Two years ago the Supreme Court upheld the right of an incorporated nonprofit organization to distribute, air and advertise a turgid documentary about Hillary Clinton called, appropriately enough, “Hillary: The Movie.” From this seemingly innocuous and obvious First Amendment decision has sprung a campaign of disinformation and alarmism rarely seen in American politics. From the start, reaction to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has bordered on the hysterical. Rep. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.) called it the “worst decision since Dred Scott”—the 1857 decision holding that slaves could never become citizens. In his State of the Union message, within days of the ruling, President Obama lectured Supreme Court justices in attendance that they had “reversed a century of law” to allow “foreign companies to spend without limit in our elections.” Neither statement was true.
Editorials: The Uphill Battle Against Citizens United: Tricky Legal Terrain and No Easy Fixes | AlterNet
The movement to overturn the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling and confront the doctrine of corporate personhood stands at a perilous crossroads. Across the country, two distinct strategies are converging on Congress. More than a million people have signed online petitions. State legislators, city and township governments, Democratic Party groups and unions have sponsored and passed measures in 23 states demanding that Congress pass a constitutional amendment to reassert and elevate the political speech of ordinary citizens and roll back the growing political speech and legal privileges of corporations.
Editorials: Despite Supreme Court ruling, Texas congressional map still very uncertain | The Washington Post
The drama over Texas’s new congressional map will drag on after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday blocked an interim court-drawn map. The Court on Friday ruled that an interim 2012 election map drawn by a federal court in San Antonio must give greater deference to the original map drawn by the GOP-controlled Texas state legislature. The ruling is at least a temporary victory for Republicans, in that it blocks an interim map to be used for the 2012 election that is preferred by Democrats. But it’s still not clear that the end result will be any better for Republicans. In fact, it’s not clear what the end result will be at all.
Editorials: Voter ID legislation, not fraud, is the real problem | Michael Paul Williams/Richmond Times-Dispatch
The legislative drive against voter fraud is a solution in search of a problem. Proposed General Assembly legislation would scratch the current provision that allows voters to sign a sworn statement that they are who they claim to be if they’re unable to produce a required form of identification. Instead, they would cast a provisional ballot. For lack of an ID, a potentially eligible vote would not be counted on election night, and possibly not at all, if the would-be voter doesn’t provide the information. At the least, this measure would leave registrars sitting on more uncounted ballots after Election Day, potentially causing confusion for voters and candidates.
Women are at a crossroads in the Middle East and North Africa. This is widely reflected in the current battles over the adoption of quotas aimed at improving women’s chances of being elected into parliaments. Although women’s quotas were introduced as early as 1979 in Egypt, there are new efforts underway in the Middle East to implement them. Last year, Tunisia adopted a law requiring that party lists alternate between men and women. In a more restrained manner, Libya recently drafted an election law that gives women only 10 percent of the seats. However, the struggle for quotas has also met with resistance as in Egypt, which abandoned a 2010 quota law altogether that would have ensured the presence of 64 women in the parliament.
The Supreme Court ruled this morning that federal judges in Texas overstepped their bounds in drawing a minority-friendly set of interim maps for the state to use in the 2012 elections. The Court ruled unanimously that the judges should have given more deference to the new district maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Texas legislature even though parts of these maps may discriminate against Latinos. The Department of Justice has argued that the state legislature’s plans would harm minorities and violate the Voting Rights Act. A panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C., is in the process of determining whether those plans did, in fact, break the law. Because that decision may not be made in time for the next elections, federal judges in San Antonio were tasked with drawing interim maps for the state to use. The maps used in Texas’ next elections could impact the balance of power in Congress. They will likely determine whether the four new congressional seats awarded Texas via the census will be held by Democrats or Republicans. The Supreme Court’s decision leaves the fate of those seats in limbo.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, issued two years ago this week, is wreaking havoc on the 2012 elections. When the Roberts Court decided to strike down the ban on corporate expenditures in campaigns, the five justices who issued the opinion surely had no idea their misguided decision would cause such enormous damage to our political system. Meanwhile, the rest of us are living with the destructive consequences of their ruling.
Trevor Potter is an unlikely repeat guest for a late-night comedy show. As the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, the courtly Washington lawyer is a leading expert on campaign finance law — not the kind of material that generates a lot of laughs. So the fact that he’s appeared seven times on “The Colbert Report” in the last year, helping host Stephen Colbert set up his own “super PAC” as part of a mischievous political parody, underscores an unexpected development in the 2012 presidential race: Super PACs have seized the zeitgeist.
