“Final Tally: 2014’s Midterm Was Most Expensive, With Fewer Donors”

Open Secrets:

The final figures are in: The 2014 election was the most expensive midterm election in history, costing a grand total of $3.77 billion. But for the first time since 1990, fewer Americans donated money in this midterm election than the one before. Simply put, more money went into the system, but fewer people provided it.

On Nov. 5, the Center for Responsive Politics projected the 2014 election would be the most expensive midterm ever based on how much was spent through early October. A new analysis taking into account year-end filings confirms that projection — and finds our estimate was low by roughly $104 million.

Among the most significant findings that can now be confirmed is that there were far fewer identifiable donors in the 2014 election than in the 2010 cycle. Then, CRP counted 869,602 donors; in 2014, we have been able to identify just 773,582 — a decline of more than 96,000, or about 11 percent. (A caveat: Our figure accounts only for those who gave more than $200, since the FEC does not require donors of less than that to be itemized on campaign finance reports.)


“Law Professors Urge Supreme Court to Accept Case and Overturn North Carolina Redistricting Decision”


On February 17, 2015, in Dickson v. Rucho, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert joined with a dozen other nationally recognized election law professors in a brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to accept a case and overturn a state supreme court ruling upholding North Carolina’s redistricting.  In supporting the petition for writ of certiorari, the brief from the thirteen voting rights experts emphasizes that the North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered districts violate the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause.


The law professors argue the lower court’s decision fundamentally misunderstands and misapplies U.S. Supreme Court precedent on redistricting in order to uphold North Carolina’s redistricting.  Further, the brief emphasizes that if the North Carolina State Supreme Court ruling is not overturned, it will afford states a constitutional safe harbor from which to undermine the Voting Rights Act.


“The audacity of the legislature’s attempt to use the Voting Rights Act as a shield for its racial gerrymander is outdone only by the North Carolina Supreme Court acceptance of the argument,” said Hebert.  “If the decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court is not overturned, it will provide a blueprint for widespread circumvention of the Voting Rights Act by using the landmark civil rights legislation to actually dilute the voting strength of minority communities rather than protect them.  North Carolina’s justification for their packing of minority voters and their blatant racial gerrymandering that such actions were required by the Voting Rights Act turns the Act on its head and is precisely the kind of over-reliance on race that has been rejected by the Court in previous cases.”


In addition to Hebert (who currently teaches voting rights courses at Georgetown University Law Center and New York Law School), the other election law professors signing the brief are Campaign Legal Center board member Guy-Uriel Charles (Duke Law School), Jocelyn Benson (Wayne State University Law School), Michael Kent Curtis (Wake Forest University School of Law), Gilda Daniels (University of Baltimore School of Law), Joshua A. Douglas (University of Kentucky College of Law), Atiba R. Ellis (West Virginia University College of Law),  Justin Levitt (Loyola Law School), Eugene D. Mazo (Wake Forest University School of Law), Spencer Overton (George Washington University Law School), Terry Smith (DePaul University College of Law), Douglas Spencer (University of Connecticut Law School), and Franita Tolson (Florida State University College of Law).


To read the brief, click here.


“Obama Administration Using Century-Old Racist Case Law to Block Citizenship”

Mother Jones:

Well, this is awkward. This month, five people from American Samoa—the only place in the world where babies born on US soil are denied US citizenship—argued in federal court that the government’s refusal to grant them birthright citizenship violates the Constitution. On the other side of the case is the Obama administration, which cited century-old Supreme Court decisions that spoke of “savage,” “uncivilized,” and “alien races”—and many legal scholars now see as outright racist—to justify continuing to deny citizenship to these US nationals.



Is it Possible to Be In Favor of a Right-to-Vote Amendment but Against Amending the Constitution? Yes.

