McConnell’s Criticisms of H.R. 1

It’s not interesting that Mitch McConnell isn’t a fan of H.R. 1. He was the lead plaintiff against the last major campaign finance reforms that Congress passed. So of course he isn’t going to like H.R. 1’s heightened disclosure requirements, its efforts to unmask dark money, its public financing for congressional campaigns, and so on. These are exactly the kinds of measures that McConnell has railed against for his entire career.

What is interesting about McConnell’s op-ed is his complete inability to support his claim that H.R. 1 is a Democratic power grab—the “Democrat Politician Protection Act,” as the column’s headline puts it. McConnell’s lead example is that H.R. 1 would shrink the FEC from six commissioners to five. But this change wouldn’t benefit Democrats; it would help whichever party happens to control the presidency, and so is able to appoint three of the five commissioners. If Trump is reelected in 2020, the FEC would be “weaponized” in favor of Republicans (though no more so than any other independent agency with an odd number of members).

McConnell’s other examples of covert Democratic intent are H.R. 1’s new disclosure rules, its multiple-match public financing system, and its restrictions on voter purges. Again, though, there’s no explanation why these provisions are secretly partisan. If disclosure really “intimidates” donors and makes them “vulnerable to public harassment,” then Democrats—who gave about fifty percent more than Republicans in the 2018 election—have more to fear. Similarly, public financing makes elections more competitive, but it doesn’t have any partisan valence. And voter purges can erroneously remove Republicans from the rolls as easily as Democrats.

The other interesting thing about McConnell’s op-ed is what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t even mention many of the proposals at the heart of H.R. 1: registering voters automatically, expanding early voting, building a record for a new VRA coverage formula, requiring independent redistricting commissions, improving election security, tightening ethics rules, and so on. I highly doubt that McConnell actually backs these ideas; he certainly hasn’t brought any of them to the Senate floor. But it’s telling that he can’t bring himself to publicly attack them. Evidently, most of H.R. 1 is so appealing—so plainly right—that even McConnell can’t explicitly denounce it.

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Census SCOTUS Endgame Update

In a post on Tuesday, I said that in light of Judge Furman’s ruling, I thought the Supreme Court would end up getting rid of the current census case before it, because the issue there is basically moot. Today the Court took a big step in that direction by taking the case off the argument calendar and suspending further briefing.

I expect the government will soon as the Supreme Court to hear an appeal of Judge Furman’s ruling directly, bypassing the Second Circuit. And given that this issue has to be decided by June for the printing of the census forms, I expect the Supreme Court will take that case.

Stay tuned.

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“Arizona Legislators Launch Dueling Proposals on Voting Rights and Elections”

Phoenix New Times:

A battle is underway for the future of voting rights in Arizona, featuring liberal lawmakers who want to expand voting opportunities fighting with conservatives who seek to add new restrictions.

Democratic legislators unveiled a House resolution on Thursday that would create an “Arizona voters bill of rights,” and promised legislation to expand access to the ballot. At the same time, Republicans, who are in the majority, filed a flurry of bills during the first days of the legislative session that could make it more difficult for people to vote.

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“Benson seeks to settle federal gerrymandering case”

Detroit News:

Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is working to settle a federal lawsuit against the state alleging partisan gerrymandering by Republican lawmakers who approved legislative and congressional district boundaries in 2011.

Benson, who took office Jan. 1, this week replaced former GOP Secretary of State Ruth Johnson as a named defendant in the case. A deal with plaintiffs who sued the state over current maps could result in new district boundaries being drawn for the 2020 election cycle.

“It’s clear the court has found significant evidence of partisan gerrymandering, and the likely outcome would not be favorable to the state,” Benson said in a statement. “It is therefore my responsibility to ensure a fair and equitable resolution for the citizens of Michigan that would save taxpayers money and ensure fair representation.”…

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters and Democrats such as U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, filed a court brief late Thursday indicating they and Benson have “committed to reach a compromise” in the case and “in the near future” will present that deal to the court for potential approval.

Republican lawmakers recently joined the case, citing “uncertainty” over whether Benson would defend maps the GOP approved. It’s likely those lawmakers will ask the three-judge panel to reject any settlement deal.