Like a lot of terrible ideas, voting over the Internet in federal elections is not without superficial appeal. That would explain why Elections Canada reportedly is moving us towards electronic or e-voting. E-voting certainly would make it easier to participate in the democratic process. Instead of schlepping to the polls, we could vote from the comfort of our homes simply by clicking a computer mouse or swiping a smart phone. We could vote while travelling anywhere outside the country with Internet access. Canadian astronauts could even vote from space if they happened to be in orbit on election day. … So what’s not to like about e-voting? Security, for starters.
Municipal elections are just nine months away and, perhaps not surprisingly, electronic voting has been a recent subject of discussion for local councils.
Truro Town Council received a pitch from a Halifax-based company lauding the virtues of electronic voting and tabled it for further discussion. Colchester County Council, meanwhile, rejected the idea outright. At the risk of sounding ridiculously old-fashioned, we concur with the go-slow or no-go approach to electronic voting. At least for the time being.
A Federal District Court late last month wisely upheld a 2010 Maryland law that counts prison inmates as residents in their home communities for purposes of redistricting, rather than at the prisons where they are incarcerated. The practice of counting inmates as local “residents” — even though they lack the right to vote — has been used to inflate the power of mainly rural areas where prisons tend to placed. It undercuts the power of the urban districts where the inmates actually live and where they generally return when they are released.
Mitt Romney has a prescription for the super PAC problem: Allow political candidates to collect unlimited donations, instead of having the funds funneled to supposedly independent groups. “Let campaigns then take responsibility for their own words,” Mr. Romney said at Monday’s debate. He raises an intriguing question: Given the Supreme Court’s flawed interpretation of the First Amendment — that campaign spending equals speech; that independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, even by corporations, therefore cannot be limited — would the campaign finance system be better off with a regime of no limits plus full and timely disclosure of donations? In other words, a world where the $5 million check can go directly to the candidate? As Mr. Romney put it, “Wouldn’t it nice to have people give what they would like to to campaigns, and campaigns could run their own ads and take responsibility for them?”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Florida Rep. Ted Deutch introduced aconstitutional amendmentin December to overturnCitizens United, one of five decisions since 2006 by which a closely divided Supreme Court vastly increased the amount of corrupting corporate money in elections. In an opinion piece critical of the decision in Citizens United, Senator Sanders wrote:
When the Supreme Court says that for purposes of the First Amendment, corporations are people, that writing checks from the company’s bank account is constitutionally-protected speech and that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, when that occurs, our democracy is in grave danger.
The joint Sanders-Deutch Resolution proposes an amendment to the constitution “to expressly exclude for-profit corporations from the rights given to natural persons.”
On December 30, the Montana Supreme Court delivered a New Year’s gift to the nation, upholding a century-old ban on corporate political expenditures in state elections. The decision has gone underreported amidst the hoopla of the Republican primaries—even as super PAC spending skyrockets and there is an emerging understanding of its corrosive impact—but the Montana case sets up the first direct challenge to the disastrous Citizens United decision as we approach its second anniversary. Free Speech For People—a national non-partisan campaign challenging the fabrication of corporate rights under the US Constitution—filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Montana case. It led a coalition that included the American Sustainable Business Council, a network of more than 70,000 businesses across the country; the American Independent Business Alliance; and a local supermarket business and non-profit corporation.
Gazing out of my window trying to make out the skyscrapers of central Beijing today is a bit like trying to divine the thoughts of China’s leaders. Not easy. A thick smog has settled on China’s capital (yet again), and through the murk it is hard to see much beyond the few buildings just across the way. The atmospheric conditions are grim. The US embassy pollution reading on Twitter is well over 300, indicating highly hazardous air quality. Beijing is choking on pollution. As we begin a year when major leadership changes will happen in China, the thoughts of its rising leaders are pretty opaque. It’s hard to know what Xi Jinping, the man expected to become China’s next president, one of the most powerful positions in the world, thinks about many subjects.
