Monthly Archives: October 2015

“FEC Deadlock Signaled by Rival Drafts on Super PACs”

Ken Doyle for Bloomberg BNA:

The Federal Election Commission appeared to be moving toward a deadlocked vote in a ruling over the legality of activities by single-candidate super PACs in the 2016 campaign.

Commissioners postponed a final vote following a discussion at a commission meeting Oct. 29 of a key advisory opinion (AO 2015-09). The vote on the ruling, requested by prominent Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, was delayed until the next scheduled FEC meeting Nov. 10.

But, discussion at the FEC meeting indicated that the commissioners were unlikely to reach consensus on some, if not all, the questions raised in the Elias request.

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“‘The American people are fed up’: Forum addresses influence of money in politics”

Billings Gazette:

Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, whose biography is called “Shooting from the Lip,” gave a crowd of about 150 people gathered at the Billings Public Library on Thursday a good dose of just how the book got that name.

Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, led the panel “Knowledge is Power,” which explored the influence of money in politics. He was joined by Anthony Johnstone, an associate professor at the University of Montana School of Law, and Edwin Bender, who founded the National Institute of Money in State Politics, in the first Royal Johnson forum, sponsored by the library foundation.

“Nowadays, you can get money anonymously from political action committees that you don’t even know about,” Simpson said. “It’s appalling and disgusting, and the American people are fed up. They think corruption is the act of the day.”

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Bauer on the Public Financing Question


In the meantime, there are steps that could conceivably be taken with bipartisan support.  Current public financing proposals would also restore the tax credit for smaller individual donations (maybe even a voucher program for the same purpose).  This is a constructive measure, not complicated, and it does not require agreement about what is “good policy” or “good government”, nor confidence that it will induce public officials to behave better or make more productive use of their time.  There are Republicans who might join Democrats in supporting it.  Jan Baran pointed out to Edsall that taxpayers who may resist payments to politicians “like tax credits for themselves”.

This would seem a reasonable place to start, and taxpayers might appreciate that the first step of the reform is straightforwardly about and for them, aimed simply at broadening their opportunity to participate in the political process.  The discussion can go on from there.

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“Watchdogs Press for New Rules Allowing Review and Audits of Taxpayer–Funded Expenditures by Members of Congress”


Today, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Common Cause, Democracy 21 and Public Citizen urged the Committee on House Administration to adopt new rules making clear that expenditures from Members’ Representation Allowances (MRAs) are subject to review and approval by the Committee.  Lax oversight of Members’ expenses has led to a series of scandals, the most recent leading to the resignation of Rep. Aaron Schock.  The letter also urged the Committee to allow MRA budgets to be periodically audited for compliance with the Members’ Congressional Handbook and House ethics rules.

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“Ohio BCI is investigating what appears to be 25 to 30 fraudulent voter registration applications”

A state criminal agency is investigating what appears to be 25 to 30 fraudulent voter-registration applications, including from five dead people, filed with the Columbiana County Board of Elections by the Ohio Organizing Collaborative….

It was clearly fraudulent and forged when you have five people who died 10 years ago,” Booth said. “The forms were riddled with errors and all tied to this group. You can tell the same person filled out some of the same forms and forged signatures. There are wrong dates of births and wrong addresses on others. It became a pattern.”

There also were two registration forms from the same person, but the signatures were completely different, he said….

In a prepared statement, Laurie Couch, spokeswoman for the Youngstown-based OOC, wrote: “Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that a number of voter registration cards filed in Columbiana County appear to have been fabricated. The individuals responsible are no longer employed by the OOC and their supervisor has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. We are conducting a thorough internal investigation into the incident and working closely with the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office and the board of elections to fully support their investigation. In fewer than 24 hours, we have provided every piece of documentation requested by the sheriff’s office.”

Free Beacon weakly tries to blame Marc Elias.

