Tag Archives: lobbying

Chastain enlivens political thriller ‘Miss Sloane’

There’s never a hair out of place in “Miss Sloane ,” a painstakingly slick political thriller from director John Madden about a brilliant lone wolf lobbyist consumed with the win. It’s a wannabe Aaron Sorkin-meets-Shonda Rhimes glimpse into the hollow and cynical world of inside the beltway dealings from first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera that’s never quite snappy, insightful or salacious enough to be as fun or damning as it should be.

All the pieces are there, especially in the film’s subject — the steely Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), a pill-popping master manipulator who is always at the ready with a perfect quip, biblical verse or history lesson for the moment. She’s the kind of do-it-all wonder woman who is just as comfortable working a room of scuzzy Washington insiders or pleading the fifth at an intimidating congressional hearing as she is directing a team of spooks to illegally surveil someone with a camera-equipped cockroach.

Elizabeth Slone’s mantra is that lobbying is all about foresight and making sure you play your trump card after the other guys play theirs. Our first glimpse of her in action shows her willfully neglecting Senate ethics rules by arranging some luxury travel for a congressman and his family to try to sway him on a palm oil tax initiative. She’s a mercenary who is out for the win at all costs, and she’s the best at it.

But she also has principles, and leaves her top firm for the opposition when a powerful gun group asks her to devise messaging to turn women against universal background checks for gun ownership. Her cavalier dismissal of a massive new client for her firm enrages her boss, a scenery chewing Sam Waterston, and makes the audience a little more intrigued about why this woman does what she does.

Now fighting for the underdogs, an increasingly obsessed, Elizabeth uses everything at her disposal to try to ensure that the background check bill passes, testing the loyalty and limits of those around her (including the firm’s head played by Mark Strong, and an ambitious protege in Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with her sliding morality and deep distrust of others. Relationships are nothing but arsenal (and thus disposable) and she’s the only one who will ever know the grand plan.

The only person who manages to get close to Elizabeth is an inquisitive male escort with a heart of gold (Jake Lacy) who gets her to say that she chose to forgo a simpler life with kids and family and whatnot for her job. That life wasn’t for her in her early 20s and isn’t for her now, in her late 30s, either. It’s not the most revealing conversation, but we’ve let many a male character get away with far less.

While it is fun to see Chastain as a powerful boss lady, raising a martini glass to her competitors (including a sniveling Michael Stuhlbarg) who she’s just publicly embarrassed with another move of political cunning, the story itself just skates along an already well-established surface of corrupt Washington narratives. It fails to add any distinctive flair to the genre, and, despite its sleek composition and top-notch talent (including John Lithgow as a congressman), seems more like prestige television than anything else.

Then there’s the matter of timing. “Miss Sloane” has the misfortune of coming out in this political moment. Crafted in a different climate about a still-relevant issue, it should have been more resonant. Instead, through no fault of its own, it already feels woefully out of date.

Watchdog: Seller of EpiPen heavily lobbied Wisconsin GOP

Citizen Action of Wisconsin says Mylan, the seller of EpiPen, “contributed thousands of dollars to GOP state legislators in Wisconsin and spent tens of thousands on lobbying to influence the Legislature to help it increase its market in Wisconsin. The legislation is helping Mylan build the monopoly it needs to overcharge for the medication.”

Since 2014, Mylan’s corporate PAC made thousands of dollars in contributions in Wisconsin exclusively to Republican state legislators, focusing on those who serve on the Senate Health Committee, according to CAW based on data compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Mylan also spent $42,000 between 2013 and 2014 and $24,500 between 2015 and 2016 lobbying in Wisconsin on issues “… affecting the manufacture, distribution, or sale of prescription drugs and medical devices,” as well as on what became 2013 Wisconsin Act 239 and 2015 Wisconsin Act 35 and broadly on “anything relating to generic pharmaceuticals.”

These two measures expanded the scope of users of EpiPens to “recreational and educational camp, college, university, day care facility, youth sports league, amusement park, restaurant, place of employment, and sports arena,” as well as “public, private, or tribal schools.”

Together this expansion is projected to cost the state $77,500 per year for the state to administer.

CAW said “in return for its political donations and lobbying, Mylan has successfully induced state legislators into participating in its marketing scheme to wring windfall profits out of Wisconsin families seeking protection from severe allergic reactions.