With federal campaigns already knee-deep in a new era of laissez-faire money, the Republican National Committee has brazenly proposed the ultimate step — that the 105-year-old ban on direct corporation contributions to candidates and parties be scrapped as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision did damage enough to fair elections by freeing corporations to make unlimited donations to supposedly independent campaign expenditure groups. But the court said nothing about the basic 1907 reform law — enacted after the robber baron scandals — that bans corporate donors from wooing candidates directly with largess.
Editorials: Montana Spurns U.S. Supreme Court Ruling, Upholds Ban on Corporate Electioneering | AMIBA
On December 30, the Montana Supreme Court issued a stunning ruling, rejecting arguments that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United vs. FEC applied to Montana’s century-old ban on direct corporate election spending. The 5-2 ruling overturned a lower court and reinstated Montana’s Corrupt Practices Act, a citizen initiative passed to confront some of the most overt corporate corruption in American history. While the Montana ruling detailed several ways in which the Corrupt Practices Act differed from the federal statute struck down in Citizens United, the justices clearly rejected much of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale. Citizens United struck down a federal law that prohibited corporations from directly spending company funds to advocate for or against political candidates.
Of all the domestic policy differences between the Bush and Obama administrations, just about the sharpest and most telling may be their opposite responses to the drive by Republican-dominated states to require voters to present photo identification at the polls. The Bush administration thought photo ID was a dandy idea. The Obama administration recognizes it for what it is: a cynical effort to insure that fewer young people and members of minority groups (read, likely Democratic voters) are able to cast a ballot.
Since 1965, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Acthas been a key tool used by civil rights and election reform advocates to protect the franchise in the South. By requiring states and counties to “pre-clear” major election changes with the Department of Justice, the measure has allowed groups to challenge a variety of state laws that threatened to disproportionately hurt African-American and other historically disadvantaged voters. But Section 5 has come under increasing scrutiny from conservative lawmakers and the Supreme Court itself. Three years ago, in alawsuit brought by a Texas sewer district, the court came close to striking down Section 5 on the grounds that it represented an unconstitutional over-reach by Congress over states’ rights.
Editorials: Reject voter ID – Seniors, minorities, young people and the poor could lose their right to vote | Pittsburgh Post Gazette
State senators in Harrisburg will soon consider House Bill 934, which would require citizens to provide one of a very short list of government-issued photo IDs in order to vote. It sounds simple, but it is not. If it became law, this bill would create one of the most extreme restrictions on voting in the country — and would threaten to needlessly disenfranchise a massive number of Pennsylvania citizens. Many Americans don’t have driver’s licenses or the other photo IDs that would meet H.B. 934’s narrow standards. Survey research indicates that 11 percent of voting-age citizens don’t have the limited forms of government-issued photo ID that would be accepted under H.B. 934 — even though these taxpayers and voters could prove their identity with other types of documents.
Over the past few weeks, voters in early primary and caucus states have been deluged by political advertising. Some of the ads are pure hagiography, while others are slashing. Disclaimers tell viewers which candidate or group with a soothing name is responsible in each case. But even as they choose from among the Republican presidential candidates, voters haven’t been able to find out who is really behind the spots – who has been putting up the big money it takes to make and air these messages.
Remember all that money that the Government spent on those new E-voting machines that never saw the light of day, except in three constituencies in 2002? Well according to Michael Noonan, they are now completely worthless. RTE reports that an estimated €51 million was spent on the machines before the decision to scrap them was made – never mind the added costs of storage and maintenance (although why they needed maintenance if they were never going to be used is anyone’s guess).
Right now, while we indulge New Hampshire’s childish insistence on its presidential primary being “first in the nation,” Americans should decide to bury this tradition. Nearly a century is enough: the Granite State has somehow turned a fluke into an entitlement. Worse, its obsession with primacy prolongs, complicates and distorts the presidential nominating process. In a democracy, no state should be first forever. People have been grumbling about this and other undemocratic anomalies for years. But the standoff between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008 gave the nominating process the equivalent of a stress test, which it failed.
“Well, of course, it’s former staff of mine. And, of course they’re people who supportme. They wouldn’t be putting money into a PAC that supports me if they weren’t people who support me.” That was former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in Sunday’s “Meet the Press” debate on NBC, asked about millions of dollars’ worth of ads being run on his behalf by a super PAC called “Restore Our Future.” Mr. Romney, with his casual “of course it’s former staff of mine,” offered about as succinct an illustration as we’ve seen of the flimsiness of the fiction that separates these candidate-specific super PACs from the candidates and of the danger that this development poses to a campaign finance system premised on limited contributions and full disclosure.
