National: Two SEC Commissioners Could Dramatically Change Campaign Finance | The Nation

The road to overturning Citizen’s United by constitutional amendment is a long one—it requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress and then ratification by thirty-eight state legislatures. The DISCLOSE Act was re-introduced in the Senate this month but is almost certain to remain stuck in the mud. Meanwhile, corporations are dumping millions into the coffers of outside groups for the fall elections. Some campaign reformers have thus turned their attention to the Securities and Exchange Commission, urging it to pass a rule that all publicly traded companies must disclose political spending to shareholders—this would reveal exactly what business interests are trying to influence the election, and in the eyes of most experts, lead to dramatically reduced corporate electioneering.

National: Romney’s fundraisers are quietly amassing millions | WSJ.com

A few weeks before the Republican primary in Florida in January, the billionaire owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins hosted a fundraiser for Mitt Romney at his oceanfront home in Palm Beach. The average voter wouldn’t know about the event at the home of Stephen Ross because Romney’s campaign doesn’t follow the practice of other major presidential candidates who have willingly identified big-money fundraisers and the amounts they collect. A review by The Associated Press of campaign records and other documents reveals hints about the vast national network of business leaders bringing in millions to elect Romney. The same month that Ross invited friends and colleagues to his home, for example, Romney’s campaign received $317,000 from nearly 150 people who share Ross’s exclusive ZIP code on Florida’s east coast, according to Federal Election Commission records. That mysterious surge of donations outpaced all contributions to Romney during the previous year from the wealthy Palm Beach area, when the campaign collected $270,000 over nine months. Romney got $21,000 more from residents there in February.

National: Pro-Romney PAC Killing Machine With Attack Ads | Bloomberg

One of the political ads airing in the run-up to the April 3 Wisconsin primary accuses Rick Santorum of voting with former Senator Hillary Clinton in favor of granting voting rights to violent convicted felons. Santorum’s campaign says the commercial is untrue, yet that hasn’t stopped Restore Our Future, a so-called super-political action committee supporting Mitt Romney, from running it and another attack ad more than 1,647 times on Wisconsin television stations, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a firm that tracks advertising.

National: Negative ads: Is it the campaigns, or the super PACs? | The Washington Post

Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod this week blamed Illinois’ low primary turnout on the barrage of negative ads the GOP candidates have unleashed on each other. He was correct about the negativity of the 2012 campaign – but the candidates’ ads are only part of the picture. According to The Post’s Mad Money campaign ad tracker, the ads being aired by the super PACs supporting the GOP presidential candidates are far more negative than the ones being aired by the White House hopefuls themselves. All in all, an average of 77 percent of the ads run by the super PACs supporting the four GOP candidates have been negative. By comparison, an average of 54 percent of all ads aired by the four candidates’ campaigns have been negative ones.

National: Big-bucks donations to super PACs keep the GOP race going | USAToday.com

More than two-thirds of the money to super PACs aligned with presidential candidates came from megadonors who each contributed $500,000 or more, demonstrating how a handful of wealthy interests have helped turn the GOP presidential primary into the longest-running nomination fight in a generation. No group relied more heavily on a few super donors than the political committee backing former House speaker Newt Gingrich: 96% of contributions to the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future came from this elite group, a USA TODAY analysis shows. More than $16 million flowed from a single source: Las Vegas casino titan Sheldon Adelson and his relatives. Restore Our Future, a super PAC aiding former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, relied on nearly 52% of its contributions from corporations or individuals who gave $500,000 or more, the lowest share of super donors among the candidate-aligned super PACs analyzed by USA TODAY.

National: Rules of the Game: Bad News for Nation’s Nonprofits | Roll Call

In an election that until lately has been dominated by super PACs, politically active nonprofits are the new bad guys, drawing ethics complaints, letters to the IRS and legislative action. That is bad news for the nation’s 1.6 million nonprofits, which have much to lose as their sector gets dragged into political money controversies. For reform advocates, the problem with big-spending, secretive nonprofits is that they answer to no one and keep voters in the dark. But the worst damage inflicted by unrestricted, undisclosed campaign money could be on nonprofits themselves. “Charitable organizations depend on the confidence and trust of the public for support,” said Diana Aviv, president and CEO of Independent Sector, which represents the nonprofit and philanthropic community. Campaign spending by nonprofits, she added, could pose “a serious reputational risk” to the sector.

