Washington Prowler

The Communications Administration

No special perks for Henry Paulson. Also: MoveOn's "net neutrality" fiasco. Supreme readiness.

By 7.6.06

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NO "I" IN THIS TEAM
When Henry Paulson left the lofty and highly profitable heights of Goldman Sachs to serve as President Bush's third Treasury Secretary, there was much talk among the financial lobbying community in Washington that Paulson has elicited a number of concessions from the White House in return for taking the job.

Paulson was thought to have turned down White House offers to fill the Treasury post at least two times before accepting it. "Here in Washington and up in New York the word was that Paulson was pressing for a very different role as Treasury Secretary than [John] Snow or [Paul] O'Neill had," says a lobbyist in Washington for a large financial services firm.

In fact there were rumors that Paulson had received promises from the Administration that it would re-open policy discussions on global warming and U.S. environmental policy and allow Paulson a role in those discussions. Other rumors had Paulson requesting that he be allowed to chair the President's Council of Economic Advisers.

But none of this talk has been borne out, and in fact Paulson appears to have the same standing as just about every other Bush Cabinet official. Exhibit A: his chief of staff. A number of folks assumed that Paulson would bring in his own people, but like previous high profile corporate types who have taken jobs with this Administration, Paulson is said to be getting a Bush insider for his top manager, this time, former White House and State Department senior communications aide staffer Jim Wilkinson.

Many eyebrows were raised when former Kellogg CEO Carlos Gutierrez came on board as Commerce Secretary and wasn't allowed to bring in his own chief of staff. Instead he picked up outgoing Commerce Secretary Don Evans' chief of staff and then was handed Clare Buchan as the replacement. Buchan had served a chief communications staffer in the White House before heading over to Commerce.

"It's not a coincidence that the White House places communications people in those positions. Gutierrez has been a good messenger for the Administration," says a former Bush Administration official. "Wilkinson especially is one of the best communications guys this Administration has. He'll help Paulson immeasurably."

MOVEON TO ANOTHER DEFEAT
Another issue, another loss for MoveOn.org. Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee cleared major telecom reform legislation that included a consumer focused approach to so-called "net neutrality," an issue being pushed by big high-tech and Internet companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and e-Bay.

Those companies had funneled through their lobbyists and consultants hundreds of thousands to dollars to groups like MoveOn to press Congress for the first real government regulation of the Internet.

Had MoveOn had its way, Google et al. would have had government regulations put in place that would have made it impossible for new competitors to compete against them online.

Like good little soldiers MoveOn and backers of "net neutrality" such as Matt Stoller of "My DD" made "net neutrality" a rallying cry for their followers and placed a political stake in the ground for Sens. Olympia Snowe, Barbara Boxer and John Kerry to grasp.

In the end, the Snowe-Dorgan "net neutrality" amendment lost in committee on an 11-11 vote, while the overall bill cleared it on a 15-7 vote. The marked-up bill included rules widely supported by the telecom and cable companies that gave consumers the right to an open Internet and the ability to file complaints with the FCC about network operator malfeasance online and to have those companies fined $500,000 per confirmed complaint.

Like just about every political fight MoveOn and its ilk have waged, they came up on the short end of the vote, once again raising questions inside the Democrat party and the liberal community whether the so-called "net roots" can muster the kind of broad-based support needed for a major political victory.

"You look at what MoveOn has done and you have to wonder. Claiming a victory like putting Howard Dean in charge of the party isn't going to take you very far," says a Washington lobbyist who has dealt with organized labor and MoveOn at times in the past three years. "They claim they got Barack Obama elected to the Senate, but Obama was going to be elected no matter what. Beyond him, who do they have to show for their efforts? They've had some close races, and maybe they can take credit for [Sen. Rick] Santorum if [Bob] Casey wins in Pennsylvania, but as organizations that can help get out a sustainable vote to win races and policy discussion in Congress, I'm not sold yet."

Part of the problem, say other Democratic consultants, is the elitist tone some MoveOn types take, while others just use hate and profanity to lash out at those they disagree with. "The language on their sites and the hate are just palpable," says another lobbyist. "We don't want to be associated with those types of people. That's the kind of language and talk that comes back to bite you during public debates, when you're asked whether that kind of talk and those views are representative of your own positions. Look, Cindy Sheehan is probably a nice person. I feel sorry for her, but no one who wants to win elective office wants to be publicly associated with her views. The same goes for a lot of these people on the far left."

That, and the fact that a number of these groups now appear to be working not only with longstanding Democrat supporters like organized labor, but also large corporations.

"To my way of thinking, there's just no way that groups like MoveOn should've been doing the bidding of Microsoft or Google," says another Democrat-leaning lobbyist. "By taking their money, they are turning a grassroots organization and making it an Astroturf organization with less and less credibility. This 'net neutrality' fight was just a bad thing to be getting involved in."

READY TO POUNCE
With the end of the Supreme Court session, rumors continue to float through Washington that yet another judicial retirement is imminent. About two weeks ago, the rumors began to quietly percolate that one of two liberal judges was looking to exit. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is thought to be in weakened health and Justice John Paul Stevens, while believed to be in good health, is said to be growing weary.

Some people weren't buying it, at least for Stevens. "He's a horse. He has clerks that do much of the heavy lifting, and he still has good focus and energy despite his years for what he has to do," says a knowledgeable SCOTUS observer. Stevens is 86.

Regardless of the rumors, we hear the White House has not been idle on the Supreme Court front. The White House Counsel's office has been vetting potential nominees for almost six months, and according to White House insiders is prepared to move quickly with a nominee should something take place over the next couple of months of down time for the court.

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