The group cited a Wisconsin Public Radio radio report and said Mylan has used state legislation to expand the EpiPen market “in order to position itself to reap a cash windfall from raising prices. With no justification other than profit, Mylan has increased the price of EpiPens by 5 fold since 2007, to the current price of $633 for a two-pack.”

“It is hard to imagine much worse than a family priced out of a medication that could save their child’s life because of the greed of a drug corporation,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of CAW. “Mylan is engaging in grossly unethical business practices with the assistance of state legislators. Under current Wisconsin law, drug corporations like Mylon have the unlimited ability to charge unjustified prices for life-saving medication.

“What Mylan is doing is like selling food or water at a grossly inflated price during a natural disaster. Wisconsin families are trying to pay the inflated price because of the potential life-saving value of the drug.”

CAW said lawmakers should stop promoting the expansion of the EpiPen market and take up state Rep. Debra Kolste’s legislation on prescription drug transparency, which would force Mylan to justify the price of its medications.

Pop or fizzle: Are soda taxes gaining steam?

A sip of soda will become more expensive next year in Philadelphia, which recently became the second city in the United States to pass a tax on sugary beverages — after Berkeley voters passed one in 2014.

The Philadelphia measure, approved by the City Council in June, could lend momentum to efforts by public health advocates to get similar taxes enacted elsewhere around the nation.

Voters in three Northern California cities — San Francisco, Oakland and Albany — will decide in November whether to approve such taxes. A soda tax initiative in San Francisco in 2014 failed to get the two-thirds vote needed to pass.

Several states also have tried and failed to pass soda taxes. In California, a bill to do so died this spring.

Outside of the United States, Mexico, England and France also tax sugar-laden beverages.

Advocates of taxing these drinks say that they contribute to high rates of obesity and diabetes, and that putting a bigger price tag on them can reduce consumption and improve people’s health. Critics argue the taxes are unpopular and that it is discriminatory to single out one item in the grocery cart.

The American Beverage Association, one of the staunchest opponents of soda taxes, has funded successful opposition campaigns throughout the United States, including in California.

The association has spent $64.6 million since 2009 fighting such initiatives — including more than $9 million just to defeat the proposed San Francisco tax in 2014, according to a report last year by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. Coca-Cola and Pepsi have also been big contributors to the opposition.

Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the beverage trade group, said there is no evidence that soda taxes make anyone healthier. “Obesity has been rising … while soft drink consumption has been declining,” she said. “It would defy logic to say that soft drink consumption is driving obesity.”

Overall, soda sales dropped 1.2 percent in 2015, according to Beverage Digest, which tracks the industry, continuing a downward trend.

Kane added that taxing any grocery item is a “slippery slope” that makes other groceries vulnerable to taxation.

To hear more about the campaigns for soda taxes, we spoke with Harold Goldstein, executive director of California-based Public Health Advocates, who has played an active role in some of these efforts. A transcript of the conversation below has been edited for clarity and space.

Q: What are the health and medical effects of drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages?

It is now proven that sugary beverages are a leading contributor to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. When we consume liquid sugar, the body converts much of that sugar to fat in the liver, causing fatty liver disease. We now have an epidemic in this country of fatty liver disease.

There are studies showing, for example, if you drink two sodas a day for just two weeks, that your unhealthy cholesterol, your LDL cholesterol, will go up 20 percent and that your triglycerides will go up 20 percent. If you drink that amount for six months, the amount of fat in your liver will go up 150 percent. This is a dramatic impact in a short period of time because our bodies are not designed to consume liquid sugar.

Q: How big is the problem of obesity and diabetes in the U.S.?

The obesity and diabetes epidemics are among the most fundamental public health problems facing our country today. They impact every demographic group. At the same time, they are a particular problem in low-income communities and communities of color, in large part because it’s in those communities where there is the least access to healthy food and the least access to opportunities to be physically active.

We know that diabetes rates are going to increase by 80 percent in the next five years, costing the state $15 billion more in direct health care costs. With that kind of money on the table … it is imperative that we invest in diabetes prevention. Whether it is through a soda tax, through the state legislature or state general funds, it is time to establish a major statewide diabetes prevention campaign in California.

Q: A recent report by your organization and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that more than half of Californians have either diabetes or prediabetes. Aside from sugar-sweetened beverages, what else is causing this?

