Monthly Archives: November 2018

Lame Duck Wisconsin Legislature May Cut Early Voting Before Democratic Governor Comes In, But Such Legislation May Be Barred by Existing Court Order

Update: It sounds like the new measure imposes different early voting rules than the old rules, which suggests that the existing court order would not bar any new provision.

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Supreme Court Will Consider Whether to Take Major Montana Campaign Contributions Case at Its January 4 Conference, A Case Which Could Pave the Way for Killing Federal Campaign Contribution Limits

According to the docket. 

It could also be when the Court considers whether to take the Austin campaign finance case.

As I wrote in Slate back in September:

As Common Cause’s Steve Spaulding notes, “Kavanaugh himself acknowledges in the docs that he’s far outside the mainstream here.” The documents reveal a person who is deeply skeptical of even the most basic campaign finance limits, the ones that say a wealthy person cannot simply write a $100 million check to a candidate to run for office. (Lest you think that amount is fanciful, it is less than the amount that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers network have spent in recent elections, and Trump impeachment advocate Tom Steyer has spent nearly that much in the past.) The inequality of influence and corruption and its appearance that could stem from such a system is profound.

And yet this could well be the direction in which we are heading. Right now pending before the court is a cert petition asking the Supreme Court to review Montana’s campaign contribution limits. The issue in the 9thCircuit case of Lair v. Motl may seem a bit esoteric; it concerns how much evidence of corruption a state must produce to support a campaign contribution limit. But make no mistake: The Lair case, brought by Citizens United brainchild Jim Bopp, builds upon Chief Justice Roberts’ McCutcheon decision to argue for a standard that would lead courts to strike down virtually all contribution limits.

The court is also considering petition from opponents of city-level campaign contribution limits in Austin, Texas. Although a 5th Circuit panel upheld Austin’s limits in Zimmerman v. City of Austin, newly confirmed Judge Jim Ho wrote a strong dissent from the entire 5thCircuit’s decision not to rehear the case. Ho, a former clerk of campaign finance law opponent Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a screed arguing that all campaign finance laws violate the First Amendment and people who don’t like big money in politics should simply shrink the size of government so the government doesn’t have a lot of goodies to give away.

Neither Lair nor Zimmerman directly call the federal $2,700 campaign finance limit into question, but either or both cases could be the vehicle to create a precedent that would compel federal courts to strike down the $2,700 limit. It could even happen before the 2020 election. And because this is a constitutional ruling, there would be precious little that Congress could do about it (not that Mitch McConnell, who has helped engineer these events, from supporting the relevant lawsuits to blocking Merrick Garland and shoving Kavanaugh through the Senate without a full document release, would want to do anything but pop open a bottle of Champagne).

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“House Democrats to unveil political reform legislation as ‘H.R. 1’”

WaPo:

House Democratic leaders are set to publicly unveil on Friday the outline of a broad political overhaul bill that will include provisions for public financing of elections, voting rights reforms and new ethics strictures for federal officials.

The bill has been in the works for months as part of Democrats’ “For the People” campaign platform, a framework that helped them win the House majority in this month’s midterm elections.

Numerous outside groups aligned with Democrats have pushed the party’s House leaders to schedule a reform bill as their first order of business, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced before the election that the bill would be designated “H.R. 1” — a symbolic title meant to emphasize its importance, even if it is unlikely to be the first piece of legislation to get a House vote in the new Congress….

Elements of the legislation, according to a draft outline reviewed by The Washington Post, include new donor disclosure requirements for political organizations, a system to multiply small donations to political campaigns, mandating a new ethical code for the Supreme Court, ending most first-class travel for federal officeholders, and a broad effort to expand voting access and reduce partisan gerrymandering.

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“Senator Tim Scott Sinks Thomas Farr’s Judicial Nomination Amid Racial Controversy”

NYT:

Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone black Republican senator, said on Thursday that he would oppose the judicial nomination of Thomas A. Farr, a lawyer who defended a North Carolina voter identification law and a partisan gerrymander that a federal court said was drafted to suppress black votes “with surgical precision.”

Mr. Scott will join Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, who has vowed to oppose every White House nominee unless the Senate votes on legislation to protect the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. With Democrats united against Mr. Farr, his nomination to a United States District Court appears doomed.

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“Certification in limbo in N.C. House race as fraud investigation continues”

WaPo:

Mounting evidence of voter fraud in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District could indefinitely delay the certification of a winner, as state election officials investigate whether hundreds of absentee ballots were illegally cast or destroyed.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has no plans to certify Republican Mark Harris’s 905-vote victory over Democrat Dan McCready, according to an agenda of a board meeting scheduled for Friday morning.

The board is collecting sworn statements from voters in rural Bladen and Robeson counties, near the South Carolina border, who described people coming to their doors and urging them to hand over their absentee ballots, sometimes without filling them out. Others described receiving absentee ballots by mail that they had not requested. It is illegal to take someone else’s ballot and turn it in.

Investigators are also scrutinizing unusually high numbers of absentee ballots cast in Bladen County, in both the general election and the May 8 primary, in which Harris defeated incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger (R) by 828 votes. In the primary, Harris won 96 percent of all absentee ballots in Bladen, a far higher percentage than his win in the county overall — a statistic that this week is prompting fresh accusations of fraud.

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“Court ruling could force everyday Missourians to register as lobbyists, attorneys say”

KC Star:

Ron Calzone has been walking the hallways of the Missouri statehouse for years, meeting with lawmakers and their staffs, testifying before legislative committees and advocating for the conservative causes he holds dear.

