David Axelrod, President Obama’s political strategist, recently invoked a common perception about the 2012 campaign by blaming the Supreme Court for empowering 21st-century “robber barons trying to take over the government.” But that explanation does not account for another development that probably has been just as influential as the court’s Citizens United decision in creating the flood of money into the election: the demise of the public financing system for elections, hastened by Mr. Obama’s decision four years ago to abandon it. So far, Mr. Obama, Mitt Romney and their respective parties have raised more than $1.2 billion — five times the amount raised by all “super PACs” combined — as they race frenetically for the cash they need to pay for television advertising, sophisticated technology and old-fashioned get-out-the-vote efforts. Nor is there any reason to expect a slowdown. Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Romney plans to take the $92 million per candidate on offer from public financing for this general election season, and combined they have raised less than $10 million for spending on the general election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. More than 95 percent of their receipts so far are for use only through the late-summer nominating conventions, meaning they still have far to go to fill their general election bank accounts.
With the Presidential elections looming up, some have been asking why the United States is not making more of electronic voting. It’s being adopted in many other countries around the world, with India, Brazil, Estonia, Norway and Switzerland as notable examples. However, the United States has several examples in recent years where it has backed out of electronic voting that it had already implemented. For example, in 2010, a trial system for remote voting over the Internet in Washington DC (known as the “Digital vote by mail”) was shown to be vulnerable, when it was penetrated by a research team from the University of Michigan, demonstrating how a real attack could render any results unsound, without detection. The attack was documented in a recent paper by researchers from the University of Michigan. So who is right?
Democrats, labor unions and civil rights groups are convinced Republicans are scheming to steal the election from President Barack Obama by suppressing the liberal vote, and they’re girding for battle. Groups on the left are spending more than they have in any previous election to lawyer up, get voters registered early and flood polling locations with trained poll workers and election watchdogs. “We’re not going to be fooled again,” said Michael Podhorzer, political director of the AFL-CIO, which recently launched a new campaign focused on voter protection and registration in battleground states. For the left, he said, “a potentially naive mistake in 2000 was not understanding the implications of election administration and the extent to which Republican election officials can tilt things their way.”
A bipartisan push to eliminate millions of federal dollars earmarked to each party’s conventions was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate on Thursday, handing a win to critics who say taxpayer money shouldn’t be spent on orchestrated presidential nominating coronations at a time of severe budget constraints. By a 95-4 vote, the bill was adopted by the Senate as an amendment to the farm bill, a rare show of bipartisanship on an issue involving campaign finance. The bill, proposed by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), would prevent future conventions from receiving federal dollars through the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, a program that is bankrolled by about 33 million taxpayers who each year voluntarily check a box on their tax forms directing $3 to the fund.
The Supreme Court is expected Thursday to decide on a Montana case that could undercut or reaffirm the court’s controversial 2010 campaign finance decision — and don’t think Senate Democrats aren’t paying attention. Just four and a half months shy of national elections and against the backdrop of super PAC dominance, Democrats still see campaign finance as a winning issue, though admittedly not as important as jobs or the economy. The Supreme Court is considering American Tradition Partnership Inc. v. Bullock, a case in which the Montana high court ruled that the national Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling did not require the state to loosen its own campaign finance restrictions. And while a stay has been issued on that decision, most observers believe the Supreme Court will uphold its position that banning corporate political expenditures is a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee.
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee today dropped an effort to defund a new Federal Communications Commission rule that will make political ad data available on the Internet. The FCC rule, which was OKed by the commission earlier this year and is expected to go into effect sometime this summer or fall, would require TV stations to put detailed records on political ad buys on a new Web site. The files are currently public but are kept on paper at stations. The broadcast industry has vigorously fought the rule. Earlier this month Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., chair of an appropriations subcommittee, added an amendment to a bill that would have blocked the FCC from using any funds to implement the transparency measure.
Alexi Giannoulias “can’t be trusted,” the 2010 election ad said. His family’s bank loaned money to mobsters, he accepted an illegal tax break and he even squandered money that families were saving for college. If the charges were true, the U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois must have been a real creep. But they were bogus. Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate, lost anyway. His accuser was not his opponent. It was an anonymously funded, pro-Republican nonprofit called Crossroads GPS, a “social welfare” organization that, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens Uniteddecision, can accept unlimited donations from corporations, wealthy individuals and unions, and run attack ads. In short, it functions just like the better-known super PACs but with a major distinction — it is not required to disclose its donors, despite the high court’s consistent support for disclosure rules.
