It's health plan open enrollment season for many employees, including federal workers.The editors of the Consumer Checkbook's annual Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees join us to discuss what you need to know to make smart choices for 2016.
Virginia’s hot-button race for the U.S. Senate reaches a critical crossroads. A D.C. Council member’s driving record adds to the roadblocks his reelection campaign faces. And another Metro meltdown creates a nightmarish morning for commuters. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- John Sarbanes Member, U.S. House of Representatives
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Adam Eidinger Founder and Partner, Mintwood Media Collective; Co-founder Capitol Hemp
Politics Hour Video
Mintwood Media Collective founder Adam Eidinger explained why the Federal Aviation Administration contacted him after he lost an aerial done over Adams Morgan.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi, and Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. The Nationals have made the playoffs. Should we be celebrating?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, I think we should be very proud. This is good, as I tweeted. This is good for the Nationals. It's good for the city. It's good for the region. It's great to have them winning. They're in -- they're now guaranteed at least a wildcard playoff spot. They had not clinched the division, which will make them a more secure playoff team. I'll be going to the game tomorrow, and I'm -- it's very exciting to have a winner.
NNAMDIWell, the team doesn't seem to think that's big a deal because they think they're much more talented than that. But is it going to be a big deal for Teddy Roosevelt? Does this mean that some time in the near future he is likely to win the racing president's race?
SHERWOODIt would be a terrible public relations goof for the team to let Teddy win. However, I sound like a politician. I have a secret plan...
SHERWOOD...that I could -- I know how to get Teddy to win, and I've just...
NNAMDIBut do you think Teddy's winning should be accompanied by so significant accomplishment for the team...
SHERWOODNo. I don't know.
NNAMDI...because that seems to be...
SHERWOODThat's too much PR, you know, Madison Avenue planning. But I have a plan to getting to win, but it may get me banned from the stadium. So I've got to decide how important it is.
NNAMDIWell, the fact that you have not yet been banned from the stadium is an accomplishment by itself, so we'll see.
SHERWOODBut it's a great thing. It's just a good feeling. Team has been here since 2005. It was losing 100 games each season. I feel like I ought to say something but nice about the Baltimore Orioles but...
NNAMDIWell, the Baltimore Orioles are doing very well...
SHERWOODYou know, Michael Martinez is a...
NNAMDI...this season also. And he's a big fan of the Baltimore Orioles.
SHERWOODHe tweets more often about the Orioles than anything in our region.
NNAMDIMoving on to less important matters. You attended the debate yesterday between the Senate candidates in the Commonwealth of Virginia, former Governors Tim Kaine and George Allen Jr. What did you extract? What did you extrapolate?
SHERWOODWell, first, I had to get out there, you know? Fortunately, Chester Ponder, a very good photographer...
NNAMDIYou used to work in Virginia.
SHERWOODI know, but, you know, fortunately, I could just look down at my iPhone all the way out there. I didn't have to see all those roads and traffic and detours and lights and whatever. I went to the -- it was held at the Capital One headquarters.
SHERWOODAnd what's in your complex. They were -- and -- but anyway, it was OK. It was an hour. It was on Channel 4. It's going to be rebroadcast Sunday at noon, if I may give us a plug of Channel 4.
NNAMDIThat's very important because a lot of people like me were not able to see it at noon yesterday 'cause...
NNAMDI...we have jobs.
SHERWOODIt's pretty good. I mean, George Allen, who's trying to regain the Senate seat he once held, has been very cautious in trying to run, so he doesn't get into any mistakes like he did six years ago. But he turned virtually every question, whether it was women's rights or the 47 percent controversy that Romney got involved with this week. He turned -- Allen turned virtually every question into a jobs thing.
SHERWOODWe need to do something about jobs, and a lot of people think that ought to be the Romney campaign. Tim Kaine, the former governor, he turned pretty much every question into let's stop the bitterness. He said we -- he criticized Allen for taking harsh stands, saying we can't accomplish anything on Capitol Hill if we all start out dug in on something. And so Kaine is attempting to be or is -- he would say the moderate, the let's all get along to -- so we can get somewhere in all the issues -- sequestration and all of those things that are facing.
SHERWOODSo it was a nice -- it was a -- they didn't come out -- as I wrote in my story, they didn't come out fighting, but they came out jabbing. And they were complimentary to each other on some matters. They agreed on Afghanistan, that the country should be fighting terrorism, not nation building there. And beyond that, they stuck to their points of their campaign.
NNAMDIWell, The Washington Post headline today suggested that afterwards former Gov. George Allen went on the attack because, during the course of the debate, apparently Gov. Kaine indicated that he would be willing to consider, if you will, some form of minimum tax on all residents.
SHERWOODThat everyone should pay some federal tax...
SHERWOOD...but he -- but, actually, it was a big caveat in that. If you listened to the debate, Kaine was very careful about that. He says in part of this -- let's come together and negotiate what we can do. He was asked and pushed on this by David Gregory, the moderator. Would you favor that, making everyone pay some federal tax? He said I would be willing to have that as a discussion to start.
SHERWOODAnd then he just went on and on. Of course, the media system doesn't allow you to go on and on. And so only -- then the program continued. And only in the scrum room afterwards with reporters gathered around the candidates did this get a little more weight. And I think it's -- it was not nearly as significant as it appeared to be in some of the media reports today.
NNAMDIAnd you mentioned Capitol Hill where both of those individuals are seeking to get, George Allen, of course, seeking to return there, Tim Kaine seeking to get to the Senate for the first time. And joining us now from Capitol Hill by telephone is John Sarbanes. He is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a Democrat from Maryland. Congressman Sarbanes, thank you for joining us.
REP. JOHN SARBANESIt's great to be with you, Kojo, and, as an Orioles fan, I just got to weigh in here for a second and say we're equally excited in Baltimore about what's going on this year.
