The Slatest

How Your Public Policy Sausage Gets Made

This sausage promotes entrepreneurship via special tax credits for working families and small-business owners.


During her ultimately unsuccessful race against Scott Walker for the Wisconsin governorship, one of Mary Burke’s campaign consultants was fired for copying parts of Burke’s economic plan from work he’d done on behalf of candidates elsewhere in the country. Today that consultant, Eric Schnurer, popped up in the Atlantic to tell his side of the story and discuss the world of policy advising that he’s a part of.

…I started a consulting firm to continue doing what I had liked about being chief of staff: policy and the strategy around effectuating it. While we’ve worked primarily with Democrats, we have also served three Republican governors, including two likely 2016 GOP presidential candidates.

Besides developing initiatives in a wide range of areas for state and local governments in a majority of states across the country—or, more accurately, in large part because of that knowledge—my firm also has been hired to provide public-policy advice to people running for office: roughly 75 gubernatorial candidates in almost every state, a dozen U.S. Senate campaigns, mayoral and city-council candidates, and two presidential campaigns.

The creation of Burke’s plan was actually an involved task, he says:

Two of us worked nearly full-time—which for us meant 16 hours a day, seven days a week—for several weeks researching and writing the position paper. Practically every line in the paper involved extensive research. As background for four sentences on Wisconsin’s water industry, I read studies by its Water Council, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Harvard Business School; in response to a question from the candidate about the transferability of community-college credits, we located the University of Wisconsin’s internal policy document on the subject.

The copied passages, he claims, were only included by mistake and had been “extensively rewritten” in the draft that should have been released. It’s not clear why no one on his team noticed the mistake before BuzzFeed did, but that’s not really the point of his piece, which is more about the irony of getting fired for reusing ideas when, he says, old ideas are what most politicians want anyway:

When I started providing policy guidance to politicians, officeholders were eager to develop and champion “new ideas” that could serve as their historical legacy. Not anymore. Today, politicians and their advisers are deathly afraid of untested ideas that might cost them the next election. We developed an internal slogan: “Every politician wants to be the seventh to do something.” In a relentlessly negative political environment where the slightest misstep is hammered with attack ads, there is little value in taking a risk on leadership.

The good news, Schnurer says, is that there actually are good and innovative policy ideas out there that mix liberal and conservative ideas. The bad news is that he also says no politicians want to advocate for those ideas because they’re afraid of what will happen if they step over the tried-and-true party line. (The solution to this problem is to let citizens vote not just for Candidate A or Candidate B, but also for a hideous, Frankenstein-like genetic hybrid of Candidate A and Candidate B.) Read his whole piece here.