National: National Native American leader wants Indian Health Service to provide voter registration | The Washington Post
The head of the largest group representing Native Americans and Alaska Natives said federal and state governments should provide voter registration at Indian Health Service facilities. Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said in a phone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press that the health facilities should be designated voter registration sites in the same way state-based public assistance agencies are under the National Voter Registration Act. He said the facilities are ideal for voter registration because they’re in many tribal communities. “Not all Native Americans are registered, and that’s one of the things we are pushing for this year is to turn out the largest Native vote in history,” Keel said. Indian Health Service spokeswoman Dianne Dawson, reached late Tuesday evening, said the agency had no comment at this time.
The Affordable Care Act isn’t the only consequential law whose fate the U.S. Supreme Court holds in its hands. Before the end of the month, the Court is also expected to decide whether to hear a Montana campaign-finance case that may alter the landmark Citizens United ruling. The Montana case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, arose from a challenge to the state’s campaign-finance law. In 1912, when Montana’s “copper kings” routinely drew on their immense wealth to buy off local politicians, the state’s citizens approved a ballot initiative called the Corrupt Practices Act, which banned corporate money in state campaigns and imposed strict limits on individual donations. Today, state legislators can take no more than $160 from individual donors; candidates for governor can take about $1,000. The winner of a Montana Senate race spends an average of $17,000—compare that to the more than $125 million that’s been spent in Wisconsin on a series of recall elections since last winter. Montana’s insistence on transparency and the barriers it built to contain corporate spending have “nurtured a rare, pure form of democracy,” wrote Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer.
The White House on Friday responded to a petition from watchdog groups calling for the replacement of five Federal Election Commission (FEC) commissioners before the 2012 election, but declined to comment on either a timeline or possible candidates. Ten campaign finance reform groups created a “We the People” petition calling on the Obama administration to replace five out of six commissioners. The five commissioners’ terms have expired and the commission’s deadlock is holding back further clarifications on significant issues coming out of the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling, the advocates said. While the White House emphasized the president’s similar distaste for the Citizens United decision and his support for reform, the letter stated personnel choices would not be disclosed publicly prior to final decisions.
In an election increasingly defined by big money, the Federal Election Commission’s recent move to permit campaign contributions via text message strikes many as the perfect antidote. “I really do think this is a potential game changer for the campaign finance system,” said Brett Kappel, an election lawyer with Arent Fox, who represented a pair of consulting firms that asked the FEC to clear donations via text. “I think it can bring the individual small donor back into the system, and they can play a significant role.” Proponents of fundraising via mobile text point to a long list of benefits. Texting can tap vast numbers of small donors and raise large sums in a short amount of time, note a diverse array of political players who petitioned the FEC to approve the practice. They point to the tens of millions of dollars raised via mobile device in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. About 4.3 million Americans donated $43 million to Haiti earthquake relief via text message, according to a January report by the Pew Internet Project.
A United Nations agency has assured an organization of black conservatives that it has no intention of investigating U.S. voter ID laws, as requested by the NAACP. In March, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sent a delegation to Geneva, Switzerland, to tell the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that because of voter ID laws passed in several of the 50 states, citizens were being denied the right to vote. But last week, Project 21 of The National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives sent a three-man delegation to U.N. headquarters in New York to refute the NAACP’s claims. Bishop Council Nedd II, a board member of Project 21, tells OneNewsNow some of the details of that delegation.
State election officials from more than a dozen states are in Indianapolis to compare notes on voting machines. The controversy over “hanging chads” in the Florida presidential vote prompted Congress in 2002 to order the states to make the transition to optical-scan and touch-screen voting machines. But Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson insists Indiana is one of the few states with the technical expertise to assess whether competing models meet state standards. Still, Hoosier officials will hear presentations from many states in an effort to determine best practices, Lawson says.
National: Supreme Court justices may hear Montana campaign finance case addressing two-track system | latimes.com
When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations had the right to political free speech, it set loose a tidal wave of campaign money that helped elect a new Congress in 2010 and is now reshaping the presidential race. But the impact of the Citizens United decision has been as surprising and controversial as the ruling itself. Although the high court’s 5-4 decision is best known for saying that corporations may spend freely on campaign ads, the gusher of money pouring into this year’s campaigns has mostly not involved corporate funds. And some of the practices that critics of the decision decry actually stem from a separate case decided by a U.S. Court of Appeals after the Citizens United ruling. The rise of “super PACs,” which may raise and spend unlimited amounts so long as they do so independently of a candidate, has allowed close aides to candidates to set up supposedly independent committees that have raised huge amounts, primarily from wealthy individuals. The PACs have spent most of their money on negative ads attacking the opposition. That unlimited fundraising was set in motion by Citizens United, but came to full flower after the subsequent Court of Appeals decision.