National: ‘Super PACs’ Supply Millions as G.O.P. Race Drains Field | NYTimes.com

The Republican presidential candidates are running low on campaign cash as expensive primaries in states like Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania loom, leaving them increasingly reliant on a small group of supporters funneling millions of dollars in unlimited contributions into “super PACs.” Mitt Romney raised $11.5 million in February but spent $12.4 million, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday. He began March with $7.3 million in cash, slightly less than in January. Rick Santorum raised more than $9 million in his best month yet, but spent $7.9 million; he ended with $2.6 million in cash, along with close to $1 million in debts, mostly associated with television and Internet advertising. Newt Gingrich raised $2.6 million, spent $2.9 million and had about $1.5 million in the bank, barely enough to keep his campaign going. He also began March with myriad debts totaling over $1.5 million for expenses like media placement, security services, salaries and airfare.

National: The Voting Wars Could Get Bloody | TPM

The key electoral battle in 2012 might be less about who you cast a ballot for, than about whether you get to cast a ballot at all. Yes, the voting wars are heating up just in time for the 2012 elections. And between the Justice Department’s opposition to voter ID laws in two states and several other state and federal cases brought against such laws by various civil rights organizations, the battles are only just beginning. The Justice Department has already blocked restrictive voting laws in South Carolina, Florida and Texas, and state suits in response may see the Supreme Court take up a direct challenge to the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act this year.

National: Could Corporations Take Tax Breaks on Political ‘Dark Money’? | ProPublica

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the way for unlimited corporate spending on politics and has led to the proliferation of nonprofit political groups that do not have to disclose the identities of their donors. But corporations may be getting another benefit from anonymous donations to these groups: a break on their taxes. It all starts with the so-called social welfare groups that have become bigger players in the political world in the wake of Citizens United, which knocked down restrictions on campaign activity by such groups. Tax experts say it’s possible that businesses are using an aggressive interpretation of the law to wring a tax advantage out of their donations to these groups. It’s almost impossible to know whether that’s happening, partly because the groups — also known by their IRS designation as 501(c)(4)s — aren’t required to disclose their donors. (That’s why the contributions have been dubbed “dark money.”)

National: Behind the brewing voter ID war | The Washington Post

Every election cycle, voter ID laws cause controversy. But the 2010 Republican wave in state government and aggressive pushback from the Justice Department have combined to create a clash that could end at the Supreme Court. The fight over voter ID is almost entirely along party lines. Republicans argue that voter ID is a necessary protection against voter fraud while Democrats counter that fraud is used as an excuse to suppress turnout among elderly, poor and minority voters who may have more difficulty obtaining proper ID. (Evidence of widespread fraud is scant.) Here’s an update on where it stands, across the country.

National: Post-Citizens United Money May Swamp Congressional Candidates | Huffington Post

Political spending by deep-pocketed donors and cash-rich corporations threatens to sow chaos in this year’s congressional races, political consultants warn. A billionaire or corporation writing a check for $1 million — or even $10 million — isn’t enough to swing a presidential election. But when it comes to congressional campaigns, it could be plenty. “You can work for months and years to develop a fundraising advantage over your opponent of $2 million, $5 million or $10 million. And all that can be wiped out in seconds by a few people giving to a super PAC,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.  While Republican and Democratic candidates are, in theory, equally susceptible to that kind of unlimited outside money, it’s the Democrats who sound much more alarmed.  “No one is safe, and everyone’s got to protect themselves,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “Super PACs can strike at any time they want.”

National: Broadcasters fight plan to post names of political ad buyers on Web | The Washington Post

CBS and News Corp.’s Fox are among broadcasters fighting a plan to post names of campaign-ad buyers and purchase prices on the Web as record election spending raises concerns over anonymous political contributions. The information is maintained in desk drawers and filing cabinets at television stations, and the Federal Communications Commission wants to bring the data to a Web site the agency would run. The proposal would “impose significant new administrative burdens,” CBS and Fox stations told the agency Jan. 17 in comments joined by Comcast’s NBC stations and Walt Disney Co.’s ABC. The National Association of Broadcasters told the FCC recently that the agency lacks power to make the change.

National: Federal contractors donate to ‘super PAC’ backing Romney – unclear whether such giving is still banned after Citizens United | latimes.com

A “super PAC” that has spent more than $35 million on behalf of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has accepted donations from federal contractors despite a 36-year-old ban against such companies making federal political expenditures. At least five companies with government contracts gave a combined $890,000 to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, a review of federal contracting records and campaign finance data shows. Other super PACs, including Republican-allied American Crossroads, and Priorities USA Action, which backs President Obama, have language on their websites warning that federal contractors are not allowed to make donations. Restore Our Future does not list the prohibition on its website.

