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A reminder that Democrats still need unions for campaign cash

Max Ehrenfreud

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March 11, 2015

Unions are taking a firm stand against President Obama's trade negotiations in the Pacific by refusing to make any campaign donations to lawmakers, Melanie Trottman writes in The Wall Street Journal.

"In the 2014 midterm elections, unions—the lifeblood of the Democratic Party—contributed about $65 million from their political-action committee, or PACs, to candidates, nearly all Democrats," Trottman writes. Including those direct donations, unions spent a total of $235 million on campaigns.

For comparison, Democratic congressional candidates raised $736 million in that election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A fallout with labor would severely affect Democrats' ability to raise money.

Amid so much discussion of the decline of unions, it's a reminder that they're still a powerful force in American politics. But if they sit this election out, they could wind up helping the eventual GOP presidential nominee. If that person is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or another Republican whose differences with unions are much bigger than President Obama's, then they might find it hard to keep up the silent treatment when Democratic candidates call.

What's in Wonkbook: 1) Clinton's emails 2) Opinions, including Thoma on blogging 3) Walker changes his position on biofuels, and more

Chart of the day: The dollar could soon be worth more than the euro. Matt O'Brien in The Washington Post.

1. Top story: Clinton addresses email controversy

Hillary Rodham Clinton says "it might have been smarter" not to use a personal account for official correspondence. "Scrambling to extinguish a growing political controversy ahead of the expected April launch of her 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton held a hastily arranged news conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, her first in more than two years. She was lawyerly and measured, but also defiant in insisting that she did not violate any administration rules despite White House guidelines instructing employees to use official e-mail accounts." Anne Gearan and Philip Rucker in The Washington Post.

Primary source: The transcript of the press conference.

Some Democrats think its time for Clinton to declare a campaign. "With no campaign apparatus in place, Mrs. Clinton has seemed flat-footed in coping with a fast-moving story that some of her family’s closest advisers now say threatens to dog her candidacy. ... Had she been a full-fledged candidate, Mrs. Clinton would be out on the campaign trail talking about more pressing issues for voters that might make the email matter seem small by contrast, some Democrats said." Peter Nicholas in The Wall Street Journal.

They also don't think "convenience" is really enough of a reason to use a personal server. "Clinton said she had 'opted for convenience' when choosing to bypass the State Department's official, authorized email and instead use a personal account and a private server. ... Longtime Democratic aide Jim Manley [said] the former secretary of State's word choice will cause her problems going forward. 'I think some folks are going to have a problem with that particular word,' he said." Emily Schultheis in National Journal.

A secretary of state has more important things to worry about than convenience. "Ms. Clinton also confirmed that she used a mail server at her home in New York, which was also for former president Bill Clinton, 'on property guarded by the Secret Service' — as if the primary risk was not cybertheft but rather burglars sneaking in to steal floppy disks. Ms. Clinton said she did not discuss classified material in e-mail, but surely her days and messages were taken up with 'sensitive but unclassified' matters that would be of interest to snoopers. She didn’t address that security issue, nor did she say anything about whether the State Department had security concerns about her private arrangement," argues the editorial board of The Washington Post.

That server probably wasn't very secure. "The private e-mail server used by Hillary Rodham Clinton all but certainly lacked the level of security employed by the government and could have been breached fairly easily by determined foreign intelligence services, national security and cyber experts said." Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post.

GRAHAM: Clinton's response amounted to asking the public to trust her. "Clinton revealed that she had sent and received more than 62,320 emails from her private account. Of those, 30,490 she deemed work-related and turned over to the State Department. The other 31,830 she apparently deleted. The central question of the jousting match between Clinton and reporters was how she distinguished the personal emails from those relating to her official duties. Her explanation was simple: She decided. ... The question at the heart of the scandal is what might have been hiding in the emails that were not put in the public record—dealings with corporations, with aides, and with foreign heads of state, for example—that may be relevant to her duties as secretary or her presumed presidential bid." The Atlantic.

KARABELL: When should an official's personal communications be public record? "It is only in the last few decades that our entire understanding of what is public and what is private, who controls information, who owns it and who has a right to it, has become deeply and destructively muddled. ... One problem is that government protocols about e-mail and instant message retention have evolved much more slowly than the technologies have. What’s more, there used to be a bright line between personal and public papers, or between official and unofficial correspondence... It was understood that even public servants have a legitimate sphere of privacy." Politico.

HARRIS: The real message of the press conferences was, "You all can go to hell." "Even Clinton opponents would have to acknowledge that she has some very good reasons for thinking the way she does. The same sort of drama, with news conferences and investigations and the uncomfortable blurring of public and private, has played out during literally dozens of episodes over the years—on such seemingly disparate matters as the Clinton marriage, a West Wing suicide, their White House travel office, their efforts to reform health care, their campaign fundraising. The common theme is the tension between privacy, which Hillary Clinton prizes, and a conviction among journalists and others in the political class that those in high public office (or aspiring to it), like the Clintons, should be prepared to surrender nearly all of it. Unspoken publicly in this latest controversy, but clearly understood among veterans of Hillary Clinton’s circle, is her belief that the pious clamor for more disclosure and more revelation is fundamentally insincere." Politico.

