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Lee Hamilton: Lobbyists the New Fourth Branch of Government

by PSA Staff | November 19th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Board of Directors Member and current director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee Hamilton, discusses the influence of lobbying groups in American politics. The Rock River Times Op-Ed

The Power of Lobbyists 

Because of its power to influence public affairs, the press has long been known as “the Fourth Estate.” But I think the media may have been displaced. These days, it’s lobbyists who seem to carry the most clout in Washington.

Here’s a case in point. When Congress closed at the beginning of August for its end-of-summer recess, it faced wide-scale derision for having accomplished next to nothing during the year. In fact, the Pew Center ranked the session as the least productive in two decades.

But it wasn’t entirely unproductive. Just before they left town, members of Congress did manage to get three things done: they passed a Veterans Administration reform package; they increased aid to Israel; and they kept highway construction projects around the country from losing funding.

Why did these three measures find success when so many others did not? There’s a two-word answer: powerful lobbyists. Veterans, supporters of Israel, and the combined weight of highway construction interests and state and local governments are among the most influential forces in Washington.

Last year, some 12,000 active lobbyists spent $3.24 billion on trying to influence the federal government, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. I don’t know of any other country where lobbyists have those kinds of numbers, spend that kind of money, or get the kinds of results they’re able to achieve here — in Congress, in the executive branch and, increasingly, in statehouses around the country.

But even among all those lobbyists, some stand out for their effectiveness. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), veterans’ groups, the AARP: all are very good at obtaining laws and policies in their interests and blocking laws and policies they consider harmful.

I don’t mean by this that they’re all-powerful. They don’t win every battle. But they do win most of them.

How do they do this? To start, lawmakers have to get elected. Good lobbyists don’t just provide large amounts of money for campaigns, they provide early money and expert help. They donate, they introduce you to other donors, and they help you establish connections that can help during your campaign and later on. Early money in politics is better than late money. Candidates remember that sort of thing. They also remember that if you oppose these organizations’ views, they’ll come at you hard.

Good lobbyists and their organizations also provide information in easily digestible form. They’ll assign particular staffers to develop relationships with members of Congress — people who can write a speech or testimony or legislative language quickly. They and their colleagues are sophisticated observers of public affairs who know whether, when, and how to approach government policy makers, along with the particular policy maker who can help them best.

They are deeply knowledgeable about the process of government and have a wide network of friends on Capitol Hill, in the agencies, and in members’ districts — often, their most effective voices aren’t Washington lobbyists, but the grassroots networks they’ve built back home. They understand that at heart, lobbying is about establishing relationships long before any particular issue affecting them comes up, so that when they go to talk about a bill, they’re going in to see a friend.

They build relationships in several ways. There are all kinds of approaches to members — the annual policy conferences to which members of Congress flock, the sponsored trips and meetings in out-of-the-way resorts where a lobbyist can get a few days of a member’s undivided attention. But the best lobbyists are also friendly, approachable people who know how to talk to members and policy-makers of both parties.

The best lobbying groups also have a lot of money and resources not just to woo policy makers, but to shape public discourse. They make good information available to their advocates, and make sure that the advocates who speak for them on television, online, and in newspapers are well informed. They know that part of the battle is to shape public dialogue.

The best lobbyists are masters at making the system work for them. My guess is that their influence over policy surpasses the media’s clout, and they have now become the fourth branch of government.

Lee Hamilton was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Jamie Metzl: Is Kim Jong Un More Dangerous than His Dad?

by PSA Staff | November 12th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Board Director and former Clinton administration National Security Council official Jamie Metzl weighs in on the changing calculus for the North Korean leadership. For further information about Kim Jong Un, check Dr. Metzl’s CNN commentary.

North Korea’s Changing Calculus

It is no coincidence in my opinion that American detainees Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller were released by North Korea just as President Obama is arriving in Beijing for the APEC Summit. With North Korea-China relations more strained than they have been in years, the US moving towards a potential deal with Iran, the North Korean economy in shambles, and a resolution just being introduced to the UN General Assembly calling for North Korea’s leaders to be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, Kim Jong Un and his cabal are being squeezed as never before. Absolute terror remains a very effective means for North Korea’s leaders to maintain control of their population, but it’s hard to see how the status quo can be maintained for too long. It may be that North Korea sees this too, and has come to realize both that the costs of its global pariah status is increasing and that an Iran-like deal (where they negotiate over a long time and ultimately give up enough of their nuclear program to make the world happier and secure aid but not enough to limit deterrence) could be to their advantage. Don’t expect a Burma-like about face any time soon, but a lot seems to happening in North Korea and Asia more generally (including the new Xi Jinping-Vladimir Putin alliance) that will pose new challenges to America and our allies, but could also create new opportunities.

