The city of Seattle is trying out a campaign finance experiment in city elections using a voucher system to give money to candidates. In January, residents received four $25 vouchers, paid for with taxpayer funds, that they can give to their candidates of choice for offices such as city council. “It was like getting a little check from your grandma,” Seattle resident Dakota Solberg said of the dark blue slips of paper that arrived in his mailbox recently. Unlike a check from Grandma, the vouchers, totaling $100, can only be spent on candidates for Seattle offices. Solberg said he has never contributed to local races before. “This feels like just extra money that I can use to start participating more,” he said.Full Article: Seattle tries voucher system to reform campaign finance.
National: 38 Reform Groups Oppose Efforts by House Administration Committee to Terminate Presidential Public Financing & EAC | YubaNet
In a letter sent today to members of the House Administration Committee, a group of 38 organizations and individuals with expertise in governance issues strongly opposed bills being considered tomorrow by the committee to terminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). (See below for a full list of the signers of the letter.) The group of organizations and individuals strongly oppose HR 133, a bill to terminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and HR 634, a bill to terminate the EAC. In the letter, reform groups urged the committee members to reject both bills. The letter said, “At stake is the survival of the public financing system for presidential elections and a commission that plays a vitally important role in standardizing and modernizing election administration.” Reform groups oppose HR 133 because according to the letter, “It vitiates an important check on special interest money by eliminating public financing for presidential campaigns.”Full Article: 38 Reform Groups Oppose Efforts by House Admin. Committee to Terminate Presidential Public Financing & EAC | YubaNet.
South Dakota: After ethics law repeal, lawmakers try to channel voter intent | Sioux Falls Argus Leader
It took eight legislative days to eliminate a voter-approved campaign finance and ethics law in South Dakota. The fast-tracked effort to gut the law that would have established an independent state ethics commission, set strict new limits on gifts to lawmakers and create publicly financed campaign credits drew scorn from some of the nearly 52 percent of voters who supported the proposal. It also thrust the state in the national spotlight as Republican lawmakers rejected and rolled back the will of the voters. At the Capitol, Republican lawmakers and Gov. Dennis Daugaard were the subject of protests this week as they took the final steps to strike the law set in statute as Initiated Measure 22. Opponents of the repeal efforts chanted “shame on you” and “respect our vote” as lawmakers approved House Bill 1069, which instantly erased the law from state statute when Daugaard signed it Thursday.Full Article: After ethics law repeal, lawmakers try to channel voter intent.
The way candidates’ campaigns are financed in Seattle dramatically changed Tuesday night. Initiative 122 took a 20 percentage point lead in first-day returns, which makes Seattle the nation’s first jurisdiction to try taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers.” “Seattle leads the nation, first on $15 an hour and now on campaign-finance reform. We look forward to seeing more cities and states implementing their own local solutions to the problem of big money in politics,” said Heather Weiner, I-122 spokeswoman.
While everyone is paying attention to the 2016 primary battles unfolding in both parties, its easy to forget that we have another election coming up this Tuesday, Nov. 3. And while we won’t be choosing our next president, in three places — Maine, Seattle and Ohio — voters will be able to weigh in directly, through ballot initiatives, on how their future elections will work. Both Maine and Seattle’s ballot initiatives are aimed at limiting the power that special-interest donors wield in the political process. For over a decade, Maine has been cited as a prime example that publicly financing elections can work. The state’s Clean Elections Act offers public financing to any candidate who collects enough small donations to demonstrate widespread support, and who swears off large contributions. Passed in 1996 and implemented in 2000, the system worked, with the majority of Maine’s legislators opting in. But the system was undermined by two Supreme Court decisions — Citizens United and Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, the latter of which went after public financing directly.Full Article: Three Ballot Initiatives That Could Change How Americans Vote | BillMoyers.com.