2. Top opinions

THOMA: Blogging has become crucial to public discourse. "I began blogging just after George Bush was reelected due to dissatisfaction with how economic issues were being presented in the mainstream media. The idea that tax cuts could somehow pay for themselves and the economics of Social Security were particular issues where I found reporting to be unsatisfactory, but there was also a dissatisfaction with economics reporting in general. To me, it seemed like the media had been largely captured by particular interest groups on the political right. ... Blogs have changed this. The reporting today on economic issues is so much better than it was then, and that is due in no small part to the interaction between reporters, the public, and academics willing to blog and put complicated, technical matters into terms that the general public can understand." The Fiscal Times.

FRIEDERSDORF: Where's the conservative outcry on Ferguson, Mo.? "No city in America better illustrates government run amok than Ferguson, Missouri. ... Many conservative institutions and commentators reject the principles of white supremacy, favor equal rights, and bear no personal animosity toward black people. Yet many of these same people and institutions tend to ignore, downplay, and de-prioritize fixing government abuses when the victims are black, a tendency underscored by the reaction to the Ferguson report." The Atlantic.

PORTER: The gender gap in education cuts against both girls and boys. "Last week the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development — a collective think tank of the world’s industrialized nations — published a report about gender inequality in education... The gender gap in math persists, it found. Top-performing boys score higher in math than the best-performing girls in all but two of the 63 countries in which the tests were given, including the United States. ... But these are hardly the most troubling imbalances. The most perilous statistic in the O.E.C.D.’s report is about the dismal performance of less educated boys, who are falling far behind girls." The New York Times.

LEBER: You can't "believe" in climate change. "Science is neither a faith nor a religion, yet the term belief pervades media and politics. ... By playing into the conservative trope and conflating science with faith, climate change communicators hurt their own cause. The same people wouldn’t discuss gravity as a faith." The New Republic.

3. In case you missed it 

At its meeting next week, the Federal Reserve will prepare to raise rates. "The Federal Reserve is strongly considering removing a barrier to raising short-term interest rates as early as June by dropping its promise to be 'patient' before acting. ... Officials made clear in recent interviews and public speeches they want to move away from the pledge to be patient as they look to move beyond the easy-money policies that defined the postcrisis period. They first cut their benchmark federal-funds rate to near zero in 2008. The Fed has said in its official policy statement since December that it will be patient before raising the rate." Jon Hilsenrath in The Wall Street Journal.

Ferguson's city manager, John Shaw, resigns. "Ever since Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9, the City Council — and especially Mayor James Knowles III — took the brunt of the criticism that the city had used its police to target African-Americans and violate constitutional rights. But Shaw, 39, had more power than any elected official. He could hire, appoint and fire employees, except the city clerk. He also oversaw the annual budget and communicated with the City Council about the city’s financial condition." Stephen Deere in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The dreaded "doc fix" approaches once again. "Doctors will see a cut of more than 20 percent in their Medicare payments unless Congress steps in by the end of the month. Congress almost surely will step in—it always does. And it will probably just delay the cut for another few months—as it always does. ... There's bipartisan agreement on the need for a permanent solution, and on the substance of that solution: Identical bills in both chambers would end the parade of temporary patches and replace Medicare's payment system. But there's no consensus on how to pay for it, leading to the constant short-term extensions." Sam Baker in National Journal.

This is why we can't have nice biofuels policies. "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker defended his front-runner status in Iowa by pledging to support a federal ethanol mandate, shifting his position on renewable fuels at a Republican roundup on farm issues. ... Walker dropped his previous flat opposition to ethanol mandates, offering a new stance that's well-suited to a state covered in cornfields. Walker signaled that he favors keeping the mandate for now and phasing it out in the future — without saying over what period." Jason Stein in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are frontrunners and rivals for the GOP presidential nod. "It started with a subtle poke at Jeb Bush almost two months ago, when Scott Walker suggested that Republicans need 'a new, fresh approach.' Since then, Walker has continued jabbing, casting himself as the 'son of a preacher' — instead of, say, a president — and warning Republicans against 'looking to the past.' With each provocation amid Walker’s fast rise, the Bush camp has grown increasingly agitated — not just by the attacks but also by what they see as a lack of scrutiny of the Wisconsin governor’s record." Ed O'Keefe and Robert Costa in The Washington Post.

The administration will not ban a category of armor-piercing bullets in response to pressure from gun-rights advocates. "That didn't take long. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Tuesday it was backing down from a proposed ban on manufacturing and selling one of the most popular bullets used in AR-15 semiautomatic rifles." Todd C. Frankel in The Washington Post.