In a season of rough campaign attack ads, the one aimed at a North Carolina judge was among the roughest. “Justice Robin Hudson sided with the predators,” viewers were told. “Justice Robin Hudson — not tough on child molesters, not fair to victims.” Hudson, a Democrat on the North Carolina Supreme Court, was one of the state-level judges targeted this year by the Republican State Leadership Committee, which spent $4 million nationwide on an effort to tilt state courts in a conservative direction. Though Republicans took control of the Senate and many governors mansions in the midterm election, the committee’s courthouse campaigns fell short of unseating Hudson and judges it targeted in Montana, Tennessee and Missouri. Judicial campaigns once were typically sedate affairs, little noticed outside of bar association dinners, but that is changing rapidly under a new wave of campaign spending driven by outside political groups and unlimited donations. Court campaigns in several states set spending records, according to a study that counted about $14 million in television advertising in state Supreme Court races — about $2 million more than in 2010.
f you really think about it, who among us hasn’t been accused on television of coddling child molesters? A few years ago, in the spirit of Halloween, we created an “Evil Men in Black Robes” Halloween Spooktackular, pulling together some of the worst in scary judicial election attack ads. Well, they’re baaaaack, and some of them are worse than ever. This time it’s not just the judicial candidates literally inhabiting the pockets of special interests (although we do have a creepy pocket judge again), but also sitting judges accused of coddling child molesters, rapists, and more. In 39 states, some or all judges must face some kind of election—often a partisan one. These races used to be about as interesting to watch as Bingo night. But now, it’s all Law and Order, and all the time. The ads are scarier than the shows they interrupt.
Hundreds of North Carolinians – and one cat – have received incorrect voter registration information, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections. The information – an “official application form” – was sent by Americans for Prosperity, a national conservative group with a state chapter based in Raleigh. Since then, hundreds of people who received the forms have called and complained to the State Board of Elections, said Joshua Lawson, a public information officer for the board. “It’s unclear where (Americans for Prosperity) got their list, but it’s caused a lot of confusion for people in the state,” Lawson said. One resident even received a voter registration form addressed to her cat, he said.
When Republican Representative Cory Gardner of Colorado announced in March that he would run for the U.S. Senate, he knew he could count on backing from national Republican groups, including so-called super PACs. But he wasn’t allowed to talk to them directly. Federal election law prohibits campaigns from having contact with the super PACs and advocacy organizations that have come to dominate political spending since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. Those rules were intended to put a wall between candidates, whose fundraising is constrained by federal limits, and special interest groups allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money promoting candidates and issues. In practice, campaigns have found ways to talk to super PACs while staying on the right side of the law. Gardner’s race illustrates how the system works. Within weeks of his declaring his Senate run, Americans for Prosperity, backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, told the Washington Post it would spend $970,000 on three weeks of television, radio, and online ads attacking incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall. That news was a signal that Gardner, who was unopposed in the primary, could hang back and focus on raising money—even as Democratic groups began running their own ads attacking him.
Conservative iconography is saturated with references to America’s democratic tradition. From Charles and David Koch’s political action committee, Americans for Prosperity, which uses the Statue of Liberty’s torch for its logo, to the ubiquitous presence of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence at tea party rallies, it is commonplace for conservatives to drape themselves in the flag and proclaim their allegiance to our nation’s founding documents. But lately, conservative lawmakers across the country have launched a drive that not only contradicts this rhetoric but strikes at the fundamental basis for representative government in America: They are pursuing a raft of measures that will restrict voters’ access to the polls. A heated debate about voter ID laws — measures that require voters to take government-issued identification to the polls — has been taking place for several years. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 upheld the constitutionality of these local voter ID laws, but even the justices were deeply divided on the question; civil liberties groups continue to argue that, as with the poll taxes and literacy tests of the Jim Crow South, these laws result in the disenfranchisement of poor people and people of color. However, conservatives have now opened another front in the war on the vote with a slate of recent laws that attack provisions such as early voting.
Voters in at least eight West Virginia counties have been mailed “misleading and confusing” material that may make them incorrectly believe they aren’t eligible to vote in next month’s election, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said Tuesday. The leaflets — mailed by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation — warn voters that if they do not update their voter registration, they may lose their right to vote in the upcoming primary election on May 13. The mailings included voter registration cards and prepaid return envelopes addressed to county clerks. Tuesday was the last day to register to vote for the May 13 primary, and a Tennant spokesman said the mailing could convince people whose voter registrations are perfectly valid that they aren’t allowed to vote.