Tara Sonenshine: A Fulbright Is Not a Political Football

by PSA Staff | October 1st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine sits on the Partnership for a Secure America’s Board of Advisors. She is a former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and currently teaches at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

A Fulbright is Not a Political Football

Every now and then Congress shows wisdom as in the recent decision by the House and Senate to reject a request from the Obama administration to cut funding for the famous Fulbright program from $237 to $204 million.

What’s a Fulbright and why should you care?

The Fulbright is the most competitive and highly sought academic fellowship in the world. Think of it as trade — the trading of great minds in the stead of peace.

The Fulbright premise is tried and true — built on a simple, highly effective concept of international exchanges among scholars to foster better understanding and relations among nations. The Fulbright program provides small grants to help American students and teachers learn and work abroad and foreign students and scholars to visit the United States. As Senator J. William Fulbright, the program’s founder, said in 1945, “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion… increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and fellowship.”

With over 355,000 alumni from over 155 countries, the Fulbright Program is important, symbolically and substantively for the United States at a time when we are trying to win more friends and fight more enemies. The Fulbright program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 US scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. In this exchange of knowledge comes the chance to build stronger civil societies based on common values and interests.

So why would anyone want to cut a program that builds and maintains robust educational, scientific, economic, and political partnerships; knowledge transfer; and competition in the global marketplace?

Well, in a world of economic choices there is always a temptation to save “cents” at the expense of “sense.” Mistakenly, some in the government thought of shifting resources from in-depth exchange programs like Fulbright — which last a full year and extend around the globe — to shorter programs targeted on regions like Africa or Asia. Taking an axe to a government program might sound appealing unless you know the facts:

Firstly, the Fulbright is not exclusively a U.S. government program. It uses cost-sharing and partnership agreements with other countries — some of which are America’s long-standing friends and most important allies in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, and in the Western Hemisphere. In many of the countries engaged in these exchanges, Fulbright Commissions administer the program. Their budgets come from multiple sources — the U.S. Department of State and other governments as well as private charitable donations. In many countries with Fulbright commissions, partner countries spend more funding Fulbright opportunities for U.S. students and scholars to go abroad and more for their own students and scholars to go to the United States than the U.S. government does. We should not undermine their confidence in the U.S. commitment to the program with $ 30 million cut that would jeopardize those revenue flows.

Geography matters. It is also important to keep the reach of Fulbright educational exchanges broad, not narrow. Shifting the diplomatic lens away from Europe, for example, during a period when we are building coalitions of the willing to fight ISIS, deal with the instability in Ukraine, and counter transnational threats makes no sense. This is a time when we need transatlantic cooperation through dialogue and exchange.

The Fulbright program yields some of the greatest peace dividends. Among its alumni are 29 former heads of state or government, 53 Nobel Prize winners, and 80 Pulitzer Prize winners from all regions of the world. Those who invest in the Fulbright program invest a full year because learning about another country takes time. Shorter programs that offer less substantive immersion for foreigners do not necessarily create lasting change. Cutting corners on education never quite works.

Lastly, there is an American economic imperative to invest in international education including bringing scholars from the around the world to the U.S. According to the Association of International Educators, international students contribute over $24 billion to the U.S. economy each year, and the Fulbright Program is one of the most respected programs among international educators in the United States and abroad.

The Fulbright program must stay fully funded. Stay tuned for more budget action as Congress makes final decisions on the FY15 appropriations bills although the way things are going, there may not be a final budget until the end of the year. In the meantime, America has to do it work to strengthen ties with other nations and promote international cooperation. Fulbright is one small way to maintain the world’s largest multilateral investment in public diplomacy.

Give Diplomacy With Russia a Chance

by PSA Staff | September 14th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Jack F. Matlock Jr. was the United States ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991. Thomas R. Pickering is a member of PSA’s Board of Advisors and  was the United States ambassador to Russia from 1993 to 1996, and James F. Collins from 1997 to 2001.This article originally appeared in the New York Times.

Give Diplomacy With Russia a Chance

The crisis over Ukraine has all but frozen official communication between the United States and Russia. The Russian reaction to the political upheaval in Kiev — the absorption of Crimea, and the armed intervention in eastern Ukraine — and the American responses to those actions have brought about a near-complete breakdown in normal and regular dialogue between Washington and Moscow. Relations between the two capitals have descended into attempts by each side to pressure the other, tit-for-tat actions, shrill propaganda statements, and the steady diminution of engagement between the two governments and societies.

Reports from the NATO summit meeting that ended in Newport, Wales, on Friday indicate that the United States and its allies will respond to Russia’s intervention and violence in Ukraine with an escalation of their own — including further sanctions, enhanced military presence in front-line states, and possibly greater support for Ukraine’s armed forces. This amounts to more of the same, with little if any assurance of better outcomes.