The DNC Executive Committee has just endorsed the idea that we should amend the Constitution to add a right to vote. I’m entirely in favor of a constitutional right to vote. But I’m against amending the Constitution to add it. There are excellent scholars and organizations in favor of amendment, including Jaimie Raskin, Alex Keyssar, the Advancement Project, and FairVote. But I remain skeptical and have a new paper explaining why I fear that the amendment game is not worth the candle.

There are two stages for ensuring a robust right to vote: (1) amending the Constitution, and (2) enforcing that amendment. As to the first stage, if an amendment enshrining the right to vote looks anything like its cognates in the Constitution, it will be thinly described, maddeningly vague, and pushed forward by self-interested politicians. If the amendment takes this form, the benefits reformers and academics assert we’ll reap are anything but automatic. Once a vague guarantee is embedded in the Constitution (Stage 1), reformers will still have to turn to legislators and courts to get something done (Stage 2).

Making the text more concrete may make Stage 2 easier, but it will complicate efforts to pass the amendment in the first place. After all, if it were easy to enfranchise former felons or block voter ID rules or guarantee a well-administered election system or end partisan gerrymandering, we would presumably have done it already. It’s possible, of course, that reformers could aim for something more than vague language, either by writing their aims explicitly into the text or creating an amendment history so robust that everyone understands what the right embodies. On this view, reformers would build a big tent of supporters by linking the amendment to lots of different reforms.

The problem with this strategy is that it will also generate a big tent on the other side. Push for felon enfranchisement, and you’ll run up against the tough-on-crime lobby. Tempt progressives with a ban on voter ID and lose the support of many Republicans. Promise to end gerrymandering and lose the support of most incumbents. That’s why a vague textual guarantee is so tempting an option in Stage 1, even if it creates more work for Stage 2.

If I had a magic wand, I’d wave it in order to add the right to vote to the Constitution. As I noted in my paper, there are lots of reasons to value it. But magic wands are in short supply, as are the political resources needed to pass an amendment. Given the challenges involved in getting it passed and, more importantly, robustly enforced, it makes more sense to pour those resources into more discrete reform projects going forward.


Quote of the Day, Oscar Edition

Thank you. Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago but we say that Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on. God bless you.

John Legend, upon winning, with Common, an Oscar for the song “Glory” from the movie about the Voting Rights Act, “Selma”


“Setting the record straight on Selma and ‘Selma’”

Marc Selverstone in WaPo:

These conversations show that Johnson encouraged King to focus media attention on voting-rights injustices, leaned hard on aides to seek legal and legislative remedies for those wrongs, and acknowledged the importance of the Selma events — and King’s role in them — to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

But they also reveal Johnson’s discomfort with being seen as too close to King, his fear that the Selma demonstrations were complicating his judicial strategy for voting rights, and his initial reluctance in using federal power to protect the marchers.

In short, the tapes highlight the complicated nature of policymaking, the push-and-pull between federal officials and grass-roots activists, and the messy realities — including the sometimes ugly political realities — of effecting social change.


“Ruling bars state from treating free legal advice as a campaign contribution”

News from WA:

Free legal advice to a recall campaign isn’t a campaign contribution — neither is free legal advice in pursuit of that argument, and state campaign finance regulators can’t claim otherwise.

That idea, the heart of a ruling issued Friday in Pierce County Superior Court, appears to end a four-year battle between backers of a 2011 county recall campaign and the state Public Disclosure Commission that has climbed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and back. It also adds a footnote to the stormy tenure of ex-Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam, the target of an unsuccessful recall effort in 2011.

“The court correctly recognized that pro bono representation in civil rights cases cannot constitutionally be treated as political contribution,” said Bill Maurer, managing attorney in the Washington branch of the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based public interest law firm. The institute is one of the parties in the case.

See also the IJ press release.


“Conservative watchdog group accuses Democrats of illegally coordinating through voter data firm”


A new conservative watchdog group filed a complaint this week with the Federal Election Commission against the private voter data firm Catalist and dozens of Democratic party and candidate committees, accusing them of operating “an illegal coordination scheme” that has allowed Democrats to instantly sync their voter information with that of independent groups.