SHERWOODYou guys virtually came back from the dead this year.
SARBANESIt's incredible. Nobody would have predicted where we are, and I got two sons that are just absolutely bouncing off the walls. So we'll see where it takes us, but we're very excited about it.
SHERWOODNats-Orioles games play -- wouldn't that be kind of a nice twinning?
SARBANESThat would be something, I have to say.
NNAMDICan we get on with the business of the nation here, please?
SHERWOODThis is the...
SHERWOODThis is the economic engine of the region...
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation with Congressman John Sarbanes and you like to talk about political issues. 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, send us a tweet, @kojoshow.
SHERWOODBefore we get serious...
SHERWOOD...I mean, have -- are you getting out all those 1,000 addresses?
NNAMDIYes, I have.
SHERWOODOK. You know, the engineer in there is wearing a Cubs cap. This is what's wrong with sports in the Washington region. People bring their ties to the red -- to the Boston Red Sox and the Mets and the Phillies, and they bring them into our city. We ought to tax them.
NNAMDIWell, I'm about to have him fired, but we can move on. Congressman Sarbanes, politics is a big-money game at every level of the system right now. All you have to do is turn on the television and see the flood of ads coming in from campaigns and super PACs. But you have put forward a bill that would establish a grassroots donor network, a super PAC for the people. How would it work, and why are you calling for it?
SARBANESIn the last few days, we introduced what we're calling a grassroots democracy act, and this was a response to what's going on out there in terms of the increasing dominance that big money and special interest have. You see it in these super PACs over our political system. And the consequence of that not surprisingly when you go and you talk to people, to your constituents, the ordinary Americans out there is they feel incredibly cynical.
SARBANESThey're frustrated. They don't see how their voice can be heard, how it can compete anymore when you have, you know, the Sheldon Adelsons of the world dumping $30 million into these campaigns and so forth. And as a result, I think people are turning off more and more in terms of politics and being engaged in politics.
SARBANESSo the challenge is, how do we create a system of funding campaigns that gives power and leverage and influence back to the people and takes it away or at least competes with the influence that these big-moneyed special interests have? And that's what we tried to do with the grassroots democracy act, and it's got, you know, it's got three basic components to it. And we can talk about those if you'd like.
NNAMDIWhat are the three basic components?
SARBANESAll right. So the first premise here is that we've got to find a way to broaden participation at the grassroots. Right now, the statistics show that a very small group of the people fund congressional campaigns. They tend to be folks who give over $200. It is only about one-quarter of 1 percent of Americans who are participating in the funding of campaigns. And we think that needs to be broadened out because if you can get a lot of participation at the grassroots -- and I define a grassroots donor if somebody gives $100 or less, $10, $15, $25 contribution...
SARBANES...if we broaden that out, then we begin to counter the influence and, frankly, the dependence that a lot of lawmakers have on special interest money because they'll be able to turn to the grassroots. So what we do to encourage that participation is we propose a $50 tax credit on contributions to congressional campaigns.
SARBANESSo that means if you decide that you want to contribute $10 to the candidate of your choice, then $10 of the tax that you've paid will come back to you in the form of a refundable tax credit to help you underwrite that expense. We think this will have a tremendous impact in terms of broadening out the number of people who participate at the grassroots level in the funding of campaigns.
SHERWOODLet me ask about that. It sounds like a backdoor or a side door or a go-around door to public financing of campaigns.
SARBANESWell, it is public financing. I mean, it's a form of public financing. And we don't shrink from that because, frankly, the calculus has to be and the case you make to the public for this is you have two choices. We can continue to have our campaigns underwritten by special interest and big money in which case when it comes time to make public policy, lawmakers and the institution of Congress and other places will tilt in the direction of those special interests, or the public can decide they're going to lift this funding system up on their shoulders.
SARBANESIn which case, lawmakers will start leaning back in the direction of the public when they make policy instead of the special interests. So we have the tax credit component. We're also even looking through a demonstration project that the idea of like a coupon system where in effect you could get those dollars back right away when you make a contribution. The second piece is we want to then multiply the impact, amplify the power of that contribution from the grassroots because a $5, $10 donation, you still want to multiply that in order to respond to the special interests.
SARBANESSo we've set up a multiple match system where if you decide -- so, Kojo, you give $10 to a candidate who agrees not to take any PAC money, who agrees to go out and build a network of grassroots donors of 2,000 or more and is able to raise $50,000 from that group, then your candidate qualifies for a multiple match out of a public fund at a rate of 5-1 and potentially 10-1, depending on other requirements they might satisfy. So this takes your $10 contribution at the grassroots, turns it into a $50 contribution and multiplies the impact that it can have.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Congressman John Sarbanes. He is a Democrat from Maryland. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Congressman Sarbanes, you represent a predominantly blue district, so right now, you run little to no risk in performing this kind of experiment. But what about those that are in 50-50 situations? Will members of Congress ever feel safe enough to rely on grassroots donations when their reelection is at stake?
SARBANESThat's a great question, and you have to design a system -- you have to propose a system of grassroots-funded citizen-owned campaigns that's practical, that the candidates even in tough districts will look at the beginning of each cycle and say, you know what, I can try this. I can participate in this. And so we think that the combination of the tax credit plus the multiple match is going to be attractive to a number of candidates.
SARBANESBut we've added a third piece, which I think goes to your point, and that is we live in a new era. We live in the era of super PACs, and the prospect that what I refer to when I talk about super PACs, I refer to them as money drones because if you're a candidate is just walking down the sidewalk and some super PAC comes out of nowhere and drops its payload on you, that's the end of you. So even if you have these other pieces, we need to have some provision that can counter the effect of a super PAC coming into a race.