 

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Texas Redistricting Plaintiffs to U.S. Department of Justice on Changing Sides on Voting Rights Preclearance: You Missed the Deadline and Did Not Follow the Rules

Scathing Response:

Contrary to the assertion in the United States motion for leave, the Court made no distinction between “private Plaintiffs” and the United States. [Dkt. 1609 at 2]. The United States mischaracterizes the Court’s order when it claims that the “Court ordered that such Plaintiffs’ briefs on the issue of Section 3(c) relief ‘should be due no later than November 30, 2018.’” (emphasis added) [Dkt. 1609 at 1]. The Court did not indicate in its Order that only Plaintiffs seeking 3(c) relief should file by November 30, 2018, or that any party opposing 3(c) relief has until January 15, 2019, to submit a brief. The latter deadline for responsive briefing only applied to Defendants. If there was any confusion on the part of the United States, it had three months from the time of the order to seek clarification of which deadline applied to it.

In addition to the failure of the United States to submit briefing on 3(c) relief in a timely fashion, its motion for leave fails because under Local Rule CV-7(b), “an executed copy of the proposed pleading, motion, or other submission shall be filed as an exhibit to the motion for leave.” The United States did not file its proposed 3(c) brief as an exhibit to this motion.

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Breaking: Census Citizenship Question Plaintiffs Move to Dismiss Supreme Court Case Involving Ross and Gore Depositions as Moot

I explained in a recent post on the census citizenship question case the following:

The Supreme Court is already hearing a case about one aspect of Judge Furman’s decisions: whether the judge improperly allowed some discovery into the mindset of Secretary Ross and AAAG John Gore. That question seems mostly moot: Judge Furman relied only on material in the public record in reaching his decisions, so a remand would simply lead to the same decision. (It may not betechnically moot.)

But given the press of time, I expect DOJ will seek a stay of Judge Furman’s ruling, perhaps by going directly to the Supreme Court and seeking to bypass the 2nd Circuit. DOJ might even seek cert. directly rather than going through the 2d Circuit, and the Supreme Court might even treat a stay request as a cert. petition and grant it.

Well now we have the mootness argument in the already existing Supreme Court case. You can find the motion to dismiss at this link. A snippet:

First, Petitioners’ chief concern—that “Secretary Ross will be forced to prepare for and attend a deposition, which cannot be undone,” Pet. Br. 44— has been rendered moot, because the district court vacated the decision that is the subject of the mandamus petition. New York, slip op. 277. This Court’s interlocutory review of the district court’s order authorizing the Secretary’s deposition is thus not only unnecessary but also outside the scope of the Court’s jurisdiction.

Second, the final judgment does not turn on “evidence of the Secretary’s mental processes.” Pet. Br. 44. Rather, the district court reached its decisions as to the APA “based exclusively on the materials in the official ‘Administrative Record,’” New York, slip op. 8, concluding that extra-record evidence merely buttressed its extensive findings and conclusions of law, e.g., id. at 97, 99, 231 n.68, 241 n.74. Any remaining disputes between the parties over the propriety of discovery outside of the administrative record can and should be addressed through review of the final judgment.

You can find the plaintiffs’ brief on the merits in the SCOTUS case at this link.

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Breaking: Federal Court Holds New Wisconsin Early Voting Cutbacks Barred by Existing Injunction Against Earlier Early Voting Cutbacks

Court order here. (via Sam Levine).

The state argued this was a new law with some different provisions and so not covered by the existing injunction. The court found the provisions were substantially similar. It also noted: “If the court accepted defendants’ argument, it would mean that a legislative body could evade an injunction simply by reenacting an identical law and giving it a new number.”

The existing case is up on appeal, and so this is not over.

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Trump DOJ Reversing Obama DOJ Decision, Now States That Texas Should NOT Be Placed Under Federal Supervision over Voting Rules Based on Intentional Racial Discrimination in Redistricting Case

As first flagged by Gerry Hebert, the Department of Justice has submitted this filing in the long-running Texas redistricting case of Abbott v. Perez  indicating it no longer believes (as the Obama Administration did) that Texas should be put back under federal supervision for voting. Such “bail-in” to preclearance under section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act is discretionary in cases, like this one, where a court has found that a jurisdiction has engaged in intentional racial discrimination in voting.

The filing does not indicate the basis for the DOJ’s change of position; that will appear in a further filing (assuming the three-judge court allows such a filing).

It is yet another example of the Trump administration siding with those who have committed Voting Rights Act violations rather than those who are the victims of it.

