Politico on news that will ruin Fred Wertheimer’s Thanksgiving:
Senate Republicans plan to insert a provision into a must-pass government funding bill that would vastly expand the amount of cash that political parties could spend on candidates, multiple sources tell POLITICO.
The provision, which sources say is one of a few campaign-finance related riders being discussed in closed-door negotiations over a $1.15-trillion omnibus spending package, would eliminate caps on the amount of cash that parties may spend in coordination with their candidates.
Pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime foe of campaign finance restrictions, the coordination rider represents the latest threat to the increasingly rickety set of rules created to restrict the political fundraising and spent in elections.
Campaign finance watchdogs argue that it would allow wealthy donors to curry even more influence with members of Congress. And they cried foul over the possibility that the provision could be slipped into the omnibus spending bill that Congress is working to pass before a Dec. 11 deadline to avoid a government shutdown.
The approach — a free Thanksgiving turkey in exchange for some personal information — captures the mission of Libre, a multimillion-dollar effort financed by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers and devoted to winning over Hispanics, with the message that economic freedom and smaller-government principles will yield opportunity and prosperity.
Next month, the Supreme Court will consider Sue Evenwel’s bid to change the way state and local governments draw election districts. Demanding that state and local governments across the nation change the way they draw legislative lines, Evenwel argues that it is unconstitutional for states to draw districts based on total population, creating districts of substantially equal numbers of people. Evenwel’s arguments—which fly in the face of our Constitution’s promise of equal representation for all—would undermine minority representation both in Texas, the state Evenwel is suing, and throughout the nation. Recent events in Yakima, Washington, provide a good example.
The town of Yakima—an agricultural community 140 miles east of Seattle—is forty percent Hispanic, but, until this year, had never elected a person of Hispanic origin to the town’s city council. This year, a federal district court held that Yakima’s at-large system of elections for city council violated the Voting Rights Act by denying Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to elect their candidate of choice, and ordered the town to draw single-member districts composed of substantially equal population. Earlier this month, in elections held under these court-ordered boundaries, threeHispanic candidates won election to office, ending the exclusion of Hispanics from elected office.
But the town of Yakima is now using every avenue to undo these historic gains, claiming—as Evenwel does—that the Constitution does not permit state and local governments to draw districts composed of substantially equal numbers of people if those districts do not contain approximately the same number of eligible voters. Yakima argues that the Hispanic voters’ claim under the Voting Rights Act should be dismissed because creating single-member districts in order to make it possible for the Hispanic community to elect its candidate of choice would result in “severe malapportionment of eligible voters.” Represented by defense counsel in the Voting Rights Act litigation, Yakima has even gone so far as to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court supporting Evenwel’s attack on the principle of equal representation for equal numbers of people.
As this example illustrates, Evenwel’s far-reaching arguments, if accepted by the Court, would not only wreak havoc with our democracy, requiring states to change the way they draw district lines, but it would also make it harder to draw election boundaries that ensure that racial minorities have an equal chance to elect representatives of their choice. Evenwel’s argument would undermine the protections afforded by the Voting Rights Act and take political power away from urban population centers where racial minorities overwhelmingly live, giving it to whiter, more rural areas. This is no accident. Ed Blum—the mastermind behind Evenwel’s case—wants to stop states from creating majority-minority districts that help ensure equal political opportunities for all regardless of race. Denying equal representation to unnaturalized immigrants, children, and others who lack the franchise won’t alone accomplish Blum’s goal, but it would make it harder to draw election boundaries that ensure that minorities have a fair chance at the polls. Among the losers—if Blum succeeds in eliminating the guarantee of equal representation for equal numbers of people—will be racial minorities in places like Yakima, who will, once again, find it harder to have their voices heard.
Fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 blockbuster voting rights decision has reached the justices in two multimillion-dollar battles over attorney fees.
If the high court agrees to step into either fight, the justices could be drawn into a debate over who qualifies as a “prevailing party” under the fee provision in the Voting Rights Act that’s designed to encourage private enforcement of the voting guarantees in the Constitution.
On November 3, 2015, the Campaign for Accountability (“CfA”) announced that it had asked the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the Federal Election Commission to investigate Sheldon Adelson and the Las Vegas Sands Corporation to determine the extent of their connection to organized crime in China and whether funds tied to Chinese organized crime may be reaching American campaign committees.
