During their long campaign to loosen rules on campaign money, conservatives argued that there was a simpler way to prevent corruption: transparency. Get rid of limits on contributions and spending, they said, but make sure voters know where the money is coming from. Today, with those fundraising restrictions largely removed, many conservatives have changed their tune. They now say disclosure could be an enemy of free speech. High-profile donors could face bullying and harassment from liberals out to “muzzle” their opponents, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a recent speech. Corporations could be subject to boycotts and pickets, warned the Wall Street Journal editorial page this spring. Democrats “want to intimidate people into not giving to these conservative efforts,” said Republican strategist Karl Rove on Fox News. “I think it’s shameful.” Rove helped found American Crossroads, a “super PAC,” and Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit group that does not reveal its donors. “Disclosure is the one area where (conservatives) haven’t won,” said Richard Briffault, an election law professor at Columbia Law School. “This is the next frontier for them.”
Many questions hang over the 2012 election. What will the unemployment rate be, and will it hurt Barack Obama’s prospects? How will Mitt Romney hold up in one-on-one debates? How will both candidates bridge the enthusiasm gaps in their parties’ bases? Who’ll control Congress? Will Scott Brown or Elizabeth Warren carry the day in Massachusetts? Here’s one Democrats are asking: Will new state actions requiring photo IDs for voters, purging voter rolls and restricting voter registration drives hurt their candidates? And here’s one almost no one wants to think about: Will the private companies who build and handle voting machines steal the election?
In the age of eight-figure checks to super PACs, is it time for a constitutional amendment that could end this dangerous farce? The notion of fiddling with the First Amendment should make anyone nervous — especially anyone who has spent a career benefiting from it. Then again, so should Sheldon Adelson’s $10 million check to Mitt Romney’s super PAC. A system that lets one individual pump so much money into supporting a favored candidate threatens to substitute oligarchy for democracy. Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe has long opposed such tinkering. But writing last week for Slate, Tribe proposed an amendment, since introduced by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), that would allow “content-neutral limitations” on independent expenditures. Tribe told me he changed his mind because “there’s no serious prospect” that a majority of the Supreme Court “will see the light in our lifetimes.” Meanwhile, he said, the “distortive effects of Citizens United and its aftermath are becoming clearer every week.”
When we buy a product, we try to make certain we are getting what we want. We like to think of ourselves as smart shoppers. We owe no less diligence when it comes to voting on a constitutional amendment — particularly one that dramatically changes the way we vote. The voting right is the crux of a democracy. Countless Americans gave their lives in order that we may have this remarkable gift. We in Minnesota lead the nation in voter turnout, and our elections are the most honest. We have recently gone through two very close elections and recounts without a single case of fraud. There is a reason why — our insistence that election laws be designed in a bipartisan fashion. That is key. No party should have an election advantage. Unfortunately, the voter ID constitutional amendment was passed by the Legislature on a strict party-line vote. Not one Democrat in either the House or the Senate voted for it. Not one.
As election 2012 progresses, there’s continuing hubbub about the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which paved the way for super PACs. Proponents of campaign-finance laws see the ruling as opening the floodgates for unlimited, often undisclosed, money to overwhelm our political system. Opponents view it as a victory of free speech over government regulation. Where does the truth lie? While super PACs may be “speaking” up a storm, it’s now difficult to hear anyone else. That can’t be good in a representative democracy, which has long prided itself on protecting free speech. A quick tour through the campaign-finance law landscape demonstrates there is much to be concerned about — unless you’re a wealthy donor or well-funded corporation.
Editorials: Coordinated nationwide effort could prevent as many as 5 million citizens from voting | San Jose Mercury News
Elections have consequences — some of them unintended. How many voters realized that Republican victories in 2010 would mean the disenfranchisement of potentially millions of voters? Since then, state lawmakers nationwide have introduced more than 180 bills to restrict voting rights, a trend that began during the George W. Bush administration. At least 18 states have passed laws that include requiring photo identification to vote, ending election-day registration and reducing access to early and absentee voting. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that as many as 5 million Americans could have difficulty voting this fall as a result.