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“Cohen Hired IT Firm to Rig Early CNBC, Drudge Polls to Favor Trump”

Latest WSJ bombshell:

In early 2015, a man who runs a small technology company showed up at Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for having helped Michael Cohen, then Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, try to rig online polls in his boss’s favor before the presidential campaign.

In his Trump Organization office, Mr. Cohen surprised the man, John Gauger, by giving him a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter, Mr. Gauger said.

Mr. Gauger owns RedFinch Solutions LLC and is chief information officer at Liberty University in Virginia, where Jerry Falwell Jr., an evangelical leader and fervent Trump supporter, is president….

In January 2014, Mr. Cohen asked Mr. Gauger to help Mr. Trump score well in a CNBC online poll to identify the country’s top business leaders by writing a computer script to repeatedly vote for him. Mr. Gauger was unable to get Mr. Trump into the top 100 candidates. In February 2015, as Mr. Trump prepared to enter the presidential race, Mr. Cohen asked him to do the same for a Drudge Report poll of potential Republican candidates, Mr. Gauger said. Mr. Trump ranked fifth, with about 24,000 votes, or 5% of the total.

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“Voting rights: Rep. Marcia Fudge is on a mission and coming to a state near you”

USA Today:

Rep. Marcia Fudge is quick to acknowledge you only have to look to her home state of Ohio to talk about voting rights concerns .

So, in the Democrat’s new role as chairwoman of a revived House subcommittee on elections, Ohio will be one of six states where the panel will host field hearings starting as early as next month. The other states include Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Texas.

The hearings come in the wake of concerns that some voters, particularly in those states, faced problems during the midterms, including proposed poll closures in a predominately black county in Georgia.

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#NC09: “Bladen prosecutor’s calls went unreturned as state probed absentee ballot issues”

WRAL:

In the summer of 2017, the chief prosecutor for Bladen County sent the head of North Carolina’s State Board of Elections a series of increasingly insistent emails over the board’s voting integrity concerns in his county.

The upshot: Why isn’t your office responding?

“The municipal elections are coming up, and I’m interested in knowing the findings of your investigation and what steps can be taken to prevent future irregularities in the process,” Assistant District Attorney Quintin McGee wrote to Kim Strach, executive director of the elections board, in late August 2017.

By October, McGee was getting into all caps over his frustration with Joan Fleming, a former FBI agent who heads the state board’s investigative unit.

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“Radical Changes Are Coming to the Iowa Caucuses”

Steven Rosenfeld:

The Iowa Democratic Party is preparing to implement the most sweeping and radical changes to its first-in-the-nation caucuses in 50 years, including potentially adopting online elements that could increase participation by upward of 100,000 voters, according to party leaders.

“We have spent many, many months and thousands of hours of conversations with a whole lot of different folks about what is the best solution. And we’re in the process right now, literally this month, of crafting that into a draft of a delegate selection plan,” Iowa Democratic Party executive director Kevin Geiken said Thursday.

“We’re down to about three choices,” he said. “We’re down to an absentee ballot system. We’re down to a proxy system. We’re down to a tele-caucus system. I would venture to say that we are even down to two potential solutions, because the absentee ballot process is so complicated logistically that I just don’t think that is a viable solution for us.”

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The Census Citizenship Question Endgame–What Will (and Should) the Supreme Court Do?

I have now had a chance to make a first pass through Judge Furman’s 277-page opinion holding that the inclusion of the citizenship question on the census violates the Administrative Procedure Act. The key conclusion was that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross wanted the citizenship question on the census for whatever reason (likely political reasons). They gave as a pretext the argument that DOJ needed such data to litigate Voting Rights Act cases, but there was no evidence DOJ needed it for that; no evidence it is more helpful than the data DOJ already gets through the ACS; and no evidence that the Census Dept followed Congressional statutes and its own rules in seeking to add the question on the census.  Mark Joseph Stern has details on Judge Furman’s analysis and conclusions, and I agree with Justin Levitt that “Judge Furman’s 277-page decision today on the census is extremely important, extremely thorough, and _extremely_ careful. Indeed, though it chronicles substantial gov’t abuse, the opinion itself is remarkably restrained. And a big win for that reason.”

The question is what comes next, given the impending June deadline for finalizing the census questions for printing—a massive endeavor.

The Supreme Court is already hearing a case about one aspect of Judge Furman’s decisions: whether the judge improperly allowed some discovery into the mindset of Secretary Ross and AAAG John Gore. That question seems mostly moot: Judge Furman relied only on material in the public record in reaching his decisions, so a remand would simply lead to the same decision. (It may not be technically moot.)