A group of Hawiians, some of whom won’t be able to vote in a special election on November 30 that is a prelude to recognizing a new Indian-like tribe including many residents, asked the Supreme Court to temporarily stop the completion of that election until their challenge can be decided. In an application filed Thursday night, the challengers argued that the election is based along strict racial lines, and is thus unconstitutional under the Fifteenth Amendment.
The election — favored by the state and endorsed by the federal Department of the Interior — will be limited to a voter roll made up of people who can qualify as “native Hawaiians.” The election will choose delegates to a convention to write a constitution for what would be a new government entity, similar to a traditional Indian tribe. The aim is to give those who qualify a right of “self-determination.”
The challengers did not ask the Justices to stop the actual balloting a week from Monday, but did request that the Court temporarily bar counting and formal certification of the result. So far, their plea for temporary relief has been denied by a federal trial judge and by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Interior Department entered the case in the Ninth Circuit to oppose any interruption of the election process. It intends, the department said in court filings, to start a process that would recognize a “native Hawaiian” community in Hawaii as a self-governing, sovereign entity, like an Indian tribe.
A federal judge Monday permanently barred the state from forcing political parties to hold open primary elections and dismissed all other claims in the Utah Republican Party’s lawsuit.
As U.S. District Judge David Nuffer closed the case, the Utah GOP and the state continued to wrangle over the meaning of part of the law, setting the stage for another court battle, possibly before the Utah Supreme Court.
Meantime, Gov. Gary Herbert told the Republican State Central Committee over the weekend that he wishes he would have vetoed the controversial new election law and let voters decide the issue as proposed by the Count My Vote initiative.
Will Barack Obama be remembered for standing by helplessly as Citizens United eroded the very foundations of our electoral democracy?
That may be an unfortunate part of his legacy if he fails to take action soon to do something — anything — about the billions of dollars in corporate and super-rich money flooding over the electoral terrain.
Opinions on campaign finance and its effects on the political system are widely shared; majorities across demographic and partisan groups say there should be limits on campaign spending, that money’s impact on politics has increased and that the high cost of campaigns is driving away good candidates.
Partisan differences on all three measures are modest. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (72%) are less likely than Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (84%) to say that there should be limits on campaign spending. However, support for spending limits is high even among conservative Republicans and leaners –roughly two-thirds (68%) think there should be limits on how much individuals and organizations can spend.
Democrats and leaners are somewhat more likely to say that the high cost of campaigns today discourages good candidates: 68% say this compared with 62% of Republicans and leaners.
While most Americans believe that new laws would be effective in reducing the role of money in politics, there are educational and partisan differences in how widely these views are held.
Fully three-quarters of those with post-graduate degrees say new laws would be effective in this regard, compared with 57% of those with no more than a high school education.
More Democrats and leaners (71%) than Republicans and leaners (58%) say that new laws would be effective in limiting the influence of money in politics. Nonetheless, majorities across all educational and partisan categories say that new laws could be written that would effectively reduce the role of money in politics.
HALL OF FAME: Brief and exceedingly timely posts by law professor Rick Hasen of the University of California at Irvine provide exhaustive coverage of the election law issues of the day. This is a good one to bookmark as an election year approaches.
Key associates of the notorious dark money group the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity (CHGO) may have violated federal law by making false statements to the government, obstructing an investigation and pocketing more than $1 million originally meant for broadcasting television ads, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleged today in a complaint to the United States Attorney’s Office.
During an FEC investigation sparked by CREW’s complaint that CHGO violated the law by failing to register as a political committee or report the millions of dollars it spent on television ads in 2010, the organization’s key players downplayed their involvement. A lawyer for Wayne Berman, now the national finance chairman for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, told the FEC’s investigators that Berman “only offered informal and infrequent fundraising advice strictly on a volunteer basis” and did no consulting work for CHGO. Former RNC executive director and current senior political strategist for the US Chamber of Commerce Scott Reed told the investigators “that he could not recall being involved in the formation of CHGO and could not recall having any contact with anyone involved with CHGO after its formation.”
