Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case many — including my GovBeat colleague Niraj — have dubbed the next Citizens United. McCutcheon challenges the government-set aggregate limits on how much an individual can contribute to federal candidates. It’s the latest salvo in a coordinated drive by conservative lawyers to undermine campaign finance reforms. And those conservative lawyers aren’t waiting for McCutcheon to be decided before they tee up their next assault — this time on rules against corporations contributing to candidates. Last week, Indiana attorney Jim Bopp Jr., on behalf of the Iowa Right to Life Committee, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review Iowa’s ban on political contributions by corporations. Bopp says Iowa’s rules, which allow labor unions to give but prohibit corporations from donating to candidates, violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee, along with the right to free speech.
In its landmark 1976 decision Buckley v.Valeo, the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of laws aimed at “the prevention of corruption and the appearance of corruption spawned by the real or imagined coercive influence of large financial contributions on candidates’ positions and on their actions if elected to office.” In that light, let’s take a look at the record of campaign contributions to Spencer Bachus, a Republican congressman from Alabama and a prime example of the interaction between special interest campaign contributions and the legislative process. For all intents and purposes, Bachus, who has announced that he plans to retire in January 2015, has spent his career as a wholly owned subsidiary of the finance industry. Bachus acknowledged as much in an interview with the Birmingham News on Dec. 9, 2010, shortly before he became chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services. “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated,” the Alabama congressman told the News. “My view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”
Editorials: Election reform can counter political dysfunction | Henry Bonilla/Charlie Gonzalez/The Hill
It has become painfully obvious that extreme partisanship in Washington is harming our economy, national security, and the future of our country. The recent federal budget showdowns—and resulting risk to economic growth—are only the latest evidence. While there is no one silver bullet, election reforms at the state level—including in Ohio—can improve on our national political dysfunction and reassure Ohioans and all Americans that our government can be restored to functionality. For example, many Americans deride the practice of drawing safe Republican and safe Democratic legislative districts that produces polarized candidates, reduces real competition and leaves voters without choices on Election Day. Many share visceral reactions at the idea that one party in control can “stick it” to the other party when they draw district lines for the next decade.
A scan of recent days’ writing reveals two lines of argument about the Supreme Court’s failings in campaign finance. One holds that the Court’s understanding of politics is weak and leaves it helpless to grasp, in practical terms, the issues presented. It is suggested that Congress knows best; its members, also political candidates, are experts in the electoral process. Others argue that there is hope for the Court but it would require an improvement in the arguments it hears, and Professor Lessig and his allies continue to urge that the Justices be pressed on his “originalist” argument for an expansive view of the corruption—“dependence corruption”—that Congress should be empowered to control. There is more to add in each instance to round out what the proponents of these points of view have chosen to offer. The modern reform program does not generally invest much in the stalwart support of politicians. For the most part it is highly suspicious of pols. In gerrymandering, reform advocates contend that politicians invariably design districts to their narrow political advantage. In campaign finance, the Federal Election Commission is regularly reviled for being a hand-puppet of the two political parties who appoint Commissioners compliant with their wishes. Then there is ongoing accusation that elected officials fail or refuse to police their own ethics, through the legislative disciplinary bodies. In the House, this distrust led to the creation of the Office of Congressional Ethics as an “independent” enforcement mechanism structured to compensate for official fecklessness.
When a pair of Colorado lawmakers were recalled last month in a referendum on gun control, opponents had this to console them: At least, they said, the twin defeats did not alter the balance of power in Denver, the state capital. Now gun rights advocates are looking to change that. Organizers have received official go-ahead to start gathering signatures in a bid to oust state Sen. Evie Hudak, a Democrat from the Denver suburb of Westminister, who was the target of a failed recall petition drive earlier this year. The group, certified by Colorado’s secretary of State, has until Dec. 3 to collect just over 18,900 signatures to force a vote. The stakes: control of the state Senate, which Democrats hold by a tenuous 18-17 edge. Hudak, who is in her second term, was one of four lawmakers originally targeted after the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed a series of sweeping gun controls in response to mass shootings last year in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. The measures, signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, include a requirement for universal background checks and a limit on ammunition magazines like the one used in the July 2012 theater shootings in Aurora, another suburb of Denver.