National: Post-Citizens United Money May Swamp Congressional Candidates | Huffington Post

Political spending by deep-pocketed donors and cash-rich corporations threatens to sow chaos in this year’s congressional races, political consultants warn. A billionaire or corporation writing a check for $1 million — or even $10 million — isn’t enough to swing a presidential election. But when it comes to congressional campaigns, it could be plenty. “You can work for months and years to develop a fundraising advantage over your opponent of $2 million, $5 million or $10 million. And all that can be wiped out in seconds by a few people giving to a super PAC,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.  While Republican and Democratic candidates are, in theory, equally susceptible to that kind of unlimited outside money, it’s the Democrats who sound much more alarmed.  “No one is safe, and everyone’s got to protect themselves,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “Super PACs can strike at any time they want.”

National: 2012: Year Of The Caucus Meltdown | TPM

With wild lead changes and candidates crashing spectacularly only to come back from the dead, nobody would call the GOP presidential race a smooth ride to the nomination. But it’s been almost as turbulent behind the scenes, where the actual process of coordinating and carrying out certain contests has hit snag after snag. Republicans around the country are struggling with an array of problems in states that use a caucus to determine their delegates this year, battling problems from low turnout to mysteriously missing votes. Caucuses, which require citizens to actively participate in a mini-convention with their neighbors in which supporters of each candidate make the case for their vote, are hailed by supporters as a way to energize the grassroots with a more involved approach than primaries. But they’re more time-consuming and complicated than simply dropping off a ballot, setting up more barriers to participation and creating more potential for things to go awry.

National: Federal voting program’s objective: Make itself obsolete | FederalNewsRadio.com

Making sure such voters can cast ballots in federal elections is the mission of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), a Defense Department office that offers assistance not just to military personnel, but to any U.S. citizen who needs help casting a ballot from overseas. It offers resources, including a wizard on its website that takes a voter through the entire process of registering to vote and casting a ballot in the appropriate jurisdiction. But Robert Carey, FVAP’s director, said his office’s assistance role to state and local governments is just as important. … Carey said 2009 was a watershed year in terms of election law changes designed to improve voter participation among servicemembers and overseas voters. Among other things, the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act requires state and local elections officials to mail absentee ballots to servicemembers at least 45 days prior to an election in order to ensure a ballot can make its way to a remote location — and back to elections officials — in time to be counted.

National: Super PACs’ $500,000-Plus Donors Account For Majority Of Money | Huffington Post

Tales of super PAC spending in the Republican presidential race talk about the millions of dollars pouring into their coffers. A few specific donors are mentioned. There’s Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate whose contributions have kept Newt Gingrich in the contest far longer than his own meager fundraising would normally have allowed. And hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who recently told the Chicago Tribune that he thinks the wealthy “actually have an insufficient influence” in the political system. But Griffin has given only $400,000 to super PACs in the 2012 cycle, which puts him on the lower end of the scale of leading super PAC donors.

National: A.F.L.-C.I.O. Takes On Voter ID Laws | NYTimes.com

A.F.L.-C.I.O. officials on Wednesday denounced the voter identification laws enacted in a dozen states and vowed to mount their biggest voter registration and protection efforts ever to counter these laws, which they said could disenfranchise millions of voters. Union leaders, gathered here for their annual winter meeting, held a news conference to attack the laws, saying that Republican governors and Republican-dominated legislatures had enacted them to make voting harder for numerous Democratic-leaning groups, including students, minorities, elderly and the poor. “Although they’re called voter ID laws, they are in fact voter suppression laws,” said Arlene Holt Baker, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s executive vice president. “If you are able to suppress the voice and vote of these groups of people, you have in fact been able to destroy democracy.”

National: UN Rights Council Delves Into US Voter I.D. Laws | Fox News

The controversy over requiring voters to provide photo IDs has reached the world stage. The United Nations Human Rights Council is investigating the issue of American election laws at its gathering on minority rights in Geneva, Switzerland.. This, despite the fact that some members of the council have only in the past several years allowed women to vote, and one member, Saudi Arabia, still bars women from the voting booth completely. Officials from the NAACP are presenting their case against U.S. voter ID laws, arguing to the international diplomats that the requirements disenfranchise voters and suppress the minority vote. Eight states have passed voter ID laws in the past year, voter ID proposals are pending in 32 states and the Obama administration has recently moved to block South Carolina and Texas from enacting their voter ID measures. “This really is a tactic that undercuts the growth of your democracy,” said Hillary Shelton, the NAACP’s senior vice president for advocacy, about voter photo ID requirements.