CHGO’s General Counsel William Canfield, now General Counsel for the Carly for America super PAC, declared to the IRS under the penalty of perjury that CHGO spent no money related to fundraising that year, and told the FEC “that his role at CHGO was limited to legal compliance.” However, others involved in CHGO, including Michael Mihalke, the principal at the vendor that produced CHGO’s ads, painted a very different picture of Reed, Canfield and Berman’s level of involvement in the enterprise. Strikingly, Mihalke told investigators that under orders from Reed, $1.1 million dollars that had been paid to Mihalke’s group but that had not been spent was to be split between Berman, Reed and Mihalke and classified as a “fundraising commission.”
“There is no reasonable explanation for how people who claim to have such limited involvement with an organization that had no fundraising expenses could be paid more than $1 million for fundraising work,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “It appears that these operatives deliberately misled the government about their role in CHGO to throw investigators off the trail of the organization’s violations of campaign finance law. If they were telling the truth about their roles to the FEC, how did they end up with all that money?”
Despite misleading testimony and missing documents, the FEC’s investigators nonetheless found that far more than half CHGO’s spending—as much as 85%—was on campaign activity and that it should have reported millions of dollars in political spending. But the three Republican FEC commissioners still said nothing could be done because the statute of limitations had run out and CHGO had gone out of business during the FEC’s lengthy investigation, preventing anyone from being held accountable for CHGO’s legal violations. Today CREW also filed a lawsuit against the FEC to force them to reopen and reexamine the case.
“It is inexcusable that no one has been punished for what even the FEC’s investigators believe to be a clear violation of the law,” Bookbinder said. “Laws only work if they are enforced; we are asking the court to remind the FEC it must do its job.”
Here is the study. The public believes money’s influence is growing.
NO QUESTION 111
ASK PHASE A FORM 1 ONLY [N=1,505]:
Q.112F1 Thinking about spending on political campaigns and issues, which comes closer to your view
[READ AND RANDOMIZE]?
20 Individuals and organizations should be able to spend as much money as they want [OR]
77 There should be limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend
3 Don’t know/Refused (VOL.)
ASK PHASE A FORM 1 ONLY [N=1,505]:
Q.113F1 Which comes closer to your view on the influence of money on politics and elected
officials [READ AND RANDOMIZE]?
76 Money has a greater influence on politics and elected officials today than in the past
22 Money’s influence on politics and elected officials today is little different than it’s
been in the past
2 Don’t know/Refused (VOL.)
A common piece of advice for new hires is to avoid talking about politics, sex, and religion in the workplace. But it may be increasingly difficult for workers to keep their politics to themselves. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, employers now have broad legal rights to campaign for political candidates inside their firms as well as in the public arena. And thanks to new technology, they have the means to track their employees’ political opinions and activities.
Managers and supervisors can now legally require their workers to participate in politics as a condition of employment. For instance, in most states, managers have the legal right to mandate worker attendance at a political rally for a favored candidate—and fire or punish workers who decline to participate. Consider the following examples from recent years of employers engaging their workers in politics:…
Between the 2012 and 2014 elections the total number of Early Voting sites operated by North Carolina county boards of elections, statewide, increased modestly: from 363 to 366. But that same period witnessed substantial changes in those sites’ locations. According to Voting Information Project data, 114 sites operating in November 2012 were no longer open in November 2014, replaced by 117 different sites. The impact on the average voter (across all races) was fairly insignificant: an increase from about 3.5 miles in 2012 to 3.6 miles in 2014 — a difference of only about 300 feet (roughly one city block).
But a look at the aggregate impacts by race reveals a startlingly different picture (Figure 1, below). While the averagewhite voter’s distance to his or her nearest Early Voting site increased by just 26 feet in 2014, the average black voter’s distance increased by a quarter of a mile. Summing that up over the members of each race, that’s an aggregate increase in distance-to-poll of just 21,000 miles for white voters (71% of the electorate), but more than 350,000 miles for black voters (22% of the electorate). That latter distance is the equivalent of a trip from the Earth to the Moon, and half way home again.
As the public corruption trial of State Assemblyman Sheldon Silver heads to closing arguments on Monday, the clash in the courtroom has been handled largely by well-staffed government and defense legal teams, each with a wealth of experience in handling corruption cases.
But on Thursday, two unfamiliar lawyers took the stage to try to shape the instructions that the judge will give to the jury before deliberations.
In a case in which no witness testified directly to knowledge of an illegal quid pro quo, how Judge Valerie E. Caproni tells jurors to interpret the evidence as it relates to the law could sway deliberations — a fact certainly not lost on the government or the defense.
