Setting the record straight about No Labels
By Margaret White
For The Hill
December 6, 2018
It was with great sadness that I read a recent article from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), in which he encouraged other members of Congress to run away from the bipartisan reform organization No Labels.
And then the sadness became frustration when I realized most of what he wrote about No Labels was completely untrue.
I would know as I serve as a senior advisor at No Labels and have been with the organization since its inception. In fact, I was at the very Bipartisan Program for Newly Elected Members of Congress at Harvard University in 2012 where Pocan said he first heard about No Labels.
I met Pocan and hoped, like his friend and former colleague from Wisconsin, GOP Rep. Reid Ribble, that he’d embrace No Labels mission to work across the aisle to solve problems and to unite our divided country.
It has not worked out that way and Pocan has instead chosen to regurgitate a recent spate of stories – relying on illegally leaked internal documents and sourcing from a disgruntled vendor – to malign or mischaracterize our mission.
We have to set the record straight. At a moment of dangerous tribalism in our politics – where too many are intent on destroying rather than debating their opponents – No Labels is a one-of a-kind organization trying to bring people together, end the vicious cycle of partisan hatred and to create space for our nation’s toughest problems to actually get solved.
Most notably, No Labels inspired the creation of a group in the House called the Problem Solvers Caucus, featuring 40-plus members, evenly divided between the parties, working to get to “yes” on key issues. While the media often conflates No Labels and the Problem Solvers, we are separate and independent entities, even as we work toward the same goal of finding and forging bipartisan solutions.
Four times in the last year, No Labels watched as the Problem Solvers did the impossible: They aligned behind or released bipartisan proposals to deal with immigration, health care, infrastructure and gun safety. Each time, House Republican leadership – which refused in this Congress to put almost any bills on the floor the Freedom Caucus would not support – ignored them, refusing to even give the Problem Solvers’ proposals a hearing, despite the fact the proposals would probably get majority support if they ever made it to the House floor.
In February 2018, No Labels cofounder Bill Galston wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the House of Representatives had become the place “bipartisan proposals go to die,” due in large part to arcane House rules that concentrate too much power in the wrong places, be it the Speaker’s office or small, highly ideological factions that hold the rest of Congress hostage
Bill wrote that after the November election, a small group of members in a narrowly divided Congress, could: “use their leverage by withholding their votes for the majority’s candidate for speaker until the candidate agrees to support reforms in the way the House does business.” No Labels even dug up an example of Progressive Republicans doing this in 1923.
In June, No Labels released a roadmap to force through real rules reforms in the next Congress with our Speaker Project reform booklet. And a month later, the Problem Solvers Caucus released its own rules reform proposals called Break The Gridlock. By September – months before the election – almost 20 Caucus members, both Democrats and Republicans said they’d only vote for a Speaker who would support these rule changes.
Along the way, allies of No Labels recognized leaders willing to reach across the aisle – like those in the Problem Solvers Caucus – often did so at significant political risk. So they funded an independent campaign effort that raised and spent more than $8 million to support 17 Democratic House candidates and more than $7 million to support an equal number of Republicans, in both primary and general election campaigns.
All this work – to push for sensible rule reforms in a broken Congress and to finally provide some political support for leaders who operate in the political center – has been twisted beyond recognition by the likes of Pocan.
He suggests No Labels and its allies spent twice as much to help elect Republicans than Democrats. We actually spent more on Democrats.
He imagines we are part of an anti-Nancy Pelosi cabal even as our effort to push for House rules changes began nine months before the midterm elections. In fact, the first policy proposal No Labels ever released in 2011, was called Make Congress Work! and called for the same kinds of reforms. Republicans ran the House at the time. No Labels never ran sought to run against Pelosi or replace her as Speaker. Full stop.
He also completely mischaracterized No Labels’ role in a 2014 Colorado Senate race, in which No Labels offered a Problem Solver Seal – not an endorsement – to both Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Sen. Mark Udall if they’d support a No Labels National Strategic Agenda with four goals pertaining to job creation, energy security, securing Social Security and Medicare and balancing the budget. In other words, we offered the seal to both the Democrat and the Republican in the race, as we did in dozens of other races that year.
Beneath all the specific attacks by Pocan and others is the general insinuation that No Labels is a puppet of special interests, and pushing some sort of hidden agenda. But we aren’t funded by D.C. special interest groups. Some of our donors are big, some are small, and we keep them all confidential, as is standard practice for most other 501(c)(4) organization including groups like AARP and the League of Women Voters.
But nobody who donates to No Labels does so with an expectation of a quid pro quo. If you’re a big donor or company looking to give money to an advocacy group who will push for your special tax break or regulatory exclusion, you shouldn’t bother looking at No Labels.
We advocate for no interest but America’s interest and every reform or policy proposal we have ever released backs up this idea. With likely House speaker Nancy Pelosi having embraced real reforms that will open the door for bipartisan legislation in the next Congress, No Labels is now turning its attention to New Hampshire, where we are organized for a Unity 2020 campaign that will demand candidates from both parties make specific commitments that will help unite rather than divide the country.
The work No Labels is doing is too important to let these nasty attacks go unanswered. We couldn’t be prouder of our work. Or more convinced that our mission is the right one.
Margaret White is a senior adviser with No Labels.