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Is Xi Serious About Cracking Down on Corruption?

by PSA Staff | August 12th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Jamie Metzl is a Senior Fellow at the Asia Society. He served in the National Security Council and State Department during the Clinton administration. His is also chairman of PSA’s Board of Director’s. This original article can be found on CNN‘s international news blog.

Is Xi Serious About Cracking Down on Corruption?

There are many signs that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unprecedented anti-corruption drive is serious. In recent weeks, an investigation was launched into former security chief and Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, while former top General Xu Caihou was expelled from the Communist Party. Nearly 200,000 party members of all levels have reportedly been disciplined for corruption over the last two years. But if this top down approach is not matched by a bottom-up empowerment of the people being most harmed by China’s corruption pandemic it will have little chance of success.
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Cementing Peace in the Middle East

by PSA Staff | August 11th, 2014 | |Subscribe
This original article can be found at the Hill news blog. This article was written by Tara Sonenshine, a former member of PSA’s Advisory Board and former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She is currently distinguished Fellow at the George Washington University.

Cementing Peace in the Middle East

It’s all about cement. The key to ending the current conflict between Israel and Gaza may lie, literally and figuratively, in the cement trucks that carry building materials across borders.

As cease-fire talks resume in Egypt, one of the big obstacles to a durable agreement will be the embargo (imposed by Israel and Egypt) that restricts goods from coming in and out of the Gaza Strip. A 7-year-old embargo is both a reflection of the lack of confidence between citizens of Gaza and Israel and a potential confidence-building measure depending on which side you are on. (more…)

Lee Hamilton: Why government fails, and what we should do about it

by PSA Staff | August 7th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. He is also Co-Chair of  PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Rock River Times

Lee Hamilton: Why government fails, and what we should do about it

As election season approaches, I’ve been pondering a crucial issue about the role of government in our society. It’s that our government often fails — and that we need to address this. What’s odd is that while the frequent failures in government’s performance are very much on ordinary people’s minds, politicians don’t talk much about fixing them.

True, you might hear a few words about the issue when members are back in their districts this month revving up their re-election campaigns, but for the most part, they’ll be focused on issues like jobs and the economy. This is understandable, because that’s what their constituents expect to hear about. (more…)

Ebola: An Opportunity for Public Diplomacy

by PSA Staff | August 5th, 2014 | |Subscribe

This original article can be found at the Globalist news blog. This article was written by Tara Sonenshine, a former member of PSA’s Advisory Board and former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She is currently distinguished Fellow at the George Washington University.

Ebola: An Opportunity for Public Diplomacy

The arrival of two Americans on two separate planes in isolation chambers, met by Atlanta doctors in suits and gloves, has caused fear in the United States about the spread of an Ebola virus. Citizens everywhere are watching this unfolding drama as we would a science fiction movie, only this is real and immediate.

According to the World Health Organization, the virus has infected more than 1,300 people. Near 900 have died, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. That is far less than other contagious diseases, but with no vaccine as yet and no cure, those numbers could rise very quickly. In an age of modern transportation, we are all potential carriers or victims.

Rather than view the Ebola outbreak as a reason to worry, let’s see it as a public diplomacy challenge and opportunity. (more…)

Looking for Bright Spots in Africa

by PSA Staff | August 5th, 2014 | |Subscribe

This original article can be found at The Hill newspaper blog. This article was written by Tara Sonenshine, a former member of PSA’s Advisory Board and former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. She is currently distinguished Fellow at the George Washington University.

Looking for Bright Spots in Africa

How ironic that as Washington hosts the largest gathering of African heads of state in recent times, an outbreak of the Ebola virus threatens the western part of the continent. One has to hope that disease does not eclipse the good news stories coming out of Africa — a continent with its share of problems.

Last week, President Obama hosted a town meeting with 500 emerging African leaders chosen to come to U.S. universities and colleges for summer training in everything from healthcare to good governance. (Fifty-thousand applied to come.) The new Mandela Fellowship for Young African Leaders is part of a broader initiative known as YALI (Young African Leaders Institute) which networks the best and the brightest in Africa in an effort to boost skills in business, government and education. The YALI initiative is an important step and the enterprise has drawn private companies and foundations who are contributing to bringing more young change agents from the continent. (more…)

The Real Lesson of MH17

by PSA Staff | July 28th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Gary Hart was a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and is a member on PSA’s Advisory Board. This op-ed was originally found on National Interest.

The Real Lesson of MH17

Crossing Murphy’s Law with the law of unintended consequences produces this: If the worst possible thing can happen it will, and it will probably happen to you. When the Soviet Union was occupying Afghanistan, we armed the Taliban on the always-dubious theory that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the great sweep of human history, it did not take long for the enemy of our enemy to become our enemy. This seems to offer yet another law: Never replace an occupier whom you are trying to get rid of. (more…)

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.