A few weeks after some individual donors hit their campaign contribution limits to President Obama’s reelection campaign, they made donations to the super PAC supporting him, extending their financial support to the shadow campaign that’s backing his bid for another four years in the White House. This new trend has just begun to emerge in the most recent super PAC financial disclosures filed over the weekend with the Federal Election Commission. It’s another impact of the sweeping changes in campaign finance law set off by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, which opened the door for unlimited contributions to organizations that expressly advocate for or against a candidate’s election. That gives deep-pocketed supporters a new avenue for showing their support once they’ve passed the FEC limits, which limit individual donors to $5,000 per election cycle — $2,500 for the primary election and $2,500 for the general.
Look no further than the Utah Republican Party convention over the weekend. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) took a strong majority of the vote and nearly avoided having to go to a June primary with his opponent — a good showing considering the position Hatch was in last year — and he did it in large part by running against outsiders who had come to Utah to unseat him. By the end of the campaign, polling showed that 62 percent of convention delegates had an unfavorable opinion of FreedomWorks, the main conservative group seeking to unseat Hatch, and 39 percent said their feelings were “very unfavorable” toward the group. The group, which played a major role in unseating Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) at the 2010 convention, had become a pariah and, undoubtedly, something of a boon to Hatch. One local columnist even suggested the group’s name was a “dirty word” in the Beehive State.
National: Romney super PAC’s $400K gift among mysterious donations this election cycle | The Washington Post
A once-mysterious $400,000 check written to a “super” political action committee supporting Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign rekindled a nagging question this election season: Just how much disclosure is enough to satisfy transparency? The Florida husband and wife behind the contribution were identified Monday as the beneficiaries of an investment fund and are among Romney’s top Florida fundraisers. But up until then, the donation to the Restore Our Future super PAC — which reported the contribution from an unknown Florida firm called SeaSpray Partners LLC — left more questions than answers. Inquiries about the donation intensified over the weekend after a Florida man who owned a similarly named company in Palm Beach told news organizations he never donated to the pro-Romney group. It turned out that Restore Our Future listed the wrong address for the actual SeaSpray donor.
National: Why Online Voting Isn’t So Safe – FBI investigating student who hacked college election | Mobiledia
A California student tried to win a college government election by hacking into classmates’ accounts, which may lead to federal charges and increased privacy for not only colleges, but national and state elections as well. Matt Weaver, a junior, ran for student government president at California State San Marcos, located near San Diego, when school officials said he hacked into a computer and stole 700 voters’ passwords and identifications to alter the polling results. School police detained and released Weaver, but have yet charge him for the accusations, which include unlawful access to a computer, election fraud and identity theft. The FBI, which usually isn’t interested in the college student government results, is investigating Weaver’s hacking skills. School officials said they caught Weaver working on a school computer, and in possession of a device, used to steal passwords. … Federal authorities are also examining Weaver’s activities to decide if such hacking may interfere with state or national elections.
A coalition of groups supporting immigrants has recruited teams of volunteers to help push programs they hope will add thousands of new U.S. citizens to the voter rolls in several states in time for the November presidential election. The national push comes after Democratic President Barack Obama has failed to deliver on promised immigration reforms in his first years in office and his likely opponent, Mitt Romney, adopted harsh rhetoric on undocumented immigration to win support from conservatives while campaigning for the GOP nomination. The Department of Homeland Security says an estimated 12.6 million people were holding so-called green cards given to legal permanent U.S. residents in 2010, including 8.1 million people who already qualify for naturalization but have not applied for citizenship. Latinos, considered a Democratic-leaning constituency, account for the largest immigrant community. Immigrants and other minority voters helped Obama to a comfortable win over Republican John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.
Millions of dollars flowing to independent political groups dominating this year’s presidential and congressional contests have come from mystery and hard-to-find donors, newly filed campaign reports show. More than $8 out of every $10 collected during the first three months of this year by two conservative groups associated with Republican strategist Karl Rove, for instance, went to a non-profit branch that does not have to reveal its donors. The two groups have surpassed the fundraising of the candidate their spending will help the most — Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney. FreedomWorks for America, a super PAC that has spent more than $700,000 working to oust veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, relied on undisclosed money from its non-profit arm for nearly a third of its receipts this year, federal records show. Hatch, a six-term senator, now faces a June 26 primary after failing to win the support of at least 60% of delegates Saturday at Utah’s GOP convention.
