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N2K: Distractions Pulling Obama Off Message

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March 24, 2011, 4:49 p.m.

Ex-AK Gov. Sarah Pal­in (R) raised more than $1.2M for Sarah­PAC dur­ing the last quarter, “giv­ing $93,500 to con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ates and causes ahead of the loom­ing midterm elec­tions in which she’s played a ma­jor role.”

The fin­an­cial dis­clos­ure, filed 10/12 by her Sarah­PAC, shows Pal­in spent a total of about $1M dur­ing that time. Much of it — more than $255K — “went to con­sult­ants in areas in­clud­ing co­ali­tions, me­dia, in­ter­na­tion­al af­fairs and fin­ance.”

Pal­in, who has said re­peatedly that her im­me­di­ate fo­cus is on the midterm elec­tions and on help­ing elect can­did­ates she con­siders “com­mon­sense con­ser­vat­ives,” gave money to 15 can­did­ates, in­clud­ing NH SEN nom­in­ee Kelly Ayotte (R).

Her fun­drais­ing “ex­ceeds that from the pre­vi­ous re­port­ing peri­od, which covered April through June.” Then, Pal­in re­por­ted rais­ing about $866K and giv­ing at least $87,500 to can­did­ates.

For the latest re­port­ing peri­od, Sarah­PAC Treas. Tim Craw­ford said Sarah­PAC re­ceived an av­er­age of $50 from more than 21K con­trib­ut­ors. He said he “wouldn’t read any­thing in­to the spend­ing on con­sult­ing” — Pal­in’s last re­port showed her spend­ing more than $210K on con­sult­ing. He said he was writ­ing ad­di­tion­al checks to can­did­ates “right now. … There’s more com­ing.”

Pal­in’s re­port shows she ended the peri­od 9/30 with nearly $1.3M CoH. Craw­ford said “it’s up to Pal­in how much of that she plans to tap be­fore the elec­tion.” Craw­ford: “It’s there for what she wants” (Bo­hr­er, AP, 10/12).

In ad­di­tion to her con­tri­bu­tions to in­di­vidu­al can­did­ates, Sarah­PAC also con­trib­uted to the IA GOP, “an early hint of her pos­sible am­bi­tions” as a WH ‘12 can­did­ate.

Wheth­er Pal­in will run for WH ‘12 is un­clear. Some of her po­ten­tial chal­lengers, in­clud­ing ex-MA Gov. Mitt Rom­ney (R), “have a head start on her in terms of fund-rais­ing.”

Rom­ney “cre­ated a soph­ist­ic­ated net­work” of fed­er­al and state PACs to sup­port his bid. And Rom­ney “proved his fund-rais­ing prowess at the time, rais­ing mil­lions at sev­er­al one-day events.”

Pal­in’s PAC is lim­ited to $5K con­tri­bu­tions, “mak­ing it harder to take in huge sums of cash at one time” (Shear, New York Times, 10/12).

With the pro­spects for a ma­jor con­gres­sion­al over­haul of the im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem look­ing in­creas­ingly un­likely, tech com­pan­ies are seek­ing in­cre­ment­al changes that would make it easi­er for skilled for­eign­ers to stay in the United States per­man­ently.

Tech firms have long ar­gued that they can­not find enough skilled U.S. work­ers with de­grees in sci­ence, tech­no­logy, en­gin­eer­ing, and math (STEM) to meet their needs, not­ing that more than half of those who re­ceive ad­vanced STEM de­grees from U.S. schools are for­eign­ers.

A dec­ade ago, the fo­cus was on in­creas­ing the avail­ab­il­ity of H-1B visas, which com­pan­ies can use to bring to the U.S. for­eign work­ers with skills they can’t find among Amer­ic­an ap­plic­ants. While tech com­pan­ies had some suc­cess in the early part of the dec­ade in rais­ing the cap on such visas to 65,000 a year, the re­ces­sion has slowed de­mand for the visas.

In re­cent years, tech com­pan­ies have been more fo­cused on mak­ing the case that the gov­ern­ment should al­low tal­en­ted for­eign stu­dents with ad­vanced sci­ence and tech­no­logy de­grees from U.S. uni­versit­ies to stay per­man­ently, say­ing they are likely to be the job cre­at­ors of to­mor­row.

