Policy vs. Political Reality Former Michigan Congressman Bob Carr shares his insights with UCLA Luskin students, faculty and fellows during a week as a Regents Lecturer

By Zev Hurwitz and Stan Paul

Public policy students at UCLA frequently study the goings-on in Congress as a matter of historical fact, but the learning really comes to life when a Capitol Hill veteran makes his way to the Public Affairs Building in person.

That’s exactly what happened when M. Robert “Bob” Carr, a former longtime congressman from Michigan, spent several days at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, lecturing and meeting with Public Policy students. Carr, a former Luskin Senior Fellow, visited Luskin May 15-19, 2017, as a Regents Lecturer — part of the University of California’s Regents Professors and Lecturers Program.

During a busy week at UCLA Luskin, Carr spoke to public policy graduate students over lunch, participated in a Senior Fellows conversation, lectured to intimate groups of students and faculty, spoke to students in a first-year public policy course, and held a series of one-on-one office meetings with Luskin students.

Carr served 18 years in Congress between 1975 and 1995 in a district that includes Michigan’s capital, Lansing. He currently serves as adjunct professor of ethics and congress at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.

Public Policy Department Chair and Professor Mark Peterson introduced Carr during a May 17 lecture, noting that the former congressman was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat in an otherwise heavily Republican district in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

“As we know, Congress goes on to experience all kinds of periods of time, including the current one,” Peterson said. “Few people have more insight on that than Bob Carr.”

Wednesday’s talk was titled “Congress: A Political Institution, Not a Policy Shop” and focused on the nuances of policy pursuits in a highly politically charged governmental body.

“In most languages, ‘policy’ and ‘politics’ are the same word,” Carr said. “I’ve wondered out loud how this affects our thinking about these areas. We tend to categorize — that’s how we communicate. In English, ‘politics’ and ‘policy’ are related, but have two very different meanings.”

Carr discussed how different branches of the government interact with policy, noting that the rules of the House of Representatives tend to mandate a focus on procedure over policy-formation.

“If I have all the right arguments, I’ve got the best policy prescription, I’ve done critical thinking, and everyone agrees with me — but I don’t know the rule book — I’m not going to win,” he said. “Procedure will win every time over policy and politics.”

In the Senate, however, policy and procedure are secondary to the political environment.

“Senators are very important people. If you don’t know that, just ask them,” he joked.

Because the Senate places less emphasis on rules, every Senator has the ability to hold up legislation. “Every Senator, regardless of where they’re from or their party, is essentially equal, and they cling to that equality,” he said.

Because both chambers of Congress vary on their priorities and operations, policymaking is strained when the two chambers need to work together to pass bills, that arise from differing priorities. The executive branch, by contrast, lays out a policy agenda but is powerless to act unilaterally to introduce new laws.

A more productive form of government, he said, is one where the executive branch is not operating in a manner inherently at odds with the legislature.

“It’s relatively efficient,” he said of parliamentary democracies such as in the United Kingdom. “Parliamentary systems are designed to make things happen.”

Carr’s talk to UCLA Luskin Senior Fellows, “Can This Divided Congress Govern?” was moderated by Bill Parent, lecturer in the Department of Public Policy.

Carr provided a bit of U.S. history, discussing the political environment of the late 1700s. Carr said that at that time the framers of the Constitution did not want another Parliament, which he said was making life in the colonies “miserable,” citing the passage of the Stamp Act as one example.

In addition to making laws, budgets and playing a key role in the balance of power, “what’s the job of Congress?” Carr asked the audience. “Congress is about politics. Congress is about the struggle, not the policy,” he said.

“Can you have democracy in America if you don’t have democracy in the House?” he asked. “No, you can’t. And we don’t have democracy in the House today.”

Asked what a run for Congress in a state like Michigan would look like in today’s environment, Carr said it would not consist of a single message. Considering the makeup of the state, “It just wouldn’t work. You have to make a connection, find out what their story is. The message has to speak to the people’s story.”

When asked what things he would like to see change, Carr listed:

  • Gerrymandering, especially in an age of computers and big data. “Members of Congress are selecting their constituency and not the other way around,” he said.
  • Campaign finance, which he said is a corrupted system, citing super PACS and the “terrorism of money.”
  • And getting rid of the filibuster and a “return to a majoritarian body,” Carr said. “I know people on my side of the aisle go nuts about that, but long-term we have to transact with the American people.”

 

Can This Divided Congress Govern? A Conversation with Bob Carr

Bob Carr has built a distinguished career as a lawyer, an 18-year Member of Congress, and currently, an adjunct professor of Ethics & Congress in the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University. He will discuss congressional ethics and how our divided Congress may govern during the next four years. Congressman Carr is a Senior Fellow at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Former Congressman Carr’s talk as part of the UC Regents’ Lecture Series will be moderated by Bill Parent, lecturer, UCLA Luskin Department of Public Policy.

