by Kristen Essel and Ashley McKay Public Citizen interns
The police officers pushed us toward our fellow protestors to clear an aisle. The officers stood between the crowd we were in and 21 protestors who sat in front of the doors to the Independent Democratic Caucus’ office.
We were at the Capitol building in Albany, N.Y., with people from a coalition of organizations, holding up signs calling for state senators to vote on issues that ranged from protecting the environment, to guaranteeing equality for female and transgender citizens of New York.
We were there to campaign for a public campaign financing system to limit large corporate and individual funding of New York state elections. The Fair Elections Act called for a financing system in which, for every dollar given by an individual to a candidate, six dollars would be given by the state, up to a certain threshold.
Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
This week, the Senate finally confirmed Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
It’s a victory we’ve been working toward for a long time.
For two years, a bloc of Senate Republicans held up Cordray’s confirmation with a filibuster threat based not on their dislike of Cordray, but on their opposition to the consumer protection agency he was nominated to lead.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) – one of the obstructionists – even praised Cordray during his nomination hearing earlier this year: “I think you have done a wonderful job so far in carrying out your duties.”
Grassroots pressure from activists all around the country proved to be too much for this obstructionist bloc. Activists refused to let up in calling for Cordray’s confirmation and even backed the idea of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) employing the so-called “nuclear option” to change Senate rules so the vote on Cordray and other nominees could have proceeded with a simple majority of 51 votes (rather than the 60 votes required to overcome the GOP’s filibuster threat).
On Tuesday, 17 Senate Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), broke the obstructionist blockade and voted to allow Cordray to come up for a floor vote. In the end, 12 Republicans joined the 54 Democrats in voting for Cordray’s confirmation.
Construction firm Skanska on Tuesday became the latest in a string of members to leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the organization’s regressive policies.
This week we had great news when Skanska Corp. made the decision to depart the U.S. Chamber. The U.S. Chamber is fighting new green construction standards that the company supports. The U.S. Chamber was so determined to block these new standards that it helped start an advocacy group – the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition – dedicated to opposing them.
Skanksa said in its press release that the U.S. Chamber was supporting the interests of a few status quo businesses – those who manufacture materials that would be banned under new rules – over those of companies that are bringing innovation to the building and construction industry.
At least one member of the U.S. Chamber-backed advocacy group said that the new rules would put jobs at risk.
But Skanska USA’s CEO Mike McNally shared another point of view, pointing out that the U.S Chamber’s efforts could potentially damage the construction industry, which has seen wide and innovative adoption of green building standards.
Last night, dozens of activists joined an online conversation with Public Citizen, hosted by me and my colleague Kelly Ngo.
If you missed the conversation, don’t worry – we hope this will be the first of many online talks. And you can watch a recording of last night’s broadcast here:
During the conversation, we discussed what makes Public Citizen unique among advocacy organizations, the issue priorities of our Congress Watch division, and the process of passing the STOCK Act as a case study in how grassroots activism works in tandem with our lobbying efforts in Washington. We also answered a number of questions posed to us by activists.
Why host these online conversations? Because we are excited to educate grassroots activists like you all over the country about our organization and the issues that we work on, and to prepare you to participate locally in actions that will help sway members of Congress to embrace reforms that benefit the public interest.
The next live online conversation will be held during the week of July 14 (exact time and date to be announced soon).
To let us know you’re interested in joining the next online conversation, sign up here.
Rick Claypool is online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter at @RickClaypool.
Pop Quiz: what’s the most powerful government office you’ve never heard of?
Maybe a secretive national security office or covert operations outfit? Think again. Actually the most powerful government office you’ve never heard of, according to the former head of the office, is called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, referred to as OIRA for those in the know. To be fair, many readers of this blog are probably in the know — which is a good thing, since tomorrow is the Senate confirmation hearing for the new nominee to head OIRA, Howard Shelanski.
But for those who aren’t familiar with OIRA, a little background is in order. OIRA is a small office within the Office of Management and Budget, meaning, for all intents and purposes, that it’s an extension of the White House. Its job, in a nutshell, is to review regulations from agencies and give the green light before agencies can go ahead with putting those regulations in place. Sounds pretty banal and technical, right? Not quite.
On the surface, OIRA seems like any other White House office that Republicans love to bash (particularly since this one deals with so-called “job-killing” regulations). But scratch below the surface, and you find that Republicans have actually been proposing numerous pieces of legislation in the last few years that would give much more power to this small White House office. In fact, when it comes to Republicans giving the White House more authority, it’s hard to find a better example than OIRA. If you’re like me, you’re probably starting to hear the “Twilight Zone” music somewhere in the background …