Editorials: Federal Election Commission must not shy away from Russia probe | Stephen Spaulding/The Hill

Two summers ago, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, boasted in her memoir that she “successfully manipulated the Republican (Missouri Senate 2012) primary so that in the general election I would face the candidate I was most likely to beat.” Fast-forward to today, amid multiple investigations into whether and how the Kremlin successfully manipulated the presidential election so that its preferred candidate, Donald Trump, would win the White House. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) carefully considered investigating the McCaskill gambit upon advice of its nonpartisan career attorneys, but deadlocked on whether to move forward. It ought not make the same mistake with Trump’s campaign and its possible connections to the Russian government.

Editorials: Prevent the reckless restructuring of the FEC | Brad Smith/Columbus Dispatch

Imagine you are a Republican. Would you agree to let the rules of political campaigns be written by a partisan committee selected by Barack Obama? Or if you’re a Democrat, do you think Donald Trump should be able to appoint a partisan majority to determine the rules? Of course not. That’s why for more than 40 years, Republicans and Democrats have agreed that campaign regulations should be enforced by an independent, bipartisan agency. The Watergate scandal that forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency showed the dangers of allowing one party to use the power of government against the other. In the aftermath, the Federal Election Commission was created to make sure future administrations could not abuse campaign regulations to bludgeon their opponents.

Connecticut: Advocates Call On Democratic Party To Drop Lawsuit, Comply With Subpoena | CT News Junkie

Common Cause of Connecticut on Wednesday called upon the Connecticut Democratic Party to drop its challenge of the state’s clean election laws. The lawsuit served Tuesday is the second since the start of the 10-month investigation into mailings the party did on behalf of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy during the 2014 election cycle. The Democratic Party believes federal law trumps state law when it comes to the mailings, but the State Elections Enforcement Commission told the Federal Elections Commission in October 2014 that it would be wrong for federal regulators to assume they have jurisdiction over the mailing because it “glibly” includes “a stray get-out-the-vote message.” However, a draft decision by the FEC shows that it was poised in October to rule against the Connecticut Democratic Party. But the party withdrew its request for the ruling before it could be issued and went ahead and sent the mailings to prospective voters anyway shortly before the election.

National: Senator introduces bill to ban political robocalls | Philadelphia Inquirer

Three days after conceding the loss of his U.S. Senate seat, Alaska Democrat Mark Begich may have hit on just the trick to make him the most popular lame duck ever. On Nov. 20, the soon-to-be ex-senator introduced a bill that would allow voters to block robocalls from certain political organizations by adding super PACs and dark money groups (politically active non-profits that do not disclose donors) to the “Do Not Call Registry” maintained by theFederal Trade Commission. The “Do Not Disturb Act of 2014” comes a little late for this year’s voters, including many in Begich’s state. But an analysis of data — including filings due at the Federal Elections Commission at midnight — using Sunlight’s Real-Time Federal Campaign Finance tracker suggests that such a measure could put a serious crimp in the nation’s gross political product. Outside expenditure filings show that outside groups spent nearly $8 million dialing voters across the nation last year. Because of vagaries in how these calls are described in filings to the FEC, it’s hard to say exactly how many of them were the types Begich would ban: automated “robocalls” or the “push-polls” (faux surveys that attempt to create favorable or — more typically — unfavorable impressions of candidates by the way questions are phrased). Still, we found more than $1 million worth of calls that were explicitly identified as “automated” or “robocalls.”

North Carolina: After initial hysteria, back-pedaling over North Carolina voter fraud claims | Facing South

Last week, top staff of the N.C. State Board of Elections made a presentation to legislators about the state of voter registration in North Carolina. Out of the board’s 58-page PowerPoint presentation [pdf], only two of the slides (34 and 35) related to the Interstate Crosscheck, a project run by the Kansas secretary of state to root out suspected voter fraud. But the findings of North Carolina’s involvement in Crosscheck quickly ignited a media firestorm, especially in the conservative media: “N.C. State Board Finds More than 35K Incidents of ‘Double Voting’ in 2012” trumpeted National Review. “Oh My: Audit Finds Evidence of Widespread Voter Fraud in North Carolina” blared Townhall.com. Dick Morris, the conservative comentator and former political operative, made even more wild claims, claiming in an editorial for The Hill that North Carolina’s findings offered “concrete proof that massive voter fraud might have taken place in the 2012 election, sufficiently widespread to have tainted more than 1 million votes nationwide.” As Facing South was one of the first to report, however, the North Carolina election board’s data offered little proof of rampant fraud. The 35,750 figure represented people who, when plugged into Crosscheck’s database of voter files from 28 states, had the same first name, last name and date as birth of people who had voted in other states in 2012. But many of those can be explain by clerical errors and the fact that a surprisingly large number of people in different states share the same names and birthday.

Editorials: Roberts Court: Easier to donate, harder to vote | Elizabeth B. Wydra/Reuters

Chief Justice John Roberts’ first sentence of his majority opinion in McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission, striking down important limits on campaign contributions, declares “There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.” A look at the Roberts Court’s record, however, shows that this may not be its guiding principle. Through a series of rulings, the court’s conservative majority’s rulings have instead made it easier for big-money donors to influence elections — while making it harder for many Americans to use the only political influence they have: their vote. The court has done handsprings to accommodate claims that laws burdening donors’ ability to spend money in elections are unconstitutional. In Citizens United, for example, the court decided to schedule re-argument during a special court session — something very rare in the Supreme Court — to consider whether to strike down campaign finance restrictions on corporate expenditures as unconstitutional. (Which the court ultimately did.). The plaintiff in that case hadn’t even pressed such a radical argument, until the court explicitly invited it to do so.

North Carolina: NAACP Expands Election Law Challenge | Carolina Journal

The head of the state’s NAACP said the civil rights organization is broadening its lawsuit against North Carolina’s new voter ID law and election law changes. The Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president, said the organization was making it clear in the lawsuit that the new law would have a disparate impact on Hispanics as well as African Americans. He also said that the state would add the elimination of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds to the lawsuit. Meantime, a former member of the Federal Elections Commission said the expanded lawsuit still fails to prove that aspects of the state’s election reform laws are unconstitutional. “We will take on the issue of Latinos, and how this bill is impacting the Latino community,” Barber said Thursday during a telephone press conference. He said Maria Palmer, a newly elected member of the Chapel Hill Town Council and the first Hispanic elected to that post, was being added to the lawsuit as a plaintiff.

Alabama: State considers creating election commission | The Sun Herald

Alabama legislators who have been studying state election laws say there’s a problem: Candidates for state offices have to report their contributions and expenditures to the secretary of state, but little is being done to make sure the reports are filed accurately. The solution could be to create a small state agency similar to the Federal Elections Commission. Since taking control of the Legislature in 2010, Republicans have enacted major changes in Alabama’s election laws, including requiring candidates for state offices to disclose their contributions more frequently and to file them electronically to make it easier for voters to search the donations. State law requires candidates to file their reports with the secretary of state, but that office is simply a collector of the reports. And that’s where a problem exists, said Republican Sen. Bryan Taylor, of Prattville. “There was nobody charged with monitoring campaign reports,” said Taylor, chairman of the Legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Campaign Finance Reform.

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.