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“Encouraging Local Compliance with Federal Civil Rights Laws: Field Experiments with the National Voter Registration Act”

Doug Hess, Michael Hanmer, and David Nickerson have written this article for Public Administration Review. Here is the abstract:

Can state officials increase local officials’ compliance with an important federal civil rights law with subtle interventions? The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) requires voter registration services at certain government agencies, but many counties fail to comply with the act. Working with officials in two states, the authors conducted field experiments to determine whether two methods commonly used by state officials increase compliance with the NVRA. Findings show that although the effects of the methods on output were sizable relative to recent performance, agency performance remained poor overall, with many offices continuing their history of registering no voters. The authors also discovered that gains in performance were largest for the offices that had performed best in the past. These findings suggest that while subtle interventions by state officials can produce increased compliance, stronger tactics may be needed to secure implementation of this federal law by local government agents.

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“Outside Spending by Special Interests Floods Judicial Elections at Record Percentage, Report Finds”


Special-interest groups accounted for a record-high 29 percent of total spending in state judicial races in the 2013-14 election cycle, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Justice at Stake, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Offering a detailed analysis of the latest state Supreme Court campaign trends, Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14 shows how special-interest spending has impacted the composition of state courts nationwide — and calls into question how campaign spending may affect courts’ decisions. The study finds that multi-million dollar judicial races, once unheard of, are now common across the country. Social welfare organizations and other outside groups are also increasingly spending on court races, the report notes, spurred in part by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. The cycle also saw a notable development in a highly public initiative by a national group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which spent nearly $3.4 million across judicial races in five states.


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“Groups Want Federal Health Exchange to Register Voters, Too”

Abby Goodnough for the NYT:

When the Affordable Care Act’s new enrollment season begins next month, people seeking health insurance through the online federal exchange will also be offered something they may not expect: a chance to register to vote.

ut voting rights groups say the offer — a link to a voter registration form that they can print and mail, deep inside the application for health coverage — does not go far enough. This week, the groups accused the Obama administration of violating federal law by not doing more to ensure opportunities for voter registration through the exchange,, which serves 38 states.

In a letter to President Obama, the groups said that in contrast, most of the 13 state-based insurance exchanges have worked to comply with the National Voter Registration Act. The act, also known as the “motor voter” law, requires states to offer voter registration to people applying for a driver’s license or public assistance.

“This is an important voting rights issue that can no longer be ignored,” wrote the groups, which include the League of Women Voters, Project Vote and Demos, a liberal think tank.

Some voting rights experts are not certain their claim would hold up in court. At issue is whether the federal exchange is subject to the voter registration law because it is providing a service on behalf of the states it operates in.

“It’s an interesting, creative argument,” said Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. “I just don’t know if the courts will buy it or not.”…

Mr. Hasen said that given the many battles the Obama administration has fought with Republicans over the Affordable Care Act, it might prefer letting a court decide whether the federal exchange has to comply with the voter registration law.

“The federal exchange tends to serve more Republican states,” he said. “This would be a way of potentially registering more Democratic voters there. So it’s politically easier for an administration that’s always accused of trying to expand federal power to have a court make this decision.”

Update: Nicholas Bagley is more skeptical.

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“F.E.C. Panel Delays a Decision on Spending in ’16 Races”


The Federal Election Commission put off a decision Thursday on just how far so-called super PACs — a dominant force so far in the 2016 campaign — can go in raising millions of dollars for politicians.

The inaction was not surprising for a commission often gridlocked by partisan divisions. Still, it frustrated Democratic lawyers, who had asked the commission last month for an “emergency” ruling on whether a dozen fund-raising tactics used by super PACs and politicians should be considered legal.

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“The Price of Union; The Undefeatable South”

Nicholas Lemann writes for the New Yorker.

The civil-rights revolution, too, can be thought of as a bargain, not simply a victory: the nation has become Southernized just as much as the South has become nationalized. Political conservatism, the traditional creed of the white South, went from being presumed dead in 1964 to being a powerful force in national politics. During the past half century, the country has had more Presidents from the former Confederacy than from the former Union. Racial prejudice and conflict have been understood as American, not Southern, problems….

Ari Berman’s “Give Us the Ballot” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a history of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, makes for an excellent extended example of the mechanisms by which race in the South becomes race in the nation. The Voting Rights Act followed the better-known Civil Rights Act by a year. It is properly understood as part of a wave of legislation that represents the political triumph of the civil-rights movement, but Berman, like most people, finds a precipitating event in the murder, in June, 1964, in Neshoba County, Mississippi, of three young civil-rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.

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