National: DHS official says online voting invites cybersecurity risks | CNET News

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.

National: Voter ID Laws Study: Voter Fraud Even Rarer Than Winning Mega Millions | @PolicyMic

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.

National: Online Voting ‘Premature’ Warns Government Cybersecurity Expert | WBUR

Warnings about the dangers of Internet voting have been growing as the 2012 election nears, and an especially noteworthy one came Thursday from a top cybersecurity official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Bruce McConnell told a group of election officials, academics and advocacy groups meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., that he believes, “it’s premature to deploy Internet voting in real elections at this time.” McConnell said voting systems are vulnerable and, “when you connect them to the Internet that vulnerability increases.” He called security around Internet voting “immature and under-resourced.” McConnell’s comments echo those of a number of computer scientists who say there’s no way to protect votes cast over the Internet from outside manipulation. But right now a growing number of states are allowing overseas and military voters to return their marked ballots by digital fax or email, which experts say raises the same threat. It’s part of a recent push to make voting easier for millions of Americans overseas, who often are prevented from voting because of slow ballot delivery and missed deadlines.

National: Federal judge rules Federal Election Commission overstepped authority in shielding ad donors | The Washington Post

The Federal Election Commission overstepped its bounds in allowing groups that fund certain election ads to keep their financiers anonymous, a federal judge ruled Friday. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s ruling could pave the way to requiring groups that spend money on electioneering communications — ads that don’t expressly advocate for or against a candidate running for federal office — to disclose their donors. The FEC ruled in 2007 that corporations and nonprofits did not have to reveal the identities of those who financed such ads. That regulation came in response to a Supreme Court ruling that gave more latitude to nonprofit groups — like the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS and the President Barack Obama-leaning Priorities USA — on pre-election ads. Campaign-finance regulations have received new scrutiny this election cycle, following a handful of federal court rulings that stripped away long-established limits on how much individuals and organizations may contribute to groups favoring certain candidates.

National: Koch Brothers, Chamber of Commerce Face Possible Campaign Donation Disclosure After Ruling | Huffington Post

On Friday evening, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling that could begin the process of revealing the identities of secret donors to groups connected to Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. The court ruled in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission that the FEC rules that restricted campaign donor disclosureare not valid and must be changed to provide for disclosure. “We are very happy to see the judge got it right,” says Paul Ryan, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance watchdog that was a part of the team challenging the FEC rules. Those rules state that donors to groups spending money on “electioneering communications,” or advertisements that do not specifically call to elect or defeat a candidate, must only be disclosed if they specifically earmarked their donation to that particular expenditure. Since few, if any, donors to these groups ever earmark their donation for a specific election expense there was no disclosure.

National: Santorum: ‘The Only Reason You Don’t Have A Voter ID Is You Want To Continue To Perpetrate Fraud’ | ThinkProgress

To Rick Santorum, the more than 23 million American voters who don’t have a government-issued photo ID aren’t potential victims of disenfranchisement. The presidential hopeful uses a different name: perpetrators of fraud. ThinkProgress spoke with the Republican presidential hopeful about voter ID laws — which require that citizens present a certain form of photo identification or they are barred from voting — during a campaign stop in Milwaukee last weekend. Santorum said that he supports such laws because, as he states it, “the only reason you don’t have a voter ID is you want to continue to perpetrate fraud.” He went on to dismiss the notion that anyone might not have access to a voter ID, saying that “it’s not a problem.” Santorum’s claim falls somewhere in the murky world between audacity and lunacy. More than one in ten Americans lack a government-issued photo ID. These people are not committing voter fraud — indeed, voter fraud is rarer than getting struck by lightning — they are potentially having their right to vote stripped away. Santorum appears to have confused the disenfranchisees with the disenfranchisers.

National: The Comeback of Campaign Finance | Roll Call

Ten years after they celebrated the enactment of their sweeping ban on unregulated campaign cash, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) have revived their assault on big money.
The two are not plotting some grand new reform or launching a public relations tour — though they did tape a public radio segment together recently. But a decade after the McCain-Feingold law was signed by the president (March 27, 2002), the erstwhile allies are delivering a strikingly unified message: The campaign finance rules are in tatters, scandals will follow, and voters will once again demand reform. “Thanks to a naive and politically ignorant decision by the United States Supreme Court, obviously it has been largely dismantled,” McCain said in an interview about the law that he authored with Feingold. “And the consequences are manifesting themselves every day in what will someday be, sooner rather than later, a huge scandal.”
Feingold struck a similar note. “We put a brick on top of a wall, and the brick is intact, but the wall was smashed by the Citizens United decision,” Feingold told Roll Call. “It has turned the election system into a joke.”

National: John McCain predicts ‘huge scandals’ in super PAC-tainted election | iWatch News

Sen. John McCain slammed the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision as “incredibly naïve” on Tuesday, and predicted there would be “huge scandals” in its wake. The Arizona Republican was co-author with then-colleague Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., of the last major attempt by government to reform campaign finance laws in 2002. He was participating in a panel discussion on the decision at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The law prohibited corporations and unions from bankrolling issue ads that mention a candidate within the final weeks before an election. But under the contentious Citizens United ruling, corporations and unions were freed not only to fund issue ads that mention a candidate but to also make so-called “independent expenditures” that urge people to vote for or vote against candidates. Many worry this change will increase the potential for corruption and unseemly alliances between lawmakers and special interests.

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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.