But given the press of time, I expect DOJ will seek a stay of Judge Furman’s ruling, perhaps by going directly to the Supreme Court and seeking to bypass the 2nd Circuit. DOJ might even seek cert. directly rather than going through the 2d Circuit, and the Supreme Court might even treat a stay request as a cert. petition and grant it.

Justin suggests that would be procedurally irregular. But I’m not so sure. Yes DOJ has been running to SCOTUS a lot to try to get it to break its usual procedures and hear cases early. The Court has mostly rebuffed those requests. But not with the census, and for good reason. It seems to me that if the Court does not hear this case fully it would either (1) let plaintiffs run out the clock before the case gets full Court review or (2) the case gets decided as a stay, without a full SCOTUS opinion, on the so-called “shadow docket.” That’s really dissatisfying that we may get a dispositive SCOTUS ruling with no explanation.

So I think things get expedited, and it would not be surprising for the normal schedules to be changed and contracted so that this all gets resolved by June (rendering other cases involving the census moot).

We’ll see.

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Breaking: Federal District Court Holds that Adding Census Question to Citizenship Violates Administrative Procedure Act, But is Not Unconstitutional; May Moot Issues in SCOTUS Case

The Court’s 277-page opinion is here. Given the court’s findings of no unconstitutional purpose on the part of Secretary Ross, it is not clear to me if this moots issues in the portion of this case being argued next month at the Supreme Court.

But the holding under the Administrative Procedure Act is significant; I’ve long said that this seemed to me to be a much stronger basis for attacking the question than the constitutional question.

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“With New Voting Laws, Democrats Flex Newfound Power in New York”

NYT:

After years of lagging behind other states, New York radically overhauled its system of voting and elections on Monday, passing several bills that would allow early voting, preregistration of minors, voting by mail and sharp limits on the influence of money.

The bills, which were passed by the State Legislature on Monday evening, bring New York in line with policies in other liberal bastions like California and Washington, and they would quiet, at least for a day, complaints about the state’s antiquated approach to suffrage.

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H.R. 1 and Public Financing

I mentioned the other day that H.R. 1 would revolutionize American redistricting by requiring congressional maps to be designed by independent commissions. The bill would spark equally radical change in how congressional campaigns are financed, by creating two separate public financing programs. The first of these, dubbed “small dollar financing,” would match private contributions up to $200 with six times more public funds. A $200 donation to a candidate, for example, would trigger the release of another $1200 to that candidate. To qualify for the program, a candidate would first have to receive 1000 small dollar contributions or $50,000 in such contributions. A qualifying candidate could be disbursed no more than half of the average expenditures of the twenty winning House candidates who spent the most money in the previous election.

H.R. 1’s second public financing scheme, called “my voice vouchers,” would be a pilot program in three states for two elections. Every eligible voter would be able to request a $25 voucher. The voter would then be able to allocate portions of that voucher in $5 increments to congressional candidates. At the conclusion of the trial period, the FEC would submit a report to Congress evaluating the program’s operation and effectiveness.

I think H.R. 1 is right not to mandate publicly financed vouchers nationwide. Only one jurisdiction has adopted such vouchers—Seattle—and for only one election to date. More information about how many voters use vouchers, to whom they allocate the funds, and how candidates solicit contributions, would plainly be helpful. I also think the vouchers should be made substantially larger (say $100) and provided automatically to voters (not upon request). Bigger vouchers would do a better job crowding out private campaign funds—and with them the corruption and policy distortion they produce. Opt-out rather than opt-in vouchers would serve the same goal: making it more likely the vouchers would be used, and thus reducing candidates’ dependence on private financing.

While H.R. 1 seeks more data before imposing vouchers throughout the country, it’s ready to implement small dollar financing at once. But here too, I think some caution would be advisable. Only a few jurisdictions have experimented with multiple-match public financing (most notably, New York City). Small donors may also be preferable as funding sources to very rich individuals or corporations, but they’re far from ideal. They’re older, whiter, wealthier, more ideologically extreme, and more male than the electorate as a whole. They thus threaten to skew policy away from the views of the median voter. And if H.R. 1 makes small dollar financing permanent and nationally applicable, while vouchers are relegated to a pilot program, then it’s likely the former will become the default and the latter will end up a mere curiosity. This might be the best approach—but it might not be. To avoid prejudging the debate, H.R. 1 should limit the duration and geographic scope of small dollar financing as well. Then both it and vouchers could be assessed at the end of the trial period.