The integrity of America’s elections is paramount to our democracy. As Florida prepares to undertake another purge of voter rolls, though, last year’s botched attempt at cleansing registration records of noncitizens cannot be duplicated. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner just finished a tour of the state to try to ensure the public that officials would perform better this time — and not send county elections supervisors flawed lists of eligible voters and minorities. Detzner’s just ended “Project Integrity” tour hinged on the admission of fault in 2012 and the promise of more solid data this time. But there’s reason to suspect another debacle.
Indiana: Carl Brizzi tells court that if Charlie White testified, it would have been a ‘disaster’ | Indianapolis Star
Defense attorney Carl Brizzi testified this morning that allowing former Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White to take the stand in his 2012 theft and voter fraud trial “would have been a disaster.” Brizzi had represented White in that case. White is now trying to erase his felony convictions for theft and voter fraud as he faces a one-year, home-detention sentence. White’s new attorney, Andrea Ciobanu, is trying to show that Brizzi provided incompetent counsel. This morning, she hammered Brizzi over why he didn’t allow anyone to testify in White’s defense. Brizzi, a former Marion County prosecutor, said White was tough to control during the proceedings in early 2012 and he believed White’s testimony would work against him. “It was all I could do to just keep him … to just maintain composure,” Brizzi said. As an example of White’s behavior, Brizzi described a newspaper interview he let White do as a “disaster.” Brizzi said if White had testified, deliberations would have been 30 minutes.
Indiana’s former elections chief was difficult to control and not allowed to take the stand at his 2012 voter fraud trial because he was a loose cannon, the attorney who defended him testified Tuesday. Carl Brizzi explained his defense strategy during a Hamilton County court hearing on ex-Secretary of State Charlie White’s petition to have his convictions overturned. White was sentenced to a year of home detention and was removed from office in February 2012 after a jury convicted him of voter fraud and other felony charges. The case stemmed from his use of his ex-wife’s home in Fishers as his voting address in 2010 while serving on the Indianapolis suburb’s town council and running for secretary of state. Prosecutors said White lived in a townhouse outside his council district with his then-fiancee but continued to receive his council salary and vote in his old precinct.
On October 16th – a Wednesday, no less – New Jersey voters are being asked to go to the polls to select a new U.S Senator to replace Jeffrey Chiesa, Gov. Chris Christie’s stand-in for the long-time Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died earlier this year. Bizarrely, this oh-so-special election takes place just 20 days before these same voters will be asked to return to the polls for the regularly scheduled election for governor and state legislature. The cost to New Jersey taxpayers? Some $12 million. The adverse impact on voter turnout for having two separate elections in 20 days? Significant. The partisan calculation behind the election date? Blatant. It’s hard to know when we’ll hit bottom in shameless manipulation of our electoral laws by leaders of both major parties, but let’s hope it doesn’t get much lower than Gov. Christie’s “datemander.” When announcing his election schedule last spring, Christie justified the October 16th date with his professed belief that New Jersey voters needed as many days as possible with an elected Senator – then proceeded to appoint a Republican who for four months opposed most of the positions held by the man originally elected by those voters.
The debate over unsolicited absentee voter applications first heated up in the fall of 2011. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald wanted to send these forms to every voter in his county, which gives those individuals a chance to request an absentee ballot. Secretary of State Jon Husted disagreed with FitzGerald because of the lack of uniformity it would bring among the other counties. As part of a compromise, FitzGerald agreed to hold off on sending out the applications and instead, Husted’s office mailed them to voters throughout the entire state for 2012’s presidential election. Now Republican Senator Bill Coley, of southwest Ohio, wants to lock down the rules on these applications in state law. His proposed bill says the Secretary of State can mail unsolicited applications for absentee voter ballots, but only on an even-numbered year and only if the General Assembly provides the money.