SARBANESSo what we've said is that if a candidate has qualified by meeting these various requirements that I laid out for public funding and a super PAC then comes into that race and spends an enormous amount of money, it'll trigger the opportunity for that candidate to go to what we call the people's fund -- think of it as America's super PAC in effect, go to the people's fund -- and get some additional dollars that are correlated to the amount of grassroots support that that candidate has already established.
SARBANESAnd let's look at it through the eyes not just of the candidate, but let's look at it though the eyes of the public who support that candidate. What we're saying to the public is if you make that grassroots donation, then the candidate you support, we're going to make sure they can't be taken out by a super PAC on a moment's notice. We want to protect your investment in that candidate because you made that investment at the grassroots. And -- go ahead.
NNAMDII was going to interrupt because we have Joe calling from Rockville, Md., who seems to be suggesting that that's fine for the major parties. But, Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEYes, thank you. This is probably one of the most anti-First Amendment things that the Democrats and people have yet to propose. This is going to put huge amounts of power into both the Democrat and the Republican Party because if -- how would a third party candidate ever survive libertarian or Green Party? And this last thing that you're recommending about some sort of slush fund that if somebody starts spending too much money on behalf of somebody, the public will then come in and "help the other side." It's so transparent what you're trying to do.
NNAMDIWhat is he trying to do, in your view, Joe?
JOEIt's clearly a Democrat proposal to try to fight Citizens United because they don't like the fact that, you know, more money is coming in now on the conservative side as opposed to what used to be the unions on the liberal side. And so they're trying to do this public funding. It's also going to really hurt their, you know, what's it going to do to the third party?
NNAMDIWhat it is going to do to the third party, Congressman Sarbanes?
SARBANESI have a couple of responses to that. First of all, if a third party qualifies on the ballot, there's no reason why they can't pursue this kind of public funding like a member of any other party. But the first point that Joe made about this is against the First Amendment, this is somehow inhibiting free speech and so forth, the opposite is the case. This provision that we want to put in in terms of super PAC funding is what we're saying is the effect of super PACs is that the decibel level in a particular race gets so loud that the speech of traditional candidates begins to get drowned out.
SARBANESAnd so what we're saying is that in that instance, if it crosses a certain threshold, those traditional candidates, if they worked hard to qualify for public funding because they've reached out to the grassroots, ought to be able to go to this public fund, get some additional dollars to get back into the speech game. So we're actually trying to enhance and increase the opportunities around speech rather than diminish them. And, frankly, I plead guilty to the idea that this is partially a response to the Citizens United case because I think that was disastrous.
NNAMDIJoe, thank you very much for your call. Tom?
SHERWOODCongressman, who administers this? Who backstops it to see if the money is properly accounted for? And what if I'm a company with 1,000 employees and as CEO, I encourage my employees, not tell them, but just encourage them and let it be known I'd like for each one of them to give $10 to this public -- to this candidate. I'm not sure...
SARBANESThat's a good question.
SHERWOODHow's it going to work?
SARBANESThat's a good question.
SHERWOODI mean, who's going to -- it sounds like another government or another big leg of government bureaucracy to make sure these $10 amounts are properly accounted.
NNAMDIWe backstop at the media. But go ahead, congressman.
SARBANESYou'd have to -- look...
SHERWOODOh, we're toast then.
SARBANESYeah. You have to have a -- we have a commission that would be set up that would monitor this and make sure that it's in a position, for example, to administer the matching funds and so forth. And, you know, we have some structures in place now that are able to track campaign contributions. We have to enhance that. I'm not saying that's not, you know, part of the solution here is you got to have a structure that can do it.
SARBANESBut in terms of the other thing you mentioned, we're actually very conscious of the potential, particularly if you had a voucher or coupon for this tax credit approach where you want to make sure that people aren't being sort of steamrolled into supporting a certain candidate even if it's based on gathering up a lot of grassroots donations. And so there's actually a mechanism in this demonstration project we're setting up around what we call democracy dollar coupons.
SARBANESThere's a mechanism where within 48 hours after a donation has been made through that program, there's an opportunity for the donor anonymously in effect to withdraw that commitment or that donation to protect against fraud. So to me, the issue is how do you set up structures and how do you create a system of funding campaigns that puts the grassroots and ordinary Americans back in charge of the process because, right now, we have a system where that is completely dominated by special interest and big money. And the effect on our public policy is really terrible.
SHERWOODAll these super PACs -- I'm not totally clear on the court's ruling so far -- but it seems to me we've had this issue in the District. I want more disclosure. I want to know who. I don't -- super PAC has $10 million. I want to know who's giving the $10 million. Apparently, there are some court ruling that's inhibiting their ability to know who gives the money. Can that be something Congress could do is to force the disclosure of who's giving money to affect campaigns or is that being ruled up?
SARBANESThere's no question. There's no question. Congress has the ability to demand more transparency and disclosure. The DISCLOSE Act, which has been introduced here in Congress and - of which I'm co-sponsor -- Chris Van Hollen is one of the original authors of that, and others support that -- would create more transparency. There's really three ways to respond to this big money in politics problem. One is disclosure and transparency, which you got to have. We ought to know where the speech is originating, where this money is coming from.
SHERWOODWe ought to know whose talking.
SARBANESExactly. The second is to seek a repeal of the Citizens United decision through an amendment process to the Constitution, and that is -- that effort is underway and I support that. And the third is to create a new paradigm, another way for candidates who run for office to raise money for their campaigns without having to turn to special interests and big money to do it. And the problem is right now, there is no alternative.
SARBANESIf I want to do it a different way as a member of Congress, it's very difficult to see your way clear to raising the dollar you need to by going to the grassroots because you don't have these multiple matches in place and so forth.