We have created a world that is designed for diabetes. We have fast food outlets on every corner. We have staggering portion sizes of sugary beverages and restaurant meals and everything from bagels to burgers. We have gotten rid of [physical education] in schools. We allow unregulated advertising of unhealthy products to children.

Q: Why target sugary beverages and not other junk food?

A: If you eat a candy bar, it takes hours to digest it. The liquid sugar is just floating sugar molecules and we absorb that sugar in as little as 30 minutes. The research is continuing to show that sugar itself is a particular problem, and perhaps the biggest problem. We know that the body turns sugar into fat. [Soda] is the right place to start. It represents half of the sugar in the food supply, it is the largest source of sugar and our body treats it differently.

Q: In Philadelphia, the mayor argued for the new tax based on the revenue it would bring in, rather than the health risks of soda. Do you think that helped get it approved?

I think different communities are going to support soda taxes for different reasons, in large part based on what the funds are going to be used for. In Berkeley, the revenues go into the general fund. City council members wanted that money to be dedicated to obesity and diabetes prevention efforts, as they have done. That was something clearly important to voters in Berkeley. In Philadelphia, the funds are dedicated to a variety of things, especially pre-K [education] in low-income communities and parks and rec programs. It is important that through this democratic process, residents get to decide how they want to use the revenues raised by such a tax.

Q: The effort to pass a soda tax in California died in committee this spring. Can you explain what the bill would have done and what happened to it?

The bill would have established a 2 penny-per-ounce fee on sugary beverages. As a fee, it would have required that all the revenues raised be dedicated to mitigating harm caused by those products. As has happened now five times in the state legislature, the beverage industry put their corporate might behind their lobbying efforts and successfully killed the bill.

Q: How difficult is it to overcome opposition by the soda industry?

What we are learning is that it’s far easier to enact soda taxes at the local level than at the state level in California. The beverage industry has enormous power in the state Legislature. And getting it passed in California requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature, which is a big hurdle. Other states don’t have that hurdle. There are a number of states that are currently working on it in one way or another.

Q: Critics say that soda taxes won’t reduce obesity rates and give government too much control over consumer choice. What do you think about the argument that this might not be the best way to address diabetes and obesity?

Soda taxes are one way to address the diabetes and obesity epidemic. What has been shown in Berkeley and Mexico, where the tax has now been in effect for quite some time, is that those taxes reduce consumption of sugary beverages, which we know are a leading contributor to the epidemic.

At the same time, those taxes provide funds to pay for much needed programs in communities. Soda taxes aren’t the end-all and be-all of obesity and diabetes prevention. There is a lot more that can and needs to be done to address the epidemic.

Q: As public health advocates like yourself work to reduce access to these beverages, what sort of alternatives are you promoting?

The biggest solution is to encourage and support people to drink water instead of sugar. It is the simplest, easiest change that any of us can make to reduce our chance of getting diabetes. Sixteen teaspoons of sugar in every 20-ounce beverage is way more than our body can handle and still be healthy.

Q: Will there be another try to get a statewide tax in California?

I am sure there will be, with Philadelphia passing theirs. One or more of the soda taxes in the Bay Area are likely to pass. I think that in the coming years, states around the country will also establish soda taxes.

Published from Kaiser Health News under a creative commons license. KHN is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Soda pop industry pumps $100 million into defeating public health initiatives

Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and the American Beverage Association have spent at least $106 million to defeat public health initiatives at the federal, state, and local levels since 2009, according to an analysis conducted by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The watchdog group says the actual amount spent by the soda industry is much greater, since campaign finance and lobby expenses are not available in 10 out of the 23 jurisdictions that have considered policies aimed at reducing sugar drink consumption.

The soda industry ramped up its federal lobbying spending dramatically in 2009. That year, legislators were exploring new federal excise taxes on soda as one potential funding source for health care reform. Disclosure reports indicate menu labeling, school nutrition and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were also among the industry’s interests. But compared with the industry’s pre-2009 baseline spending, CSPI estimates that the industry spent $52 million at the federal level opposing public health initiatives.

At the state level, the industry spent $16.7 million in Washington state in a successful campaign to overturn at the ballot box a 2-cent per 12-ounce tax passed by the legislature.

