Charles Schumer, senior senator from New York, really does not seem to trust consumers to decide on their own arrangements, notes Steve Chapman.
P.S. Nor it seems is military spouse Holly Petraeus [Ira Stoll]
We’ve posted several times about federal tax authorities’ on-again, off-again use of private tax collectors on contingency fees to collect back taxes. As with other varieties of law enforcement for profit in which the middleman is enabled to keep residual dollars, the practice seems to encourage the taking of a hard line against taxpayers, especially when the private collectors can use tactics and methods forbidden to government agents. Now, after a hiatus, the IRS is returning to the use of private collectors, a change in law for which Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) apparently deserve much of the credit, if credit is the right word [Alex Richards and Brad Wolverton, NerdWallet, earlier]
“I’m not sure who decided that the Democratic critique of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch would be that he doesn’t side with the little guy. It’s a truly terrible idea.” Judges should stand up for the law and their interpretation of the correct way for it to develop, rather than ruling consistently with the interests of a particular category of litigant. “…consider the whole point of a rule-of-law system: It establishes rules so that people can be confident in advance of how decisions are made. That creates regularity and predictability. And in the long run, it protects the little guy a lot better than a system rigged to favor one side, because such systems will naturally tend to favor the rich and powerful, not the poor and downtrodden.” So cut it out, interest groups with your stop-Gorsuch campaign [Noah Feldman, Bloomberg View] More: David Harsanyi.
After initially resisting, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has agreed to return nearly $130,000 in donations she and her PAC received from the Boston-based Thornton Law Firm, known for asbestos plaintiff’s litigation. An investigation found the law firm paid $1.4 million in bonuses in patterns strongly suggesting they were being used to cover “straw donations” nominally from partners [co-published Boston Globe/Open Secrets story; New York Post]
From 2010 through 2014, Strouss and Bradley along with founding partner Michael Thornton and his wife donated nearly $1.6 million to Democratic party fundraising committees and a parade of politicians from Senate minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada to Hawaii gubernatorial candidate David Ige to Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Over the same span, the lawyers received $1.4 million listed as “bonuses” in Thornton Law Firm records; more than 280 of the contributions precisely matched bonuses that were paid within 10 days.
That payback system, which involved other partners as well, helped make Thornton the 11th-ranked law firm nationally for political contributions in 2014, according to data analyzed by the Center, even though the firm is not among the 100 biggest in Massachusetts, much less the U.S.
Capitol Hill recipients of Thornton money include many figures who have played a role in blocking asbestos litigation reform, including Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).
Are you now, or have you ever been, a supporter of the Hoover Institution, the Mercatus Center, the Heritage Foundation, or the Acton Institute? Lachlan Markay, Free Beacon:
Democratic senators have been assigned conservative nonprofit groups to call out by name on the chamber floor in speeches on Monday and Tuesday criticizing corporations and advocacy groups for opposing Democratic climate policies, internal emails reveal.
…[Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon] Whitehouse and his allies, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), have crafted a schedule for floor speeches on Monday and Tuesday that assigns each participating Senator at least one group to go after by name.
Most of the groups have already been targeted by state Democratic officials that have undertaken a coordinated legal campaign against oil giant ExxonMobil since last year. Many were named in subpoenas sent to the company by state attorneys general as part of that effort.
The ringmaster, once again, is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island — yes, that Sheldon Whitehouse, whose hometown Providence Journal rightly called out his current campaign to sic the law on improper climate opinion as likely to “have a chilling effect on free speech, by intimidating dissenters into silence.” The leader on the House side is Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), also getting to be a familiar name.
One reason this is more sinister than your ordinary political sideshow: the proposed concurrent resolution urges right-leaning nonprofits “to cooperate with active or future investigations” of purportedly unlawful opinion-slinging. One of the most junior senators, Gary Peters of Michigan, apparently drew the short straw in the heresy posse and was assigned to attack my own Cato Institute (which publishes this site) at 6:30 this evening.
The senators participating in this appalling exercise besides Sens. Whitehouse, Reid, and Peters, all Democrats, are Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Barbara Boxer of California, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Chuck Schumer of New York, Al Franken of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Chris Coons of Delaware.