Members of the Republican National Committee considered — and rejected — changes to their presidential nominating process for 2016 after a contest this year that some members say was too long and drawn out. At a meeting here of the R.N.C.’s rules committee, members debated whether to abandon the proportional voting that gave Mitt Romney’s rivals the ability to try and accumulate delegates even as they failed to win the nominating contests. Sue Everhart, a committee member from Georgia, proposed the change, citing concerns about the length of the competition. She suggested changes that would have allowed states to hold winner-take-all contests in 2016, potentially bringing the contest to a close more quickly.
Shortly after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) announced it was dropping voter identification laws from its agenda, another conservative group is stepping in to fill the void. The National Center for Public Policy Research announced this week it had formed a “Voter Identification Task Force” to continue ALEC’s “excellent work” in “promoting measures to enhance integrity in voting.” Describing itself as a “conservative, free-market, non-profit think-tank,” the group was established in 1982. “The fact that ALEC is no longer going to be offering the services it did got us interested in doing something,” National Center for Public Policy Research executive director David Almasi told TPM. “We obviously can’t do everything ALEC did, but we can do something to make sure the issue doesn’t go away.”
For Buddy Roemer, it’s all about the Benjamins. But he’ll only accept one at a time. The former governor and congressman from Louisiana and current presidential candidate has capped his campaign contributions at just $100 per donor in a symbolic move to stand up against corporate corruption in government. “I came to the decision that Washington wasn’t broken: it was bought,” Roemer said. “The only way to be president was to be free to lead. I decided to set a very low margin, $100, and ask every American to consider joining the election long before he votes.” As of Feb. 13, the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics reported that more than $71 million has been spent by outside organizations. But Roemer not only limits contributions, he also refuses to take any money from Super PACs, which he views as illegal and corrupt.
Sixty-two percent of funds raised by two conservative groups associated with former Bush adviser Karl Rove have come from mystery donors, a statistic that shows the increasingly important role being played by nonprofits in a post-Citizens United political world. American Crossroads, a super PAC, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a nonprofit, were founded in 2010 by Rove and another former Bush adviser, Ed Gillespie. Together, they raised $123 million through the end of 2011, according to an iWatch News review of Federal Election Commission data and Internal Revenue Service filings. Of that sum, $76.8 million, or 62 percent, went to Crossroads GPS, which is a nonprofit, “social welfare” group organized under section 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code. Like American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS can pay for advertising that attacks political opponents by name and urges viewers to vote against them. But unlike the super PAC, GPS is prohibited from making politics its “primary purpose,” according to the IRS, a rule that these politically active nonprofits have interpreted to mean they can spend up to 49 percent of their funds on such advertising.
Have an early vote plan from a competitive 2010 contest in Florida? It may not even be worth looking at in preparation for this fall, strategists warn. The early vote landscape has changed markedly in battlegrounds across the country with several states over the past year shortening the window to cast in-person early votes. Among them, the swing states of Florida and Wisconsin. The changes will have campaigns in those states—and nationally—going back to the drawing board when it comes to the early vote, and likely having to spend additional resources to educate voters on the changes. “You have to divert resources and you have to plan ahead,” says Phillip Stutts, a Republican strategist. Stutts served as national director of the RNC’s 72-hour task force in 2004. The key questions campaigns should be asking, according to Stutts: “Do we hold money back now to put it into getting out the vote for early voting? Or, if [the early voting window] condenses, can we use more of that money for TV, for radio? Maybe we run a couple more mail pieces, or hire more staff?”