National: Michael Steele: “I Wanted a Brokered Convention” | Mother Jones

Is the never-ending and ever-bitter 2012 Republican presidential race—which at this point seems to be alienating independent voters—Michael Steele’s revenge? In January 2011, Steele, the first African American chair of the Republican National Committee, was unceremoniously denied a second term by the party’s governing council, after a tumultuous two-year stint marked by the historic GOP takeover of the House but also multiple gaffes (Steele called Afghanistan “a war of Obama’s choosing”), blunders (spending $2000 in party funds at a West Hollywood bondage-themed nightclub), and charges of profound financial mismanagement. But during his rocky tenure at RNC HQ, Steele pushed for and won significant changes in the rules for the party’s presidential nomination process and shaped this year’s turbulent race. “I wanted a brokered convention,” Steele says. “That was one of my goals.”

National: Groups Wage Battle Over Voter ID Laws | Roll Call

For Rock the Vote volunteers who roam rock concerts and college campuses looking for students to register, the typical dress code is jeans and a T-shirt.
But this year, many Rock the Vote organizers have traded their college clothes for suits and ties. That’s because they’re spending almost as much time in the courtroom fighting new restrictions on voters as they are out registering voters. Rock the Vote is one of several dozen organizations, from civil rights groups to Latino, labor and women’s groups, that have launched a multipart campaign to push back against new registration rules for voters that have been enacted in many states. The fight over voter access has triggered state-level lobbying, ballot initiatives and lawsuits, and the issue will likely land before the Supreme Court.

National: Super PACs and the Nonprofits That Fund Them | The Daily Beast

Super PACs are the perceived demons of the 2012 campaign, with the law allowing them to raise and spend unlimited amounts of dough. But a shadowy sideshow that’s gone largely unnoticed is the set of nonprofits affiliated with them, which often provide money to the cash cows—and they don’t have to publicly disclose their donors (as super PACs must). “The undisclosed money is far more troubling for the system,” says campaign finance lawyer Kenneth Gross. FreedomWorks for America is a case in point. The group, which has attacked GOP pols it finds insufficiently conservative, is located three blocks north of the Capitol. At the same address, sharing the same suite and even some staff, is the headquarters of the similarly named FreedomWorks Inc., a nonprofit (or 501[c][4] group). In 2011 the super PAC received almost half of its $2.7 million from the nonprofit, a legal transfer that skirts disclosure requirements. Whose cash is it? We aren’t allowed to know. Matt Kibbe, who oversees the activities of both groups, tells Newsweek that “to adhere to what the law stipulates” there is a “firewall” between the two. But even by the loose standards of money in politics these days, the arrangement seems rather cozy.

National: Super PAC challenge: Congress | Politico.com

The next frontier for super PACs: playing in Senate and House party leadership elections. The formula is simple. Raise $10 million from the jet set or grass-roots followers, spend it on 40 to 50 House districts or 15 Senate races and then call in favors when it’s time to count votes for speaker, floor leader or whip. The model has been built. The money’s out there. And there’s no shortage of ambition in Congress. The question is: Can anyone put it all together?

National: Americans Elect Is Raising Money To Repay Its Millionaire Founders | Buzzfield

A deep-pocketed group hoping to field a third candidate in November has quietly shifted its fundraising focus earlier this month to serve a curious goal, a spokeswoman has acknowledged to BuzzFeed: All money raised by Americans Elect will, for the for-seeable future, be given to the millionaires who created it.

The group made the shift public in a cryptic statement on its website on March 2:

The Board of Directors voted unanimously on 20 February 2012 to ensure that no supporter would cover more than 20% of the Americans Elect budget. In the event that any one supporter exceeds that percentage, there are provisions created to expedite repayments to that supporter.

Americans Elect, whose leaders have said they expect to spend $40 million this year getting on the ballot in 50 states and building a sophisticated platform for a secure online primary, casts the move as one in service of its populist goal of having no donor give more than $10,000. But its immediate effect may make it extremely difficult for the group, which is heavily bankrolled by its chairman, financier and philanthropist Peter Ackerman, to raise any more money at all, and particularly the kind of small, grassroots donations it seeks on its website.