Between 2009 and 2015, the beverage industry spent $15.2 million to defeat several measures in New York state, including a proposed state-wide soda tax and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to cap the size of restaurant soda servings to 16 ounces.

Between 2013 and 2015, the industry spent $2.4 million to unsuccessfully oppose a proposed soda tax in Berkeley, California, and spent $9.2 million in 2014 to successfully oppose a similar tax in San Francisco. The latter proposal had majority support but failed to reach the required two-thirds threshold.

“Like the tobacco industry before it, the soda industry is spending heavily and spending strategically and has mostly been successful at blocking federal, state and local public health measures aimed at reducing soda-related disease,” said CSPI director of health promotion policy Jim O’Hara. “However, it’s unclear whether the industry will be able to preserve its winning streak when it has to fend off a greater number of soda tax or warning label proposals simultaneously.”

Overall, the American Beverage Association spent $64.6 million to fight sugar drink initiatives.

Much of its money was spent at the DC-based public affairs firm Goddard Gunster and the media buying firm GCW Media services.

Soda industry spending is also bipartisan, and flows to vendors with Republican ties — such as Public Opinion Strategies — as well as Democratic ties — such as The Mellman Group, Beneson Strategy Group, and Dewey Square Group.

Milwaukee Bucks spent more money lobbying Legislature than any other group this year

The Milwaukee Bucks spent more money lobbying the Wisconsin Legislature than any other organization during the first half of the year, as the NBA team was pushing for approval of a new basketball arena, a report released Friday showed.

The state elections board, which oversees lobbying, reported that the Bucks spent just over $482,000 on lobbying through June. The next highest was the Wisconsin Hospital Association at nearly $379,000 followed by the state chamber of commerce at nearly $349,000.

The Bucks’ lobbying paid off. The Legislature, on bipartisan votes, ultimately approved spending $250 million in taxpayer money on a new stadium for the team. Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure into law earlier this month.

The amount spent by the Bucks doesn’t include lobbying done on the arena bill in July, which is when it passed both the Senate and Assembly. Those figures will be reported in January.

The budget, which dominated legislative debate in the first half of the year and into mid-July before it was passed, elicited more than 48,500 hours of lobbying. That comes to 367 hours for each of the 132 lawmakers, or two hours each and every day from January through June for every member of the Legislature.

Hours of lobbying accounts for far more than just in-person arm-twisting and includes such things as research and outreach to the public.

The two most heavily lobbied topics within the budget were Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to change how medical assistance and long-term care services are delivered.

The first and third most-lobbied bills, outside of the budget, were Republican-backed Assembly and Senate measures to eliminate the prevailing wage law, which sets a minimum salary for construction workers on government projects.

Changes to that law were ultimately approved as part of the budget.

The second-most heavily lobbied bill outside the budget was one making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, where private-sector employees can’t be forced to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. The Legislature passed that in March, and Walker signed it into law.

Those three bills received 5,575 hours of lobbying time — or about 42 hours for each of the 132 lawmakers.

Overall, lobbying organizations spent $18.5 million through June. That is an increase of 9 percent over what was spent in the same time period in 2013, the last time a state budget was debated. Spending was still lower than the $23.9 million spent in 2011.

The total number of hours spent lobbying on all issues was 123,522, or 935 hours for each member of the Legislature. There were 598 lobbyists working for 718 registered lobbying firms.

GOP, business leaders: The tea party is over

A slice of corporate America thinks tea partyers have overstayed their welcome in Washington and should be shown the door in next year’s congressional elections.

In what could be a sign of challenges to come across the country, two U.S. House races in Michigan mark a turnabout from several years of widely heralded contests in which right-flank candidates have tried – sometimes successfully – to unseat Republican incumbents they perceive as not being conservative enough.

In the Michigan races, longtime Republican businessmen are taking on two House incumbents – hardline conservative Reps. Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio – in GOP primaries. The 16-day partial government shutdown and the threatened national default are bringing to a head a lot of pent-up frustration over GOP insurgents roughing up the business community’s agenda.

Democrats hope to use this rift within the GOP to their advantage. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House committee to elect Democrats, insists there’s been “buyer’s remorse with House Republicans who have been willing to put the economy at risk,” and that it is opening the political map for Democrats in 2014.