And while I’m on the subject of public financing pilot programs, let me throw out one more idea: providing parties with large grants (say $25 per eligible voter in a state, multiplied by a party’s share of the presidential vote in that state in the last election), which could then be spent directly or distributed to congressional candidates. Giving parties access to public funds on this scale would significantly increase their influence. To the extent that parties are more responsible and moderate than other campaign funders (like individual donors and corporations), this greater clout could be salutary. Making parties the key actors would also solve the “Goldilocks” problem of enabling publicly funded candidates to run viable campaigns without wasting the government’s money. Parties would have every incentive to deploy their resources efficiently to win as many seats as possible.

The risk with a series of pilot programs, of course, is that after they have run their course, the political will to make any of them permanent will have disappeared. This concern certainly applies to H.R. 1; if it ever becomes law, it will be in a reformist moment that is highly unlikely to endure for a subsequent decade (the length of the bill’s trial period for the vouchers). A potential solution is for Congress to tie its hands in advance: to commit to nationalizing whichever policy shows the most promise during the experimental stage. The FEC could evaluate each pilot program along criteria like ease of use, popularity, reduction in corruption, and reduction in policy distortion. The policy with the strongest record could then go into effect nationwide without any further congressional action. A single reformist moment could thus be leveraged first to gain information about different public financing options and then to adopt the best of them.

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“Congress ignored its election duties for years. That ends now”

Matt Weil in Roll Call:

House Democrats have waited eight years to regain the speakership, and now that they hold the gavel, they will clearly seek to move on pent-up priorities. For their first act out of the gate, they rolled several into one.

The “For the People Act” — or H.R. 1 — runs just over 500 pages and includes proposals the Democrats have pursued during their time in the minority, such as ethics reforms, campaign finance changes, and a well-publicized section requiring presidential candidates to hand over their tax returns.

But the bill also lays out a vision for election administration in 2020 and beyond, putting the voter at the center of the process instead of focusing on what is easier for government. Congress taking the lead could cause some heartburn at the state level.

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“The House Democrats’ Colossal Election Reform Bill Could Save American Democracy”

I’ve written this piece for Slate. It begins:

The Democrats’ first order of business as they took control of the 116th Congress was introducing H.R. 1, the colossal “For the People Act.” This 571-page behemoth of a bill covering voting rights, campaign finance reform, ethics improvements, and more was a perfect reminder of just how much power the Constitution gives Congress to make elections better in this country and, sadly, of how partisan the question of election reform has become.

By beginning with election reform as “H.R. 1,” Democrats signaled their priorities as they took over control of the House of Representatives. The bill now has 221 co-sponsors, all Democrats, including almost every Democrat in the House. It’s disheartening that bipartisan movement on election reform is no longer possible and that few of the significant improvements in the bill stand a chance of becoming law until Democrats have control of the Senate and the presidency. Even then some of its provisions could be blocked by a conservative-leaning Supreme Court. But if and when Democrats ever do return to full power in Washington, H.R. 1 should remain the top priority. Though there is room for some improvements, the “For the People Act” would go an enormous way toward repairing our badly broken democracy.

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Call for Papers: Election Science Conference

Via email:

We are pleased to issue a call for papers for the 2019 Election Sciences, Reform, and Administration (ESRA) conference. The conference will take place at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA on July 11–12, 2019. This is the third annual ESRA conference, with the 2017 conference hosted by Portland State University and Reed College and the 2018 conference hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The program committee for this year’s conference is Martha Kropf (University of North Carolina at Charlotte), Lia Merivaki (Mississippi St), Michael Miller (Barnard College), and Charles Stewart (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The host committee at the University of Pennsylvania is comprised of John Lapinski, Marc Meredith, and Stephen Pettigrew.

This conference has two goals. First, to provide a forum for scholars in political science, public administration, and other fields who are working to develop rigorous approaches to the study of how laws and administrative procedures affect the quality of elections in the United States. Second, to build scientific capacity by identifying major questions in the field, fostering collaboration, and facilitating a network of senior scholars, junior scholars, and election professionals that can work together to address these questions.