National: New IRS rules add both clarity and confusion about the role of advocacy groups in politics | The Washington Post
For the first time since 1959, nonprofit advocacy groups face new Internal Revenue Service rules governing their political activities, an area of the tax code that has been crying out for greater clarity. A proposed regulation unveiled Tuesday by the Treasury Department draws the boundaries more clearly — but instantly kicked off intense debate about whether the lines are in the right place. One phrase in the official notice summed up the imperfect nature of the exercise. The new rules, the department said, “may be both more restrictive and more permissive than the current approach.” That seemingly contradictory statement reflects the muddy zone now occupied by “social welfare” organizations set up under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. Originally a designation used by civic leagues and homeowner associations, social welfare groups emerged in the past decade as the go-to vehicles for political operatives seeking to influence campaigns without revealing their donors.
There’s an irony in the Internal Revenue Service’s crackdown on conservative groups. The nation’s tax agency has admitted to inappropriately scrutinizing smaller tea party organizations that applied for tax-exempt status, and senior Treasury Department officials were notified in the midst of the 2012 presidential election season that an internal investigation was underway. But the IRS largely maintained a hands-off policy with the much larger, big-budget organizations on the left and right that were most influential in the elections and are organized under a section of the tax code that allows them to hide their donors.
News that employees at the Internal Revenue Service targeted groups with “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their name for special scrutiny has raised pious alarms among some lawmakers and editorial writers. Yes, the I.R.S. may have been worse than clumsy in considering an avalanche of applications for nonprofit status under the tax code, and that deserves scrutiny whether or not the agency’s employees were spurred by partisan motives. After all, some of these “tea party” groups are most likely not innocent nonprofit organizations devoted to the cultural significance of hot beverages — or to other, more civic, virtues. Rather, they and others are groups that may be illegally spending a majority of their resources on political activity while manipulating the tax code to hide their donors and evade taxes (the unwritten rule being that no more than 49 percent of a group’s resources can be used for political purposes).
Federal Election Commissioner Caroline Hunter’s term expired on April 30. This wouldn’t be newsworthy except for one thing: It means that as of now, all the members of the agency that enforces the nation’s campaign laws—and is supposed to oversee the flood of money candidates and their allies spend—are working on borrowed time. President Obama hasn’t nominated anyone to succeed them. So the current commissioners are simply lingering in their expired seats. To say the FEC is broken is a parody of understatement. The agency’s structure—three Democratic commissioners and three Republicans, serving single six-year terms—means it often deadlocks along party lines. That’s what happened when it tried to update its own regulations in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, the case that helped open the door to unlimited political spending. The commission’s three Democrats wanted to consider tightening disclosure requirements; the Republicans insisted on reviewing only those rules that conflicted with the court’s ruling. That put the commissioners on the sidelines when spending by independent groups tripled to $1 billion in 2012, up from $300 million in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks campaign spending.
National: Judicial elections in 2012: voters rejected the politicization of the courts | Slate Magazine
Tucked away in last Tuesday’s national election results was a bona fide mandate, on a scale that presidents can only dream of. Voters across the country rejected a multifront crusade to bully judges and politicize courtrooms. That doesn’t mean, though, that the war against the independent judiciary is over. The situation looked far graver two years ago. In 2010, in a breakthrough moment, three Iowa Supreme Court justices were swept from the bench after ruling—as part of a unanimous court—that the state constitution protects the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Meanwhile, Supreme Court justices in Alaska, Colorado, and Illinois also faced aggressive efforts to oust them in retention elections, where voters decide whether or not to keep an incumbent judge. The following year, a record-breaking number of bills were filed to impeach or remove judges. Legislators also sought to weaken merit selection, whereby a nonpartisan screening commission provides a governor with a list of potential nominees.
Voting Blogs: Rules May Change, But the Secret Money Game Remains the Same | Brennan Center for Justice
In the last six months, the disclosure rules covering the sources of money spent on elections have changed dramatically — twice. Despite those changes, one thing has stayed the same: moneyed interests have remained able to spend tens of millions of dollars on elections without having to publicly reveal who is doing the spending. In March, a federal court ruled that Federal Elections Commission disclosure regulations were too weak, in violation of Congress’s instructions to the agency. The court said that any group (or individual) that runs a type of advertisement called “electioneering communications” must publicly disclose the identities of its donors. These are the so-called “issue ads” run shortly before an election that mention a candidate but stop short of telling the audience to vote for or against the candidate. In response to the ruling, organizations switched to a different type of advertisement called “independent expenditures” — ads that expressly call for a viewer to vote for or against the targeted candidate. Prior to this ruling, many groups had avoided independent expenditures for tax reasons, but they were willing to face the tax consequences once it became the only way to hide their donors from the public.
This is how voter intimidation worked in 1966: White teenagers in Americus, Ga., harassed black citizens in line to vote, and the police refused to intervene. Black plantation workers in Mississippi had to vote in plantation stores, overseen by their bosses. Black voters in Choctaw County, Ala., had to hand their ballots directly to white election officials for inspection. This is how it works today: In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout. The thing that’s different from the days of overt discrimination is the phony pretext of combating voter fraud. Voter identity fraud is all but nonexistent, but the assertion that it might exist is used as an excuse to reduce the political rights of minorities, the poor, students, older Americans and other groups that tend to vote Democratic.