The two lawyers had largely disappeared during Mr. Silver’s three-week trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan; James M. McDonald sat quietly at the end of the prosecution table, while Robert K. Kry, a defense lawyer, did not even show up in court.
But it was clear late on Thursday, with the parties and the judge seated around a conference table and the jury not present, that Mr. McDonald and Mr. Kry had critical roles as legal specialists in the case — “the law guys,” as several experts put it — a role the public rarely hears about.
The law guys must master the legal aspects of the case, and be steeped in precedents and in issues that might become the focus of an appeal or need to be responded to in court at a moment’s notice. This is of particular importance in public corruption cases, where the rules changed about five years ago, after the Supreme Court imposed the requirement in honest services fraud cases that the government prove a quid pro quo. Four of the seven counts against Mr. Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who had been the longtime Assembly speaker, involved alleged honest services fraud.
Before jumping to the conclusion that Edwards’ majority win indicates he would have won under any electoral system, think again. Edwards benefited from a classic problem with traditional two runoff-systems. That is, one of the two advancing candidates (Sen. Vitter) was in fact the weakest Republican among the three that ran.
In fact, it’s quite likely that either of the other two Republicans in that first round would have defeated Edwards, just as Republicans won all six of the other statewide contests, including a runoff for lieutenant governor yesterday by more than 10%. It’s also quite likely that Edward would have lost if there had been an earlier runoff only among Republicans or if Louisiana has extended its use of ranked choice voting ballots from use by overseas and out-of-state military voters to all voters. But the state’s so-called “majority system” in fact did not provide a majority outcome.
If you are in the market to buy a ticket somewhere overseas, be careful buying the ticket from Expedia (and the many companies Expedia now owns, including Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Trivago, etc.). I just bought a ticket for a work trip to Japan, and it turns out that Expedia failed to disclose that this is a special fare that does not allow seat selection until 72 hours before flight time, and Expedia misrepresented the ticket could be changed (such as to a higher class of service, so that I could do seat selection) with a change fee. It is totally non-changeable. I’ve now started action against Expedia in small claims court. I would have considered a class action (as a friend told me he contemplated when this happened to him), but, as is exceedingly common these days (and explained in this excellent NY Times series), Expedia requires arbitration of most claims (except individual claims in small claims court), and their agreement bars class actions.
Below the fold I give the details of what happened to me with Expedia in the letter I sent to Expedia. No doubt this is a first-world problem, and there are many more pressing things in the world. But it is one of the many examples of large corporations counting on individuals to not have the time or means or experience to file one of these lawsuits. We all increasingly have to put up with this garbage in large part thanks to Supreme Court decisions which make class actions easy for large companies to exclude, and without the class action, it is usually not cost effective to bring such claims. (I didn’t even bother mentioning in the letter that Expedia also failed to honor its lowest price guarantee when I found the ticket cheaper at Vayama and JustFly.)
The bottom line is that had Expedia not told me I could make changes to the ticket by paying a fee to the airline, and had they disclosed this was a special ticket that did not allow for advanced seat selection, I never would have bought from them. I would have paid more and bought directly from the airline. As a tall guy I need an aisle seat on a 13 hour flight and I’m willing to pay for it. I’m hoping to get redress from the legal system, but that will only help me. I hope this blog post, which will become searchable in Google and other search engines, will at least alert others to the problem. Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware of the Expedia family of companies.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump would not rule out making a run for president as an independent despite signing a pledge over the summer saying he would support the eventual GOP nominee instead of running a third-party bid.
“I’m going to have to see what happens. I will see what happens. I have to be treated fairly,” Trump said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” when asked about a new guerrilla effort by operatives within the Republican Party to derail Trump’s candidacy. “When I did this, I said I have to be treated fairly. If I’m treated fairly, I’m fine. All I want to do is [have] a level playing field.”
Between sore loser laws and onerous ballot access requirements, running as an independent candidate would be quite a tall order (even if I thought Trump was willing to use his considerable resources, which I don’t).
More likely (though still unlikely) is a brokered convention in which Trump is the Kingmaker.
Most likely is the Rubio campaign fighting over whether Trump gets to make a primetime address at the convention.
Jordan, like an emerging group of donors, wanted more control. So he decided to eliminate the middle man and set out on his own two years ago to choose the targets he wanted to help. He developed strategies and crafted the messaging, down to the content of the ads.
