Money has always been the dark force of politics, but it’s reaching a tipping point in the 2016 presidential election. Whoever wins will be more beholden than any recent predecessor to megadonors who write huge checks. Campaigns are skating up to, or over, ethical and legal lines to maximize the dollars. There’s little worry about prosecution, though. The agency set up to enforce campaign laws after the Watergate scandals in 1974 — the Federal Election Commission — is mired in partisan stalemate on major issues, meaning there’s effectively no cop on the beat. That leaves no one (except the news media) to police the flood of big money set loose by court decisions in 2010 that made it legal for corporations, labor unions and rich people to give unlimited amounts to “super PACs,” which can support candidates as long as they remain independent from them.
Members of Congress are squaring off with the Arizona Legislature, seeking to stop it from shaking up Arizona’s political map — and possibly others across the country — before the 2016 elections. An upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision could strip the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission of the authority to draw congressional districts and give that power to the Republican-led Legislature. If the court rules in favor of the Arizona Legislature, lawmakers might redraw the map at breakneck speed in the fall ahead of next year’s elections. They would likely add a Republican tilt to swing districts, hurting the re-election prospects of U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema, both Democrats. But the impact could be the opposite in other states, like California, where independent redistricting commissions could be challenged as well.
Alex Padilla is looking beyond the state’s borders for programs that could dramatically change the way Californians vote. Among the ideas that California’s new secretary of state hopes will boost anemic turnout: automatically registering people through the Department of Motor Vehicles and mailing a ballot to every registered voter. “It will take two big steps to tackle the problem,” said Padilla, a former Democratic legislator from the San Fernando Valley who replaced the termed-out Debra Bowen after winning election in November. “First we have to register the estimated 6.7 million Californians who are eligible to vote but not registered,” he said. “Then we need to have them actually cast ballots.” Voting officials across the state agree that something has to be done to get more people to the polls. The 42 percent turnout in November’s general election and the 25 percent for the June primary were both record lows for California.
California: Runner introduces bill to allow governor to cancel some special elections | Santa Clara Valley Signal
A California state Senator who was elected earlier this year during a special election in which she was the only candidate on the ballot has sponsored a bill that would allow the governor to cancel such uncontested races. Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, announced the effort Thursday, saying it would help prevent counties from racking up high bills to put on special elections that may be unnecessary. “Expenses add up fast for counties across California when special elections are called,” Runner said in a statement. “Elections are a vital part of our democratic process, but it is not always necessary to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on an election when only one name appears on the ballot.” Runner’s legislation, Senate Bill 49, would give the governor the discretion to cancel a special election when only one candidate qualifies to appear on the ballot.
California: Disabled man’s desire to vote leads to probe of alleged state violations | Los Angeles Times
Stephen Lopate was just a boy when he first mentioned he wanted to vote someday in a presidential election. It was 2008, and he told his mother he liked Hillary Clinton because she was a smart woman. Years later, when he turned 18, Lopate’s mother sought a court guardianship of her severely autistic son so that she could oversee his medical affairs and other legal matters. But she and Lopate were horrified and confused when they discovered that the move would result in her son being stripped of his right to vote. “I have always made sure … that he knows his opinion matters,” said Lopate’s mother, Teresa Thompson. “It was just awful.”
A bill that takes away local control of voter fraud prosecutions and allows people who violate state voting laws out of confusion or a simple misunderstanding to be convicted of a felony and sentenced to jail is now on its way to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk. The measure, which already had been approved by the Senate, passed the House on a narrow 67-55 vote on Thursday. A key provision of the bill would give the Kansas secretary of state authority to prosecute voter fraud cases, something that has been advocated by Secretary of State Kris Kobach for several years.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed six bills Friday, including legislation that would have allowed thousands of felons to vote and a measure to tax online travel services at the same rate as hotels. … The voting legislation, which came in the form of companion bills from the Senate and House, would have applied to an estimated 40,000 people on probation or parole. The bill was inspired, in part, by the national conversation about racial profiling, sentencing guidelines and police conduct after violent deaths last year in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island.
Quirks of federal law and a century-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling about the shipment of oranges keep residents of territories like the U.S. Virgin Islands from having the right to vote in presidential elections. The We the People Project – a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. – thinks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act is the right time for a legal challenges to change the antiquated rules. Neil Weare, president and founder of the We the People Project, said millions of Americans are denied a critical constitutional right due to the “legal fiction” created in a 1901 suit in which a Puerto Rico businessman sued the customs inspector for the port of New York, arguing that he shouldn’t have to pay import duties on oranges shipped to the city from the then newly acquired territory of Puerto Rico. The high court ruled that territories were not defined as a part of the United States in the matter of revenues, administrative efforts, and voting.