The nation’s largest labor federation plans to mount an aggressive campaign against voter identification laws in a half-dozen battleground states that will be key in the presidential election. AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker told reporters on Tuesday that the labor federation will have boots on the ground registering and helping voters in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in coordination with the group’s political program. Labor is pushing back against voter ID laws, which they say suppress voting by minorities, the elderly, the poor and students. Supporters of the measures say showing identification to vote is needed to crack down on fraud and protect the integrity of elections.
he Supreme Court does not often become a foil for late-night television comedians, and the nation’s complicated campaign finance laws are an unlikely source for comedy. But there was Stephen Colbert on a recent episode of The Colbert Report opening with a mini-seminar. “Folks, it seems like these days, everyone is talking about super PACs, which, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, can collect and spend unlimited money on political advertising,” Colbert told his viewers, some of whom had already contributed to his own super PAC creation: Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.
National: Mystery of Citizens United Sequel Is Format, Not Ending – How Justices Rule May Be an Issue Itself | NYTimes.com
At their private conference, the justices of the Supreme Court are scheduled to decide Thursday whether and how to take a second look at the Citizens United campaign finance decision. The usual odds that the Supreme Court will agree to hear a case are about one in a hundred. This one is pretty much a sure thing. The justices have already temporarily blocked a lower court decision in the case. In that decision, the Montana Supreme Court seemed to defy the higher court by saying that a state law regulating corporate political spending was constitutional notwithstanding Citizens United. Two dissenting State Supreme Court justices said they would have liked to vote with their colleagues but did not believe they were entitled to ignore the United States Supreme Court. “I find myself in the distasteful position of having to defend the applicability of a controlling precedent with which I profoundly disagree,” wrote one of them, Justice James C. Nelson.
The difference between President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney when it comes to fundraising is not only that Mr. Romney managed to outraise the president last month. A more troubling difference is that Mr. Romney provided almost no information about the key “bundlers” who helped his campaign vacuum up such huge sums. This omission distinguishes the former Massachusetts governor not only from his Democratic counterpart but from his two Republican predecessors. Both President George W. Bush, during his two campaigns, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, during his 2008 presidential race, released lists of their key fundraisers and, at least within general parameters, some indication of their hauls. But Mr. Romney’s campaign has repeatedly dismissed suggestions that he follow suit. The campaign has said that it has complied with campaign finance laws, which do not mandate such information except in the case of registered federal lobbyists.
The Federal Election Commission on Monday night unanimously voted to allow Americans to make political donations via text message, making Androids, iPhones and Blackberries the newest weapon in the battle to raise unprecedented amounts of money. Both parties, as well as campaign finance reform advocates, say the move will allow Americans of modest means to play a greater role in a democratic process dominated this election cycle by billionaires and multi-millionaires and political organizations such as super PACs that may raise and spend money without restriction. The decision will take effect immediately, although it may be days or weeks before the system is fully functional. Individual phone numbers will be capped at $50 worth of donations per billing cycle per political candidate or committee.
Stricter voter identification measures supporters say fight fraud and opponents counter disenfranchise groups of voters are being detoured into the U.S. court system, possibly keeping them from going into effect or being considered before Election Day. Restrictions on early voting, new photo ID requirements and efforts to purge voter lists of non-citizens have been met with opposition from the U.S. Justice Department, civil rights groups and judges who blocked the provisions. “There has been a real push-back by the courts to these widespread efforts to restrict the vote,” Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, told The Washington Post. “If those seeking to suppress the vote won round 1, round 2 seems to be going to the voters.”
It seemed like just another campaign appearance – Mitt Romney taking time from the trail to address a ballroom full of well-heeled donors. It was anything but. When Romney spoke last summer at fund-raisers for a super PAC run by three of his former top aides, it marked a turning point in his campaign and, in some ways, in the modern history of campaign finance. The group, Restore Our Future, capitalized on Romney’s support to raise $57 million by the end of April and has become one of the most powerful forces in the race for the White House – the financial engine behind the fusillade of broadcast ads, most of them harshly negative, that felled his GOP challengers one by one. No candidate in the 2012 race adapted more swiftly and effectively to the rise of the super PACs in the wake of US Supreme Court and other rulings that effectively removed any barriers to individual and corporate donations to such so-called independent groups.
National: Friends and family plan: Super PACs often personal campaign fundraising affairs | The Washington Post
The Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman has one particular congressman in mind: Howard L. Berman, a 15-term California Democrat who is struggling to hold on to his redistricted San Fernando Valley seat. The political fundraising committee is essentially the creation of one man trying to keep a close friend and political ally in office. “Howard and I have been friends for 30 years,” said Marc Nathanson, a cable TV magnate and investor who founded the super PAC and has given it $100,000. “It’s a friendship beyond what I call political friendships — it’s a personal relationship. When it was clear he needed help, I figured out a way to do that.”