RSVP here!

Bill Parent

Bill Parent is lecturer in public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He teaches Leadership and Management of Nonprofit Organizations and Leadership in the Public Interest.

Since coming to the Luskin School in 2000, he has served as Associate Dean for Administration, Associate Dean for Advancement, and Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives. He was acting director of the former UCLA Luskin Center for Civil Society from 2009 to 2015.

He has published articles and opinion pieces in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post and California Policy Options.

Before coming to UCLA in 2000, Bill was on the senior staff of the Harvard Kennedy School, including five years as executive director of the Harvard University-Ford Foundation Innovations in American Government Program.

He is a former newspaper reporter and also worked in New York City Board of Education and the California Governor’s Office of Appropriate Technology during Gov. Jerry Brown’s second term.

He holds an Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

L.A. Charitable Giving Still Lagging Behind Pre-Recession Levels The Center for Civil Society's new study, co-authored by Paul Ong, shows slow recovery in L.A. County's nonprofit sector

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Charitable giving in Los Angeles County has yet to return to pre-recession levels, according to a report released today by the Center for Civil Society at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Los Angeles County residents reported deducting $6.56 billion for charitable contributions from their federal taxes in 2012, 12.2 percent less than they reported before the start of the recession in 2006. This weak rebound in giving is consistent with the experiences of individual nonprofit and philanthropic leaders, according to the report.

The State of Donations: Individual Charitable Giving in Los Angeles (PDF) shows that overall support for Los Angeles nonprofit organizations, including individual giving, has seen incremental growth after a significant dip following the 2007 recession. This recovery, however, has been inconsistent. There is considerable volatility in major gifts and general giving patterns and the effects of the recovery are not being evenly distributed.

“Charitable giving is greatly influenced by economic expansions and contractions,” said Urban Planning professor Paul Ong, one of the authors of the survey. “Some trends are discouraging, as large swaths of the county are underperforming in terms of charitable giving. But some encouraging trends — such as improved giving among foreign-born residents — show that there could be a silver lining.”

The study shows that naturalized citizens are more likely to make contributions than the U.S.-born population, and by the 20-year mark of residence, immigrants are just as likely to give as U.S. natives.

Published with support from the Annenberg Foundation, The State of Donations is the latest annual State of the Los Angeles Nonprofit Sector Report produced by the Center. Previous reports have focused on rising demands and falling revenues of human services nonprofits over the past decade. The first State of the Sector report was published in 2002.

“There is great pressure on nonprofit organizations to raise more money through individual donations,” said Bill Parent, acting director of the Center for Civil Society. “This report helps show how many factors — the generational transfer of wealth, changing views of philanthropy, the squeeze of the middle class, growing Latino and Asian populations, and uneven economic growth across the county — are changing existing patterns of generosity.”

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Forty percent of Los Angeles residents report that they donate to charity, including donations to and through religious organizations.
  • Diversity matters, but it is complicated. Of the major racial and ethnic groups, whites and Asians in Los Angeles are more likely to give than African Americans and Latinos. There is, however, considerable variation within those groups — the more immigrants are incorporated into an area, for example, the more likely they are to give.
  • In Los Angeles County, older, more educated and wealthier populations are more likely to give.
  • Paradoxically, the highest levels of generosity — measured as the percentage of the population that donates to charity and the share of income donated — can be found in the county’s most and least wealthy neighborhoods.
  • In terms of major gifts, Los Angeles nonprofits are vying for the outsize generosity of a very small percentage of high net worth households, which are estimated to provide half of all individual giving to nonprofits.
  • Individual giving patterns reflect growing inequality. High net worth households are contributing more in actual dollars but less in terms of the percentage of their income donated to charity. In terms of major gifts over $1 million, higher education has the most recipients as well as donors.
  • Los Angeles is a key player in major giving, with more dollars flowing out of the area than are coming in.
  • Between 2006 and 2012, county residents who itemized their deductions contributed on average almost $1,500 to charitable causes, but that giving diminished significantly after 2007. Between 2006 and 2008, total tax-deductible contributions declined by $1.28 billion for the county as a whole, which translates to a decline of roughly $350 per tax filer.

“It is our hope that greater awareness of these trends might encourage more giving as well as more thoughtful giving across Los Angeles,” Parent said.

Highlights from The State of Donation: Individual Charitable Giving in Los Angeles will be presented during an October 28 event at the Center for Civil Society’s annual conference on the state of the Los Angeles nonprofit sector at the Skirball Center.

The entire report is available here.