Running for re-election, Seattle City Council Member Mike O’Brien knows firsthand that the campaign chase for donors is often at odds with the hunt for votes. “Most candidates spend about 10-15 hours a week on the phone dialing for dollars,” he estimates. “You start by looking up the people who can write the big checks. Often they aren’t even in your district and can’t even vote for you but they have the capacity to finance your election.” In the 2013 election two-thirds of all of the money raised by Seattle candidates came from just 0.3 percent of the city’s residents, according to a report by the Sightline Institute, a nonprofit think tank. This makes for heavy competition as dozens of candidates try to appeal to a very narrow slice of the electorate. “Of course everyone else is calling those same people so you’re fighting with other candidates whether they’re in your race or not, to convince the donors that you’re their guy and they should write you a check,” O’Brien said.Full Article: Seattle Voters Take Aim at Big Money in Politics | Al Jazeera America.
An effort by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to crack down on the increasing influence of “dark money” in campaigns is drawing criticism from the state’s chief elections officer. An aide to Secretary of State Michele Reagan said that a proposed commission rule designed to clarify when groups need to disclose donors amounts to a “power grab,” specifically of what she claims is her sole power over regulating political committees. “Secretary Reagan believes the commission’s mission creep is extremely dangerous and unfortunately demonstrates that this unelected and unaccountable body seeks to declare itself as Arizona’s free speech policeman,” said Matt Roberts. And he said the proposed rule goes beyond what the Legislature decided is the appropriate level of regulation.Full Article: Attempt to crack down on 'dark money' draws criticism.
Candidate Hillary Clinton thinks there’s too much money in politics. But President Hillary Clinton — should she win — will find it very difficult to change that. Vowing to fix the country’s campaign finance system is a perennial campaign trail promise, especially for Democrats. But finding ways to reduce the amount of money in politics has bedeviled every presidential administration since Bill Clinton’s. Mr. Clinton promised campaign finance changes early in his first term. Barack Obama ran against big money in politics in 2008, even though he became the first candidate to refuse public financing in the general election since the system was introduced in the 1970s. Mrs. Clinton advocated expanding publicly-financed campaigns during her first run for office.Full Article: Campaign Finance Reform, An Enduring Election Promise - Washington Wire - WSJ.
You already hate tax season, and as you move wearily through the cold calculations of the 1040 form, you come across a familiar checkbox. It’s the one that requests permission to send $3 to the “presidential election campaign,” delivering cash to a bunch of politicians that you’re sure are awash in money anyway. “What’s the point?” you might ask yourself. To fund more polarizing and negative campaign ads? You happily refuse to check the box. By doing so, you joined 94 percent of Americans who also declined to make that checkmark. The share of tax forms with a checked box has been declining steadily for decades.Full Article: A Checkbox On Your Tax Return Helped Kill Public Campaign Funding | FiveThirtyEight.
“I had a college degree, a decade of experience, and the only job I could get was making $8 an hour at the local convenience store in my neighborhood,” Maine state Rep. Diane Russell (D) said in January, recalling her unlikely path to public office. “I have no business being in politics. I was not groomed for this. But thanks to public financing, I have a voice. And thanks to public financing, a gal who takes cash for the convenience store for selling sandwiches can actually talk about the stories that she’s learned from behind the counter.” Russell was speaking at an event on the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling that set off an avalanche of money in politics. After her state’s “clean elections” system propelled Russell into office in 2008, she quickly became a force in Maine politics. Her progressive record of defending voting rights and workers, for example, led the Nation to recognize her as its “Most Valuable State Representative” in 2011.Full Article: Tell the election success stories, too - The Washington Post.
A stack of bills aimed at cleaning up Maine’s Clean Election finance law holds the potential to rankle political leaders on both sides of the aisle. State Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said he knows leadership is displeased with his efforts to stop candidates who are seeking state office from also running political action committees that can filter money back to a political party, which in turn can use it to support a candidate or oppose a rival. According to Chenette and others, the practice creates a virtual black hole in Maine’s campaign finance law, allowing candidates the cover of their party when attacking opponents. State law also allows candidates who are running publicly funded campaigns, under the state’s Clean Election law, to separately manage so-called “leadership PACs” and collect private donations from industry lobbyists and others.Full Article: Lawmakers seek reform for Maine's Clean Election law | Sun Journal.
