This document released by the FEC today is supposed to provide guidance to 527s and other organizations on when they are likely to be treated by the FEC as “political committees.” Such status, among other things, means that such groups are limited in the amount of contributions they may receive as well as the sources of those contributions.
Not only is this document likely to lead to extensive discussion about whether the FEC is right. It could well lead to a lawsuit challenging the FEC’s position on these issues (or a continuation of the battle over these issues in the context of the ongoing Shays case).
I hope to comment more after I’ve had a chance to read it.
You can find the text of the bill here [updated link]. [Disclosure: I consulted with Sen. Obama’s office on the this bill.] Among other things (such as setting up a task force and requiring the production of reports on deceptive voter practices), this bill would do too main things: (1) it would criminalize knowlingly making certain false speech in connection with elections, such as fraudulently giving information about polling place locations. (2) It would allow a private party to seek an injunction in federal court to stop the giving of such fraudulent information.
Is this bill likely to pass? I don’t know. Certainly the fact that it is being introduced by Democrats, with findings focused mainly on acts of voter suppression that Democrats in the past have highlighted, will make the bill appealing to many Democrats. I wonder whether Republicans will come on board. In some sense, this is a “voting integrity” bill, an issue that has been trumpeted by many Republicans. But it targets speech, not voters who vote illegally. We’ll see if this is perceived as a partisan or bipartisan bill.
I think this bill, if it passed, would likely beat a constitutional challenge under the First Amendment, especially that part of the bill that would punish violators after the fact for fraudulent conduct. No doubt the ability of a court to grant an injunction would be challenged as a prior restraint of speech, and that raises a more difficult question. There’s a discussion of these issues in Chapter 11 of the Lowenstein and Hasen casebook in connection with Ohio’s law and other state laws limiting knowingly false campaign speech. [Note and update: This last paragraph was edited for clarity. In addition, I forgot to link to this NY Times editorial on the bill.]
The Hartford Courant offers this report, which begins: “Congress’ leading reformers on Tuesday proposed a dramatic revamping of the presidential campaign financing system that would allow taxpayers to contribute $10, instead of the current $3, to help publicly fund White House bids.” It appears that Sen. McCain has not joined his former allies of Sen. Feingold and Reps. Shays and Meehan in sponsoring this bill. This is no surprise.
The chances for the bill’s passage don’t look very good in the Senate, as this Roll Call report ($) makes clear. Sen. Lott, for example, called the idea behind public financing a “dinosaur.” A summary of the bill appears in this press release from Sen. Feingold.
The Sun Sentinel offers this report from Florida, which begins: ” Gov. Charlie Crist wants to scrap the controversial touch-screen voting machines used in Broward, Palm Beach and 13 other counties and replace them with optical scanners that would count paper ballots. ‘It’s important to make sure people have confidence in our voting system. We all remember 2000. That’s why this issue is so important. What could be more important to democracy than ensuring the integrity of our elective process? It’s at the very foundation of it all. You go to an ATM machine, you get some kind of a record. You go to the gas station, you get a record. If there’s a need for a recount, it’s important to have something to count,’ the governor said Wednesday morning at a gathering of Florida newspaper editors and reporters.”
Political Wire has this post.
Ed Felton has written this post on his “Freedom to Tinker” blog. Brad Friedman responds.
John Washburn has this analysis at VoteTrustUSA. The EAC has posted a number of documents related to the Ciber accrediation controversy here.
Heather Gerken responds to Ned Foley’s earlier comments on her proposal for an election administration ranking system for the states.
On Monday, Tim Ryan had this oped in the Washington Post. A snippet: “Recent attempts to revise the primary calendar are undoubtedly causing headaches for the states as well as the candidates who’ve announced they are running in 2008. But it is a cornerstone of democracy that elections be conducted with an eye toward equal influence for each individual. The confusion and dissension we see today will continue as long as the national parties ignore this standard and insist on a system that perpetuates preferential treatment for a small minority of voters.”
Via Electionline comes this Atlanta-Journal Constitution article, which begins: “Some key components of one of Georgia’s most sacred institutions — that had been discovered in discarded office furniture — were recently auctioned on eBay. About 40 voter access cards and three electronic ballot encoders belonging to DeKalb County were purchased earlier this month on the auction Web site, according to Secretary of State Karen Handel. Another seven supervisor’s cards, used to activate the encoders, also were up for bid.”
Michael Richardson has written this post for the Brad Blog.
Steve Hoersting has written this Roll Call commentary ($) (free snippets here).
NJ.com offers this report.