Some early reactions: “All that is lacking are their public confessions” — Ronald Bailey at Reason (whose associated Reason Foundation is among the targets). “‘Assigned’ groups to attack? That sounds like middle school mean girl behavior.” [C.B. on Facebook] Peter Roff at U.S. News on how the Senators can’t (yet) make dissent illegal but can make it costly. And a reminder: the “Exxon Knew” crowd knew Whitehouse’s RICO-for-speech theory was wrong because their own allies had told them, but went ahead anyway.
More, Matt Welch at Reason:
…Since the targets of this shaming exercise are not being afforded the courtesy to rebut the charges in the forum at which they are being smeared, consider this a prebuttal…
This coordinated campaign would be an assault on free speech even if it were not drenched in conspiratorial inaccuracy. Democratic lawmakers, attorneys general, and activists are systematically singling out free-market think tanks for potential criminal prosecution and one-sided disclosure requirements based on the content of the think tanks’ research and commentary. They are literally trying to criminalize dissent. If successful, they will establish as “fraud” or “racketeering” any future think-tank work that runs afoul of political orthodoxy. …
Sadly, this heavy-handed act of government intimidation will likely go as unnoticed as Hillary Clinton’s long track record against free speech. Why? Because generally speaking both the mainstream press and the organized left reserve their First Amendment outrage for politicians they disagree with. Their silence is shameful, and deafening.
[Updated to correct error on Lachlan Markay’s name, sorry]
You mean getting to a floor vote so that sensitive vacancies can be filled isn’t these senators’ top priority after all? Sen. Chuck Schumer and allies are holding up two presidential nominations to the Securities and Exchange Commission, those of Democrat Lisa Fairfax and Republican Hester Peirce, demanding that the nominees commit to supporting a scheme to force shareholder-held companies to disclose their political involvements, the better for adversaries to pressure them or retaliate. It flies in the face of the idea that the appropriate frame of mind for commissioners approaching the rulemaking process is to keep an open mind rather than promise to vote one way or the other [Stephen Bainbridge, Broc Romanek/Corporate Counsel, Marc Hodak] “The SEC is now down to just three members, two less than its full complement, after two left the agency late last year. If the SEC remains with only three members for a prolonged period, it could be difficult for Chairman Mary Jo White to advance her agenda in what is likely her final year at the markets regulator.” [Andrew Ackerman, WSJ] More: WSJ letters via Prof. Bainbridge; Washington Post editorial.
Law enforcement for profit to take another big leap forward? [Washington Post]:
The Internal Revenue Service would be required to turn over millions of unpaid tax bills to private debt collectors under a measure before the Senate, reviving a program that has previously led to complaints of harassment and has not saved taxpayers money.
The provision was tucked into a larger bill, aimed at renewing an array of expired tax breaks, at the request of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose state is home to two of the four private collection agencies that stand to benefit from the proposal.
It requires all “inactive tax receivables” to be assigned to private debt collectors if the IRS cannot locate the person who owes the money or if IRS agents are unable to make contact within a year.
The idea has been tried twice before, but was discontinued both times after poor results including net losses on the program. Nina Olson, who holds the position of Taxpayer Advocate in the U.S. government (and is no relation), strongly opposes the program, noting that some of the money would be recouped by the Treasury anyway through means such as future withheld refunds without the need for paying 25 percent contingency fees to the middlemen. Bounty-hunting freelancers are more likely to resort to tactics such as day-and-night harassing calls, and have less flexibility to work out payment plans for those getting back on their feet after reverses or, in the case of estate taxes, heirs who may have not yet received the inheritances from which they need to pay the tax due.
Compare many state governments’ practice of putting out plaintiff’s-side litigation opportunities to private lawyers at contingency fee, which has created a durable lobby for hardball extractive lawsuits of dubious social benefit as well as showering large sums on law firms that already are or soon become influential political players in their states.
A manufacturer of Greek yogurt “paid $80,000 to Cornerstone Government Affairs to lobby Congress on its behalf, according to federal records.” And now Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York — upstate being a leading center of production for the premium product — has made sure it will be included in federally prescribed school lunches, even in places where local budgets and tastes might not have generated much demand for it. [The Hill; Ira Stoll]
P.S. And plenty of bad GOP behavior on the farm bill too, notes my colleague Mike Tanner.