NNAMDICongressman Sarbanes, I'd like to turn to another issue. Your state has gotten more than a bit of criticism since it redistricted after the most recent census. Your district in particular has been changed, now shaped something like a broken wing pterodactyl lying across the center of the state. That's according to Federal Judge Paul Niemeyer. But we have a specific question about that from Nancy in Silver Spring, Md. Nancy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NANCYThank you so much for taking my call, Kojo. Yeah, I live in a tiny section of Silver Spring that is represented by you -- will be represented by you, Congressman Sarbanes and is also represented by Jamie Raskin who I spoke with a few days ago expressing some of my concerns. And he said, in fact, he was a bit upset about his district being split in half with this redistrict thing.
NNAMDIWhat is your specific concern, Nancy?
NANCYMy specific concern is how will our tiny sliver of Montgomery County be assured will have same type of representation and effective representation as the majority of the district, which is predominantly Baltimore...
NNAMDIIt stretches from Northern Montgomery County to Owings Mills and Annapolis from Baltimore, Inner Harbor to some -- to Prince George's County with some fingers shooting off every which way. But your turn, Congressman Sarbanes.
SARBANESOh, I appreciate your question. I'm very happy to answer that because I have prided myself on very strong and consisting constituent service ever since I came into office back in 2007. And I think if you talk to the people on my district, wherever they have been located, and it has been a pretty far-flung district even before now, they'll tell you that I'm very present.
SARBANESAnd then I'm, you know, I'm one of the few members of Congress who has this ability to drive home every single day to my house in the district to see my family but also to see constituents every day. And this new part of my district that's in Montgomery County, first of all, it's a terrific set of communities that I'm excited to get to know and to represent if I'm reelected. But that is -- that's easily accessible to me as I make that commute every day. And I've already been spending a lot of time there and plan to spend a lot more to get to know the residents of that part of the county.
NNAMDINancy, thank you very much for your call. Congressman Sarbanes, thank you very much for joining us.
SARBANESI appreciated it very much, Kojo. Take care.
SHERWOODAll right. Go Nats.
SHERWOODJohn Sarbanes is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat from Maryland. You're listening to the Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, President Obama, this week, signed the bill that would give the District of Columbia the Frederick Douglass statue and statuary hall. It will technically be an emancipation hall. But I guess it's basically the same thing.
NNAMDIApparently, he surprised some people by signing the bill this quickly and this early because some activists, including Mark Plotkin, were preparing to protest that he was either, A, taking too long to sign it or, B, that he would not sign it at all, and preparing to denounce him. Well, he's aced that. Now, they are apparently planning to have some kind of celebration accompanying the placement of the statue and statuary hall.
SHERWOODAnd, well, they should be. It's a nice statue. It's been sitting in One Judiciary Square. And I had suggested, may be on this program, when there was no movement on the Hill about them, that the mayor dragged them to the foot of the Capitol Hill. And, you know, they're only taking one. You know, this compromised that allows each of the territories of the United States and the District of Columbia to have one statue and a celebratory place on Capitol Hill as opposed to two like the 50 states.
SHERWOODBut you know, so of the president signed it. I don't know that he was responding to public pressure. I'm sure, you know, the bill came to him, as many do and he signed them. I don't remember him making any big deal about it. But it -- Congressman Dan Lungren of California, I believe, a Republican, said that, you know, it's important, not just for the District to have a statue there, but for people to make sure that Frederick Douglass' history doesn't slip into the history that we don't know who he is. And so he thought it was a good thing.
SHERWOODI was there with him on Monday when Lungren and Norton -- Eleanor Holmes Norton had a picture taken in front of the statue and poor Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the other statue, you know, which, again, should be dragged to...
NNAMDIHe's lonely now.
SHERWOOD...the National Mall and just declare it. But, you know, that won't happen because everyone is playing nice these days.
NNAMDIOur guest in this upcoming segment may have something to say about that. Adam Eidinger...
SHERWOODI might have given him an idea.
NNAMDI...once was a Green Party candidate for statehood representative in the District of Columbia. Adam Eidinger, feel free to join in this conversation. Welcome.
MR. ADAM EIDINGERThanks for having me.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about the statue being placed in a statuary hall? Good thing?
EIDINGERIt should be there, yes. And it should be dragged there. I agree with you, Tom.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood, you have also been following the goings on at the University of the District of Columbia where budgetary problems apparently threaten the existence of its attendant community college. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, the University of the District is $100 million school, and it used to have 15,000 or more students. It's down to under five, and Allen Sessoms, the president, started the community college of -- and there's been some worries about it being run -- how it's run, who is it serving, why is it there. And so the mayor put together a task force with Alice Rivlin and John Hill -- John Hill used to be the executive director of the control board -- and some other people, Carrie Thornhill and others.
SHERWOODAnd they came out with a task force this week that said, look, the community college ought to be separated from UDC so they can be more sensitive to the types of jobs it needs to prepare the students for and not to be run without being hampered by the UDC. And it also said in this report that UDC needs to restructure itself. This cannot continue the way it is with the same faculty and staff and facilities for a very small school.
SHERWOODThe underlying course of this is that many people are telling me that the board of directors for UDC would like to owe, not renew Allen Sessoms' contract when it comes up next spring.
NNAMDIWell, we will find out...
NNAMDI...about that very shortly. But, Tom Sherwood, always on top of what's going on in the city, you wrote this week in your column in the Current Newspaper about the ongoing problems of at-large councilmember Michael Brown who, in addition to having a plethora of personal financial problems and campaign financial problems, now has apparently had problems getting tickets while he was driving, moving violations that have kept him theoretically from being behind the wheel of the car.
