Political Capital with John Harwood

FEC Campaign Questions, Oil Market Crisis And More


Here are a few items from my Washington Wire column in today's Wall Street Journal:

--The FEC is questioning 2008 contenders about contributions that “appear to exceed” legal limits. Hundreds of donors wrote checks for more than the $2,300 per election cap. Some failed to attribute parts of donations from joint bank accounts to their spouses. The agency has asked Barack Obama’s team to explain 55 pages worth of donations, more than it questioned for Rudy Giuliani and Bill Clinton. Candidates have 60 days to amend reports or refund excess donations.

--Washington insiders are game-planning for future oil market crises. Former Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin, White House press secretary Mike McCurry, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and CENTCOM Commander John Abizaid next week join in a simulation of deepening energy crisis. Their “Oil Shockwave” exercise, staged by two energy policy groups, involves a 2009 scenario where oil prices reach $160 a barrel with Iran in turmoil.

--Participants will play roles of top administration officials responding to mock news broadcasts and reports from officials around the world. “Our nation needs leaders who can assume responsibility before we suffer an economic train-wreck," says ex-Marine Corps Commandant P.X. Kelley, who heads Secure America’s Future Energy with Fed Ex chairman Fred Smith. SAFE advocates reducing foreign oil dependence through tougher fuel economy standards, increased offshore drilling, and more reliance on biofuels.

--Opposition mounts to Democrats' plans for delaying a corporate tax break. The provision, due to take effect in 2009, would give tax benefit for American multinationals with overseas interest expenses. Supporters insist it eliminates “double taxation” of foreign income, but House tax chairman Charlie Rangel wants to hold off implementation for three years.

The change would raise $8.7 billion over ten years, which Rangel seeks for new assistance to workers who lose jobs to foreign competition. “I don’t see how unwinding this tax relief for U.S.-based companies helps U.S. workers,” complains Republican Sen. Grassley of Iowa. Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber oppose Rangel's proposal, but a high-tech group representing Apple , Cisco  , and Dell has swung behind it.

--Texas Republicans fight to hold off compromise energy legislation. Sens. Hutchison and Cornyn complain about a House provision removing tax benefits for new oil refineries and shifting them to producers of wind and solar energy. Oil lobbyists are pushing to modify Senate ethanol mandate.

--New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson breaks from the 2008 Democratic pack, saying his health plan would cover undocumented immigrants. The New Mexico governor, seeking to become first Hispanic-American president, would let illegal immigrants buy into his new health coverage plans, though without subsidies. Front-runner Clinton, avoiding flash-point of immigration debate, insists “we have to focus” on expanding care for legal residents.

--All aboard: Senate Democrats capitalize on airline delays and global warming concerns by seeking $9-billion more for intercity rail, including $1.2-billion for Amtrak. Bidding for Republican support, Democrats include tougher spending oversight in bill that could hit Senate floor next week.

--Republicans still boast a fund-raising edge at party headquarters. FEC reports show Republican National Committee raised $5.8 million in September. That outpaced the DNC’s $3.7 million. Republicans’ $16.5-million cash balance is five times the Democrats’ total. The DNC’s $5.1 million in September spending, helping finance Chairman Dean’s 50-state strategy, was $1.4-million more than the party took in.

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