PJ Media

Who Are the Good-Government Advocates in Washington These Days?

On Sunday, Congressional Quarterly’s Brian Friel wrote a New York Times op-ed and joined the latest blood sport among Washington’s insiders and liberals: how to pile on to stop Rep. Darrell Issa and his anticipated congressional investigation of the Obama administration. Issa is slated to be the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which will have very broad investigative powers.

Friel’s advice seemed to be coated with reasonableness. He informs his readers that he relied on 14 independent “good-government” professionals to help him develop a counter list of “Investigations We Could Really Use.”  He solemnly calls them “14 good-government watchdogs — veterans of the oversight process, former public officials, and academics.”

Some of the ideas presented by Friel are worthy of consideration. But the Times did not think it was important to inform their readers that the “impartial” group consisted of a current advisor to the Obama White House, two registered lobbyists who actually lobby the oversight committee, and many left-wing partisans.

The most interesting person among the “good-government” types is Patricia G. McGinnis, who currently serves as an unpaid White House advisor to President Obama on leadership programs for presidential appointees. Last July Raw Story revealed that the Washington Post had misleadingly identified McGinnis as an unbiased policy blogger and did not disclose her ties to the White House. As Hot Air reported:

Meet Patricia McGinnis, a contributor to the Washington Post’s policy blogs, and a big fan of Barack Obama. For instance, in January of this year, McGinnis decried the “chilling partisanship” of Republicans objecting to Obama’s agenda in Congress, and offered Obama “high marks for his policy choices” and saluted how Obama has “risen to every challenge by calling on his excellent leadership team.”

So much for McGinnis’s neutrality and objectivity.

This brings us to the second impartial member of Mr. Friel’s good-government posse, David Marin. Mr. Marin is on the payroll of the Podesta Group, one of the largest Democratic lobby and fundraising shops in Washington.

The Podesta Group was founded by Tony and John Podesta in 1988. The Podesta brothers have been uber-partisans in Washington. In the last two years Tony’s lobbying shop spent an impressive $47 million in lobbying money influencing Congress.

Tony’s brother John was the chief of staff for President Bill Clinton and helped create one of the most powerful think tanks in Washington, the Center for American Progress. The Podesta brothers continue to be very close to the Obama administration.  The White House logs report that Tony met with President Obama or his staff eight times in the first six months of the Obama administration.

As the Washington Post reported about Tony:

With extensive roots in Democratic politics and fundraising, Podesta has managed to hold his position as one of Washington’s most powerful lobbyists while retaining close ties to the Obama administration.

Tony’s wife Heather has her own boutique lobby shop. According to Open Secrets, in 2009 she reported $6.99 million in lobbying income.

But let us get back to Mr. Marin himself. After all, we shouldn’t besmirch his good-government reputation based on his association with Mr. Podesta. It turns out Mr. Marin is not such a neutral figure concerning the House Oversight Committee. For three years, he served as a Democratic staffer on the same committee Mr. Issa is about to chair.  And last year he lobbied hard, representing 30 clients.

For example, Mr. Marin is a registered lobbyist on behalf of — General Motors.  Or as some people now call it, Government Motors.  And Mr. Marin represented the oil giant BP (that good government icon) in the aftermath of its spill.

Then there is former Democratic Congressman Gerry Sikorski, another fair-minded and objective good-government guy. He works at the mega-lobbying office of Holland & Knight. He too is a registered lobbyist who has lobbied the Oversight Committee. Among his scores of clients are a lot of health care stakeholders: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Safety Net Hospitals for Pharmaceutical Access, cardiologists, trauma care doctors, and the biotechnology industry. He also lobbied on behalf of financial institutions, energy companies, Indian tribes, casinos, Verizon, and even California’s capital city of Sacramento. Mr. Sikorsky was named one of the top 50 lobbyists by Washingtonian magazine.

Steve Aftergood is with the left-oriented Federation of American Scientists (FAS). While Mr. Aftergood may have contributed good ideas, FAS has been a cauldron of hard left advocates, supporting the anti-nuclear power movement in the 1970s and opposing President Reagan’s anti-missile defense program as well as  his forward deployment of missiles aimed at the Soviet Union.

On the FAS board of sponsors are people like Stanley Sheinbaum, who joined in 2009. Sheinbaum is an Old Left activist who got financial clout when he married Betty Warner, heir to her dad’s fortune as the co-founder of Warner Bros. Sheinbaum is a mover and shaker at FAS. He has been an apologist for dictators around the world, ranging from Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat to Muammar Gaddafi. Mr. Sheinbaum has a framed photo of Castro on the wall of his comfortable Los Angeles home.

Donald Kettl is the dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy and a member of the liberal Brookings Institution. Brookings is considered the center of liberal research in Washington. And in 2009, when he decided to promote his new book The Next Government of the United States: Why Our Institutions Fail Us and How to Fix Them, Mr. Kettl decided to sell it by happily joining FireDogLake’s ultra-left online book salon.

Interestingly, Mr. Friel did not suggest investigations into ObamaCare, the government takeover of General Motors, cap and trade, net neutrality, or the BP oil spill.

This is not to say that Mr. Friel did not have any good ideas in his op-ed. He suggested that the committee also look into the role of civil service unions, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, loan guarantees, greater transparency, and Congress itself. These are good ideas.

But as a public service, both Mr. Friel and the New York Times failed its readers in not informing us about the partisan nature of his group. Friel blandly calls them “good-government” people, and he believes that should be enough for us. It should go without saying that this label suggests they are detached, impartial people only interested in good governance, which seems like sort of an oxymoron in this town these days.

Contacted by phone, Mr. Friel told Pajamas Media the backgrounds of the people were cut by the Times for space and that it was “an interesting mix” of people. He did not feel the good-government description was a poor description of the people.

This gets us to our final topic: who actually are “good-government” proponents? Since the 1970s, the “good governmentalism” profession has become an expanding cottage industry in the nation’s capital. This subterranean movement largely has been a captive of left-leaning ideas wrapped in gauzy notions of promoting good government. As their track record may suggest, their successes have not been many. In fact, bad government is raging unabated throughout the city.

The hallmark of the “goo goo” folks, as they are sometimes called, is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which now ironically is in shambles after candidate Barack Obama refused any limits on his fundraising and spending during his 2008 presidential campaign.

And as for Ms. McGinnis, Mr. Friel says she was once the CEO of the Council for Excellence in Government. This is true.  However, it was so good at spreading the good word about good government that in 2009 it ran out of money and closed its doors forever.