SHERWOODWell, not theoretically. Five times in nine -- five times in nine years he's had his license suspended for variety of failings. In fact, Michael Brown, an at-large councilmember running for reelection on Nov. 6, came to the UDC announcement and he talked about it. And I said well, maybe the new community college could have a driver education program as one of its programs then he could take to class.
SHERWOODBut this is just, you know, an ongoing folly -- as I call it in there -- follies in the column of personal and campaign issues and mysteries and confusion. And there's no one more frustrated than the supporters of Michael Brown who don't understand why he keeps having these self-inflicted wounds.
EIDINGERCan't he just open his mail? I mean, I get so many letters from the D.C. government explaining that I have a parking ticket that is two days late to be paid, and it's doubled. And, you know, and I get these things, I pay them off. I don't have any outstanding parking tickets. I'm just a regular citizen who pays their taxes. It's outrageous that the people who write these laws -- Marion Barry is another one of them, he doesn't do his taxes. I mean, they are -- how can people in this city keep voting for these people?
NNAMDIYou give me the opportunity to mention that The Washington Post will be sponsoring a public forum on the state of city leadership and accountability on Sept. 27 at The Post auditorium.
NNAMDIIt's part of a series called "Behind the Headlines" program sponsored by The Post. Panelists include Barbara Lang of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, former D.C. Councilmember Carol Schwartz and Clinton Yanes -- Clinton Yates, Express editor and opinion writer for The Root DC. The moderator will be Robert McCartney, Post columnist. And I will be one of the panelists in that discussion. You've already done some of these.
SHERWOODWell, how come I was left out of this distinguished panel?
NNAMDIBecause you've probably done many of these in the past yourself.
SHERWOODWell, you know, you mentioned Barbara Lang, you know, the mayor has appointed her to the Metropolitan Airport Authority.
SHERWOODYes, so that's a big deal. You know, they're trying to -- they're still trying to fix that mess out there.
NNAMDIWell, in addition to which Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has been able to get one of the people off of the Metropolitan Washington area Airports Authority and get one of his people on it.
SHERWOODHow do you say his name? Martier? Martire? Dennis Martire?
SHERWOODMartire, I've never pronounced it correct. I guess they pronounced it correctly when you had a $9,000 ticket to Prague...
SHERWOOD...which got him in some trouble.
NNAMDIWell, he will be moving away. However our guest, as I said earlier, is Adam Eidinger. He is founder and partner at Mintwood Media Collective. He's also the co-founder of Capitol Hemp. He's run several campaigns as a Green Party candidate in the District of Columbia. And if you would like to join this conversation with Adam Eidinger who just described himself as a regular citizen, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Well, let's just see how regular he is.
SHERWOODI think very regular. I think he meant to say rabble-rouser.
NNAMDIYou, Adam, you recently lost two things that mean a great deal to you. Well, let's talk about Capitol Hemp, your store that featured products made of non-industrial cannabis that was closed earlier this month.
EIDINGERNo. No, actually it is industrial cannabis, non-drug. Non-drug.
NNAMDINon-drug. Thank you for the correction. It was closed earlier this month after a long and drawn-out fight with law enforcement. What happened to Capitol Hemp in your view? It's my understanding that you now plan to take that business online.
EIDINGERWell, yes. You can find our hemp clothing items and other hemp items at capitolhemp.com. It's capital with an O. And so you can see it all there if you're listening and you're curious. Basically what happened was we opened this business in April 20, 2008, under the -- during the Bush years. And this business specializes in marketing and showcasing all the many hemp products, everything from cosmetics to building materials to clothing, of course, and paper to food. And this was probably the premier hemp store south of Boson on the East Coast. I mean, there's really...
SHERWOODHow many are there?
EIDINGERWell, we had two stores. We had one in Adams Morgan and one in Chinatown. Oh, there are numerous...
NNAMDISouth of Boston.
EIDINGERI mean, Boston alone has three hemp stores.
EIDINGERYou know, and I mentioned Boston because we modeled our store off of a store called The Hempest up in Boston that we really liked and another store out in Sacramento called Hemp In The Hartland. And these stores typically sell artisan glassware which is also known as tobacco accessories, also known as drug paraphernalia to...
EIDINGER...to the -- in the eyes of some officials. Now, any pipe including an apple, which someone carves a hole into it, can be used as drug paraphernalia. So you can make pretty much drug paraphernalia out of this pen right here. You know, it's really about the intent of the user. And so what happened was the law enforcement claims they investigated us for six months. And during that time, they claim that there was evidence of customers expressing their desire to use the pipes for marijuana.
EIDINGERAnd, you know, we have a strict policy. If you come into our store and you start talking about using the pipes we sell for marijuana, we ask you to leave. That's what the law is in D.C. That's why you can buy a pipe right now in Adams Morgan and other stores that are still open. But in our case, because we sold industrial hemp, and because we were part of the cannabis culture -- we are looking to reform the laws, and we have an opinion about the laws -- we were targeted.
EIDINGERAnd we didn't have a single incident, not a single time, not a single violent act in over four years of doing business, almost five years. And we never got a visit from the police, saying, we got a problem with X, Y, Z. They could have come in and said, we have a problem with these books on the shelf and you selling these pipes, 'cause we had, you know -- which was mentioned in the warrant. They said that we had books about drug legalization, which we did, but these are books written by policy experts here in the District of Columbia, you know?
SHERWOODBooks aren't illegal.
NNAMDIYou had books -- I was about to say you had books about drug legalization, and somehow that added to the offense?
EIDINGERYeah. We had a book called "Marijuana is Safer," and it compares the statistical data on marijuana use to alcohol use. It's alarming how much more dangerous alcohol is. I'm not saying we should ban alcohol. That was a terrible mistake. But to ban something as safe as marijuana is not a science-based policy, something that the Obama administration promised. So, you know, here we are in a Democratic city, so-called progressive city and so-called, you know, liberal city.