Conservative groups pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 campaign won a reprieve Tuesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington overturned a decision requiring organizations that run election-related television ads to reveal their donors. In an unsigned decision, a three-judge panel said a lower court erred in finding that Congress intended to require such disclosure. It sent a case brought by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) against the Federal Election Commission back to the district court and called on the FEC to defend its regulations or issue new ones. Practically, the ruling changes little in the short term: Nonprofit organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS changed the type of ads they were running this summer in order to sidestep the lower-court ruling and keep their donors secret.
This year, 32 states will be holding contested elections or retention votes for judges on their highest courts. An ideological battle inFlorida, an expensive and partisan one in North Carolina and others are providing uncomfortable lessons about why judges on the highest courts should be appointed rather than elected. Elections turn judges into politicians, and the need to raise money to finance ever more expensive campaigns makes the judiciary more vulnerable to improper influence by donors.Special interests, like the casino, energy and hospital industries and others, have been heavily involved and sometimes find their ways around disclosure rules and exert their influence through independent expenditures, reducing race after race into a contest of slogans. In six states where spending has been especially heavy — Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — the harm to justice is well documented.
Two conservative nonprofits, Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, have poured almost $60 million into TV ads to influence the presidential race so far, outgunning all super PACs put together, new spending estimates show. These nonprofits, also known as 501(c)(4)s or c4s for their section of the tax code, don’t have to disclose their donors to the public. The two nonprofits had outspent all other types of outside spending groups in this election cycle, including political parties, unions, trade associations and political action committees, a ProPublica analysis of data provided by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG, found. Super PACs, which do have to report their donors, spent an estimated $55.7 million on TV ads mentioning a presidential candidate, CMAG data shows. Parties spent $22.5 million.
Since the mid-2000s, a small cadre of lawyers and activists has reshaped the role of money in American politics. Led by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), attorney James Bopp, Jr., and law professor and activist Brad Smith, this group has won a string of victories that have imploded campaign finance laws. Citizens United? That was Bopp. Super-PACs? Thank Smith’s Center for Competitive Politics. The 2010 and 2012 DISCLOSE Act filibusters? All McConnell. But it’s been rough going for the deregulators as of late. They’ve lost a slew of cases intended to gut existing political disclosure laws. They’ve failed to knock down bans on contribution limits. And despite their objections, the Internal Revenue Service has said it might revisit how it regulates dark-money nonprofit groups, which outspent super-PACs 3-to-2 in the 2010 elections and unloaded at least $172 million through June of this election cycle. “The free speech crew’s winning streak has hit a bump in the road,” says Neil Reiff, an election law attorney who used to work for the Democratic National Committee.
For all the headlines and hand-wringing about super-PACs, it is dark-money nonprofits like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity that dominate the political money wars. These politically oriented groups, which keep their donors secret, outspent super-PACs 3-to-2 in the 2010 elections. Through the spring of 2012, 91 percent of advertising by independent groups came from nonprofits and big business trade groups. And a growing pile of evidence suggests that it’s these nonprofits, not super-PACs, hauling in the bulk of corporate political cash. But come Saturday, the dark-money nonprofits face a dilemma. A high-profile court case known as Van Hollen v. FEC threatens to shine an unwelcome beam of sunlight on donors bankrolling these organizations. Nothing’s stopping Crossroads GPS or AFP from running more “issue” ads hitting Obama and other Democrats (that is, ads that don’t explicitly say “vote for” or “vote against”). Except now nonprofits will have to reveal who funded those spots. Dark-money nonprofits don’t want to name names. Their pitch to donors includes the promise of anonymity and a shield from public scrutiny. This means that Crossroads GPS and other politically active nonprofits—which aren’t supposed to make politicking their primary purpose—have to rethink their ad strategy, election experts say. Do they shift money to super-PACs? Go dark in the months before the election? Find another loophole to run ads and keep their donors secret?
Americans for Prosperity spent tens of millions of dollars on the 2010 election and will spend tens of millions more this year to see conservative advocates of limited government elected — all without revealing any of its contributors. Taking advantage of a complex web of federal laws, the group, founded and financed by billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch, has successfully kept its donors secret. But when AFP decided to wade into a Nevada Senate primary in June, it might have triggered a state law that could open its donor list to the public. In a complaint filed July 19, the Nevada Democratic Party asked Secretary of State Ross Miller to investigate whether the nonprofit organization must report the contributions it received to fund mailers attacking state Senate candidate Kelvin Atkinson, a Democratic assemblyman from North Las Vegas.
