served McMorris Rodgers as her “Legislative Director” for a year and eight months and as “Policy Advisor” for the ten months prior. As Legislative Director Ms. Perez annualized salary was $94,000 (see page 1370). Her LinkedIn page is worth visiting. Ms. Perez lays claim to a pivotal roll in legislation with which we are familiar, for example, the ABLE Act and the Steve Gleason Act, as well as work to “analyze and provide guidance on legislative policy on healthcare.” It is probably fair to assume Ms. Perez contributed to the last minute insertion into the Omnibus Appropriations (Spending) Bill a nice perk for the Omeros Corporation. I wonder if she is also responsible for McMorris Rodgers, framing the Omeros perk as ensuring access to “safe, innovative, and life-changing drug[s]?” The sole purpose at least of the Omeros drug in question, Omidria, is to dilate the pupil in cataract surgery, (For more detail check out my post from March 27, 2018.)
Ms. Perez is leaving McMorris Rodgers to join the Petrizzo Group. Never heard of it? Neither had I, but through the wonders of the internet you can visit its public face with just a click. I encourage you to visit and read what they offer…and to whom they offer it. The website mentions no partisan lean, only that they “…excel at complicated, high-stakes endeavors that blend skilled thinking, sophisticated strategy and precise execution.” Among the notable accomplishments they cite is “engaging influential policymakers on national healthcare issues.” They appear to me as the perfect example of a firm that makes its money by lobbying. Photos of the U.S. Capitol and Lincoln’s statue in the Lincoln Memorial are featured on the website. (Is Lincoln’s image borrowed as code for a Party whose major fundraising event is a “Lincoln Day” dinner?)
I pursued Ms. Perez’ imminent migration to the Patrizzo Group from McMorris Rodgers’ office while wondering if Ms. Perez were leaving what she may perceive as McMorris Rodgers’ sinking ship. Was she bailing out to the safety of a lobbyist position, part of the infamous D.C. “revolving door” between lawmaker’s offices and the lobbyists who are paid to influence them? While visiting the Petrizzo Group website, I clicked “Our Clients.” There I found eleven corporate insignia from the familiar (Starbucks), to the obscure (BSquare). But right there in the middle was Omeros, one of the companies for which McMorris Rodgers inserted a nice little perk paying out a total $26 million dollars over ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Even better, some investors must have gotten advance word, since the stock price of Omeros jumped 45% over the Wednesday night before the Omnibus Spending Bill finally passed on Friday.
On Good Friday at Centerplace in Spokane Valley McMorris Rodgers was specifically asked about the newspaper reports on the Omeros perk. For an instant she appeared flustered…and immediately reverted to message, defending her insertion to the bill as necessary “to provide patients across the country access to safe, innovative, life-changing drugs.” Omidria, a $400 per dose drug for dilating the pupil, fits none of those adjectives. Either McMorris Rodgers did not do her homework to understand the drugs for which she was putting forward this exception to Medicare rules or she did understand them and assumed the voters would be mollified by her messaging. In either case she failed us and she seems unwilling to live up to that failure. Even if we believed health care in this country were really a free market (it isn’t), how can she justify legislating a specific exception to Medicare rules for the benefit of a select few drug companies?
There is a pattern here. McMorris Rodgers and her Republican colleagues want to rein in the costs of “entitlement” programs, i.e. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. She votes for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. It is just too expensive, too much of a strain on the federal budget to continue, she says…and then she legislates special expenditures out of those same tax coffers for a handful of drug companies.
She is either appeasing a Republican donor or she is in over her head. Either way, she is not representing my best interests or the interests of eastern Washington.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. The Petrizzo Group is not on K Street, the infamous location of so many lobbying firms. If proximity is any measure of wealth and influence take note: the Petrizzo Group is located at an easy ten minute walk from the U.S. Capitol. K Street is twice as far away.
P.P.S. Ms. Perez LinkedIn resume shows she has worked for U.S. Representatives since she graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Political Science in 2011. While still in college she served as an intern with Rep. Bill Young of south Florida, at time the longest-serving Republican member of Congress. It is probably fair to guess Ms. Perez will be amply rewarded in her new position with the Petrizzo Group. Not bad for someone apparently in her late twenties with an undergraduate degree in Political Science.
The beginning of the 115th Congress (running from January 3, 2017 to January 3, 2019) seems like a lifetime ago, but we in Washington State Congressional District 5 would do well to remember it.
Right at the opening of the 115th Congress, McMorris Rodgers, as Chair of the House Republican Congress, presided over a closed door meeting in which the first act was an attempt to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) and put its function under the control of the House Ethics Committee. The key concept here is that the OCE is independent of House leadership, while the House Ethics Committee is directly responsive to the majority party.