Papers will be favored that are both methodologically rigorous and have practical implications for election officials. Previous conferences have seen innovative projects that address ongoing questions about the impact of election reforms on registration and turnout at the state and federal level, how the voter experience has been affected by recent waves of election reform, and how concerns about cost and security are shaping election administration.To help disseminate the findings to a wider audience, each presenter will be required to write a two-page brief summarizing their paper that can be posted on the ESRA web site.

People who are interested in proposing a research paper should submit an application form available here. The deadline to submit a research paper proposal is March 1, 2019.

There are a number of other ways to participate in the conference without presenting a research paper. Previous ESRA conferences have featured roundtable discussions by election professionals on election security, election day registration, modernizing registration, and the polling places of the future. We also need people to chair and act as discussants on our panels. Those who are interested in participating in a roundtable, chairing or discussing panels, or attending the conference in a less formal way should submit an application form available here. The deadline to submit application to attend the conference if you are not submitting a research paper proposal is April 12, 2019.

Funding to support the conference is provided by the MIT Election Data and Science Lab and the Hewlett Foundation as well as the Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The conference has no registration fee for those who are accepted to attend. We hope to cover most of the travel, lodging, and meal expenses of most of the participants, pending notification from other funding sources.

Sincerely,

John Lapinski, Marc Meredith, and Stephen Pettigrew

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Breaking: Without Noted Dissent, Supreme Court Declines to Hear Major Campaign Finance Case Out of Montana

Very good news for supporters of campaign finance contribution limits to candidates: the Supreme Court without noted dissent has turned down Lair v. Magnan, a case which could have been the basis to attack all individual contribution limits to candidates.

I wrote about that case here.

I take this to mean that the Court does not want to wade into these controversial waters right now, not that the Court agrees with the 9th Circuit’s more permissive tests for such regulations.

Whew!

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“Justices to Hear Civil Rights Challenge in Ballot Prosecution”

USLW:

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up the case of a former Democratic county commissioner from New York State who was acquitted of forging absentee ballots during a 2009 primary election.

Edward G. McDonough says the special prosecutor falsified evidence during the pre-trial investigation, grand jury proceedings, and at trial in an attempt to convict him of dozens of state law felony crimes related to the forged absentee ballots.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found McDonough didn’t bring his civil rights case fast enough.

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“GE Opens Its Books on Political Spending”

Agenda:

On Tuesday, General Electric announced it would become more transparent — starting this month — by disclosing any contributions it makes to so-called social welfare organizations. That’s a category of nonprofit groups that often sponsors campaign outreach and political attack ads. In addition, GE pledged to announce when it contributes any dues or payments of $50,000 or more to trade associations in a year. That’s down from its previous $100,000 trigger.

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“Will Jocelyn Benson defend Michigan gerrymandering tactics she once fought?”

Bridge:

Nearly a decade after Republicans redrew Michigan’s political districts, a federal lawsuit is set for trial Feb. 5 to determine if they were illegally gerrymandered.

Just one hiccup. The new defendant in the case –  the one responsible for arguing that the districts are constitutional – is one of the biggest critics of the state’s legislative boundaries, and helped lead the fight against Republican redistricting in 2011.

When Democrat Jocelyn Benson was sworn in as Michigan’s secretary of state on Jan. 1, she inherited an ongoing lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters that seeks to redraw the state’s 14 congressional districts and more than 30 state Senate districts before the 2020 election.

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“Justice officials were briefed months ago on allegations against McCrae Dowless, operative at center of N.C. election fraud scandal”

WaPo:

Nine months before allegations of absentee ballot fraud tainted a congressional race in North Carolina, the state elections board gave officials from the Justice Department’s main office evidence that the political operative at the center of the scandal had used similar tactics in 2016.

On Jan. 31, 2018, the chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which oversees prosecutions of election crimes, met in Raleigh with state officials and U.S. attorney Robert Higdon, according to an elections board spokesman.

The following day, the state officials sent a public integrity lawyer an eight-page memo describing interviews with two campaign workers who said they were paid during the 2016 election to hand-deliver mail-in ballots to political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless. Under North Carolina law, only voters or their close relatives or guardians may deliver or mail in ballots. The memo also summarized interviews with three Bladen County voters who filed complaints saying those campaign workers had sought their ballots.

The meeting and follow-up email, obtained by The Washington Post under a public records request, are the first public indications that officials with the Justice Department in Washington were made aware of the allegations against Dowless. Dowless has emerged in recent weeks as a key figure in the absentee ballot scandal in Republican Mark Harris’s 2018 congressional bid. State elections officials and some voters have expressed frustration that federal prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in North Carolina did not act more aggressively to pursue earlier complaints against Dowless and potentially stop him from working on campaigns.