These laws are no coincidence. They are a coordinated effort among Republicans to narrow the voting population in ways that will increase their power. The courts and the federal government are stopping some of these attempts, but it’s like playing Whack-A-Mole. The courts won’t be enough to protect voting rights if people keep electing lawmakers who want to restrict them. Voters need to make this an issue.
Editorials: Voter Suppression Returns: Voting rights and partisan practices | Alexandar Keyssar/Harvard Magazine
The 2012 election campaign—for Congress as well as the presidency—promises to be bitterly fought, even nasty. Leaders of both major parties, and their core constituents, believe that the stakes are exceptionally high; neither party has much trust in the goodwill or good intentions of the other; and, thanks in part to the Supreme Court, money will be flowing in torrents, some of it from undisclosed sources and much of it available for negative campaigning. This also promises to be a close election—which is why a great deal of attention is being paid to an array of recently passed, and pending, state laws that could prevent hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of eligible voters from casting ballots. Several states, including Florida (once again, a battleground), have effectively closed down registration drives by organizations like the League of Women Voters, which have traditionally helped to register new voters; some states are shortening early-voting periods or prohibiting voting on the Sunday before election day; several are insisting that registrants provide documentary proof of their citizenship. Most importantly—and most visibly—roughly two dozen states have significantly tightened their identification rules for voting since 2003, and the pace of change has accelerated rapidly in the last two years. Ten states have now passed laws demanding that voters possess a current government-issued photo ID, and several others have enacted measures slightly less strict. A few more may take similar steps before November—although legal challenges could keep some of the laws from taking effect.
Editorials: Challenging the market power of one voting machine maker | Sean Flaherty/Iowa City Press Citizen
I am co-chairman of Iowans for Voting Integrity, a nonpartisan citizen group that works for voting systems worthy of the public trust. We have worked for six years for two reforms that both we and many of the world’s leading computer technologists consider essential to fair elections: First, we believe that all computer voting systems must provide a reliable paper record of every ballot cast, and Second, we believe that following every election, election officials should routinely conduct a manual tally of a sample of cast ballots to check against electronic tallies. This column revisits an issue well-known both to the small community of advocates and technology experts who work on electronic voting issues and to an untold number of conspiracy theorists around the nation, but largely unknown outside those communities. This issue is the centralized marked power of the nation’s leading vendor of election equipment and services, Election Systems and Software (ES&S), and the opacity of ES&S’s ownership. I’d like to share some highly judicious and disturbing comments about ES&S that I heard June 7 at a reading at Prairie Lights by University of Iowa computer scientist Douglas Jones. Along with his co-author Barbara Simons, Jones recently published an important book, “Broken Ballots.” The reading was livestreamed on the Internet, and and audio archive should be available soon.
To read the news coverage of late, you could be forgiven for thinking that we’re headed into a campaign in which super PACs will determine the winner. Ten million dollars from Sheldon Adelson here, $1 million from Bill Maher there, and it’s easy to conclude that these new organizations will have the biggest say in the identity of the next president and control of Congress. But it’s not quite so simple. In fact, the realities of campaign advertising today still put a premium on candidates themselves — and specifically, on their fundraising. As a rule of thumb, super PACs and national party committees pay significantly more for ad space (on average, about 40 to 50 percent more) than candidates do, meaning their dollar doesn’t go nearly as far on TV. And in a crowded media market, that markup can reach as high as three, four or even five times as much as the candidates when the super PACs and party committees have to pay extra to bump existing ads off the air. The Arizona special election on Tuesday is a good example of this ad reality.