Elimination of the independent, non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics at the opening of the 115th Congress was a blatant attempt to avoid scrutiny. It is essentially the House Republicans saying, “We want to control whether or not any ethics investigation of our members moves forward. We’re obviously so ethical we will assume responsibility for policing ourselves.”
What were they thinking?
McMorris Rodgers personally has reason to wish the independent Office of Congressional Ethics didn’t exist. Shawn Vestal wrote a scathing article in the Spokesman on McMorris Rodgers’ involvement in January 2017 in the dust-up after the Republican effort to disband the OCE:
She has a history with the Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee. The former produced a stinging report in 2014 that McMorris Rodgers had apparently broken House rules and federal law by using taxpayer resources in election campaigns, and it recommended the Ethics Committee delve into the matter further.
The committee declined, in utter silence.
Vestal adds: “McMorris Rodgers told a reporter for Cox Media that she would have voted for the proposal had it been brought to the House for a vote.”
I was reminded of ethics referral yesterday when I was researching the Members Representational Allowance. Taxpayer money used to cover House duties must be kept separate from campaign money (and also cannot be used for personal expenses). The allegations against McMorris Rodgers were referred from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (the office she wanted to eliminate) to the House Ethics Committee with the following words, “...there is substantial reason to believe that Representative McMorris Rodgers used congressional funds, staff, and office space for campaign activities.” A specific allegation is that she used taxpayer dollars in her campaign in 2012 to become the Chair of the House Republican Conference, a position she assumed on January 3, 2013. Todd Winer, McMorris Rodgers former communications director (later the same for Raúl Labrador) is one of the sources. Part of his complaint can be read here in Roll Call. In it he adds that he was not the origin of the original complaint.
On December 23, 2013, the Office of Congressional Ethics transmitted its referral of the matter to the House Ethics Committee for further investigation and review. By that time it was clear the House would remain under the control of a Republican majority. Three months later in early 2014 several articles appeared confirming the referral would languish in House Ethics Committee. The issue disappeared from the news until McMorris Rodgers was floated as a contender for a cabinet position heading the Department of the Interior after the Trump election: Read and listen to “Trump’s likely Interior pick from Spokane still under ethics probe” from KUOW on December 13.
Perhaps that article was fresh in her mind when less than a month later she chaired the meeting that tried to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics entirely. Has she been in Washington, D.C. so long she thought no one was paying attention? If the allegations from the OCE referral have no merit why were they not investigated and dispensed with by the House Ethics Committee in 2014 when they received the referral? What are they afraid of?
When McMorris Rodgers offers her slightly nervous toothy smile along with her tired talking points I see a conniving politician who has too long been in Washington. Judging by the article that appeared in Politico on Monday entitled, “The one woman in Republican leadership is under siege” I’m not alone.
Keep to the high ground,
2017 HON. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS OFFICIAL EXPENSES OF MEMBERS. The first column is the Year-to-date, the second column is Quarterly, from the STATEMENT OF DISBURSEMENTS OF THE HOUSE, October 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017, page 1369. You can click on it and scroll around it here.
Ever wonder how McMorris Rodgers…or, similarly, any member of the U.S. House…can afford to keep an office and manage staff in Spokane, Walla Walla, Colville, and Washington, D.C.? Like other U.S. Representatives, McMorris Rodgers’ personal salary is $174,000. $174,000 might provide a home and support for a husband and three children in Washington, D.C., but that wouldn’t begin to cover district offices, staff, and travel. It turns out there is a whole other pool of money, the MRA, that covers those expenses. Furthermore, both the personal salary and the MRA are supposed to be separate and distinct from all that campaign money McMorris Rodgers raises from entities like the National Rifle Association, Omeros Pharmaceuticals, and benefit auctions of AR-15’s (snideness alert). So what’s this “MRA”? How much is it?
As explained in a richly referenced article, the money is allotted from federal coffers, yours and my tax money, money specified in the Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA). The MRA is a prescribed sum currently budgeted between 1.2 and 1.4 million per House member (in round figures). The actual amount offered a House member depends on the Congressional District’s distance from Washington, D.C. and the local cost of office space rental. The MRA is to defray expenses of the House member’s “representational duties,” those being; the personal expenses component; the office expenses component; and the mailing expenses component.
In 2017 McMorris Rodgers’ spent $1,273,844.71 of her MRA. Her actual expenditures are close to the average allowed. (I don’t know the Congressional District 5 maximum allowed amount she had available, only what she actually spent, and that amount is close to the average MRA.) As you can see from the table above, the biggest share of the money, $1,013,209, was paid as staff salaries. So who are these people and what do they get paid? Look at the two tables below, (copied from the same federal document) for the last quarter of 2017. To figure the annual salary multiply by four (the presented numbers are last quarter of 2017 only).