In the five years since the Citizens United decision was handed down, there has been plenty of evidence to document the magnitude of the flow of dark money and the effects it has had on American politics. In one of the most impassioned moments of the State of the Union address, President Obama decried the corrosive influence of anonymous money in politics. “A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter,” he said. His comment could not have been more timely, coming as it did a day before the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and labor unions to engage in unlimited spending to advocate for or against candidates. Advocacy groups used the occasion (and the Twitter hashtag #CU5) to start new conversations about the impact big money is having on our democracy, and how to fix it. The Brennan Center hosted a summit on the topic with Common Cause, Demos and others. The American Constitution Society delved into one of the ruling’s more insidious effects: In states where judges are elected, the judiciary is effectively for sale. The Center for American Progress talked about how to mitigate the decision’s impact through executive action.Full Article: Five Years After Citizens United, Signs of a Backlash.
With the 2014 election in the rearview mirror, the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee in the coming session will look to address some of the issues raised during this year’s campaigns and at the polls. The 2014 election was the first test of Connecticut’s campaign finance laws as they were modified by the legislature in 2013, when lawmakers reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision by easing limitations on the amount of money political parties could raise and contribute to candidates using the public financing system. Rep. Ed Jutila, one of the committee’s co-chairman, said he was wary of those changes to begin with. “Now, looking back after an election cycle with those changes, I think we need to revisit them. I think we may have over-reacted,” he said. The new rules allowed the state Democratic Party to spend $207,000 on senator-elect Ted Kennedy Jr.’s public-financed campaign.Full Article: CT News Junkie | Lawmakers Plan To Tackle Election Reform.
Editorials: People hate politics. So why is nobody talking about campaign finance reform? | Jaime Fuller/The Washington Post
After more than a year of campaigning, New Hampshire Senate candidate Jim Rubens (R) has decided on his closing message: the “disconnect between voters in New Hampshire and politicians in Washington, D.C.” He was campaigning in Groveton, a small town of about 1,000 near the Canadian border, when he walked into a diner (as all candidates in New Hampshire inevitably do). “The entire room erupted,” the former state senator said. “People were ready to vent their frustrations. I’ve been involved with politics in this state for 20 years, and I’ve never felt the dissatisfaction more than I do now.” His anecdotal evidence is backed up by empirical data; when Gallup asked Americans what the top problem facing the nation was, many of the top answers have been variations on grumbling about the state of government today.Full Article: People hate politics. So why is nobody talking about campaign finance reform? - The Washington Post.
If Gov. Christie were to resign early to pursue a bid for the presidency, a special election could be held to replace him, depending on the timing of his resignation. That scenario – an unusual one – could put candidates with lesser financial resources at a disadvantage: Unlike candidates in a regular gubernatorial election, they wouldn’t be able to opt into the state’s public financing program to raise money for their campaigns. The discrepancy, realized by officials at the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, prompted the introduction of a bill that cleared a Senate committee Monday.Full Article: Bill would address post-Christie special-election scenario.
Make what you will of Judge Melgren’s analysis of preemption, or the hints of his constitutional stance on the federal-state balance of authority under the Elections Clause—his decision in Kobach v. The United States Election Assistance Commissionis a mechanical exercise that leaves the reader without any sense of what this case isabout. Kansas and Arizona have not merely made a “determination” of what they need to verify the citizenship of state residents seeking to become voters. The history behind this litigation is more complex, with more history to it, and the court knew it. It chose, however, to follow example of the Supreme Court and to do as the High Court has done in other cases, like Purcell v. Gonzalez and Crawford v. Marion County, and leave the real world out. Some might say that the Supreme Court is bound to disregard the politics behind these cases and train its eye on the “law” alone. But the Justices’ fidelity to this proposition is mixed. Justice Scalia, for example, has enlivened his constitutional position on campaign finance doctrine with references to the history of incumbent manipulation of the campaign finance laws—including evidence of political mischief that he found quite compelling in the very case under review.Full Article: The Kobach Case as Voting Rights Jurisprudence -.