Companies giving at least $2 million to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation — nearly half of its reported 2010 donations — also backed an organization championing voter identification laws that caucus members say “suppress” minorities’ right to vote. The group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, lists 22 corporate and trade association members on its private enterprise board. Thirteen of those firms also contributed to the black caucus foundation in 2010, according to Internal Revenue Service records and the latest available data on the websites of both organizations. The dual support puts companies, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) (WMT), AT&T Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, in the position of financing both sides in a political dispute over state laws that the U.S. Justice Department said in some cases are biased against minority voters. “Corporations should be conscious of how their advocacy money is being spent by organizations that they contribute to,” said U.S. Representative Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat and a member of the black caucus. “This is a wakeup call for corporate interests to be more responsible for how they spend their money.” A spokeswoman for the black caucus foundation, Traci Hughes, didn’t respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
The controversial video showing a man almost fraudulently accepting a ballot as Attorney General Eric Holder got more airtime Wednesday at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the Justice Department’s voting rights enforcement track record. The video, made by conservative activist James O’Keefe, prompted some committee members to question the attorney general’s handling of voting cases. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he is “shocked the attorney general hasn’t offered a meaningful response to this.” On hand for the Republican-led House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution hearing was former Voting Section lawyerJ. Christian Adams, who has been a vocal critic of Holder since his dramatic departure from theJustice Department in 2010. Adams was critical of Holder’s decision to partially dismiss a voter intimidation civil lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party and members — a racially charged case Adams helped initiate. But many veterans of the Civil Rights Division said the George W. Bush administration’s Voting Section took on a highly politicized agenda in choosing cases.
Pressured by watchdog groups, civil rights organizations and a growing national movement for accountable lawmaking, the American Legislative Exchange Council announced Tuesday that it was disbanding the task force that has been responsible for advancing controversial Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws. ALEC, the shadowy corporate-funded proponent of so-called “model legislation” for passage by pliant state legislatures, announced that it would disband its “Public Safety and Elections” task force. The task force has been the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives—not just restrictive Voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities. The task force has also been the source of so-called “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground” laws that limit the ability of police and prosecutors to pursue inquiries into shootings of unarmed individuals such as Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The decision to disband the task force appears to get ALEC out of the business of promoting Voter ID and “Stand Your Ground” laws. That’s a dramatic turn of events, with significant implications for state-based struggles over voting rights an elections, as well as criminal justice policy. But it does not mean that ALEC will stop promoting one-size-fits-all “model legislation” at the state level.
The super PAC mega-donors who dragged out the GOP primary are getting behind the establishment, rather than continuing to back rogue candidates and causes — as some in the Republican Party feared. Donors like Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess, who gave millions to anti-establishment presidential primary campaigns, are starting to fall in line — promising to support Mitt Romney and cutting checks to groups fighting for congressional Republicans. Casino mogul Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who donated more than $15 million to a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, gave $5 million to a super PAC linked to House Speaker John Boehner in February — according to newly released filings. And Adelson is hosting a fundraiser next Friday at one of his Las Vegas hotels for a Boehner umbrella group that works closely with the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, POLITICO has learned.
American companies are discovering the perils of politics as activists and public pension fund officials apply new pressure on corporations to disclose their political spending — or cease it entirely. Companies holding their annual meetings this spring will face a record number of shareholder resolutions demanding companies reveal whether corporate funds have been spent on politics. A coalition that includes Public Citizen, Common Cause and other groups that favor campaign limits has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded companies to disclose campaign spending on their filings to regulators. And in recent days, Wendy’s and several of the nation’s most recognizable companies have dropped their affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group linked to the spread of Stand Your Ground laws and state efforts to toughen voter identification rules. The companies’ actions came after a civil rights group, ColorOfChange, spotlighted the firms’ ties to ALEC.
A divided U.S. appeals court struck down a federal ban on political advertising on public TV and radio stations, a decision that could open the public airwaves to a heavy dose of campaign ads leading up to the November elections. By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the Federal Communications Commission violated the First Amendment’s free speech clause by blocking public broadcasters from running political and public issue ads. The court said the ban was too broad, and that lifting it would not threaten to undermine the educational nature of public broadcast stations. It upheld a ban on ads for goods and services on behalf of for-profit companies. “Public issue and political speech in particular is at the very core of the First Amendment’s protection,” Judge Carlos Bea wrote in the main opinion. “Public issue and political advertisements pose no threat of ‘commercialization’,” he continued. “Such advertisements do not encourage viewers to buy commercial goods and services. A ban on such advertising therefore cannot be narrowly tailored to serve the interest of preventing the ‘commercialization’ of broadcasting.”