Two Spartanburg County legislators plan to pick up the fight for closed primaries when they reconvene with their colleagues in January. Rep. Bill Chumley, R-Woodruff, and Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, said they plan to pre-file legislation that would close the primaries. South Carolina voters would have to register by party and vote only in their own party’s primary. “I think Republican-minded people should choose our candidate and not have it part of a partisan strategy of who the other party would like to run against,” Chumley said. Such legislation has died in the Legislature before, but the lawmakers said they are undeterred and are optimistic this year could be different. “It’s something the party’s been pushing for a while,” Bright said. “I’m starting to hear it from people outside the establishment.”
A candidate for the French far-right National Front (FN) party has won a by-election in the south-east, amid signs the party is gaining in strength. Laurent Lopez won a seat in the Var regional council, defeating the centre-right UMP with 53.9% of votes. Speaking on TV, FN leader Marine Le Pen said the results showed “a real desire for change by the French”. The party, once seen as a pariah in French politics, has made significant gains in popularity in recent months. It has been expanding its appeal to disillusioned Socialist and opposition UMP voters with promises on crime and illegal immigrants. Sunday’s run-off poll was for a seat in the town of Brignoles, near Toulon. Observers say the FN win there suggests the party may make gains in the 2014 municipal and European Parliament elections.
Germany: To Form German Coalition, Merkel’s Party May Need to Support a Minimum Wage | New York Times
Germany has long held out against introducing a nationwide minimum wage, and over the weekend Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized her rejection of the idea. But it may be the price she has to pay to build the stable government she has promised voters. Ms. Merkel’s conservatives met Monday for a second round of preliminary talks with the Social Democrats, the center-left party that is demanding a base wage of 8.50 euros an hour, or $11.55, for workers across Germany, Europe’s largest economy. The issue emerged as a central sticking point the two sides must overcome if they are to proceed to the next step of formally trying to build a coalition. The chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union, along with its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, emerged from a Sept. 22 parliamentary election as the clear winners. But the parties fell five seats short of a majority that would have allowed them to govern alone. Their previous partner in government, the pro-business Free Democrats, was ousted from Parliament, leaving Ms. Merkel searching for a new partner. Ms. Merkel’s conservatives have held an initial round of discussions with the Social Democrats, as well as the Greens. Both meetings concluded with a decision to meet again to sound out whether there are enough common points to open formal negotiations over a coalition that would form the next government.
Political parties in the country have cast doubt on the Electoral Commission’s ability to implement reforms following the challenges which confronted the 2012 polls. The Commission has come under criticisms by some political for its inability to deal effectively with some of the problems that bedevilled the elections, that some argue, could have been avoided. Speaking to Joy News on the sidelines of a workshop to discuss proposals for electoral reforms, some representatives of the political parties say the EC cannot be trusted to effectively carry out the reforms. MP for Manhyia East, Dr Matthew Opoku Prepmeh, who spoke for the New Patriotic Party, observed experience has shown that the Commission is not amenable to change.
In the latest episode of what appears to be a serial coup in the Maldives, the country’s Supreme Court – apparently at the behest of allies of the former dictator, Islamists, and powerful business figures – threw out the results of the first round of presidential elections just hours before the scheduled date of the second round in which pro-democracy leader Mohamed Nasheed was expected to win handily. On October 10, the Court also invalidated all registered voters (the greatest number of whom had supported Nasheed) and called for the re-registration of everyone who wished to participate in a new presidential election, which they scheduled for October 19, only nine days later. This has raised concerns that the rushed and largely unsupervised re-registration process will allow anti-democratic forces to add the names of non-existent supporters of their candidates to the rolls while purging large numbers of Nasheed supporters. The Economist, noting that the police were getting “suspiciously strong powers of oversight” in the repeat election, observed that the impact of the ruling of the Court, dominated by appointees of a former dictator, is that “the crooked and the powerful are telling voters to go away and try again until they come up with a different result. ”