“A hundred million dollars is nothing,” the venture capitalist Andy Rappaport told me back in the summer of 2004. This was at a moment when wealthy liberals like George Soros and Peter Lewis were looking to influence national politics by financing their own voter-turnout machine and TV ads and by creating an investment fund for start-ups. Rappaport’s statement struck me as an expression of supreme hubris. In American politics at that time, $100 million really meant something. Eight years later, of course, his pronouncement seems quaint. Conservative groups alone, including a super PAC led by Karl Rove and another group backed by the brothers Charles and David Koch, will likely spend more than a billion dollars trying to take down Barack Obama by the time November rolls around. The reason for this exponential leap in political spending, if you talk to most Democrats or read most news reports, comes down to two words: Citizens United. The term is shorthand for a Supreme Court decision that gave corporations much of the same right to political speech as individuals have, thus removing virtually any restriction on corporate money in politics. The oft-repeated narrative of 2012 goes like this: Citizens United unleashed a torrent of money from businesses and the multimillionaires who run them, and as a result we are now seeing the corporate takeover of American politics.
“Recall Walker” bumper stickers dotted the workers’ parking lot at the Georgia Pacific paper mill on Day Street here one recent afternoon, proof of their union’s role in the effort to oust Gov. Scott Walker from office early for his legislation limiting public employees’ bargaining rights. But among the largest donors to Mr. Walker and his cause are the plant’s owners, the billionaire industrialists Charles G. and David H. Koch, the latter of whom has said of the recall election to be held in June, “If the unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power.” The recall vote here has been billed as a critical test of labor muscle versus corporate money. But it is only a warm-up for a confrontation that will play out during the presidential election, which both sides view as the biggest political showdown in at least 30 years between pro- and anti-union forces — a labor-management fight writ large.
National: FEC Disclosure Loophole Closes On Secret Donors As Court Won’t Stay Ruling | Huffington Post
A court rulingrequiring non-disclosing political groups — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity — to disclose their donors is one step closer to going into effect after a district court refused to stay its ruling in the face of an appeal. On March 30, a district court ruled in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) that a loophole in FEC rules that allowed certain independent group campaign efforts to keep private the names of donors was invalid and needed to be rewritten or reset to the original language. On Friday, the court not only refused to stay the ruling, as requested by two intervening groups that are appealing the case, the Center for Individual Freedom and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, but the court also found that its ruling invalidated the FEC loophole, which required it to be immediately closed, resetting to the original language in the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law, known officially as the Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA).
Voting Blogs: Dirty Tricks in Wisconsin: Deceptive Absentee Ballot Mailers Appear to be Coordinated Hoaxes | The Brad Blog
No doubt by now you’ve heard of the deceptive absentee ballot applications mailed to Democrats in Wisconsin by David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, WI, as reported earlier this week by David Catanese at Politico.
As seen below, the mailer instructed recipients to return the application to the “Absentee Ballot Processing Center” by August 11th, even though the recall elections for 6 Republicans is next Tuesday, August 9th…
When Charles Shultz received an absentee ballot application form in the mail on Thursday, July 28, it didn’t take long before he found something fishy with it. The mailer, sent by conservative advocacy group Americans For Prosperity (AFP) to his North Hudson home, included directions to mail the application to Madison instead of his village clerk.
“It seems to me like it was an effort by this organization to delay the process or make the process more complicated,” Shultz said. “And, of course the date of when it should be returned was wrong.” That set off red flags for Shultz.
Some voters in the 18th Senate District are getting misleading information in the mail about the deadline for absentee voting in the recall election between Republican incumbent Sen. Randy Hopper and Democrat Jessica King.
Absentee voter applications sent by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity tell voters to return the mailing by Aug. 11, two days after Aug. 9 recall election. Oshkosh Deputy Clerk Angela Joeckel said ballots that arrive after Aug. 9 would not be counted in any way. She said Thursday, Aug. 4, is the last day the clerk’s office can send an absentee ballot out by mail.
Mailings from AFP with incorrect election dates were also sent out in at least two of the other five districts in which recall electionswill be held on Tuesday, those represented by Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Rob Cowles of Allouez.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party on Tuesday called for an investigation into whether a conservative group tried to suppress turnout in next week’s recall elections targeting Republican state senators by telling voters that absentee ballots received a day after election day would be counted.
Meanwhile, elections regulators said the Democratic National Committee promised to stop calling voters in one of the Republicans’ districts after it gave some of his constituents the wrong election date in automated calls last week.
… The Wisconsin Democratic Party filed a complaint Monday with the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, alleging that absentee ballot applications mailed out by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that has spent heavily to help the Republicans, were intended to suppress turnout. And on Tuesday, state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate sent a request for an investigation to U.S. Attorney James Santelle. His office declined to comment on the matter.