After one unsuccessful engagement with the Supreme Court, the State of Arizona continues to work through the implementation of its public financing laws. The issue remains, as before, how it can structure the law to draw candidates into the systems. One strategy it devised did not suit the Court: the state discovered that it could not provide offsetting public funding to participating candidates who faced well-heeled opponents and free-spending independent expenditure groups. Now Arizona is fighting over another mechanism for encouraging participation, or discouraging nonparticipation, in the public funding system. This one involves reducing the contribution limits to make them less appealing to candidates who are considering electing private support through contributions rather than public financing. In 1998, voters approved Proposition 200, known as the Clean Elections Act, which established a public financing system and reduced the contributions limits then specified by law for candidates who did not participate in the public financing system. It imposed for these nonparticipating candidates a 20% reduction in then-existing limits and established aggregate limits on contributions by candidates and political committees. In 2013, the legislature increased the contribution limits available to nonparticipating candidates and eliminated the aggregate limits.Full Article: Arizona and Its Conflicts Over Public Financing -.
It looks as though the “super PAC” era is coming to New York. A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that a conservative group supporting Joseph J. Lhota, the Republican nominee for mayor of New York City, can immediately begin accepting contributions of any size because New York State’s limit on donations to independent political committees is probably unconstitutional. The ruling, 12 days before the mayoral election, is not likely to change the dynamics of the race, given the wide lead of the Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, and a presumed reluctance by many potential big donors to donate to an underdog candidate this late in the game. But an end to limits on contributions to independent political groups could have a much bigger impact next year, when voters will decide whether to re-elect Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and will determine which party controls the State Senate — a long-running battle in which independent spending could make a significant difference. “This could usher in an era where super PACs call the shots in campaigns all over the state, not just in the city,” said David Donnelly, the executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, which advocates public financing of elections.Full Article: Court Lifts Limit on Contributing to Pro-Lhota PAC - NYTimes.com.
Tuesday’s oral argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, the latest high-profile campaign finance case, will likely generate familiar storylines about a fiercely ideological Supreme Court, where one justice drives the outcome of a close 5-4 decision. Public perception of the Supreme Court is that there are four conservatives, four liberals and Justice Anthony Kennedy in the middle — as the “swing” vote. But that’s wrong — at least where voting rights and campaign finance cases are concerned. Though Kennedy’s vote dictates some outcomes when the court is split 5-4 along ideological lines, another justice has been the driving force behind current election law jurisprudence. In this matter, it is truly Chief Justice John Roberts’s court. Since Roberts became chief justice in 2005, the court has issued 23 written opinions involving voting rights, redistricting or campaign finance. Roberts is the only justice who has been in the majority every time. In addition, he has written twice as many majority opinions in this field as any other justice — six, as compared to Kennedy’s three. Roberts has now written more than 25 percent of the election law decisions handed down since he joined the court.Full Article: Roberts: The ‘swing’ justice of election law | The Great Debate.
The second-day story from New York City’s primaries last week could have been the exceptional performance of the city’s unique system of small-donor public financing. By providing a six-dollar public match for every dollar raised in contributions of $175 or less, the system enabled the little-known Scott Stringer to compete with and defeat Eliot Spitzer’s family fortune in the race for Comptroller. On the Republican side, it helped mayoral nominee Joe Lhota, who received almost half his total spending in public money, to overcome another self-financed millionaire. The top three Democratic candidates for mayor finished in reverse order of the amount of private money they had raised, and as Alec MacGillis noted here, public financing allowed the eventual nominee, Bill de Blasio, to resist the policy preferences of big donors, such as opposition to paid sick leave. Dozens of city council and other races featured three or more candidates with enough money to compete. But instead of celebrating a system that finally emerged from the shadows of Michael Bloomberg’s personal spending to show its value, we’ve had handwringing about the rise of “outside money,” or spending by groups other than the candidates and parties, in New York City politics. Jim Dwyer in The New York Times argued that outside spending was “reshaping” city politics, focusing on three independent committees: one that promoted “Anybody But [Christine] Quinn,” based on the City Council speaker’s refusal to block horse carriages from Central Park; a tiny committee formed to support Lhota, with contributions solely from David and Julia Koch; and Jobs for New York, the biggest outside spender, a front for the real estate industry.Full Article: New York's Campaign-Finance Law Worked, but New Yorkers Still Won't Celebrate It | New Republic.