Monthly Archives: October 2010

Schleicher: Waiting For Super (Prime Voter) Man

Here is the final of three guest posts from David Schleicher:

    I live in Washington D.C., and we’re about to have an election to replace a controversial Mayor and most of the City Council to boot. But given the lack of coverage in the local media, the dearth of attack ads and the complete absence of any signs of campaigning, you’d hardly know it. We’re having an election, and no one cares.
    The reason the race to replace Adrian Fenty has not generated much attention is because we already know who will win. Absent the success of a small write-in campaign not supported by the candidate, the Democratic nominee, Vincent Gray, will be elected Mayor, as will all the Democratic candidates for the Council. (In a wonderful nod to the inevitability of the result, Gray has already announced much of his transition team.)
    On election day, political junkies around the country will focus on the most contested elections, trying to figure out which early race will tell you how things look for the Democrats in the House, or assessing which former pro athlete Republican will perform best, Jon Runyan, Chris Dudley or Sean Duffy. There will be some time spent discussing the most outlandish attack ads of the season (this and this are certainly among the most over-the-top) and seeing how the predictions of the various famous prognosticators fared.
    But some of our attention should fall on the huge number of uncontested elections around the country. Where a seat in an otherwise-contested legislature is uncompetitive, it’s not a major problem (there are costs where there are too many, however). That some Congressional seats are safely Democratic or Republican is part of the nature of territorial districting.
    However, when whole levels of government are uncontested by the parties — think about the Massachusetts Legislature, or the New York City Council — it is a major problem. Absent competitive general elections, there is little reason to believe that office holders will follow majoritarian preferences or will be held accountable for their decisions. That is, the elections are a failure.
    But wait, what about the primaries? Didn’t DC have a highly contested primary, in which Fenty was defeated by Gray? Indeed it did. But primary elections and general elections are extremely different in one major respect — voters in general elections know a lot more about the candidates than they do in primaries. In general elections, votes have access to a high-value signal about candidates’ positions on the issues, the party label. At least for federal elections, the party label can tell us almost everything we need to know about a candidate to cast an at-least somewhat informed vote.
    In primaries, candidates run with no label to distinguish them from their peers. Voters lack much information about candidates individually, and so where voters do not have access to an accurate well-known heuristic that is consistent across elections, they are forced to rely more heavily on non-policy variables, like name recognition, incumbency and the social status, race, ethnicity and gender of the candidates. Further, small groups frequently determine the winner of primaries through the power of organization in low-turnout, low-information elections, a point well made in Seth Masket’s excellent recent book. And, finally, the voters who do know something are the most radical, and are thus unrepresentative of the preferences of most party members.
    Primary election competition simply cannot achieve the same thing as general election competition because, in primaries, most potential voters do not have the tools to make their preferences on policy issues known, as Chris Elmendorf and I will show in a forthcoming piece. The party’s silent majority stays silent, leaving the field to the loudest and best-organized voices among them.
    This means that places like D.C., where there is no general election competition, are less well represented than they should be. And it also means that certain beliefs about districting — like the idea that bipartisan gerrymanders do not reduce responsiveness because primary elections can replace general elections in keeping representatives in line are probably wrong.

Read the rest of David’s interesting post, including the hyperlinks to the first part, at this link.

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“For Donors, Vote Lays a Base for 2012”

From this important NYT report:

    The White House has been focused on passing the so-called Disclose Act, proposed legislation that would place new limits on interest groups trying to influence elections by restricting corporate spending in some instances and requiring new levels of disclosure over all.
    But, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to engage in a public dialogue on the matter when they were so focused on Election Day, strategists for Mr. Obama said they were intent on avoiding a situation in which they would have no answer to millions of dollars — if not tens of millions — in advertisements from groups like Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.

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Soon-to-be Senator Paul’s Position on Lobbying Reform and Campaign Finance Reform

Given the apparent likelihood of a Rand Paul win in Kentucky on Tuesday, I thought some of my readers might be interested in some of Mr. Paul’s ideas about campaign finance reform and lobbying reform. (I discuss these in a new draft on lobbying, which I hope to post soon on SSRN.)
Mr. Paul’s article on campaign finance reform, “The Public Trough,” begins: “Last year, over 15,000 individuals worked for organizations whose sole goal was to rip you off. No, not the mafia or Goldman Sachs, but another distinctly criminal class–Washington lobbyists. In 2008, corporations and unions spent over $3 billion to bribe officials who claim to work for you.” He called upon Congress to include in all government contracts worth at least $1 million a clause banning the contractor from engaging in any lobbying activities or making campaign contributions. It will be interesting to see if he champions these causes if and when he arrives in Washington.

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Aprill: Section 501(c)(4) Organizations, the Gift Tax, and the Disclosure Rules

Here is a guest post from my Loyola colleague Ellen Aprill:

    Recent discussions of whether gifts to section 501(c)(4) organizations that engage in candidate-related activity are subject to the federal gift tax have failed to make clear an important distinction. This important distinction is whether the contributor is making the gift to the organization as a whole or making the gift for its candidate-related activities and, in particular, for its candidate-related advertisements. The distinction can matter not only for gift tax liability, but also for disclosure obligations under campaign finance laws.
    Contributors of large sums close to an election are caught between the proverbially rock and hard place: the more that they position themselves to avoid gift tax liability, the more likely that they may become obliged to disclose their contributions under the campaign finance laws, and vice versa. As explained in detail below for those who are interested, if donors take the position that their gifts are for particular candidate-related activities rather than to the organization in support of its activities generally, they have a good argument that the gift tax does not apply, but a weaker argument for avoiding disclosure obligations under campaign finance laws. It is possible to have the best of both worlds, however, and a determination from the FEC this past spring makes it clear how best to achieve that outcome.

Read Ellen’s excellent 5-page memo at this link.

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