NNAMDIThe city in which the mayor seems to have found new zeal, it would appear, pursuing what he thinks of as drug paraphernalia. He went out marching in Southeast, asking stores there not to carry, I guess, what...
NNAMDI...cigarette rolling papers...
NNAMDI...this at a time when there seems to be a consensus across the country. Our last several presidents, all having experimented with marijuana at some point, there seems to be a consensus...
NNAMDIThere seems to be a consensus around the country that there should be some laxer enforcement, if you will, of what a lot of people considered…
SHERWOODWell, I don't know how much of a consensus. I would say there's a growing view of that, but I don't -- I would not call it a consensus, at least not yet.
NNAMDIWell, certainly a growing view, so one wonders where -- why -- whence the enthusiasm of law enforcement in the District of Columbia on this issue. When did you...
EIDINGERI want to get really serious about this. Since Cath Lanier has come in, there have been at least 40,000 marijuana arrests in the District of Columbia, 40,000. It's probably costing the city about $2,000 per arrest. Do the math. How many millions of dollars are we going to spend on incarcerating? And, by the way, this is targeting, to this day, poor black and Latino men. That's who's getting caught up in this whole thing.
EIDINGERAnd as long as marijuana remains illegal, the same drug dealer who can sell you the marijuana can also sell you cocaine and heroin and hard drugs. And if you -- that's why it's a gateway drug. It's only because it's -- there's prohibition. This is one of the -- this is the number one civil rights issue in America, in my opinion. It is the most overlooked issue in this election because both candidates, both major candidates are pro-criminalization of marijuana. Marijuana is an herb. It should be legal for anyone to grow it.
SHERWOODThis is a civil -- I'm sorry.
NNAMDIWas your business making money?
NNAMDIWas your business making money?
EIDINGERMy business was making millions of dollars, and we paid the District of Columbia, on overage, $150,000 a year while we were open. That's more money than the entire medical marijuana program is expected to generate in revenue for the city.
SHERWOODI know you said it's the number one civil rights issue.
EIDINGERTo me it is.
SHERWOODI was just wondering if the women in America who are in Virginia, for example, who are concerned about the laws there, telling them what they can do or can't do with their bodies, gay people who want to be married or not be married -- I mean...
EIDINGERThat's true. Those are important civil rights issues.
SHERWOODThese -- but these -- the ability to have access to marijuana, is it a civil...
EIDINGERHow many women have gone to jail for abortions? How many gay and lesbian...
SHERWOODNot nearly enough, according to some people who would change the law.
EIDINGEROK. And I also want to say, how many gay and lesbians in recent years have been arrested for acts of homosexuality? None. We have hundreds of thousands of people, 800,000 people a year, getting arrested in this country for marijuana. That is the number one civil rights issue. People are losing their liberty. They're ending up in jail, where they're -- where it's worse, by the way, than life here in -- outside of jail. If anyone hasn't -- do you remember that? I mean, I'd rather be discriminated against than be sent to jail.
NNAMDIWell, one does not...
EIDINGERI'd rather have a lot of other things, but being sent to jail is horrific. And I was in jail, by the way, for this whole incident. And I want to say that, in jail, I heard nothing but support from fellow prisoners and from the guards themselves for my store. They thought it was wrong what was happening to us.
NNAMDIWell, one does not necessarily want to compare civil rights issues, so let's stay with marijuana. It's taken up a good deal of the D.C. government's time in recent years as the city has rolled out a regime for medical marijuana. You were actively involved in helping to write the rules that will govern the process, but you decided against getting in the game of cultivating and dispensing medical marijuana. Why?
EIDINGEROK. So we formed a nonprofit called the DC Patients' Cooperative. We feel -- our group of patients felt that this should be a nonprofit program, not a for-profit program. The original ballot initiative that passed in 1998, which I also worked on as a young intern for a PR firm, we were entitled to grow the medicine under recommendation from a doctor. That was the right that was afforded to District residents.
EIDINGERWhen Congress removed the Barr Amendment, that was the law of the land. It was the city council that rewrote the medical marijuana initiative and created something overly restrictive. And here we are, three years later. We have no medical marijuana in the District of Columbia. We have thousands of marijuana arrests every year of patients, in many cases, and we have a city council that's dysfunctional. You know, David Catania was on your show on May 11, this year.
NNAMDIYou checked. Yes.
EIDINGERI checked. I listened to it, and we had a couple of fact checkers check this. He was on your show. He said there'd be medicine by Jan. 1, 2013. No medicine is growing in the District of Columbia right now. There are no operation...
NNAMDIIs this why you feel...
EIDINGERThere will be no medicine on Jan. 13. And...
NNAMDIIs this why you feel that the city made a mistake by not allowing home cultivation?
EIDINGERThey made a huge mistake, especially because the Obama administration has shut down over 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries on the West Coast during his term, way more than were shut down under Bush. And he's saying -- his administration is saying we have a problem with the big operations. Well, D.C. is set up to have just big operations. They don't have a problem with home cultivation.
EIDINGERThe DEA is not breaking down the door of small, you know, 10-by-10 plots that serve one or two people. And if anyone have been out to California recently, it's a different country when it comes to marijuana.
SHERWOODHow does that work if the big operations in some of these places in California have simply closed, knowing that they were being attacked? But how would it work? If I wanted -- do I have to have a doctor's prescription? If I wanted to grow marijuana in my, well, I guess, my balcony, would that be -- I would have to have a doctor's prescription, and that would protect me from the cops knocking down my door?
EIDINGERTechnically, it's a recommendation. But, you know...
EIDINGERTechnically, it's -- yeah. Prescription only applies to FDA-protocoled drugs that have been approved by the FDA.