Each House Member is allowed to employ up to eighteen full time staffers. I count sixteen staffers with annualized salaries over $30,000, including four with annual salaries between $95,000 and $120,000. (For reference, $30,000 is $15/hour annualized. $11/hour is the minimum wage in WA, $7.25 in ID.) There are five “shared employees.” I recognize four or five names as employees primarily located in Eastern Washington, and several that are mostly in Washington D.C. I believe office space in D.C. is not paid for out of the Members Representational Allowance.
A few observations:
- $1.3 million annually is quite a large amount of money. Much of it (1/2?) is likely devoted to “constituent services,” i.e. helping Eastern WA people and businesses deal with issues they have with Social Security, the Veterans Administration, and other government programs and services. This is help McMorris Rodgers gets credit for, but it is help every Representative is expected to provide. It’s part of the job
- Most of the staff in Eastern WA seems devoted to interfacing with constituents, not discussing legislation. In fact, my experience has been the local staffers are usually less informed regarding legislation than I am.
- Whoever holds this office uses the money to help advance like-minded individuals by offering internships and work opportunities. During McMorris Rodgers seven two year terms she has fostered the careers of several. Toppling an incumbent House member changes the political landscape of the District more broadly than one might appreciate.
None of this $1.3 is supposed to be spent on political campaigns, including campaigns to acquire leadership positions in the Congress itself. The Members Representational Allowance (MRA) is meant for just what it says, the Member’s duties as a Representative of the District. By law a Representative is not supposed to benefit personally from the Members Representational Allowance, although a Representative may use personal funds to supplement Representational expenses if the expenses exceed the allowance.
Functioning as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives includes managing this $1.3 million “representational” budget for the benefit of the Member’s constituents. Lisa Brown, with five years as Chancellor of EWU Spokane, twenty years in the State House in Olympia, experience as Majority Leader of WA State Senate, and a graduate degree in economics is eminently qualified to step into that role.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. The basic information presented here comes from a series of fascinating articles from Thoughtco.com, in particular an article available here. I highly recommend further reading if you have time.
These numbers are for the last quarter of 2017, so for annual salaries multiply by four. This is publicly available information, the same pdf referenced above, pages 1369 and 1370. Use COMMAND (CMD) + to magnify the table if it is hard to read.
The Spokesman graciously deigned to publish three letters to the editor last Saturday that were gently critical of McMorris Rodgers representation of eastern Washington. Since they were numbers thirteen and fifteen of fifteen letters that day, many of which were of far less local interest than these, I thought I would bring them to your attention.
Brown and public access
Having recently attended forums for both Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and candidate Lisa Brown, I am struck by the marked contrast between how each approaches their constituents.
Brown arrived early, mingled, chatted and laughed with attendees before the forum began. McMorris Rodgers arrived to her town hall (March 30 in the Valley) after the audience was seated, through a locked side door, under the heavy armed guard of six Valley police officers.
I think this says a lot about the accessibility, ease and transparency of these two candidates with the public. I, for one, prefer my representative not be afraid of me!
The new McMorris Rodgers
I have to commend congresswoman McMorris Rodgers for meeting with students, news reporters and other groups who are not safely Republican in the last few weeks. I guess a leopard can change her spots.
For 14 years I’ve watched as Mrs. Rodgers has hidden from the Spokane public behind her phalanx of Republican male congressional leaders and safe meetings back home with fundraisers. She showed little interest in communicating with the rabble and those who didn’t agree with her constant votes against our health care and consistent support of an amazingly unstable president.
Is this a new and improved congressional product … or just a cynical attempt to stave off a loss in November?
Several have remarked to me they long for the days of Tom Foley, the venerable Democratic Rep serving Eastern WA for the thirty years. He was frequently seen in the gym or in coffee shops in the District. He lost to George Nethercutt in 1994 in an election that is beginning to look a lot like this November. Ironically, a pivotal issue was Tom’s opposition to term limits, the same opposition McMorris Rodgers recently declared. I will never forget the short personal response he sent me once. In answer to a suggestion I made, he calmly wrote, “I agree with you, but such a measure just isn’t feasible in Congress at this time.” Gingrich succeeded Tom Foley as Speaker of the House…and things have gotten more and more infeasible from then on.
It is time to vote in a Representative for the 5th District who spends more time here, who listens, and isn’t afraid of her own constituents. Lisa Brown is that Representative.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. The Spokesman has settled into a routine for letters to the editor: Weekdays, two to four. Saturday and Sunday, fourteen or fifteen on most of a dedicated page. The placement of letters reasonably and gently critical of McMorris Rodgers performance last Saturday makes me wonder if they’re confident that many of their reader’s don’t have the persistence to make it reading that far…
On Good Friday I attended the last of McMorris Rodgers’ hastily assembled “Conversations with Cathy.” She arrived with a considerable security detail leading her to the front of the fifty or so people assembled. Her opening remarks made reference to a proud accomplishment, the Steve Gleason Act. She detailed eye tracking devices enabling patients suffering from advanced ALS to communicate. I had heard the story from her before. Why is this story a feature of her every appearance?