When the Supreme Court issued its disastrous Citizens United decision, five justices took the nation back to the era of secret money, unlimited campaign contributions and corporate funds at the core of the Watergate scandal. On June 17, 1972, a burglary at the Watergate Hotel began the unraveling of the worst political and campaign-finance scandals of the 20th century — and the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Yet today, massive amounts of secret money, unlimited contributions and corporate funds are again flowing into federal elections. The same elements that corrupted government decisions and officeholders in the early 1970s have returned. As baseball great Yogi Berra said, it is “déjà vu all over again.” During the Watergate scandals, we had the benefit of the special prosecutor, congressional hearings led by Sen. Sam Ervin and aggressive investigative journalism to crack through the secrecy and reveal the depths of government corruption. Such official government efforts are absent today, however, even as huge, and/or secret contributions are flowing into the 2012 presidential and congressional races. This money has the power to influence future government actions — just as huge, secret contributions were used in the Watergate era to buy government decisions. After Watergate, 20 corporations were criminally convicted for illegal campaign-finance activities. The hotel break-in itself was financed with secret campaign contributions.
I’m poring over notes created the last few weeks on my laptop, in my notebook, and on scraps of paper, in order to explain why this blog exists. In short, Voting Rights 2012 is a collaborative effort between Colorlines.com and The Nation, to report on voter suppression. But that doesn’t explain why this blog exists. Brentin Mock will be writing the bigger picture story, looking at broader national trends from voter ID to voter suppression. Meanwhile, I’ll be augmenting with more of the day-to-day developments, as well working with community journalists, who will be our eyes and ears, since our little team can’t be everywhere at once. Now that I have it down in a short paragraph, it sounds simple enough. But it hardly begins to answer why we’re really here, or why anyone should want to follow our work. Many readers of The Nation, who follow electoral trends and possess a tendency towards protecting voting rights, might wonder why their coveted magazine (and, increasingly, their online go-to site for political analysis) felt the need to pair up with a site that focuses on racial justice. Meanwhile, some Colorlines.com readers, who may be disenchanted with politics four years after a historic election that resulted in fewer gains for people of color than many hoped for, might wonder why their favorite daily news site is concerned with voting rights—an issue that seemingly only affirms the establishment (as a dear friend recently posted on Facebook, “the republicrats will win no matter what.”) And then, there’s Brentin and I, pressed to write for two intelligent yet not always overlapping audiences, and convince both that what we’re reporting is relevant.
Editorials: The Missing Right To Vote – What we’d get from amending the Constitution to guarantee it | Heather Gerken/Slate
The Constitution does not guarantee Americans the right to vote. That always comes as a surprise to non-lawyers. But you will search the Constitution in vain for any such guarantee, as the Supreme Court cheerily reminded us in Bush v. Gore. What the Constitution contains is a series of “thou shalt nots.” Thou shalt not deny the right to vote on account of race or sex. Thou shalt not impose poll taxes. Thou shalt not prevent 18-year-olds from voting. It is difficult to develop a robust case law when you only know what you can’t do. Some think that a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote would instantly produce any number of progressive goodies, like universal registration or a healthy campaign finance system or the end of partisan gerrymandering. Don’t believe it. If an amendment enshrining the right to vote looks anything like its cognates in the Bill of Rights, it will be thinly described, maddeningly vague, and pushed forward by self-interested politicians who benefit from the current system. It’s unlikely to be enough to persuade judges to mandate large-scale reform. Judges are conservative creatures (at least in the Burkean sense). They are typically loath to upend a system based on a vague textual guarantee. And a vague textual guarantee is as good as it’s likely to get. As Larry Tribe’s post makes clear, it is a challenge to draft an amendment just to overturn a single case, let alone to detail what a right to vote should involve. Even if we were to add as broad-gauged a right as I suggest below, the courts will inevitably create reasonable exceptions and interpretations, just as it has done for the First Amendment.
Editorials: The Money Crisis – How Citizens United Undermines Our Elections and the Supreme Court | Russ Feingold/Stanford Law Review
As we draw closer to the November election, it becomes clearer that this year’s contest, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, will be financially dominated by big money, including, whether directly or indirectly, big money from the treasuries of corporations of all kinds. Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy. For years, our political process was governed by an underlying principle: large organizations, primarily corporations, were not allowed to buy their way into elections. For 100 years, our laws reflected this principle. First, Congress passed the Tillman Act in 1907, which prohibited corporations from using their treasuries to influence federal elections.Signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, the legislation recognized what had become abundantly clear: corporate influence corrupts elections. Later, under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, Congress extended the same prohibition to labor unions. For generations, these regulations provided the bedrock of our election law that followed, including the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act passed in 2003. And for several election cycles, between 2004 and 2008, our system seemed headed towards more fair and transparent elections. But Citizens United changed everything.