NNAMDIWell, do you have a recommendation? It's my understanding you use medical marijuana for chronic arthritis.
EIDINGERThat's correct. You know, I...
SHERWOODAre you using it now?
EIDINGERI hate to be the spokesperson for medical cannabis because, in a way, you know, I'm not seriously ill. I have a chronic problem. Under the D.C. program, my arthritis is not going to be recognized as an illness.
NNAMDISo you can't get a recommendation.
EIDINGERI -- well, I can because doctors have free speech. And I talked to my doctor who operated on my knee. I have an ulnar drift in my right hand that's pretty severe. And I'm -- it's just getting chronically worse as I get older. I could be taking anti-inflammatories which will damage my liver and kidneys, which I actually have stomach problems when I do take them. So I'm talking about Advil or Tylenol.
EIDINGERWhat I found is cannabis, for me, is the best anti-inflammatory. My doctor, after two years of lobbying him, eventually said, you know what, I like you. I'm going to write it. I know I have a right to write these things. But doctors are mostly afraid to write these things. They feel -- unless you're an activist patient, you're not going to get a recommendation from a doctor unless you tell them and you're aggressive about it.
EIDINGERThis fear that medical marijuana is going to open up some sort of abuse of the system really stems from the idea that most people recognize that people use cannabis for all kinds of reasons, not just for medical reasons. They use it to relax. They -- you know, there was a study that came out that parents who use marijuana are better parents. This came out two weeks ago. I mean, they have more time with their children.
SHERWOODWho did that -- wait a minute. Who did that study?
NNAMDIAnd that is -- oh, I read about it. It is a very controversial study. It's an extremely controversial study.
SHERWOODDo we know who did it?
NNAMDIWe do, but I can't think of it right now.
SHERWOODOK. All right.
NNAMDIOur guest is Adam Eidinger. He is founder and partner at Mintwood Media Collective. He's also the co-founder of Capitol Hemp. He runs several candidates as a -- several campaigns as a Green Party candidate here in the District of Columbia. Several people like to address this issue. I'd like to go with Dan in Washington, D.C., first. Dan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANThanks for taking my call. Yeah. Earlier, you mentioned that the two major party candidates want to prosecute the war on drugs. I just wanted to bring up that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian, is on the ballot in all 50 states. And when he was governor of New Mexico, he came out against the drug war and was, you know, probably crucified. But -- so if you want to vote for somebody who doesn't want to put you in jail for selectivity or you want to get, you know, loved ones and friends out of jail, don't vote for the people who want to put you in jail.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. Did you -- are you willing to reveal who'll you be voting for, Adam?
EIDINGERI'm going to be voting for Jill Stein. But, honestly, if I lived in a swing state and I felt like Romney was going to win it because of my one vote, I probably vote for Obama. I would love to see President Obama and prohibition and be the president that gets credit for the next generation for being -- for doing that. He -- I don't think the people in their 40s and 50s in this country realize that the people in their 20s, in their teens, are really passionate about this issue...
NNAMDII'm not sure that president...
EIDINGER...because if they are being constantly attacked for marijuana use, losing financial aid to go to school, being kicked out of school, this is something that, in the '60s or in the '70s, in the '80s, even our president admits to using marijuana regularly, it's hypocritical.
NNAMDII'm not sure I'll hear him say in this campaign, I inhale. That was the point.
SHERWOODSo what -- well, what happened into the baby boomers that -- who are the parents of these children you're talking about? Why aren't they more adamant about this subject?
EIDINGERI think many of them are, but I think we're finally seeing the World War II generation, the '50s generation lose its grip on the political system, and we're going to see major changes in this election. I think the question is not about who's going to win. Obama is going to win. He's going to crush this election. I mean, I've looked at the data from when Clinton won in '96. It's even better than that time. He's doing even better than Clinton did in '96. And Clinton crushed it. This is really about the Democrats.
NNAMDIDo you think he's -- you think if he wins, he's going to change his approach to the war on drugs over that?
EIDINGERI think if he -- if these initiatives in Colorado, Oregon and Washington state that will legalize -- this is not medical -- these will straight up, legalize marijuana, make it a right for citizens to grow it, if they pass, I think you will see change to the federal level.
NNAMDIHere is Michael in Bethesda, Md. Michael, your turn.
MICHAELHi. A great show. I love the previous topic, and this one, I think, links together because without the big money in politics and, you know, prison industrial conflicts -- I would address people to Michelle Alexander's book, "The New Jim Crow." She said, four out of every five people -- she courts with the Supreme Court, by the way.
MICHAELFour out of every five people in jail right now would not be in jail if we didn't have the, you know, current laws which were actually strengthened by Bill Clinton to keep people in jail, which obviously has selective enforcement. And I would also point out that, you know, when you look at the statistics, the people who are, you know, put in jail and, you know, get selective prosecution on these issues tend to be as minorities and poor communities. And it was actually Nixon who started the war on drugs before the cocaine and crack epidemic...
NNAMDIAs a result of that book, I was re-awakened. I do not realize that there were so many people in jail serving hard time for marijuana usage. I thought that the enforcement had shifted to people who were using cocaine and still using heroin, but, apparently, there are still a whole lot of people in jail for marijuana usage.
SHERWOODAnd there's also a cheap labor in jail.
NNAMDIMichael, thank you very much for your call. But you, Adam, have been in the news lately for losing someone else. And by reading some of the headlines, one would be led to believe that you lost a dangerous top secret surveillance drone that you were flying over Adams Morgan. What...
EIDINGERI'm a little embarrassed. I'm...
NNAMDIWhat exactly did you lose? And why did you lose it? And what does the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, have to do with it?
EIDINGEROK. Well, you have to go back to -- you keep on mentioning I work for Mintwood Media. I founded it. I've been doing public relations work for the number one selling organic soap company, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. It's a hemp soap company.
