| Frank Wright, Ph.D.
President & CEO
There’s a new and very troubling trend in the Executive branch right now. Though the number keeps changing almost weekly, at best count it appears that President Obama has appointed at least 33 czars to various posts since he took office last January. There’s an AIDS Czar and an Auto Recovery Czar, along with an Afghanistan Czar and a Climate Change Czar. The Midwest has a Great Lakes Czar and broadcasters have a Diversity Czar (more about him later). Rather than focus on their job descriptions – which countless commentators have already done in recent weeks – I would like to draw your attention to the structural problems associated with the appointment of so many political czars.
Quite frankly, appointing this number of unelected and unaccountable czars assumes on its face that our nation is something other than a democratic Republic. Our Founding Fathers created a unique and brilliant system of representation by the people, for the people, maintained through an election process. We do not live in a Democracy where the majority always rules, but under a carefully constructed system of checks and balances that allows our government to function without stifling the voices of minority interests.
By contrast, President Obama has appointed czars who, in most cases, have completely circumvented the necessary vetting processes that have existed for decades. Important jobs in the Executive branch are supposed to be vetted through the Senate confirmation process and even when approved, they are still subject to some measure of Congressional oversight as a check on Executive power. Few of the czars, however, have been required to go through this process. And while Senate nomination hearings are rarely pleasant for any Presidential appointee – especially when they’re run by a political party who opposes the appointee’s political views – they are necessary and important. Senate confirmation hearings give an appointee’s proponents, and detractors, an equal opportunity to air any and all issues that may affect the appointees’ decision-making and ultimately, the American people. Thus “minority” voices are heard, and a key component of the governmental process in our Republic is satisfied.
Trouble always follows circumvention of this process. Take Van Jones, for example, President Obama’s Green Jobs Czar who recently resigned. It is doubtful that Jones would have made it through the Senate confirmation process. Many of his past statements, made in speeches and to the press, sound absurdly radical even to those on the proverbial Left. At the very least, Jones’ appointment and recent resignation leaves a blot on the President’s record. It also makes the Administration look as though it is less serious about policy, and more serious about pandering to major campaign donors or the special interests that want a certain individual given power to tackle a particular political issue. And each of these czars makes well over six figures, not counting the tax dollars allotted to their personal staff, budget and travel expenses. The best-case scenario is that all of this cheapens the processes and appearance of our government.
At worst, it is downright dangerous for the American people. These czars aren’t required to go through background checks. Since they “serve at the pleasure of the President,” they are immune from Congressional oversight, and according to one legal expert in a recent review of the practical legal issues at hand, existing Supreme Court precedent would even keep these czars from being forced to reply to Congressional subpoenas, since they can hide almost anything under the umbrella of “Executive Privilege.” Each Presidential czar therefore has a great deal of power, unprecedented access to official and perhaps even classified materials, yet they are accountable to no one but the President. That is an unacceptable loophole in our government process.
For their part, some Members of Congress have had the courage to address this issue. In July, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) introduced legislation (H.R. 3226) that would deny funds to any czar that had not been confirmed through the “advice and consent” of the United States Senate. Currently, that bill has 104 cosponsors.
For broadcasters, this hits very close to home with the recent appointment of Mark Lloyd as President Obama’s new Diversity Czar. Our own General Counsel, Craig Parshall, points out that Lloyd has, in past statements, called the idea of First Amendment rights for broadcasters “a romantic view,” “too simple,” and “an exaggeration.” As the Associate General Counsel to the FCC, we expect Lloyd to focus on implementing new regulations birthed from the idea of using “diversity” to push community advisory boards. Those, in turn, would have an opportunity to regulate content and make recommendations regarding broadcast licenses. And despite this week’s protestations of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski where, in a personal report to Congress, he said that Lloyd will only be focusing on “broadband” issues, I would venture to say that if broadband were the only thing on the Administration’s agenda, someone besides Lloyd would have been hired to do the job. Lloyd’s “diversity” credentials stem from his tireless work to advocate for new ownership regulations that would, in effect, cut the legs out from under conservative talk radio. This is the type of “diversity” expertise that Lloyd possesses, and he was not an unintentional hire.
The United States Constitution is still in the National Archives, and our new President swore his commitment to its tenets when he took office almost nine months ago. While many past Presidents have appointed one or two czars, the range and scope of this new czar assault is completely without precedent. NRB will continue to track these unelected officials, particularly the Diversity Czar whose actions will affect broadcasters. Please continue to pray for us, particularly for our Vice President of Government Relations, Bob Powers, and our Senior Vice President of Communications and General Counsel, Craig Parshall. Both of these men are on the front line of this issue every single day, so that NRB may continue to play a critical role in keeping the airwaves open for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
[Andrew Napolitano, “What Can Obama’s Czars Legally Do”? Fox Forum, September 8, 2009. You may click here to view a July list of appointed czars with their job descriptions, backgrounds, salaries, etc.]