The mid-term elections for House and Senate are only 11 days away (and many voters have already cast their ballots). What are the stakes for the interests of the survey, opinion and marketing research profession?
Change is coming to DC. Many incumbent Congressmen are retiring or are in danger of defeat in their reelection campaigns, and key positions as Chairmen and Ranking Members on House and Senate Committees may be up for grabs.
More importantly, while the GOP is all but certain to retain its majority in the House of Representatives (and is likely to add seats), Democrats are very likely to lose control in the Senate.
The key issues of concern for the research profession in this case are the Census and American Community Survey (ACS), data privacy, and data security.
Partisan political affiliation can indicate (but not dictate) where a Representative or Senator stands on our key issues. My assessment on what potential changes might mean for the profession’s interests are based on experience, evidence, and predilections.
Census and the American Community Survey
A Republican Senate majority would pose big trouble for the funding and conduct of the Census and ACS. It would increase the chances of unfriendly legislation getting passed, such as bills or amendments to gut the ACS by making it voluntary or eliminating it entirely. It would also cede greater power over these issues in the hands of a hostile committee chairman.
We start behind the eight ball, since one of the top GOP champions for the Census in the Senate, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), is retiring early. His all-but-certain replacement, Rep. James Lankford (R-OK-05), previously offered an amendment to make the ACS voluntary during floor debate in 2012, and is a cosponsor of Rep. Ted Poe’s legislation (H.R. 1078) to do the same.
Coburn has been the Ranking Member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. With him gone, the GOP head (whether Chairman or Ranking Member) will be Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a Census critic who will be much less likely to prevent (and may actually facilitate) Sen. Rand Paul from advancing his legislation to make the ACS voluntary (S. 530), among other measures.
The top Republican champion of the Census in the House of Representatives is also retiring this year, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA-10). As Chairman of the Commerce-Justice-State (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, he has fought as best he could against the House attempts to hack away at Census funding, and been one of the lone GOP voices opposing amendments to gut the ACS. While his Congressional district’s likely successor, Barbara Comstock, is a Republican likely open to our arguments on the Census and ACS, she will not have the power of the chairman’s gavel. The new Chairman of the CJS Subcommittee will most likely be either Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL-04), who is lukewarm on Census issues, or Rep. John Culberson (R-TX-07), a cosponsor of the Poe anti-ACS bill.
Meanwhile, Republican committee term limits mean that current House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA-49) must yield to a new leader. There are four known contenders for the job: Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-03), Mike Turner (R-OH-10), Jim Jordan (R-OH-04), and John Mica (R-FL-07). Turner has been a long-time proponent of the Census, and is a past Chairman of the Subcommittee overseeing the agency. However, the most likely winner, Chaffetz, is also the greatest foe of the Census among the four contenders. Not only has Chaffetz cosponsored the Poe bill to gut the ACS by making it voluntary, he also cosponsored the Census Reform Act (H.R. 1638), which would eliminate pretty much all government surveys except for the decennial headcount.
Perhaps the bright spot amidst all the turmoil we expect for Census issues on the House Oversight Committee will be Wolf’s replacement – Comstock – who will likely rise to power quickly on the Committee. Representing a significant base of federal workers and contractors, and her expertise gained from being a former committee staffer, Oversight will almost certainly be her focus. Should we convince her to pick up Wolf’s torch on Census issues, it could mean brighter days down the road.
Overall, the main reason that annual funding legislation has not included House-passed provisions to hinder or kill the ACS appears to have been the Democrat Senate majority stripping out such provisions. Will a GOP majority feel the same way, or go to the same lengths? I’m not so confident. Enlisting their attention and assistance will require a significant increase in grassroots volunteer outreach and many more Marketing Research Association (MRA) meetings with Senators and staff to sway Senate Republicans on this issue.
Data Privacy and Data Security
A key Senate chairman and House ranking member are retiring. And that is just the beginning of the potential upheaval.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is a privacy activist who has promoted “do not track” legislation that would restrict online research (the Do Not Track Online Act), data security legislation to grant the FTC extraordinary powers to dramatically expand the definition of personal information to include even mundane research data (the Data Security and Breach Notification Act), and a bill which would require research companies to provide access/correction rights to respondents and potentially upend the whole way researchers do business (the Data Broker Accountability and Transparency Act). His retirement, aside from potentially lessening the threat from such legislation, opens up the leadership on the Democrat side of the committee to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). Nelson has a negligible profile on privacy and data security issues, so he may be open to serious consideration of our concerns.