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“Court decision in N.J. voter intimidation case could bring ‘new wave of voter suppression’ in 2020 election, expert says”

Jonathan Salant for NJ.com:

A federal appeals court has refused to bring back restrictions on Republican National Committee voter activities set in motion 36 years ago by a New Jersey gubernatorial race, a decision that an election law expert warned could usher in “a new wave of voter suppression.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a decision by District Judge John Michael Vazquez, who ended the court-ordered agreement, known as a consent decree, to prevent the Republican National Committee from targeting minority voters.

The Democratic National Committee had appealed the decision, saying that the judge did not allow its lawyers to interview additional witnesses to buttress its argument that the Republican National Committee violated the order during the 2016 election.

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“An Idea for Electoral College Reform That Both Parties Might Actually Like”

Ned Foley in Politico Magazine (based on his forthcoming Oxford UP book, Presidential Elections and Majority Rule):

Americans have heard for years that the Electoral College is broken—just look at the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016, when the winner earned fewer votes nationally than the loser. We have also heard that, despite its flaws, this system won’t change anytime soon. Republicans generally oppose a national popular vote, which would both undermine them electorally and violate the Founding Fathers’ desire for the presidency to reflect America’s federalist structure as a union of separate states.

But here is an argument for Electoral College reform that might actually appeal to conservatives: Simply put, the way we currently elect presidents would horrify the early American authors of the U.S. electoral system, as defined in the 12th Amendment….

How to do so? It is the states that have the power to restore the Electoral College to its original intent—and to ensure that it better represents the will of the American people. To do so, they must commit themselves to this majority-rule principle: No candidate receives all of a state’s electoral votes unless the candidate gets a majority of the state’s popular votes.

There are many methods states can use to comply with this principle. They could have a regular runoff between the top-two candidates, held in late November, if no candidate received a majority in the initial popular vote. Alternatively, states could hold a preliminary vote—perhaps on the Tuesday after Labor Day—to clear the field of third-party and independent candidates, so that only the top two finalists appear on the November ballot. (This option would function similarly to the “top two” system that California and Washington state currently use for nonpresidential elections.) Or, states could adopt the kind of “instant runoff voting” procedure that Maine recently employed successfully for its congressional elections: Voters can rank their preferences among multiple candidates, so that a computer can tally which of the top two finalists receives a majority once all lower-ranked candidates are eliminated.

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“Documents Show NRA and Republican Candidates Coordinated Ads in Key Senate Races”

Mother Jones:

The National Rifle Association appears to have illegally coordinated its political advertising with Republican candidates in at least three recent high-profile US Senate races, according to Federal Communications Commission records. In Senate races in Missouri and Montana in 2018 and North Carolina in 2016, the gun group’s advertising blitzes on behalf of GOP candidates Josh Hawley, Matt Rosendale, and Richard Burr were authorized by the very same media consultant that the candidates themselves used—an apparent violation of laws designed to prevent independent groups from synchronizing their efforts with political campaigns.

In December, the Trace and Mother Jones reported on a similar pattern of coordination between the NRA and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In that case, Trump and the NRA hired affiliates of the same company—National Media Research, Planning and Placement—to direct their ad spending. Employees of that firm, operating under different corporate identities, placed ads for both Trump and the NRA on television stations across the country, with the apparent goal of reinforcing each other’s message.

Representatives of National Media, operating under the name Red Eagle Media, also bought ads on behalf of the NRA in support of some of the group’s preferred Senate candidates, and simultaneously bought ads for those Senate candidates while acting as a supposedly separate entity called American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG). In at least 10 instances across the Missouri, Montana, and North Carolina races, FCC records show that ad purchases for both the NRA and the Senate campaigns were authorized by National Media chief financial officer Jon Ferrell.

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“Older People Shared Fake News on Facebook More Than Others in 2016 Race, Study Says”

NYT:

When it came to sharing fake news on Facebook during the 2016 election, no age group was quite as active as those aged 65 and older, according to a new study.

The study, published Wednesday in Science Advances, quantifies how aggressive seniors were in spreading misinformation, though the findings suggest that sharing such stories was relatively rare.