That’s what the Democrats would be expected to say. But there’s also Defending Main Street, a new GOP-leaning group that’s halfway to its goal of raising $8 million. It plans to spend that money on center-right Republicans who face a triumvirate of deep-pocketed conservative groups – Heritage Action, Club for Growth and Freedom Works – and their preferred, typically tea party candidates.

In one race, the group plans to help Idaho eight-term Rep. Mike Simpson, who faces a Club for Growth-backed challenger in a GOP primary.

“These conservative groups have had it all their own way,” said former Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, head of the new group. “They basically come in with millions of dollars and big-foot a Republican primary and you wind up with these Manchurian candidates who are not interested in governing.”

LaTourette said that for the past three years, some “40, 42 House members have effectively denied the Republican Party the power of the majority” that it won in the 2010 election by blocking the GOP agenda.

Defending Main Street is meeting Nov. 5 in New York with wealthy potential donors.

Call it the wrath of establishment Republicans and corporate America, always considered the best of friends. Since the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, they’ve watched the GOP insurgents slow a transportation bill and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, block a treaty governing the high seas and stand in the way of comprehensive immigration legislation.

The final straw was the bitter budget standoff that partly shuttered the government, precipitated by Republicans like Amash and Bentivolio who enlisted early in the campaign demanding that President Barack Obama dismantle his health care law in exchange for keeping the government operating.

Even after 16 days of a shutdown, falling poll numbers for the GOP and a threatened economy-jarring default, the two broke with their House Republican leaders and voted against the final deal to reopen the government.

Long before the shutdown, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent tens of millions boosting mainly Republicans in congressional races, urged the GOP to fund the government and prevent a default, then double back and try and work out changes to the health care law later.

A significant number of House Republicans have given a cold-shoulder to the Chamber’s agenda. Rob Engstrom, the group’s political director, said the Chamber will see how races develop before deciding on its involvement next year.

The latest political dynamic promises to affect the midterm elections – but how? Republicans hope the widespread animosity generated by the shutdown dissipates by next November and they can hold their House majority. Currently, Republicans control 231 seats and Democrats 200. Democrats are widely expected to win the special House election in Massachusetts for the seat of Sen. Ed Markey and would need to gain 17 seats next year to seize control.

“As long as we stay focused on the priorities of the American people, I think we’re going to be fine,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said last week when asked about whether the GOP can hold onto the House.

What about the Michigan races?

In the state’s 11th Congressional District, just northwest of Detroit, David Trott, a businessman involved in real estate finance and a member of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Board of Trustees, is challenging Bentivolio.

In the 3rd Congressional District in the southwest part of the state, Brian Ellis is a 53-year-old Grand Rapids businessman who owns an investment advisory firm and serves on the school board. He describes himself as the true conservative Republican in the race, criticizing Amash’s votes against Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget that cut nearly $5 trillion and a measure reducing taxes for small businesses.

Ellis makes it clear that he would have sided with Boehner on the House GOP’s last-ditch plan to avoid default. He says it never would have reached that point if Republicans hadn’t embraced the tactic of linking the health care law to government funding.

“I certainly agree that Obamacare is an `Obama-onation,'” Ellis said in an interview. “But I think the tactic, especially threatening to default on our debt, that is very reckless and not a good way to run our country. I’m in the financial world and I know that would have some far-reaching consequences that would not be good.”

In seizing on the rift, Israel and Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s national finance chairman, sent a letter to more than 1,000 business leaders reminding them that Democrats voted unanimously to end the shutdown and avoid default while House Republicans “turned their backs on business in favor of the radical demands of the tea party.”

Republicans dismiss this Democratic outreach to the business community as wishful thinking.

“I don’t think Democrats will be successful because the biggest headwinds we face in the economy right now are of their making, from regulation to the Affordable Care Act to this obsession with higher taxes,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas. “Certainly the uncertainty of the last month has not been helpful, but that’s on top of a heap of other uncertainty.”

Even if the business community isn’t ready to embrace Democrats, Israel insists that the recent budget stalemate has helped his candidate recruitment while boosting the campaign committee’s fundraising. At the end of September, the committee had $21.6 million on hand to $15.7 million for the National Republican Campaign Committee.

Potential recruits who Israel jokingly said had put his number on the “do-not-call-list” have suddenly been announcing their candidacies, including Democrat Pete Festersen, the president of the Omaha City Council, who is running against eight-term Rep. Lee Terry, and attorney Bill Hughes Jr., who is looking to unseat 10-term Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J.

