White House now wants corporate America to speak?

Today I read an interesting article in the Washington Post about the debt ceiling debate and the role played, or rather not played, by the business community.

‘Embarrassed’ CEOs Silent on Debt Debate Driven by Republicans

With the U.S. government on the verge of a historic default, the country’s largest business lobbying group took to the halls of Congress last week to press lawmakers to support the Panama Free-Trade Agreement.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsored a “door knock,” with 80 members handing out Panama hats to tout a trade deal with a country that has a smaller economy than Akron, Ohio. To critics, the Chamber event illustrates what has been a deafening silence from U.S. executive suites on the gridlock in Washington over raising the country’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling…

At a closed- door meeting with Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten last month, Democratic Senators Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Warner of Virginia upbraided the group and its member companies for not twisting arms hard enough to get a compromise package worked out, according to two people familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity* because the meeting was private…

This is interesting because, if I recall correctly, Begich and Warner were among those Senators backing the DISCLOSE Act and expressing opposition to the Citizens United decision last year, falling in line with the general hysteria over the idea of corporate political speech.

Neither of them are necessarily outspoken on the issue of so-called campaign finance ‘reform,’ but it would be interesting to comb through their public statements to see if they’ve expressed the types of concerns about corporate influence in the political process that is typical of the ‘reform’ community.

More interesting than these two Senators wishing that corporate America would jump in and twist arms to get legislation passed was the comments of a key member of the Obama Administration, voicing the exact same sentiments as Begich and Warner.

“It’s unfortunate that the business interests have not stepped forward as loudly as they should have,” Bill Daley, the White House chief of staff, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television July 26. “You’ve had a silence from the business community to the political establishment over the last number of years that’s been unfortunate.”

Well. Coming from the Obama administration, which has made clear that among it’s fondest wishes is for the business community to be quiet when it comes to politics and public policy discussions, this is quite a reversal.  Trying to square this statement by Daley with all of the rhetoric out of the Obama administration over the past few years on Citizens United, the DISCLOSE Act, lobbyist influence, supposed ‘undue influence’ by ‘special interests,’ and related topics, is quite a challenge.

There is a chance that Daley’s comments signal a new position for the White House, one welcoming the business community to participate in political and public policy debates the same way individuals, unions, and most organized interest groups do in a way that doesn’t seem to freak out the ‘reform’ community.

More likely, however, Daley is simply expressing the general sentiment so common amongst ‘reformers,’ that voices that agree with them at any given moment are welcome to ‘twist arms’ and ‘speak loudly’ on that topic, but once they cross over into an area of disagreement those same voices become ‘special interests’ that have to be silenced in order to preserve the Republic.


*Not the point of this blog post, but I thought that anonymous speech in America was inherently illicit, that the people have a right to know who is speaking to them? I’m sure I read something like that somewhere.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.