Part of the answer to that question is this. Although McMorris Rodgers often lets the words “reach across the aisle” roll off her lips, the Gleason Act is one of only a handful of efforts on her part to actually reach…and, as you will see, even this effort carries a whiff of partisan messaging.
Steve Gleason is familiar to anyone who pays attention to football. He graduated from Gonzaga Prep and WSU; his parents still live in eastern Washington. He went on from local football fame to a career with the New Orleans Saints. There he turned the tide with an outstanding play one afternoon in 2006 just as New Orleans was staggering to its feet after Hurricane Katrina. Then tragedy struck him. Steve was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a horrific disease that finally leaves its victims with little or no voluntary movement except the ability to move their eyes. Steve at the time was only thirty-three, a man recently married and trying to start a family, a football hero with considerable resources. Instead of giving in to despair, he and his family used Steve’s fame, resources, and contacts to become tireless advocates for those suffering from ALS and other neuromuscular diseases.
When Medicare balked at paying for relatively new and expensive technology that allows patients to produce robotic speech by translating their eye movements, Mr. Gleason, his family, his non-profit, and the considerable network of followers pursued a legislative mandate for covering the technology. They enlisted Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and, through Steve’s family in eastern Washington, Cathy McMorris Rodgers to file bills in the Senate and the House. They lobbied. They organized a machine-voice calling campaign to Congresspeople called Robocalls from Humans. They invested themselves, time, and money in the effort petitioning Congress to act to grant money through Medicare to cover the technology.
With all that effort, the Steve Gleason Act passed both Senate and the House in 2015 (unanimously in the House–they did their homework) and was signed by President Obama. The original 2015 Act provided two year funding. In early February this year McMorris Rodgers was able to slip the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act as a rider into one of the last-minute, must-pass Continuing Resolutions and secure funding for the devices through Medicare in perpetuity. It is great story of persistence and bi-partisanship benefiting a group with a horrible disease.
A few years ago I would have ended this story here. After all, it’s a story of persistence. Society and government mustered up to do what’s right by a small group of people affected by hideous diseases. We’re all in this together, right?
Then I read this quote out of the Times Picayune:
“I believe our nation has the infrastructure and funds to provide technology for people who truly have no other voice,” Gleason said. “This is not an entitlement bill, it’s an empowerment bill, for people who want to be productive citizens.” [bold is mine]
What is he trying to say? Mr. Gleason is framing his eponymous bi-partisan law for a conservative audience, an audience for whom the meaning of entitlement is money you receive from the government but do not deserve. Apparently, Mr Gleason is sensitive to the idea that payments of money from Medicare to technology companies for eye-tracking devices for ALS patients might be looked upon as an entitlement. He is anxious to reframe his bill as: “empowerment…for people who want to be productive citizens.” Is there a subtext here suggesting that recipients of Medicare Disability or other government assistance are people who don’t want to be productive?
When the Affordable Care Act was phasing in, people who had lacked health insurance kept showing up in my office at the Spokane Eye Clinic with advanced diabetic eye disease, people with chronic diabetes who before the ACA had to choose between feeding their families and seeking care for their disease. I was able to help a good number of them. As a result many could see well enough to remain employed, feed their families…to “be productive citizens.” Mr. Gleason’s tremendous efforts aside, is the average patient with ALS likely to be more “productive” than a cared-for diabetic who is empowered to remain in the workforce? Mr. Gleason’s statement carries an implied judgement that should make us squirm.
The public face of my patients was not the face of a young sports icon with a family and a painfully visible wasting disease, a young sports icon prepared to frame the money spent on speech technology as empowerment. No, before the ACA my patients suffered quietly with their diabetes as it slowly robbed them of their sight and ability to work. Visual disability that degrades the ability to work is not easily depicted like the withering musculature and deteriorating voice of the young ALS patient, but what is more empowering than the restoration of sight?
Yet, in the same Good Friday “Conversation with Cathy” McMorris Rodgers apparently saw no irony in presenting the Repeal of the Individual Mandate of the Affordable Care Act as one of her proudest achievements. It is a theme she also sang in a Breitbart interview. How does she survive the cognitive dissonance of assuring the funding in perpetuity for ALS patients, while chipping away at the health insurance on which millions depend to remain productive, to remain empowered?
She seems able to focus on individual plight, like that of her son Cole or a Steve Gleason, while unable to grasp the plight of the larger citizenry. It is a failing she shares with her Party, and certainly with her President.
I want a Congresswoman with the ability to generalize, to see the bigger picture. It is time for a change.
Keep to the high ground,