There is a way the U.S. Supreme Court can extract some sense out of a wildly politicized Voting Rights Act it heard Monday, argues a prominent redistricting specialist. “Don’t mess with Texas” — this time, the U.S. Supreme Court should have listened. The court has injected itself into a 10-gallon disaster that grows messier with every passing day. Today, the court hears arguments. If only it could slowly back out of the room.
Super PACs can receive unlimited contributions and make unlimited campaign expenditures for or against a candidate, often with actual donors hidden from view. This election year will see an exponential growth in their number and in the funds available to them. Partisans from left and right will use them. No reforms to limit them will occur. And there is a looming war of attrition as the negative, superficial cannonading of Super PACs in political ads threatens to obliterate any semblance of a policy debate.
Exhibit A (we will likely run the alphabet this year) is Restore Our Future, the Super PAC organized by the political director of Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign and supposedly “independent” of the Romney campaign itself. On November 30, 2011, Newt Gingrich led Mitt Romney in Iowa by a 14 percentage point margin (31 percent to 17 percent), per a New York Times/CBS poll. In the next 30 days, Restore Our Future spent more than $3 million on negative, anti-Gingrich ads — twice the amount spent by the Romney campaign itself. The final result: Romney in first (barely) with 25 percent of the vote, Gingrich in fourth, with 13 percent of the vote.
This election season, the term “Super PAC” has escaped from the obscure world of campaign finance lawyers to emerge on the front pages of major newspapers and political websites. Super PACs are political organizations that can take unlimited sums from individuals, corporations and labor unions to spend in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. To do so legally, a Super PAC must avoid certain forms of coordination with candidates.
The groups played a big role in Iowa, with a pro-Mitt Romney Super PAC, “Restore Our Future,” widely credited with running ads that halted Newt Gingrich’s momentum in the polls. They are expected to play an even greater role in the fall, when control of the White House, Senate and U.S. House of Representatives will be up for grabs.
As the National Popular Vote (NPV) movement steps up its effort to impose a direct election for president, attempting to enlist states with a sufficient number of electors to constitute a majority (268) and to bind them to the winner of the national popular vote, those states considering the proposal might first reflect on the nightmare aftermath of the 2000 presidential election.
Because there was a difference of less than 1,000 tabulated votes between George W. Bush and Al Gore in one state, Florida, the nation watched as 6 million votes were recounted by machine, several hundred thousand were recounted by hand in counties with differing recount standards, partisan litigators fought each other in state and federal courts, the secretary of state backed by the majority of state legislators (all Republicans) warred with the state’s majority Democratic judiciary — until 37 days after the election the U.S. Supreme Court, in a bitterly controversial 5-4 decision effectively declared Bush the winner.
Well-established candidates have always had the edge in fundraising, but under the new rules governing money in politics, it looks as if the rich are just getting richer. The vast majority of the $14 million in spending from “super PACs,” a new type of political group, has been spent on behalf of three candidates: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman Jr., federal records show. Those are the same three candidates already most reliant on money from large donors.
“It’s just proven to be a vehicle for getting around contribution limits,” said Michael Malbin, a scholar at the Campaign Finance Institute, which advocates for regulations encouraging small donors. “It’s made for people who’ve already maxed out.”
Two years after the Supreme Court decided the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, it is becoming clear that the super PACs created under the new rules will act as a counterweight to a rise in online grass-roots fundraising. The online efforts, which tend to attract small donations, have been driving unconventional contenders in the GOP field, including Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.). (Bachmann dropped out of the race last week after a sixth-place finish in Iowa.)
There’s no better evidence that the Republican presidential field has embraced super PACs as a driving force in their campaign than the debate over what to do about them. Mitt Romney has called for the abolition of super PACs, while he and Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman have distanced themselves from the groups, suggested they should be more transparent or at least less negative.
But the hand-wringing over the new breed of deep-pocketed outside groups has become a process debate – wrapped in the language of legal arcana and plausible deniability. And, when the candidates are pushed to call for an end to the ads or changes to the legal landscape that spawned them, they mostly back down. It’s a kabuki dance that allows candidates to keep their hands clean even as they become major players in a new big-money system that seems likely to dominate presidential politics for the foreseeable future.