Illinois activists launch $2 million push for marriage equality

Gay marriage supporters are launching a $2 million statewide campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.

Illinois Unites for Marriage is a coalition representing gay rights, civil rights and political groups.

In a statement, the group says it will place 15 field organizers throughout the state to engage supporters. They plan to target legislators who oppose a measure to lift Illinois’ ban on same-sex marriage. The campaign includes the hiring of John Kohlhepp, a longtime organizer and lobbyist.

“It’s a new day in Illinois, with a fresh strategy to bring the freedom to marry to all loving and committed couples in the state,” said Richard Carlbom of the Freedom to Marry, one of the organizations in the coalition. “In the wake of historic rulings for marriage at the Supreme Court, Freedom to Marry and our partners are reenergized for this new phase of the campaign, and more committed than ever to following through for the win. With smart mobilization at Illinois Unites and continued leadership in the Legislature, we’ll make Illinois the next marriage state this session.”

The Illinois Senate passed the marriage equality bill in February. It wasn’t called for a vote in the House because the bill’s sponsor said it didn’t have the votes to pass.

Jim Bennett is chairman of the coalition. He says the next few months are critical because lawmakers could take up the bill in the fall.

Opponents say marriage should be between a man and woman.

Conservative GOP donors investing in gay marriage efforts

A national group of prominent GOP donors that supports gay marriage is pouring new money into lobbying efforts to get Republican lawmakers to vote to make it legal.

American Unity PAC was formed last year to lend financial support to Republicans who bucked the party’s longstanding opposition to gay marriage. Its founders are launching a new lobbying organization, American Unity Fund, and already have spent more than $250,000 in Minnesota, where the Legislature could vote on the issue as early as next week.

The group has spent $500,000 on lobbying since last month, including efforts in Rhode Island, Delaware, Indiana, West Virginia and Utah.

Billionaire hedge fund manager and Republican donor Paul Singer launched American Unity PAC. The lobbying effort is the next phase as the push for gay marriage spreads to more states, spokesman Jeff Cook-McCormac told The Associated Press.

“What you have is this network of influential Republicans who really want to see the party embrace the freedom to marry, and believe it’s not only the right thing for the country but also good politics,” Cook-McCormac said.

In Minnesota, the money has gone to state groups that are lobbying Republican lawmakers and for polling on gay marriage in a handful of suburban districts held by Republicans. So far, only one Minnesota Republican lawmaker has committed to voting to legalize gay marriage: Sen. Branden Petersen, of Andover.

“I think there will be some more. There are legislators out there that are struggling with this,” said Carl Kuhl, a former political aide to former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Kuhl’s public affairs firm is contracted by Minnesotans United, the lead lobby group for gay marriage in Minnesota and main recipient of American Unity’s Minnesota spending.

Gay marriage’s fate in Minnesota may rest with the House, where support is seen as shakier than in the Senate. A handful of votes from Republicans could put it over the top. Nearly two dozen House Republicans represent more socially moderate suburbs and might be candidates to vote yes.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he has encouraged advocates of the marriage bill to round up Republican votes, if nothing else than to send a message to Minnesota residents that it’s not a partisan proposition. But that will be politically risky; the main opposition group to same-sex marriage, Minnesota for Marriage, has said it will seek consequences for Republicans who stray on gay marriage.

Part of American Unity PAC’s original mission was to spend money on behalf of Republican gay marriage supporters. Many GOP lawmakers have faced primary challenges funded in part by anti-gay marriage groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, which argue that the lawmakers had betrayed the party’s core principles.

Since forming the lobby group last month, American Unity also spent money to win over Republican lawmakers in Rhode Island, where last week all five Republicans in the state Senate jumped on the gay marriage bandwagon. Rhode Island is on track to legalize gay marriage by next week, which would make it the 11th U.S. state where gay marriage is legal.

There are also plans to lobby federal lawmakers on gay rights issues.

“We intend to work on this effort until every American citizen is treated equally under the law,” Cook-McCormac said. Other wealthy, traditionally Republican donors giving money to the group include Seth Klarman, David Herro and Cliff Asness.