“Campaign Legal Center White Paper Outlines Likely Violations By Prospective 2016 Presidential Candidates”


Today, the Campaign Legal Center released a white paper examining prospective 2016 presidential candidates raising millions of dollars, while denying that they are even “testing the waters” for a potential run for their Party’s nomination. Why would they deny the obvious? Federal law requires an individual who is “testing the waters” of candidacy to pay for those activities with funds raised in compliance with the candidate contribution restrictions—no individual contributions above $2,700, and no corporate or labor union funds. Nearly every likely presidential contender is ignoring the candidate limits and the Federal Election Commission is doing nothing to stop it.



“Exclusive: Sorenson hearing confirms ongoing investigation into possible 2012 caucus chicanery”

Des Moines Register:

In just a few words during a short teleconference with a federal judge, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday confirmed what has long been suspected: Authorities are pursuing a broader investigation into the shady campaign dealings that ousted former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson from office.

In a hearing before U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt, attorneys for the government and for Sorenson agreed to delay sentencing in the case until April. The reason, Justice Department lead attorney Robert Higdon Jr. said, was that the government was “engaged” and “making progress” on a “larger investigation” into the 2012 presidential race.

Sorenson pleaded guilty last summer to concealing payments he received for work on two 2012 presidential campaigns and obstructing an investigation into the incident. He faces up to 25 years in prison, although his sentencing has been delayed for months.


“Forcing Their Hands? Campaign Finance Law, Retirement Announcements and the Rise of the Permanent Campaign in U.S. Senate Elections”

David Karol has written this article in Congress and the Presidency.  Here is the abstract:

Congressional retirement decisions affect representation and campaigns. They have long interested scholars. Yet the timing of retirement announcements has not been explored. In an analysis dating to 1920 based on an original data set, I show that U.S senators now announce their retirements far earlier in their final term than they once did. Beyond documenting this little-noted trend, I propose and assess explanations for these findings, focusing on changes in campaign finance law. I discuss implications for representation and the growth of the “permanent campaign.”


WI Supreme Court Candidate Writes OpEd in Favor of Voter ID

It ends like this:

Until the U.S. Supreme Court acts, Wisconsin must take every voter at his or her word that they are who they say they are. The issue of free and fair elections is one which transcends political philosophy, and voter ID enforces that. Elections should be treated with respect by the entire electorate − Wisconsin deserves it.

I support the Wisconsin voter ID law, and when decisions like this come before me you can be assured I will stick to the rule of law and follow the guidelines of the constitution in all circumstances. As circuit court judge, this has been my philosophy, and I will not let my personal beliefs influence my decision making.

I ask for your vote on April 7.



“The Survey of the Performance of American Elections, 2014 edition”

Charles Stewart in Electionline Weekly:

The experience of voters is one of those things that hide in plain sight.

Despite the fact that more than 100 million voters take part in presidential elections, and around 80 million voters take part in midterm congressional elections, very little is actually known about the experiences voters have when they go to cast a ballot.

Do their machines work? Do they wait in long lines? Are they met by competent poll workers?

Voters tell each other stories about these things, and sometimes reporters write news accounts about them, but until 2008 no one had ever attempted to ask voters about their experience on Election Day in any comprehensive, systematic way.

Thus was born the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE), the first (and thus far only) comprehensive national public opinion study of voting from the perspective of the voter.

In 2014, with the financial assistance of the Pew Charitable Trusts (which has generously funded the SPAE since its inception), we have been able to study in detail the voting experience at midterm. This report touches on some highlights.


“Clinton foundation’s global network overlaps with family’s political base”


Since its creation in 2001, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation has raised close to $2 billion from a vast global network that includes corporate titans, political donors, foreign governments and other wealthy interests, according to a Washington Post review of public records and newly released contribution data.

The total, representing cash and pledges reported in tax filings, includes $262 million that was raised in 2013 — the year Hillary Rodham Clinton stepped down as secretary of state and began to devote her energies to the foundation and to a likely second run for president.