On the Prowl

On the Prowl

By From the July 2009 - August 2009 issue

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Steele Eyed

Some members of the Republican National Committee who chose not to support Michael Steele for chairman are encouraging reporters to monitor the RNC’s FEC and expense filings after the second quarter. “You’ve got some Republi cans who just don’t like Steele’s style, and you have people who supported others in the race, mostly from Southern states, pushing the antiSteele message,” says an RNC member who did not back Steele on the first two ballots but then did flip to support him.

Steele took some criticism early on for failing to hire a professional staff and for maintaining a high number of consultant contracts, one of the main complaints from grassroots about the previous leadership of Mike Duncan. In fact, it appears that Steele has actually expanded the use of consulting contracts.

But Steele has also shown his fundraising prowess, at least initially outraising the DNC, and surpassing internal RNC expectations for fundraising in the first quarter.

Bayou Buddy

Louisiana attorney general Buddy Caldwell, a Democrat, is already attempting to position himself to challenge Gov. Bobby Jindal. Caldwell maneuvered behind the scenes to implement a monthly 15cent tax on Bayou State citizens’ Internet connections to raise about $2.5 million in new tax revenue to cover investigations of Internet crime. This despite the fact that Caldwell already has money in his budget for such investigations, which often include child pornography.

Jindal had said he would veto the bill if it included new or increased taxes.

But Caldwell, according to some state Republicans, was less concerned about the pedophiles and more concerned about putting Jindal in the politically unpopular position of vetoing a spending bill that would have expanded Internetcrime prosecution.

“You’re seeing Democrats doing what they can to build a case against Jindal,” says state GOP official. “Bobby is doing everything right, focusing on the state, not spending too much time elsewhere even though he could, but guys like Buddy want to dirty him up a bit for the next goround.”

Linda and Larry

In a little-noticed move in early June, the Federal Reserve hired Linda Robertson, the former head of Enron’s Washington government affairs office at the time the company collapsed under an accounting fraud scandal. Robertson ran the office from 2000 through 2002, when it was closed.

Previously she served as a senior adviser in the Clinton administration’s Treasury Depart ment. Now, she will advise Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and the board on the best ways to work and deal with Congress. According to Treasury Department sources, however, Robertson is also expected to be a conduit for her old friend and mentor, Larry Summers, who currently serves as the key economic adviser to President Barack Obama.

“She and Summers are tight,” says a Treasury source, “and Robertson is also very tight with some very influential journalists here in town, so she’s the total package for the Obama team’s needs on the economic front.”

According to reporters who have covered Treasury, Robertson is a close friend of Bloomberg’s Washington bureau chief Al Hunt, who at the time of Robertson’s stint in Treasury was bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.

Robertson’s hire sidesteps the Obama administration’s ban on hiring lobbyists, because the Fed is an independent agency. But that doesn’t mean that the White House isn’t trying to influence hiring in areas it wants to control.

For example, according to sources at the Security and Exchange Commission, the person recently hired by SEC chairman Mary Schapiro to be that agency’s top lobbyist was nixed by Summers because he didn’t feel comfortable with the hire’s background. “We haven’t seen this much input into hiring at the independent agencies in a long time,” says a career staffer at the Federal Trade Commission. “It makes you wonder what they are up to.”

The Stimulus Election

The White House economic team is getting nervous about the 2010 elections and whether the state of the economy will allow Democrats to build on the majorities they already have in Congress. So nervous that, according to some White House sources, the administration is attempting to come up with a new economic measure for the media to start using to report on economic activity.

“It would be like other government indexes, but take into account job creation by stimulus, spending of stimulus dollars for new projects, that kind of thing. But really it’s about trying to put some kind of good news in front of the American people starting next January, when they will start thinking about 2010 and the election cycles.”

This new economic index is just part of an overall public relations campaign on the economy. For example, the White House daily calendar often includes a meeting between President Obama and Vice President Biden to discuss the implementation of the stimulus and recovery. But White House sources say that if the meeting takes place, the discussion rarely focuses on the stimulus plan’s effectiveness or utility.

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