Any intelligent person following American politics these days should be deeply distressed by the ever-growing role of big money in our electoral process. The extraordinary concentration of wealth in the hands of relatively few Americans has completely distorted the nature of political discourse. As multi-millionaires, billionaires and powerful corporations are now free to spend unlimited amounts in order to dominate public debate, we have moved from a political system founded on the aspiration of one person/one vote to one increasingly founded on money/money/money. Of course, there are those who say that money doesn’t really matter. What matters, they say, is the quality of the candidates and the strength of their ideas. Unfortunately, in a world of high-stakes and high-cost media, this is nonsense. Speech matters. It shapes people’s perceptions, knowledge and attitudes. Why else would businesses spend billions of dollars each year on commercial advertising? Corporations and billionaires are not stupid. They would not waste millions of dollars to fund an endless flood of political ads if those ads didn’t pay off. They do. Money may not guarantee victory, but it definitely helps. Imagine a presidential debate in which the candidates were invited to buy debate time. Instead of the debate time being allocated equally, each candidate would bid for minutes, so the candidate with the most money would buy the most minutes in the debate. What would we think of that? That is effectively what has happened to our political system. This is a disaster for our nation. It alienates voters, enables a coterie of highly-self-interested millionaires and corporations to distort our national political discourse, and causes elected officials desperately to curry favor with wealthy supporters, often at the expense of the public interest.
Campaigns and outside political groups can collect donations via text message, the Federal Election Commission ruled late yesterday. … Donations will also be capped at $10 per text, according to Craig Engle, a lawyer with Arent Fox LLP, who brought the new text-for-donation proposal to the FEC representing political consulting firms Red Blue T LLC and ArmourMedia Inc and corporate aggregator m-Qube Inc. But who does this help, and how will it affect the Super PAC-dominated campaign finance terrain? “The conventional wisdom is this in the short term benefits Obama more than Romney,” says University of California at Irvine campaign finance expert (and Slate contributor) Rick Hasen. “Obama has been raising more money from smaller donors and this is a particularly easy way to make a small donation to a campaign.” Except Mitt Romney’s campaign joined Obama’s in pushing for the FEC to make this ruling, suggesting there’s plenty of grassroots fundraising enthusiasm on both sides.
It was perhaps inevitable that Gov. John Hickenlooper would sign a controversial bill governing public access to voted ballots that we and many concerned observers had urged him to veto. After all, the bill was vocally supported by elected county clerks. Not only do they understand the business of conducting elections better than anyone, they claimed the sky might fall if he didn’t sign the bill. The governor obviously had reservations about House Bill 1036, which he outlined in his signing message, but they unfortunately weren’t strong enough for him to defy the opinion of the expert Chicken Littles. Too bad. Colorado now has an election system with a privileged class of people — not only candidates but also political parties and representatives of issue committees that gave money to ballot measures — who may inspect voted ballots when everyone else, including the media, is excluded. Those of us in the non-privileged majority will not have access to voted ballots until after elections are certified — too late, citizen activists persuasively argue, for effective public oversight. Many of those activists, it should be noted, have followed election issues closely for years and know a thing or two about them, too.
Editorials: Montana AG Refuses to Raise Potential Winning Argument in Citizens United Case | 11th Amendment
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock is failing to “do all he can” — as he has publicly claimed — to win Montana’s U.S. Supreme Court battle against Citizens United. He has refused to put forth a possible winning argument in the case and he won’t explain why. According to a report published on Saturday by Russell Mokhiber in the well-established Washington, D.C. newsletter, Corporate Crime Reporter, AG Bullock’s office told a lawyer who filed an amicus brief in support of Montana that the attorney general is refusing to assert Montana’s sovereign immunity from suit, paradoxically, out of fear that the immunity argument could actually win the case. The case is American Tradition Partnership (ATP) v. Bullock which challenges the validity of the controversial Citizens United case as it applies to state elections and is now awaiting the Court’s decision whether to reconsider its 2010 ruling that struck down federal prohibitions of corporate electioneering.