On average, American Facebook users aged 65 and older posted seven times as many articles from fake news websites as adults 29 and younger, according to the study. And that was true regardless of ideology, education level or political affiliation: Older users just tended to share misinformation more.

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“Commission recommends machine-marked ballots for Georgia”

AP:

After Georgia’s 2018 elections focused stinging criticism on the state’s outdated election system, a study commission voted Thursday to recommend the use of machines that record votes and print a record.

Members of the panel tasked with considering potential replacement equipment chose that option over hand-marked paper ballots favored by cybersecurity experts.

The Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections, or SAFE, Commission voted 13-3 for a draft of a report to be sent to lawmakers, who are expected to decide on criteria for a new system during the legislative session that begins Monday. The commission includes lawmakers, political party representatives, voters and election officials.

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“Early Voting and Other Election Reforms Coming to New York”

NYT:

The voting reforms are a veritable wish list for those who have blamed New York’s laws for driving down voter turnout. The measures include allowing early voting, preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds and consolidating state and federal primary elections, which are now held in different months.

Lawmakers also plan to pass bills to allow vote-by-mail and same-day voter registration, though those proposals will also require voter referendums — and passage by the next Legislature, scheduled to be seated in 2021 — as they change the State Constitution.

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“Trump Campaign in Legal Jeopardy Over Manafort’s Sharing Data with Russian Agent”

Paul Ryan:

According to a court filing earlier this week, former 2016 Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared presidential campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian citizen with ties to Russian intelligence. If the data Manafort shared with Kilimnik was used to materially guide spending by Russian nationals to influence the 2016 presidential election, then the Trump campaign seemingly received an “in-kind contribution” from the Russian nationals in the form of “coordinated expenditures” in violation of multiple federal campaign finance laws. A key link in the “coordination” here is the revelation of Manafort’s actions.

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“New ‘Testing the Waters’ Report Examines How Presidential Candidates Ignore Campaign Finance Laws & Regulators Let Them”

Release:

Today, Common Cause released a new report on the many ways presidential candidates bend and break campaign finance laws as they barnstorm early primary states, fundraise, evade contributions limits, and build their campaign teams while denying they are running for office. “‘Testing the Waters’ or Diving Right In?” is part of Common Cause’s 2020 Candidate Watch project through which the organization will watchdog candidate compliance with and government enforcement of campaign finance laws during the current election cycle.

The report, which should serve as a useful resource for reporters’ ongoing coverage of the 2020 presidential election, outlines how for decades candidates in presidential elections have pushed legal boundaries in the early stages of campaigns. But things reached a new level of absurdity in 2015, when Jeb Bush spent the first half of the year raising more than $100 million in illegal-to-candidates funds for a super PAC he set up, while denying that he was a candidate. He then announced his candidacy, the super PAC spent the funds supporting his candidacy, and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) let him get away with it.

The report concludes with a recommendation that the FEC repeal its regulation exempting presidential candidates from certain campaign finance laws while they are “testing the waters” of a campaign.

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“Doug Jones Seeks Inquiry Into Misinformation Efforts in Alabama Senate Race”

NYT:

Senator Doug Jones, the Democrat who was an unwitting beneficiary of misinformation tactics during a special election in Alabama in 2017, asked the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday to investigate the episodes.

Mr. Jones made his formal request for an inquiry more than three weeks after The New York Times detailed one of the clandestine efforts in which Democrats employed Russian-style digital deception while Alabama was locked in one of its most competitive campaigns in memory.

“Such deceptive tactics have no place in American politics and must be repudiated by those involved in our political system,” Mr. Jones wrote in a letter to Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democratic member of the commission.

Neither Mr. Jones nor his campaign is believed to have known about, much less approved of, any of the deception. Mr. Jones had quickly pledged to seek an inquiry, but his notarized letter on Wednesday, which also cited reporting by The Washington Post, represented his first formal step in support of an investigation by the commission.

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“Here’s Trump Allies’ Plan To Meddle In The 2020 Democratic Primary”

BuzzFeed:

The pair of outside groups tied closely to President Donald Trump has retained the top Republican opposition group in an effort to smother Democrats seeking to challenge him — and perhaps even help pick his 2020 challenger.

The early move is part of Trump and his allies’ plan to dominate the Democratic presidential primary and push to have the nominating contest play out on their terms, especially since Trump himself has been uncharacteristically quiet in the new year about top Democratic White House hopefuls, preoccupied with the partial government shutdown and his push for a border wall.

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