The 2008 U.S. presidential election was the first in 12 years in which large numbers of Americans did not believe the result was unfairly influenced by the machinations of politically biased state election officials. But it was also the first in a dozen years that was not close, as Democrat Barack Obama cruised to a blowout victory over Republican John McCain. With 2012 shaping up to be another tight contest, experts say controversy is likely this year, especially given that 33 of the 50 state election authorities are led by partisan politicians, who are free to work for candidates’ campaigns. “People don’t pay attention to problems of partisanship until it’s too late,” said Richard Hasen, an elections law specialist at the University of California-Irvine.
Federal election law has required the public disclosure of campaign donors for nearly 40 years. But this year, outside groups are playing a powerful role in the presidential election. And some of them disclose nothing about their donors. That’s despite what the Supreme Court said in its controversial Citizens United ruling two years ago. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the Citizens Unitedopinion, which said that corporations can pay for ads expressly promoting or attacking political candidates. “Political speech is indispensable to decision making in a democracy and this is no less true because the speech comes from a corporation rather than an individual,” Kennedy said in a 9 1/2-minute summary he read from the bench. But that wasn’t the whole decision.
Four years ago, in Calera, asmall city of gentle hills, tall oaks and nine stoplights, an invisible line was drawn a few miles north of the center of town. It stretched up beyond Highway 22 and looped west across Interstate 65, sweeping in recent housing developments, the brown-brick Concord Baptist Church and a new Wal-Mart. The narrow five-square-mile rectangle enlarged Voting District 2. It also radically changed the district’s racial mix. The expansion brought in hundreds of white voters, cutting the proportion of black registered voters to one-third from more than two-thirds. The city, which said it had to redraw its district map to account for a population increase and land annexations, contended the new boundaries would not discriminate against blacks. The U.S. Department of Justice was not persuaded. In a tersely worded, three-page letter emailed to the Calera city attorney on August 25, 2008, it voided the new map.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) may approve a request to allow campaign contributions from voters’ text messages as soon as Friday, an adviser to the commission’s chairwoman said. In an FEC meeting on Thursday, attorneys with Arent Fox — the firm representing the consulting and aggregation firms asking for the ruling — appeared before the commissioners to answer questions and assuage fears of campaign finance abuse. Arent Fox submitted an advisory opinion request in May on the text donations for clients Red Blue T and ArmourMedia. M-Qube, a “merchant billing aggregator” that would be “party to these transactions,” was also included on the request, as The Hill reported at the time. A third draft of the request, discussed at Thursday’s meeting, seemed to satisfy most of the commission.
Stricter ID laws and other controversial voting restrictions, passed this year by several Republican-controlled legislatures, are hitting legal roadblocks that could keep many of the measures from taking effect before the November elections. Curbs on early voting, new ID requirements and last-minute efforts to rid voter lists of noncitizens have been met with vigorous opposition from the Justice Department and civil rights groups, and in some cases, the provisions have been blocked by federal or state judges. “There has been a real push-back by the courts to these widespread efforts to restrict the vote,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, which opposes the new laws. “If those seeking to suppress the vote won round one, round two seems to be going to the voters.”
National: Institutional Investors Demand Disclosure on Companies’ Political Spending | Institutional Investor
On January 21, 2010, the day the Supreme Court delivered its landmark decision on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that it would overturn most of a century’s worth of regulations on corporate political spending, the $140 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund corporate governance department happened to be meeting to discuss the problem of untraceable political spending by companies in its portfolio. Patrick Doherty, the fund’s director of corporate governance, was making the pitch to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that the political spending issue should be a central focus of New York Common’s corporate governance campaign for the coming year. The overlap was coincidental; before the court’s final decision on Citizens United, the case hadn’t attracted too much attention in the comptroller’s office or among most of the general public. That changed after January 21. Despite New York Common’s pre-Citizens United efforts to improve disclosure around corporate political spending — which primarily consisted of a concerted support of any shareholder resolution pushing the issue — the fund’s leaders hadn’t heard constituents express their opinions on the topic. But they spoke up after the decision on Citizens United, says DiNapoli.
As both parties turn to the general election, and the potentially pivotal role of minority voters, battles over voter identification and other new state election laws are intensifying. Voting rights groups, who say the new laws discriminate against minority voters, won a key victory Thursday with a federal judge’s decision to strike down portions of a Florida law that tightened rules for third-party groups that register voters. In his opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle said:
“Together speech and voting are constitutional rights of special significance; they are the rights most protective of all others, joined in this respect by the ability to vindicate one’s rights in a federal court. …[W]hen a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever … And allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives — thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote — promotes democracy.”
The Supreme Court will not take another look at the bribery conviction of former Ala. Gov. Don Siegelman. The high court on Monday turned away Siegelman’s appeal of his 2006 convictions. Siegelman was convicted of selling a seat on a hospital regulatory board to former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy in exchange for $500,000 in donations to Siegelman’s 1999 campaign to establish a state lottery.