There is much fear and frustration about the unfolding presidential elections in Egypt. So much so that the astounding historical significance of the event and its widespread consequences for the rest of the Arab and Muslim world seem to have escaped us. Analysts are asking: Has the revolution failed? Are people casting a referendum on the actual revolution when they select a formal Mubarak-era official as their top choice? Are the Islamists poised to take over Egypt and turn it into a theocracy? Is the military behind it all? Will it step in to establish “order” when people are finally tired of all these demonstrations and fear for their mundane well-being? Will the US, the Israelis, or the Saudis – with all their might and money – “allow” Egyptians actually to bring their revolution to fruition and thus effectively endanger their respective interests in the region? People in and out of Egypt were naturally drawn to a crescendo, a bravura, where the first ever democratic presidential election in Egyptian history would be the final battle scene against the ancien régime. But once Ahmed Shafiq – a senior commander in the Egyptian Air Force and later prime minister for a few weeks – emerged as the main nemesis of Mohamed Morsi – Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) founded by the Muslim Brotherhood after the revolution – people began to wonder.
All U.S. presidential elections “are unique in some fashion,” says John G. Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University. Sure, but what about 2012? What exactly will make the 2012 election between President Obama and Mitt Romney truly unique? For one thing, though the candidates have many similarities, as noted by NPR and The New York Times, there is a clear-cut choice between directions the country might take. And there are other — what shall we call them? — uniquities. Carol S. Weissert, director of the LeRoy Collins Institute — a nonpartisan public policy think tank in Tallahassee, Fla. — points out that the presidential election in November will be the first since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court opinion that opened the barn door to unregulated spending in all political campaigns — but especially presidential campaigns.
Editorials: Montana case gives campaign reformers best shot at undermining Citizens United | NationalJournal.com
The way conservatives tell it, President Obama’s White House tenure has resulted in a near-death experience for federalism. A tidal wave of Obama-inspired federal regulation has turned autonomous states into captives of the national bureaucracy, a perversion, they say, of the Constitution and the Founders’ vision of the “laboratories of democracy.” States’ rights, then, are of paramount concern for conservatives—except, it turns out, when the discussion turns to campaign finance and another principle near and dear to their hearts: free speech. As a case before the Supreme Court this month demonstrates, some on the Right might profess to love the 10th Amendment, but they’re willing to push it aside to embrace the First—at least in this context. The case, American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock, centers on a century-old Montana law that prohibits corporations from spending money on political campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to have rendered the state law unconstitutional in 2010 in its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that allowed unlimited corporate and union spending on elections; but the Montana Supreme Court unexpectedly upheld the ban last year.
Hollywood produced “Ishtar” and, more recently, Disney’s “John Carter.” But it has never made a bomb quite like Tuesday’s California elections. Expectations were high. California’s political reformers told us that this would be the year everything changed. After a decade and a half of reform efforts, a new system of less partisan elections was finally in place, and fairly drawn legislative districts and a new top-two primary system would usher in a new era of democracy. Voters would be engaged, competition would be spurred, independents would get a boost and California would see the kind of big policy debates necessary to find solutions to the state’s persistent governance crisis. Oh, well. But give the reformers credit; they did make change. In place of our old system, we got something that preserves many of our worst political traditions — while making things a little bit worse.
