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Gyrocopter pilot lands at Capitol to protest money in politics

Doug Hughes flies his gyrocopter onto the south west lawn of the Capitol, in Washington, DC on April 15, 2015. (Photo by Alfredo Duarte/El Tiempo Latino)

A protester landed a light aircraft on the grounds of the Capitol Wednesday to urge Congress to reform the campaign finance system.

"Air defense systems did not detect the copter as it entered restricted airspace above Washington, according to a North American Aerospace Defense Command spokesman. No one tried to stop the gyrocopter, which sounds like a lawnmower and looks like a flying bridge chair," Mike DeBonis and Marc Fisher report in The Washington Post. The pilot, a Florida man named Doug Hughes, "landed with a little bounce on a broad expanse of grass at the foot of Capitol Hill. He sat still inside his open-air cockpit for about a minute, whereupon U.S. Capitol Police surrounded the copter and then detained and arrested Hughes."

Hughes's flight came the day after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would support a constitutional amendment to change how campaigns are funded. She didn't offer details.

The details matter, though. Clinton's discussion of a constitutional amendment implies she thinks Congress should have broader authority to regulate political spending and speech around elections, an authority that was recognized until the Supreme Court's recent decisions in Citizens United and other cases.

That authority might not be enough, as Zephyr Teachout has argued. The campaign-finance scholar and failed New York gubernatorial candidate calls for more generous public funding for candidates.

Without an alternative system for funding campaigns, politicians might just find ways around whatever laws are enacted. "We can't just ban things," Teachout told Wonkblog last year.


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What's in Wonkbook: 1) Clinton on campaign finance 2) Opinions, including O'Brien on Rubio 3) What happens when Republicans talk to climate scientists, and more

Chart of the day: Some couples are penalized when paying taxes for being married, while others get a bonus. Amanda Cox in The New York Times.

1. Top story: Clinton calls for campaign-finance reform

Clinton calls for a constitutional amendment to reform campaign finance. "In Iowa this week, in the first public appearances of her second bid for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton said that one of her top priorities was to 'fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if it takes a constitutional amendment.' ... Democrats expect the super PACs backing Mrs. Clinton to raise as much as $300 million, on top of the $1 billion or more she is likely to raise for her campaign and the Democratic National Committee. ... Mrs. Clinton’s decision to address the issue so early in her campaign may reflect, in part, the pressure she feels from a new cohort of activists who are urging her to address not just inequality of wealth, but also the inequality of political power it is intertwined with." Nicholas Confessore in The New York Times.

VOORHEES: Clinton might be the best hope for real reform. "At best, it is ironic that she would take on the mantle of campaign-finance-reform crusader; at worst, it is hypocritical. ... Many progressives are understandably uncomfortable with Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street and other moneyed interests that are best positioned to exploit those same election-law holes she wants to fix, but if reform-minded advocates want those laws changed, they will be hard pressed to find someone with more resources to effect the change they want. Ironic, yes. But true." Slate.

COHN: Big money is transforming the presidential primary. "The primary season is just underway, but the early super PAC tallies appear to be an order of magnitude beyond what we saw the last time... Money doesn’t buy presidential nominations. At least it hasn’t yet. ... Typically, broad support from party elites is a much better predictor of which candidate will win the nomination. ... There’s no question that the new combination of unlimited super PAC contributions and online fund-raising has eroded the control of party elites over the last two decades. It’s especially the case in today’s factionalized G.O.P., where even the party elite is fractured along regional, religious and ideological lines." The New York Times.

2. Top opinions

O'BRIEN: Rubio's biggest weakness may be math. "His economic agenda has a simple arithmetic problem. He wants to balance the budget—in fact, he wants to amend the Constitution to make that mandatory—but at the same time he wants to cut taxes by $4 trillion or so, increase defense spending, and keep antipoverty spending where it is. That doesn't leave a lot of places to find savings. ... This is the same problem Republicans have had for 35 years now. ... So Rubio, who's trying to portray himself as a new kind of Republican, is seizing on the only thing that makes that combination work: saying tax cuts will pay for themselves." The Washington Post.

LANE: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's Social Security proposal makes more sense than Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.). "The progressive plan and Christie's plan are equivalent, at least in their very broad financial strokes. Both claim to match Social Security resources and obligations over time, and to accomplish this progressively; that is, with upper-income folks bearing a relatively higher share of the adjustment costs. This is, indeed, an appropriate goal. The main difference, really, is that Christie would achieve it by cutting top-end benefits; the progressives achieve it by raising top-end taxes. No doubt, the Warrenite approach — take from the rich, give to grandma — is a far, far easier sell, politically. ... The whole Warren-led campaign looks less like a serious response to the elderly’s real economic situation, which remains comparatively favorable, and more like a poll-tested response to the fact that the formerly reliably Democratic over-65 bloc has swung to the Republicans in the past 10 years." The Washington Post.