National: Will the Courts Protect Voting Rights? | The Nation

Last week brought two rare pieces of good news for voting rights advocates. In Wisconsin, Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan granted a temporary injunction, requested by the League of Women Voters, preventing implementation of the state’s photo identification requirement for voting. Meanwhile, the Third Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals reaffirmed a 1982 consent decree preventing the Republican National Committee from intimidating minority voters.  Unfortunately, voter intimidation and disenfranchisement will still occur, in Wisconsin and throughout the country.

National: Questions linger in US on high-tech voting | physorg.com

As many as 25 percent of Americans are expected to use paperless electronic voting machines in the upcoming November elections, according to the Verified Voting Foundation, but confidence has been eroded by incidents showing vulnerabilities. The foundation, which seeks more reliable election systems, contends that voting machines in 11 states are all-electronic, with no paper systems for recounts, and that many other jurisdictions have some of these systems in place. … Pamela Smith of the Verified Voting Foundation said these incidents highlight the fact “that you can have insider challenges as well as outsider hacks. It points out that you have to be able to check the system.”
Election security and technology has been an issue in the United States since the 2000 president election marred by “hanging chads” in Florida that muddled the result.

National: The Super PAC Paradox | Roll Call

When GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum gave his victory speech in Missouri after the primary there on Feb. 7, he shared the stage with a white-haired gentleman who stood practically at his elbow the entire time.
Investment fund manager Foster Friess probably did not strike audience members as someone special as he smiled merrily behind the former Pennsylvania Senator. But Friess is at the center of a growing controversy over unregulated money and alleged campaign finance violations in the 2012 campaign. At issue is whether unrestricted super PACs are illegally working hand-in-hand with the candidates they support. Campaign finance watchdogs say the collusion is flagrant. Super PAC organizers argue just as loudly that they are meticulously following the rules.

National: Republicans lose appeal on poll-watching tactics | Thomson Reuters

The Republican National Committee on Thursday lost a bid to dissolve a decades-old legal agreement with the Democratic National Committee over the GOP’s use of improper election tactics. The agreement dates to 1982, when the Republican National Committee settled a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee accusing the GOP of trying to intimidate minority voters. Under the agreement, the Republican National Committee must obtain court approval before implementing certain poll-monitoring activities in minority precincts. The Republican Party filed suit in November 2008 to void the agreement. But the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit rejected the GOP’s request on Thursday, affirming a New Jersey district court’s ruling. “If the RNC does not hope to engage in conduct that would violate the Decree, it is puzzling that the RNC is pursuing vacatur so vigorously,” Judge Joseph Greenaway wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel. He noted that the party sought to escape the decree at a critical moment, in time for the upcoming election cycle.

National: Questions linger in US on high-tech voting | AFP

A series of problems with electronic voting machines has raised fresh questions about election technology as newer computerized systems gain ground for the 2012 US election. As many as 25 percent of Americans are expected to use paperless electronic voting machines in the upcoming November elections, according to the Verified Voting Foundation, but confidence has been eroded by incidents showing vulnerabilities. The foundation, which seeks more reliable election systems, contends that voting machines in 11 states are all-electronic, with no paper systems for recounts, and that many other jurisdictions have some of these systems in place. Last year, Microsoft Research published a paper describing vulnerabilities to what had been described as “fully verifiable” direct recording electronic (DRE) systems in which a hacker can “undetectably alter large numbers of votes.” Separately, scientists at Argonne National Laboratory described a way to tamper with certain electronic voting machines by inserting a $10 component along with a $15 radio frequency device to alter vote results. Pamela Smith of the Verified Voting Foundation said these incidents highlight the fact “that you can have insider challenges as well as outsider hacks. It points out that you have to be able to check the system.”

National: Super Tuesday more slow than super – Low turnout, few problems mark contests in 10 states | electionlineWeekly

Unlike four years ago when states jockeyed to be among the first to cast ballots in the hotly contested 2008 presidential primary season and 24 states and America Soma held their contests on February 5, this year only 10 states held contests on “Super Tuesday.” And with no contest on the Democrat side and less interest on the Republican side than there seemed to be four years, that made for a slow Super Tuesday for many elections officials with light turnout reported from Alaska to Vermont. That being said, just because the day was relatively quiet, some would say slow, doesn’t mean it was uneventful. The following is a brief recap of some of the events of Super Tuesday. In Franklin County, Ohio, some voters left their polling places without voting after confusion about ballots lead to delays. The confusion arose in polling places that handle multiple precincts. Due to the confusion about which ballots voters were supposed to receive, some voters could not wait because they had to get to work. Poll workers took down the contact information of the voters who had to leave and reached out to them after the ballot confusion was cleared up to encourage them to return to vote.