Florida is locked in battle with the U.S. Justice Department over the state’s efforts to scrub its voter rolls. At Republican Governor Rick Scott’s direction, the state cross-referenced driver’s licenses and voter registrations to compile a list of more than 180,000 Floridians it said were suspect. It then sent to county election supervisors a first cut of more than 2,600 registrants. They were to be notified by certified mail and given 30 days to prove their citizenship before being stricken from the rolls and barred from voting this fall. An analysis by the Miami Herald found the vast majority were, in fact, citizens (including 91-year-old Bill Internicola, a World War II veteran born in New York who was none too happy about his civic demotion). Last week, a federal court in Tallahassee blocked the state from imposing new restrictions on voter registration, including a law requiring registration forms be submitted to state officials within 48 hours. The law previously had allowed 10 days for submissions. Florida was never able to explain why a two-day rush was suddenly necessary, particularly when voter registration is often conducted by volunteers.
My sharp-eyed colleague, Ron Snell, noticed a bit of federalism trivia that had previously slipped by us in the 90 Day Report, a summary of the work of the 2012 Maryland General Assembly: Maryland ratified the 17th Amendment to the Constitution–the direct election of U.S. senators–during its legislative session earlier this year. Thirty-seven other states–the required three-fourths majority of states in those days–had ratified the amendment in 1913. Alabama ratified it in 2002 and Delaware in 2010. Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolinia, Utah and Virginia are the eight states that have not ratified the amendment. Utah is the only state explicitly to have rejected the amendment, according toWikipedia. In looking up this information, I was intrigued to read about a 1997 law review article, “Ulysses at the Mast: Democracy, Federalism, and the Sirens’ Song of the Seventeenth Amendment,” by Judge Jay Bybee in which he argues that the state legtislatures’ ratification of the 17th Amendment, giving up the power to elect U.S. senators, led to a gradual “slide into ignominy” for state legislatures. I don’t buy the “slide into ignominy,” but I agree with Bybee that the 17th Amendment significantly hindered the role of state legislatures in the federal system.
The citizens of Wisconsin have just had to endure the most contentious election in our state’s history only to have a governor elected for a second time in his first term. Now this never-ending cycle of recalls must come to an end. Wisconsin has had 15 attempts to recall a state official in less than a year. It has become a political circus with taxpayer dollars being thrown around like confetti. Thankfully, it has become crystal clear that people across our state have had enough; it’s time to recall the recalls. Exit polls June 5 found that 60% of voters say recall elections are appropriate only for official misconduct. It’s understandable that there’s voter fatigue. This is the second round of recall elections in a year, and voters will go to the polls four times in five months. We need to limit recalls to a malfeasance in office; they should not be used as a political tactic. That clearly was not the intention of those who put it in our constitution nearly 100 years ago.
Florida is one of a number of states to have recently imposed ill-considered restrictions on voting rights, as it interferes with efforts to register new voters and seeks to purge non-citizens from state voting rolls. State officials, acting at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott (R), have scoured driver’s license and other records to identify non-citizens and have forwarded a list of 2,600 supposedly ineligible voters to local elections officials for further action. Chris Cate, a Florida Division of Elections spokesman, asserted that the division has “a duty under both state and federal laws to ensure that Florida’s voter registration rolls are current and accurate.” But the state also has a duty to ensure that those legally entitled to vote are not unjustly prevented from doing so. The last thing the state needs is another election tainted by questions of fairness.
Editorials: Gray Davis: Wisconsin Recall Election Was Appropriate Bid to Remedy State’s Ills | The Daily Beast
There is nothing pleasant about a recall election. They are expensive, distracting, and hyperpartisan. Now that the election is over, it is time for Gov. Scott Walker, the legislature and the people of Wisconsin to go back to work and find more balanced solutions to their problems. Governor Walker’s challenge to public pensions and collective bargaining can be seen as a part of the larger national conversation about sensible entitlement reforms. This conversation will be painful, but it must begin because the country is on a path that is not sustainable. However, the solutions to our challenges must require shared sacrifice. America is not about picking winners and losers, we are about upward mobility, hard work, and playing by the rules. This conversation should be all about math, not politics. The country is on a fiscal path that simply does not add up. If we don’t alter course, we will go the way of Greece. Taxes must be raised on the rich and those of us doing well. Similarly, we need to take a more realistic approach to public-employee pensions, entitlements, and corporate loopholes. As much as we might wish, we cannot provide benefits that exceed our revenue.