Jordan followed a model set by the Koch brothers and Tom Steyer, though he has a fraction of their wealth. Still, in the 2014 cycle, the multimillionaire was among the nation’s top 25 donors to groups not tied directly to a candidate or political party, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Earier this month, Jordan made his first independent move in the 2016 presidential election, airing 60-second ads during the fourth Republican debate touting Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as the GOP’s best bet to take on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
The television and online ads cost more than $100,000 and were funded by a super PAC that Jordan created called Baby Got PAC. The name is a homage to a 1990s hip-hop song celebrating the size of women’s derrieres.
For Jordan, the wordplay reflects his singular approach to politics and life — fun-loving, scornful of political correctness and disdainful of doing the same thing, or following the same strategy, because that’s how it has always been done.
IT is one of the central political puzzles of our time: Parts of the country that depend on the safety-net programs supported by Democrats are increasingly voting for Republicans who favor shredding that net.
In his successful bid for the Senate in 2010, the libertarian Rand Paul railed against “intergenerational welfare” and said that “the culture of dependency on government destroys people’s spirits,” yet racked up winning margins in eastern Kentucky, a former Democratic stronghold that is heavily dependent on public benefits. Last year, Paul R. LePage, the fiercely anti-welfare Republican governor of Maine, was re-elected despite a highly erratic first term — with strong support in struggling towns where many rely on public assistance. And earlier this month, Kentucky elected as governor a conservative Republican who had vowed to largely undo the Medicaid expansion that had given the state the country’s largest decrease in the uninsured under Obamacare, with roughly one in 10 residents gaining coverage.
It’s enough to give Democrats the willies as they contemplate a map where the red keeps seeping outward, confining them to ever narrower redoubts of blue. The temptation for coastal liberals is to shake their heads over those godforsaken white-working-class provincials who are voting against their own interests.
In eastern Kentucky and other former Democratic bastions that have swung Republican in the past several decades, the people who most rely on the safety-net programs secured by Democrats are, by and large, not voting against their own interests by electing Republicans. Rather, they are not voting, period. They have, as voting data, surveys and my own reporting suggest, become profoundly disconnected from the political process.
Yet according to Brock, that is exactly what the Clinton campaign is doing. No presidential candidate claiming to have discovered a loophole to justify coordinating with a super PAC can make a credible claim that campaign finance reform is part of her “vision for America.” Clinton should either disavow the right to coordinate with Correct the Record or stop saying she wants to “end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system, and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans.” It’s time for Clinton to correct the record.
Moments after winning, Mr. Eaton, who raises cattle and grows timber and soybeans, attributed his win to a farmer’s luck. “There’s always happiness in a good crop year,” he said.
A lawyer for Mr. Tullos said that a challenge had been filed with the State House of Representatives. Mr. Tullos, a lawyer himself, declined to comment but had said he planned a challenge if he lost the draw. He had cited concerns about the way a county election board handled nine paper “affidavit ballots” filed by voters who believed their names were erroneously left off the voter rolls.
Resorting to a game of chance to break an electoral tie is common in many states, and coin tosses are often used to settle smaller local races. But in few instances had the pot been as rich as this: If Mr. Tullos had won, his fellow Republicans would have gained a three-fifths supermajority in the State House of Representatives, the threshold required to pass revenue-related bills.
At stake, potentially, was hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. The three-fifths requirement has allowed the Democratic minority to block Republican tax-cut proposals in the past on the grounds that Mississippi needs the revenue to finance schools and other services. Republicans, who also control the State Senate and governor’s mansion, say the cuts, including a proposal to phase out the state’s corporate franchise tax, will jump-start the economy and promote job growth….
Some Democrats wondered whether the Republican-controlled House would be able to impartially judge the matter. On Thursday, Greg Snowden, the Republican House speaker pro tempore, predicted that “every member of the House will treat this with the utmost seriousness.”
Earlier this year, the same council took advantage of a loophole in state election law to approve the construction of a giant football stadium without conducting a full environmental review or taking a vote of the people. Then the city filed a federal lawsuit against resident Joseph Teixeira, alleging he violated copyright law by using snippets of official council meeting footage in YouTube videos that criticized Mayor James T. Butts Jr. Calling the lawsuit a “serious threat to critical political expression,” a federal judge tossed out the city’s claims and ordered it to pay Teixeira’s lawyers $117,741 in fees.