National: Sunshine for the Super PAC: The DISCLOSE Act Would Eliminate Anonymous Donors | Georgetown Public Policy Review
Last month, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced an updated version of the DISCLOSE Act, legislation aimed at improving transparency in campaign-related spending. Senator Whitehouse’s attention is certainly warranted. Right now, corporations and labor unions can unload their treasuries into independent expenditures. Super PACs and traditional PACs are operating under the same roof. The relevant regulatory body, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), can’t decide if a candidate filming an advertisement specifically for a DNC TV spot qualifies as coordinating with the DNC. In short, campaign finance is a mess. Oddly enough, the revised edition of the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Elections (DISCLOSE) Act would not change any of that. Yet, by addressing one critical issue, the DISCLOSE Act has the potential to be the most important piece of legislation debated by Congress in 2012.
Here’s yet another consequence of the confusing super PAC era: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., may have irritated members of his conference by donating to an anti-incumbent super PAC before the Illinois primary, but Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., could have violated campaign finance rules when he solicited Cantor’s donation. Last week, Roll Call reported that Cantor donated $25,000 to the Campaign for Primary Accountability as a way of supporting freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill, against fellow Republican Rep. Don Manzullo in a member-versus-member primary in the state’s 16th District (The group ultimately spent over $220,000 against Manzullo). According to both Cantor’s camp and Schock himself, Cantor cut the check at Schock’s request.
Yesterday the long-developing ties between two Republican super PACs and Mitt Romney’s campaign grew stronger when the campaign announced that veteran GOP strategist Ed Gillespie would come aboard as a senior adviser. Gillespie is a founder of and adviser to American Crossroads, which has stockpiled $26.9 million so far this election cycle, much of which is expected to be spent helping the Republican nominee; it’s increasingly likely that will be Romney. Another Crossroads adviser is Carl Forti, who is also president of the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The two super PACs, awash in money, share a number of benefactors. Many of the largest donors to Crossroads are also major donors to Restore Our Future, and vice versa. And many have maxed out to the Romney campaign itself, which has been struggling, relatively speaking, to raise cash.
A court ruling rejecting Federal Election Commission disclosure requirements as too lax has left political players unsure how much they need to report about the financing of issue ads, making the agency a battleground in the dispute over secret money in 2012. The March 30 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson orders the FEC to rewrite disclosure rules drafted after enactment of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that the court deemed inadequate. Few expect the six-member agency to comply promptly with the order. Divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, the FEC is notorious for partisan deadlocks. It hasn’t yet mustered a quorum to weigh new regulations arising from the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, though it did say it would no longer enforce restrictions that kept labor unions and corporations from making political expenditures.
In today’s New York Times Magazine, political writer Matt Bai grumbles in a short piece about his inability to vote online in an era where nearly everything else can be done over the Internet. “The best argument against Internet voting,” he writes, “is that it stacks the system against old and poor people who can’t afford or use computers, but the same could be said about cars.” That, he argues, is a problem that could easily be solved by the electronic equivalent of giving people rides to a polling place. If only it were so simple. Voting, alas, has unique characteristics that make internet implementations all but impossible given current technology. The big problem is that we make two demands of it that cannot be met simultaneously. We want voting to be very, very secure. And we want it to be very, very anonymous.
THE video begins like this: wispy clouds drift over the great American outdoors. Cranes build an office block. Trucks roar down the highway. ”Capitalism made America great,” says a gravelly voice. ”The free market. Hard work. The building blocks of the American dream.” A family walks through a wheat field, where the Stars and Stripes waves briskly. ”But in the wrong hands, those dreams can turn into nightmares.” And storm clouds gather over the wheat field. The attack ad goes on to paint Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a corporate raider of the worst ilk, making his millions through stripping assets and staff from honest American businesses. It was exquisitely timed to upset Romney, as rival Republican Newt Gingrich accelerated his run towards his South Carolina primary win on January 21. But Gingrich’s name was not mentioned, nor did he endorse the ad (or later accept responsibility for its errors and exaggerations). It was paid for by a group called Winning Our Future.
Liberal activists on Wednesday criticized new voter registration requirements in dozens of states, saying millions of people could be deterred from voting in the November U.S. presidential election – a claim their opponents disputed. The Center for American Progress issued a report that said new barriers to voting have been enacted by conservative state legislatures with the aim of disenfranchising voters from among certain groups such as low-income voters, minorities and college students. Those constituencies have tended to favor Democrats. “The right to vote is under attack all across our country,” the group said in a report that launched the latest salvo in the growing war of racially tinged rhetoric over new voter ID requirements.