Virginia taxpayers may be on the hook for as much as $309,000 in legal fees racked up by Republican lawmakers in lawsuits over the makeup of the state’s congressional and House of Delegates districts. Two lawsuits funded by a national Democratic group argue that the maps must be redrawn because they illegally concentrate African American voters into some districts to reduce their influence elsewhere. One lawsuit could go to trial this summer; the other is awaiting court action. House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) hired E. Mark Braden, a former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee who is now with the firm BakerHostetler, to represent the House of Delegates in both cases.
Ethiopians are voting in national and regional elections – the country’s first since the 2012 death of its longtime leader – with the ruling party expected to maintain its grip on power. More than 38 million voters are eligible to cast ballots on Sunday. Some opposition groups had threatened to boycott the vote, saying their members were being harassed and detained – charges the government denies. The prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn – a former university professor – has been leading the country since the death of strongman Meles Zenawi, who built the ruling coalition into a powerful political organisation, while opposition groups complain of persecution.
In 2014, Germany’s highest court cleared the way for smaller parties to run for the European parliament. One year on, we’re taking stock of this motley crew of lone-warriors, euroskeptics and a money-loving jokester. Martin Sonneborn is an EU member of parliament (MEP) for Germany’s Die Partei, translated simply as The Party. Most days he gets up late and goes to the European Parliament mainly to get his per diem and to watch other MEPs. The journalist and satirist records his experiences in the well-known satirical magazine “Titanic,” for which he is also the publisher. Sonneborn garnishes his comical depictions of the European parliament with fierce criticism of the right-leaning Alternative for Germany, which is also new to the legislative body. MEPs from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) don’t escape his keen eye either. As he wrote of one particularly corpulent lawmaker in Brussels: “At the moment, he’s eating half a pig with cream sauce.”
Ireland: As Ireland Voted For Same-Sex Marriage, Thousands of Expats Came #Hometovote | Wall Street Journal
We woke up on Saturday morning, turned on our radios, and checked our Facebook and Twitter accounts. It was a landslide. Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. With 60.5% of the population coming out to vote, it was the largest turnout for a referendum in recent years and, based on the final count, more than 62% of the country voted ‘yes.’ The ‘no’ side conceded by 10 a.m. “Congratulations to the Yes side. Well done,” one prominent ‘no’ campaigner tweeted. But it wasn’t as simple as that for us. For the gay people of Ireland, this was our lives. And the high turnout across the country proved that, with thousands of expats returning home.
Polish voters have sent a strong signal that they are unhappy with the country’s direction, apparently unseating the president despite years of fast economic growth and unprecedented stability. According to an exit poll, challenger Andrzej Duda, a rightwing member of the European parliament, won the presidential election on Sunday with 52% of the vote to 48% for the incumbent, Bronisław Komorowski. Official results are expected late on Monday. If Duda’s win is confirmed, it could herald a political shift in the European Union’s sixth largest economy, a nation that has been able to punch above its weight in Europe without belonging to the 19-nation eurozone. Poland’s influence is underlined by the fact that one of its own, Donald Tusk, now heads the European Council in Brussels. The changing political mood could signal a return to power of Duda’s conservative Law and Justice party in parliamentary elections this autumn. That would cement Poland’s turn to the right, create a new dynamic with other European countries and possibly usher in a less welcoming climate for foreign investors.
Ada Colau burst onto the political scene as an indignada—one of the thousands of young Spaniards who have filled public squares in recent years to protest corruption and economic austerity. Now she’ll be called Her Excellency the Mayor. Ms. Colau’s narrow victory here over the incumbent reflected the public mood across Spain as voters in municipal and regional elections Sunday vented their anger at the establishment by backing upstarts. “This was the victory of David over Goliath,” Ms. Colau said after the win by her leftist coalition, supported by the year-old Podemos party.
Europe’s Left-wing anti-austerity parties have claimed another victory after a surpise triumph in Spain’s local elections. The defeat of the two main parties that have dominated Spanish politics for more than 40 years means that a series of new Left-wing movements now hold the balance of power, inviting an unwelcome comparison with Greece. Across the country, even historical strongholds for the ruling Popular Party (PP) and the opposition socialist PSOE were rocked by the upsurge in support for recently formed groups, which can now hold the traditional parties to ransom as they try to form a ruling coalition. In all of Spain’s major cities, including Madrid and Barcelona, coalitions will be required.