Since then, The Times reported, the city has stopped posting council meetings on YouTube. It’s also cut the time residents can speak during the meetings’ public comment period from two minutes per person to one. So it’s understandable that residents, especially those skeptical of the city leadership, feel the move to daytime meetings is part of trend to limit participation and curtail opposing views.
A secretive nonprofit group that helped boost Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky during his hotly contested 2014 re-election bid itself raised more money than McConnell’s challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, according to copies of the group’s tax filings obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition raised more than $21 million during 2013 and 2014, including $15 million last year alone, according to documents the group filed this week with the Internal Revenue Service. Most of the money came from just a handful of wealthy — and anonymous — donors.
The Kochs have been complaining about a “lack of civility in politics” as they seek to boost their public image–but one of their top operatives helped propel perhaps the most egregious case of race-baiting voter fraud hucksterism in recent years.
At the helm of this “competitive intelligence” operation is a man named Mike Roman, Vice President of Research for Kochs’ Freedom Partners and who was paid $265,000 last year, according to Freedom Partners’ recent tax filing.
But who is Mike Roman? He’s been described generally as a longtime GOP operative. However, he’s also the guy who was behind the release of the 2008 “New Black Panthers scaring old white ladies at the polls” video. The clip dominated Fox News for months and went on to fuel unfounded allegations that the Obama administration’s Department of Justice was biased against white people.
Roman made a name for himself by releasing the video, which showed two New Black Panther Party (NBPP) members holding billy clubs outside a Philadelphia polling place, on his voter fraud-peddling “Election Journal” website. He then worked with Republican vote fraud conspiracist J. Christian Adams to try uncovering evidence that voters were intimidated–which they could not find. But that didn’t stop Roman, along with Fox News and the conservative echo chamber, from conjuring up a vast racist conspiracy inside the Obama administration, a theme that continues today.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid lambasted secret political cash when he appeared last week in a video filmed and produced by a liberal advocacy group.
“Working families can’t compete with billionaires,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in the ad that also featured another liberal luminary in Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “Let’s stop the flood of dark money into our political system and do it now.”
One catch: The group behind the video, a nonprofit called American Family Voices, doesn’t generally reveal who funds its operations — although a Center for Public Integrity review of Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor records indicates large unions, environmental interests and a major corporate retail lobbying group have this decade provided it with six- or seven-figure contributions.
Last December, as part of the must-pass “CRomnibus” bill, Congress changed the lawso that political parties could raise considerably more money. Under the new rules, a single donor can now give $1.5 million to the parties during a two-year election cycle.
Good government groups were predictably upset. But another group of observers had a different view: In their view, political parties may not be perfect, but the alternative to strong political parties is extremism and chaos. They argued that you can’t get money out of politics. But you can channel it. And if you want moderation, political parties are the best channel.
Two of the leading advocates of this view, Raymond J. La Raja and Brian F. Schaffner of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, now have a new book, Campaign Finance and Political Polarization: When Purists Prevail, which makes the strongest and most extended case yet for allowing political parties to control more money. “Our argument” they write, “is that financially strong party organizations should reduce party polarization.” They’re also skeptical about small donors, which they dismiss as polarizing.
My colleague Mark Schmitt has written the definitive overview of the reform skeptic movement, a larger group of mostly academics (which include La Raja and Schaffner) who, as Schmitt explains, offer a “challenge to many of the assumptions and unexamined verities of those who aspire to reform the American political process.”
What follows here is a more targeted discussion of two specific debates this new book raises: about the value of empowering political parties, as well as its skepticism of empowering small donors. Although the small-donor critique is a side point of the book, it’s an important critique to address, given the full-fledged push by many campaign reformers into small-donor experiments.
Here’s the quick summary of my take: Stronger parties will not move to the center because there are both few meaningful opportunities to move to the center and little meaningful center to move toward. The median voter theory on which they stake so much simply does not operate under our current political rules. The claim that small donors are polarizing reflects a failure to understand how a small-donor matching system would change the incentives of running for office and of giving.
And while I disagree with the conclusions La Raja and Schaffner reach, I happily recommend their book. It’s clearly written, full of data, and provocative. And I do agree with their implicit criticism that reformers often fail to investigate their assumptions and as a result develop overly simplistic and counterproductive models of the world, often in a too simple corruption framework.