SHERWOODWhich you're doing right now.
EIDINGERYeah, I'm doing a little bit right now. And I make the videos for them.
NNAMDIIs that one with all the proselytizing on it?
EIDINGERIt was the original hippie soap.
SHERWOODLooks like something from 1890s.
NNAMDIWhich is when I started using it, but go ahead.
EIDINGERSo I make videos for them. And I was experimenting with doing aerial video work for the last two years.
SHERWOODA hemp drone?
EIDINGERWell, this is a Chinese-built drone. It's actually a quadcopter. It's called a T580 for anyone who wants to Google that and see what it looks like. And I've probably flown 100 flights. I've had three crashes in 100 flights, and, unfortunately, this was one of them. So it wasn't really a crash. It was more of losing control of the copter while filming the Adams Morgan Day Festival from maybe about 100 feet up. And it just -- the wind was blowing suddenly and took it off course.
EIDINGERI lost orientation and eventually lost contact with the remote after maybe being about 5,000 feet away south of me. And I could still see it the whole time. I never lost eye contact with it. But it landed on its own somewhere around 17th in Florida or Beekman Place or if you live -- like Marie Reed School.
NNAMDIWell, you're trying to use this...
SHERWOODAre you (unintelligible) returned? It hasn't been returned.
NNAMDIYou're trying to use this broadcast to get your drone.
SHERWOODWell, this is good.
EIDINGERI mean, it has some spectacular video on it.
SHERWOODThe media is here to help.
EIDINGERAnd if it's found, I'm sure the video, it's on the card. I'm sure it's still there, and we could all watch it. But it landed -- yeah, it slated at a gradual rate, so it probably didn't smash. It's probably on a roof. I have searched the area. I've canvassed. I put signs up. And that -- I didn't go to the media for help, but it turns out some journalist saw the signs and couldn't resist writing about it.
SHERWOODWhat's the law -- what law are you breaking?
NNAMDIWhat did the FAA tell you when they actually got in touch with you about the law?
EIDINGERWell, if I live anywhere else in the country, with the exception of Los Angeles, what I was doing was perfectly legal.
EIDINGERYes. But it turns out there is a freeze. I found this out -- FAA called me up last Friday, very politely explained that there is a freeze that went into place in 2009, part of Homeland Security. They do jam these unmanned vehicles so -- in the District. It's possible that NSA or Homeland Security took my drone down. No one has admitted that, and no calls have been made over there trying to find out.
EIDINGERBut I think what the FAA basically said to me was they think I should have the right to fly. And in the future I will because there is going to be a licensing program for a commercial video and other type of aerial uses for these copters.
NNAMDIWhy do I feel like you're contrasting the politeness of the Federal Aviation Administration with your treatment at the hands of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia?
EIDINGEROK. So the way I see it is the metropolitan police simply could have come in to have a conversation with our store at Capitol Hemp. I mean, every other jurisdiction in the country, metropolitan -- the local police department, if they have a problem typically give a warning. And we had no warning. We had an inspection just a month earlier for tobacco. We were not in violation of any District laws.
EIDINGERWhat they're trying to do is bully us out of the city, and they successfully did that. They took all of our property, over $300,000 worth of property. They kept it in seizure, and...
SHERWOODWhy not sue?
EIDINGERWell, they've made a deal with us. They will drop all the charges, you'll have no criminal conviction whatsoever if you just do some community service, and we'll give you four months to close, which was quite nice to be able to stay open for another four months. So...
SHERWOODGoing out of business, though.
EIDINGERSo we sold -- we were able to get our inventory back. We were able to sell it off, which just also seemed bizarre considering, you know, the government raided us and took it all. A lot of people in the industry say that we're very fortunate to have gotten our property back and not be bankrupted.
NNAMDIWe have a caller, Elizabeth, who begs to differ. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHYeah. Hi. I was just thinking, you know, in terms of that and if any of -- regarding using some of the laws and changing them and, therefore, so many people wouldn't be in trouble. Perhaps, actually, if they did not break the law in the first place, they would not be in jail or in trouble.
NNAMDIIf they did not smoke marijuana in the first place, Adam, they wouldn't be in jail, and they wouldn't be in trouble, says Elizabeth.
SHERWOODThat's true of drinking and among other things.
EIDINGERThat's true for a lot of things. And, yes -- and I think the caller's logic is correct, even though I don't agree with your conclusion.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that the Congress recently passed a bill that will allow drone flights for commercial purposes in a few years. Will you be flying a quadcopter again then?
EIDINGERWell, yeah. I think -- I'm really doing this for professional purposes. I mean, some of the videos I've made, which are on YouTube, aeidinger, A-E-I-D-I-N-G-E-R. You can watch them there. They were made in -- I took all the D.C. ones down 'cause I didn't want to make it too easy for the government. So -- but I do have videos that were shot on Landon, Va., where it's authorized. And they're beautiful scenic shots.
SHERWOODVery, very good.
NNAMDIJust about out of time.
SHERWOODI want to mention the National Book Festival is on the mall, Saturday and Sunday.
NNAMDIYeah. That's a great place to be.
SHERWOODSunday at 2:45, I'll be introducing Bob Woodward for his new book.
NNAMDIYou'll get to meet a lot of authors. They'll speak...
SHERWOODIt's a cool place. Good weather.
NNAMDIThey'd speak for short periods of time, so you'll never get bored with the length of time at which they speak, but they just speak for enough time. You got 10 seconds, Adam.
EIDINGERTen seconds. We need emergency legislation in council now to protect patients.
NNAMDIAdam Eidinger is founder and partner at Mintwood Media Collective. He's also the co-founder of Capitol Hemp. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Thank you all for listening. Have a great weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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