“This isn’t about a short­age. It’s about cre­at­ing jobs and cre­at­ing eco­nom­ic growth,” House Ju­di­ciary Im­mig­ra­tion Sub­com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Zoe Lof­gren, D-Cal­if., whose dis­trict in­cludes part of Sil­ic­on Val­ley, said in an in­ter­view last week. She noted that half of Sil­ic­on Val­ley star­tups have im­mig­rant founders. The most fam­ous  in­clude Google co-founder Sergey Brin, a Rus­sia nat­ive, and Ya­hoo co-founder Jerry Yang, who was born in Taiwan.

Lof­gren and many in the in­dustry ar­gue that for­eign­ers from some coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly China and In­dia, face in­tol­er­able waits of as long as a dec­ade for green cards that al­low per­man­ent res­id­ency. Lof­gren said tech com­pan­ies have told her that if they can’t hire the people they need here, they will move some pro­jects to oth­er coun­tries.

“Most of the com­pan­ies I’ve spoken with in Tech­Net would prefer to open fa­cil­it­ies in the U.S.,” Tech­Net Pres­id­ent and CEO Rey Ram­sey said in an in­ter­view on Monday.

Ef­forts to re­vamp the green-card sys­tem for skilled for­eign­ers have been linked to com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, which has so far gained little trac­tion. Giv­en that, sup­port­ers are push­ing Con­gress to act sep­ar­ately on the is­sue of skilled im­mig­rants.

Lof­gren in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion in June that would al­low com­pan­ies to seek green cards for for­eign gradu­ates of U.S. uni­versit­ies with at least a mas­ter’s de­gree in sci­ence, tech­no­logy, en­gin­eer­ing, or math. It would also re­form sev­er­al em­ploy­ment visa pro­grams. She in­tro­duced an­oth­er bill this month that would lift the per-coun­try lim­its on green cards, a move aimed at ad­dress­ing the back­log of ap­plic­ants from China and In­dia in par­tic­u­lar. House Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Rep. Jason Chaf­fetz, R-Utah, in­tro­duced a sim­il­ar bill last month that would lift the per-coun­try green card caps. The pan­el was sched­uled to take up their bill last week but post­poned ac­tion on it.

Chaf­fetz said he wants to fix leg­al im­mig­ra­tion be­fore he would con­sider a pro­pos­al to make more green cards avail­able for for­eign gradu­ates.

“I think we were in­ac­cur­ate when we as­sume that every­body wants to have cit­izen­ship,” he told Na­tion­al Journ­al last week. “Maybe they want to stay and work for a few years” us­ing em­ploy­ment visas.

Rochester In­sti­tute of Tech­no­logy pub­lic policy pro­fess­or Ron Hira wor­ries about ab­use by less-reput­able schools — par­tic­u­larly when it comes to mas­ter’s pro­grams. “I think it’s the wrong ap­proach to have a blanket ex­emp­tion,” Hira said. “What it will do is in­duce dip­loma mills.”

At a hear­ing earli­er this month, Smith said he shared con­cerns that schools might try to game such a sys­tem, but he ex­pressed hope in find­ing a middle ground. “The choice between send­ing all gradu­ates home and auto­mat­ic­ally is­su­ing visas to stu­dents are not the only op­tions avail­able,” he said.

Lof­gren’s pro­pos­al aims to counter that worry by lim­it­ing the num­ber of schools from which for­eign stu­dents could gradu­ate and be eli­gible for a green card.

“There should be stand­ards in place,” said Lynn Shot­well, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Amer­ic­an Coun­cil on In­ter­na­tion­al Per­son­nel, adding that her group would be open to sug­ges­tions that stu­dents must re­tain a cer­tain grade-point av­er­age or gradu­ate from cer­tain schools. Her group is act­ive in a co­ali­tion known as Com­pete Amer­ica, which fa­vors ef­forts to make it easi­er for U.S. com­pan­ies to re­tain for­eign tal­ent in the United States. The co­ali­tion in­cludes many tech groups and com­pan­ies such as Google, Hew­lett-Pack­ard, In­tel, and Tech­Net.

Ram­sey ac­know­ledged the dif­fi­culty of mov­ing any le­gis­la­tion through Con­gress that would make it easi­er for for­eign­ers to get jobs in the U.S. at a time when so many Amer­ic­ans are un­em­ployed. “I think it com­plic­ates the sell,” he said. He ad­ded that his group has tried to mit­ig­ate such con­cerns by also fo­cus­ing on help­ing more Amer­ic­ans ob­tain the skills U.S. com­pan­ies are seek­ing.

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