The North Carolina Judicial Coalition is a new tax-exempt organization, known as a super PAC, supported by wealthy conservative Republicans who are determined to make this year’s race for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court ideological and expensive. This kind of influence in judicial elections is a direct result of the Citizens United decision, which allows corporations and unions to make unlimited so-called independent expenditures in campaigns. In a dissent in that case, Justice John Paul Stevens predicted that such spending would overwhelm state court races, which would be especially harmful since judges must not only be independent but be seen to be independent as well. North Carolina is proving him right.
Robert M. La Follette, the architect of the progressive movement that a century ago made Wisconsin the nation’s “laboratory of democracy,” recognized that the experiments would at times go awry. “We have long rested comfortably in this country upon the assumption that because our form of government was democratic, it was therefore automatically producing democratic results. Now, there is nothing mysteriously potent about the forms and names of democratic institutions that should make them self-operative,” he observed after suffering more than his share of defeats. “Tyranny and oppression are just as possible under democratic forms as under any other. “Those words echoed across the decades on the night of June 5, as the most powerful of the accountability tools developed in La Follette’s laboratory — the right to recall errant officials — proved insufficient for the removal of Governor Scott Walker. The failure of the campaign against Walker, while heartbreaking for Wisconsin union families and the great activist movement that developed to counter the governor and his policies, offers profound lessons not just for Wisconsin but for a nation that is wrestling with fundamental questions of how to counter corporate and conservative power in a Citizens United moment. Those lessons are daunting, as they suggest the “money power” populists and progressives of another era identified as the greatest threat to democracy has now organized itself as a force that cannot be easily thwarted even by determined “people power.”
Editorials: When Did Conservatives Change Their Mind About Campaign Finance Disclosure? | Mark Schmitt/The New Republic
A decade ago, when Congress was debating the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold, the conservative alternative to its modest tightening of regulations on political spending bore the wonderful name DeLay-Doolittle. The name represented not just the two primary sponsors—then-Reps. Tom DeLay and John Doolittle—but also what the bill would do, or not. As an alternative to restrictions on soft money and corporate spending, DeLay and Doolittle proposed to lift all existing regulations on political contributions, and replace them with a regime of immediate and complete disclosure on the Internet. DeLay and Doolittle faced two problems, however. First, its supporters soon disappeared from Congress under murky circumstances. DeLay was indicted on campaign-finance related charges in 2006 and resigned. Doolittle, deeply implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandal, left Congress in 2007. The third major supporter of the bill, Rep. Bob Ney, served 17 months in prison connected to the Jack Abramoff scandal. The second problem with DeLay and Doolittle was that its supporters didn’t mean a word of it. They didn’t want to disclose their donors and outside backers any more than they wanted to limit them—after all, they went to great lengths to hide information such as their dealings with Abramoff. It was only a slick way of changing the subject.
Editorials: Florida voters purge: A ham-handed solution to a problem that doesn’t exist | Orlando Sentinel
Bill Internicola had to show his papers. He received a letter last month from the Broward County, Fla., Supervisor of Elections informing him the office had “information from the state of Florida that you are not a United States citizen; however, you are registered to vote.” So Internicola had to prove he is an American. He sent the county a copy of his Army discharge papers. Internicola is 91 years old. He was born in Brooklyn. He is a veteran of the Second World War. He earned a Bronze Star for his part in the Battle of the Bulge. Yet he was required to prove to a county functionary that he is entitled to vote in an American election. We learn from reporter Amy Sherman’s story last week in The Miami Herald that this is part of a campaign by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, to weed non-citizens off the rolls of the state’s voters. Initially, Florida claimed 180,000 were possible non-citizens. That number was eventually whittled way down to about 2,600 people. In Miami-Dade County, where the largest number of them live, 385 have been verified as citizens. Ten – 10! – have admitted they are ineligible or asked to be removed from the rolls. The Herald recently analyzed the list and found it dominated by Democrats, independents and Hispanics. Republicans and non-Hispanic whites were least likely to have their voting rights challenged.