Assuming the Senate flips, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the current Ranking Member, would presumably become Chairman. Thune has been generally friendly to MRA’s concerns on consumer privacy and data security, and has pursued more open cross-border data flows and increased digital trade, so we are optimistic about his chairmanship on Senate Commerce.
On the Democrat side of the Committee, two key moderate Senators, who also happen to have been reasonably receptive to MRA’s concerns in the past, are likely to lose their reelection contests. Both Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Mark Begich (D-AK) are on pace for defeat, which will severely curtail the friendliness we will find on that side of the Committee. Appointed Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) is all but certain to fall on election day, though having been around for only a few months, we may never know on what we might be missing out. While some of the Republican members may move to other committees next year, but the mix is unlikely to change dramatically on the GOP side of Senate Commerce.
A GOP majority will also swap the top leaders on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT), whose data security legislation was not actually that bad (the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act) but has given the privacy activists on his committee a lot of support, would switch places with Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who prefers a lighter touch on consumer privacy regulation.
While Senator Al Franken (D-MN), the driving force behind legislation to restrict location data collection, use and sharing (the Location Privacy Protection Act), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, the only Member of Congress to send staff to participate in the multistakeholder privacy process, an investigator of retail shopper location tracking, and a general advocate for mobile privacy, faces a competitive reelection contest against challenger Mike McFadden (R). However, odds are good that Franken will retain his seat, and continue his privacy battles.
Over in the House, while Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI-06) will still be chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee, other changes are afoot. Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA-33) is retiring, and Frank Pallone (D-NJ-06) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA-18) are competing to replace him. While neither is very receptive to MRA’s consumer privacy and data security concerns, Eshoo is often considered friendlier to the technology industry. Of course, it is unlikely that either could be as dogged an activist for expanded FTC power and authority as Waxman has been in his lengthy career.
Impactful turnover is otherwise expected to be light on Energy & Commerce. Ralph Hall (R-TX-04) lost his primary election; Cory Gardner (R-CO-04) and Bruce Braley (D-IA-01) are running for Senate seats; and the longest-serving Congressman ever, John Dingell (D-MI-12), is retiring (and will be replaced by his wife).
The major expected loss will be Jim Mattheson (D-UT-04), who is retiring. The moderate Democrat has been helpful on consumer data privacy and data security issues in the past, and much more willing to listen to the research profession’s concerns than many of his fellow Congressman on that side of the aisle.
However, the research profession’s biggest challenge on data privacy and data security issues in the House could arise on the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, where the reelection of Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE-02) is in doubt. Subcommittee Chairman Terry has defended the European Union-U.S. Safe Harbor, which many European policymakers want to eliminate but which is essential to trans-Atlantic marketing research, and adopted our suggestion that the EU should adopt our regulatory approach instead. He also organized a Privacy Working Group to try to focus on data privacy issues in a bipartisan fashion in hopes of reaching consensus and avoiding flawed comprehensive privacy legislation, and he avoided potentially harmful data security legislation. Should he fall to Brad Ashford (D-NE), we will lose a key policy ally on the most important House subcommittee for the research profession.
Looking to 2015
At least one of the top 10 government players in consumer data privacy in 2014 is not returning (Rockefeller), and two more are in danger of being replaced, if they lose their reelections (Terry and Franken). New policymakers will rise. No matter the results on Election Day (and in potential runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia), we expect a bunch of new faces, and new challenges.
As MRA’s lobbyist for the survey, opinion and marketing research profession in the U.S., I’m ready to beat down doors, promote our interests, and defend our flank, but grassroots volunteer action will prove crucial. Please get in touch and join me today.
Photo: Pictured, from left to right: Sen. Tom Coburn, Rep. James Lankford, Sen. Ron Johnson, Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Frank Wolf, Rep. Robert Aderholt, Rep. John Culberson, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Mike Turner, Rep. Jim Jordan, Rep. John Mica, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Sen. Bill Nelson, Sen. John Thune, Sen. Mark Pryor, Sen. Mark Begich, Sen. Pat Leahy, Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Henry Waxman, Rep. Frank Pallone, Rep. Anna Eshoo, and Rep. Lee Terry