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, whose wealth has become a central issue in the 2012 campaign, has taken advantage of an obscure exception in federal ethics laws to avoid disclosing the nature and extent of his holdings. By offering a limited description of his assets, Romney has made it difficult to know precisely where his money is invested, whether it is offshore or in controversial companies, or whether those holdings could affect his policies or present any conflicts of interest. In 48 accounts from Bain Capital, the private equity firm he founded in Boston, Romney declined on his financial disclosure forms to identify the underlying assets, including his holdings in a company that moved U.S. jobs to China and a California firm once owned by Bain that filed for bankruptcy years ago and laid off more than 1,000 workers. Those are known only because Bain publicly disclosed them in government filings and on the Internet. But most of the underlying assets — the specific investments of Bain funds— are not known because Romney is covered by a confidentiality agreement with the company.
National: Attorneys General urge Congress to check corporate spending on elections | SouthCoastToday.com
Concerned about unlimited contributions by corporations for political advertising, Attorney General Martha Coakley has submitted a formal letter to Congress urging an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The letter sent today to Congressional leadership was signed by AG Coakley and 10 other state Attorneys General.
Unresolved technological problems means Internet voting should not yet be deployed to U.S. elections, a Homeland Security Department cybersecurity official told a conference of election officials and watchdogs. “It’s definitely premature to deploy Internet voting in real elections,” said Bruce McConnell, a senior cybersecurity counselor, speaking before the Election Verification Network conference in Santa Fe, N.M. on March 29. “The security infrastructure around Internet voting is both immature and under-resourced,” McConnell told the audience, citing National Institute of Standards and Technology internal reports that summarize technical research on particular subjects. NISTIR 7770 (.pdf), which addresses security considerations of remote electronic voting, states that “achieving a very strict notion of ballot secrecy remains a challenging issue in remote electronic voting systems,’” McConnell noted.
He may be in last place when it comes to delegates, but when it comes to filing expense reports with the FEC, Ron Paul beats everyone. His campaign’s hyper-vigilance is notable, verging on fanatical. Every bank fee, every 22 cents at a FedEx, every $1 toll on the Florida turnpike, every $5.09 pit stop at any Starbucks anywhere, every doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts and Dough Nutz — it’s all right there, itemized in the Paul campaign’s copious expenditure reports. In 160 instances so far, the campaign has reported purchases costing a single dollar or less. Last week, ProPublica examined the spending of the five presidential candidates and the major super PACs, identifying their 200 top payees. But as part of digging into the more than $306 million spent through February, it was impossible to avoid the other end of the spectrum: The small bucks, if you will. The Paul campaign tracks every cent like no other, which Paul campaign officials say is deliberate. “We take the trust our donors place in us very seriously and are deeply committed to transparency and accuracy in our reporting,” wrote Paul’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, in an email response to ProPublica. Deeply, indeed.
As the 2012 presidential election revs up, 33 states now permit some form of Internet ballot casting. However, a senior cybersecurity adviser at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned today that online voting programs make the country’s election process vulnerable to cyberattacks. “It is premature to deploy Internet voting in real elections at this time,” DHS cybersecurity adviser Bruce McConnell said at a meeting of the Election Verification Network, which is a group that works to ensure every vote is counted. He explained that all voting systems are susceptible to attacks and bringing in Internet voting invites added risk. Right now, 33 states allow completed ballots to be sent via the Web, typically through e-mail and efax. The main voting contingent that uses this cyber-feature are people in the military and those living overseas.
You are more likely to win Mega Millions that commit voter fraud in the US according to this study. The Justice Department recently blocked a Texas law requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at polls on the grounds that it disproportionately disenfranchised Hispanics. The state sued the government in response, and the law is scheduled to be disputed in a federal trial in July. Although voter fraud is a problem that should not be overlooked, I side with the Justice Department, as this law would negatively impact more people than the number of cases of voter fraud. There is much ambiguity surrounding the issue of voter fraud. Only a few studies have measured the prevalence of fraud, such as this study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice which showed that voter fraud is even rarer than being struck by lightning or winning the Mega Millions. But disenfranchisement of minority groups is very real. By disregarding an important component of the state’s population, Texas’ law creates a predetermined electoral outcome, prohibits an entire demographic from voicing their own opinions, and obstructs a key cornerstone of democracy in order to produce desired results.