CROOK: We'll get out of this economic mess. "Former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke argues against the view that the economy is caught in a trap of persistently slow growth -- 'secular stagnation.' ... The credit boom and housing bubble added about 1 percentage point of growth each year from 2002 to 2005. But this wasn't the only shock affecting the economy. Growth was slowed by rising oil prices and a growing trade deficit. Together, these subtracted nearly as much from the growth of demand as the bubble was adding. If none of these shocks had happened, the economy might still have reached and sustained full employment." Bloomberg View.

EL-ERIAN: Now comes the hard part for Europe and quantitative easing. "European Central Bank President Mario Draghi painted a dovish and hopeful picture at a press conference in Frankfurt [Wednesday]. ... Success requires sustaining economic progress while, simultaneously, containing the "costs and risks" associated with artificially boosted asset prices and possible resource misallocations. To navigate that artfully, the ECB will need a lot of help from other institutions. As noted by Draghi, the ultimate success of the ECB's unconventional policy approach will require governments to implement deeper structural reforms -- including in labor and product markets -- as well as encourage business investment and expansion. It will need much more pronounced balance-sheet healing, including overcoming increasingly entrenched debt overhangs. And, in my opinion, it also needs aggregate demand within Europe to be higher and more evenly spread across countries." Bloomberg View.

Laws that restrict how welfare recipients use their benefits are misguided, argues the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner. "One of the very real problems with our current welfare system, unlike the illicit use of fortune tellers, is that it infantilizes recipients. We cannot expect welfare recipients to become independent and self-supporting if we continue to treat them like six-year-olds getting their allowance. We should treat recipients as adults and expect them to make adult decisions, which includes budgeting and making the best use of their money just like the rest of us. If they blow the money on fortune tellers, they will have to suffer the consequences. Moreover, the focus on punitive measures distracts lawmakers, the media, and the public from measures that would actually help move people off welfare and into work." National Review.

3. In case you missed it

Republicans actually talk to climate scientists all the time. "Republicans meet scientists, often off-the-record, sometimes unplanned, and in some strange settings. Interviews with eight climate scientists suggest that, by and large, Republican policymakers are more receptive to the inescapable facts about climate change than their party's public stances would suggest. It suggests ignorance isn't the problem within the GOP, and the focus on how scientists communicate their field, or how journalists portray it, is less important than the politics." Rebecca Leber in The New Republic.

The Supreme Court hears arguments on the Obama administration's climate policies Thursday. "The country’s two largest coal companies, along with 14 coal-producing states, have challenged a proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation, which the agency issued under the authority of the Clean Air Act, to curb planet-warming carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. If put in effect as E.P.A. officials have proposed, the rule is intended to fundamentally transform the nation’s power sector, shuttering hundreds of coal plants and expanding renewable energy sources such as wind and solar." Coral Davenport in The New York Times.

Will the success of the "doc fix" bill endanger Obamacare with the justices? "Republicans are trying to convince the Supreme Court to blow a massive hole in the Affordable Care Act by promising justices that Congress will be able to patch it up. ... Congressional Republicans have worked hard over the past several months to make the case that they'll be ready with a fix. And the most important audience for that public-relations campaign isn't the public, but rather the justices themselves. It's a hard sell." Sam Baker in National Journal.

Clinton has changed her position on same-sex marriage. "Hillary Clinton evolved on same-sex marriage within the first 72 hours of her presidential run, as her campaign said Wednesday that the former secretary of state now backs marriage equality as a US constitutional right. The about-face, dropped as Clinton was preparing the second of two progressive-leaning appearances in Iowa, represents a significant – if not completely unexpected – shift from her previous statements that same-sex marriage should be legislated state-by-state rather than on the federal level." Ben Jacobs in the Guardian.

A quirk in a Medicare funding formula wreaks havoc with government finances. "List prices charged by hospitals aren’t supposed to matter to Medicare because the government doesn’t pay them. The federal program almost always pays fixed amounts based mostly on patients’ conditions. That is supposed to prevent hospitals from sticking the government with big price hikes. Nevertheless, jumps in list prices hit the government every year in one corner of the roughly $600 billion Medicare system: treating complicated cases known as 'cost outliers.' Medicare allows hospitals to collect for such patients based on the actual costs of treating them. But because hospitals don’t provide cost data until many months after patients are treated, the government has to estimate costs using a formula that relies heavily on list prices. ... A Wall Street Journal analysis of Medicare claims data and financial filings from medical facilities shows that many hospitals increased prices faster than costs rose, affecting outlier payments. The Journal identified $2.6 billion in overpayments Medicare made to general hospitals between 2010 and 2013 because of overestimates of hospitals’ costs." Christopher Weaver, Anna Wilde Mathews and Tom McGinty in The Wall Street Journal.


UPCOMING EVENT: Washington Post Live presents “Executive Actions — Reimagining Industries in a Changing Economy,” April 24 at George Washington University. Register to attend an intimate conversation with five CEOs, including MGM Resorts’ James Murren; Richard Plepler of Home Box Office, Inc.; Desiree Rogers of Johnson Publishing Company; Eric Spiegel of Siemens USA and John Viehmeyer of KPMG, Global and USA.


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