Though only one current GOP officeholder in Minnesota is on record supporting gay marriage, a handful of prominent Republicans have spoken out in favor of it. They include former state auditor Pat Anderson and Brian McClung, who was spokesman for former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Prominent Republican donors including former politician Wheelock Whitney and businesswoman Marilyn Carlson Nelson have also lent support and donated money.

Since it first formed to campaign against last fall’s gay marriage ban and then shifted to pushing for its legalization at the Capitol, Minnesotans United has been building Republican alliances, hiring multiple lobbyists with Republican ties.

Minnesota activists organize for gay marriage push

More than 500 people gathered in Minneapolis over the weekend to discuss strategy for legalizing gay marriage in Minnesota – and how to get enough votes to do it.

Michelle Dibblee, a leader at the Equality and Justice Summit, discussed with one group there how a grass-roots campaign to pass such legislation would work, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

“We’re not close enough to win unless we move some legislators to make what for them might be a challenging decision,” Dibblee said. “To do that they need to hear from constituents and for those legislators to hear from constituents, we need to continue to organize. What we’ll be doing over the course of the next six months is helping you all to connect more deeply in your communities, particularly in those places where we think there are legislators who need constituent pressure to be moved.”

Another participant, Ruth Larson, said it makes political sense to act now.

“We have a Democratic House, Senate and governor,” she said. “Strike while the iron’s hot.”

But Monica Meyer, executive director of OutFront Minnesota, the group that organized the summit, sounded a more cautious note.

“We haven’t really talked about timing,” Meyer said. “The only thing that we’ve really talked about is: How do we build enough support to really make marriage equality a reality and to make it inevitable?”

State Rep. Alice Hausman, D-St. Paul, said lawmakers cannot start real work on the next budget until the February revenue forecast, so they might as well take up same-sex marriage legislation in January.

“Some people say, ‘Well, that means we get off track of the budget.’ And we shouldn’t have other issues dominate,” Hausman said. “But if we don’t deal with this immediately, I would argue it’s going to dominate anyway because it hangs out there.”

Minnesota voters last month rejected a constitutional amendment that would have limited marriage to one man and one woman, but gay marriage was already prohibited under a state statute.

Many Democratic lawmakers come from districts where a majority of voters supported the amendment, and incoming House Majority Leader Erin Murphy would not say if the 2013 Legislature will take up the issue of same-sex marriage.

“I don’t think we should get ahead of Minnesotans,” Murphy said. “They didn’t really ask for this discussion to be raised two years ago when it was put on the ballot, but here we are.”

Andy Parrish, political director of Minnesota for Marriage, which led the effort to write a same-sex marriage ban into the constitution, dared Democrats to act so Republicans can respond. If Democrats choose not to have that fight, he said, they’ll disappoint many of their supporters while Republicans will continue defending the traditional definition of marriage.

“All we can do is sit and wait,” Parrish said. “You’ve got control. Now do it. Show your backbone if you have one.”

Walker makes damaging remarks in ‘punked’ call

Gov. Scott Walker acknowledged engaging in union-busting and considering dirty political tricks in a phone call that he believed was with right-wing billionaire David Koch, a major financial backer of the Tea Party movement.

Walker was actually speaking with Buffalo Beast reporter Ian Murphy, who recorded the entire conversation and posted it on the Internet.

Walker was punked.

David Koch and his brother Charles Koch donated $43,000 to Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign through their political action committee. They also helped fund a multi-million dollar attack ad campaign against his opponent.

The Cap Times reported the Koch brothers have “quietly” opened a lobbying office in Madison just off Capitol Square.

In addition to being tricked into the phone call, Walker was recorded paying fealty to the controversial Koch and making a number of politically embarrassing remarks.

Walker acknowledged that he and his staff considered planting “troublemakers” in the protest crowds that have demonstrated around the Capitol for days over his budget plan. He talked about plans to threaten public workers with layoffs, to sow discord between public and private sector unions, and to spread his union-busting efforts to other states.

Walker also bragged about a plan to end the automatic deposit of paychecks into the accounts of Democratic senators who went missing to stall action on his budget bill. He repeatedly assured the Koch-pretender that he would never negotiate with Democrats or compromise.

“This is our moment,” the governor said.

The call ends with “Koch” promising, “Once you crush these bastards, I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.”

“All right,” Walker says, “that would be outstanding.”

To hear the entire conservation, click here.