But he swears he’s not a lobbyist.

True, he’s founder, director and sole officer of a nonprofit called Missouri First, a group that includes legislative lobbying to influence public policy in its charter.

Calzone never withholds his affiliation with the group when speaking with elected officials. But he is unpaid, never claims to be speaking on behalf of the organization and never gives legislators gifts of any kind.

Thus, he doesn’t believe he should have to register with the state ethics commission or submit reports detailing all of the ways in which he has attempted to influence legislation.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit disagrees.

In a 2-1 ruling on Wednesday, the court found that Calzone’s activity qualifies as lobbying, and the government’s interest in transparency means even an unpaid lobbyist must register and file lobbying reports.

Howard notes Judge David Stras’s very interesting dissent, raising First Amendment arguments against compelled disclosure and registration.

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“Mystery ballot could sway control of Alaska state government”

AP:

It’s a sign that every vote does count.

A single mystery ballot found on a precinct table on Election Day but not counted then could decide a tied Alaska state House race and thwart Republican efforts to control the chamber and all of state government.

The ballot arrived in Juneau last Friday in a secrecy sleeve in a bin with other ballot materials. Officials were investigating its origins and handling before deciding whether to tally it.

“People kept calling it close,” Democrat candidate Kathryn Dodge said of the race for the House seat in Fairbanks. “I just didn’t know it was going to be squeaky.”

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“California’s late votes broke big for Democrats. Here’s why GOP was surprised”

SF Chronicle:

California Democrats took advantage of seemingly minor changes in a 2016 law to score their stunningly successful midterm election results, providing a target for GOP unhappiness that is tinged with a bit of admiration.

Some Republicans have cast a skeptical eye on Democrats’ use of “ballot harvesting” to boost their support. The idea’s backers say it’s just one of several steps California has taken to enable more people to vote.

Few people noticed when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the changes in AB1921 into law two years ago. In the past, California allowed only relatives or people living in the same household to drop off mail ballots for another voter. The new law allowed anyone, even a paid political campaign worker, to collect and return ballots — “harvesting” them, in political slang.

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“New clues link $1 million Trump inauguration mystery money to secretive ‘dark money’ network”

Open Secrets:

Notorious “dark money” conduit Wellspring Committee gave $14.8 million to the primary spender on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation and paid $919,900 to the mysterious LLC that made a $1 million donation to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, according to a new tax return obtained Nov. 27 by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Wellspring has acted as a conduit for large contributions from secretive donors since it was set up, effectively laundering multi-million dollar donations with no substantive disclosure or accountability.

Despite operating behind the scenes with a name unknown to most of the American public, Wellspring is at the crux of Ann and Neil Corkery’s network of politically active dark money groups, funneling millions from anonymous financiers to political causes they don’t want their names attached to — and doing ostensibly little else.

Wellspring has continued to be the chief financier of the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), with a $14,814,998 contribution last year…

The only contractor paid by Wellspring last year was BH Group, the mysterious LLC created four months to the day before it made a $1 million donation to the Trump inaugural committee on Dec. 22, 2016.

The newly discovered payment for “public relations” follows a $750,000 payment to the newly minted BH Group the prior year as well as $947,000 from JCN to the BH Group around when the LLC made its inaugural donation.

While it initially appeared that BH Group was merely a shell company created solely for the purpose of laundering money into the Trump inaugural committee, more information about the LLC has only added to its mystery.

New tax returns reviewed by CRP reveal that Judicial Education Project, JCN’s sister 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, also paid an additional $1.3 million to BH Group LLC last year. Judicial Education Fund keeps its donors anonymous but CRP tracked the bulk of the group’s recent funding to DonorsTrust, which accounted for more than 99 percent of its money last year. Like JCN, Judicial Education Fund has also been funded by Wellspring in prior years.

One name that CRP has tied to the mysterious LLC is Leonard Leo, the executive vice president at the Federalist Society, an influential conservative and libertarian legal organization, who listed “BH Group” as his employer in a campaign finance filing reported to the Federal Election Commission.

Leo’s more widely known affiliation with the Federalist Society has gained attention after reports that it played a substantial role guiding the hand of Trump’s White House in its judicial nomination process, including in the selection of Supreme Court justices.

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“Pennsylvania Settles Green Party Lawsuit, Pledges to Use Paper Ballots and Verified Vote Counts”

Steven Rosenfeld:

Pennsylvania, the 2016 battleground state where many counties refused to conduct a presidential recount, has settled a lawsuit with Green Party candidate Jill Stein and state residents, agreeing to have paper ballot-based voting in place by 2020 and a new audit process to verify vote counts before election results become official by 2022.

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Paul Ryan Suggests Without Evidence, But Does Not Directly Say, There’s Wrongdoing in California’s Late Vote Counting

The Fix:

Outgoing Speaker of House Paul D. Ryan suggested Thursday that the stream of post-Election Day Republican losses in California were suspect at best, piling on to growing claims from the right that the way the state counts ballots is somehow improper.

“It defies logic to me,” Ryan said in a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post reporter Paul Kane. “We had a lot of wins that night and three weeks later we lost basically every contested California race. This election system they have, I can’t begin to understand what ballot harvesting is.”

Ryan stopped short of accusing the state of any wrongdoing, but called the system there “bizarre.”

“I just think it’s weird,” he said when pressed by Kane at a Washington Post Live event.

Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, tweeted Thursday afternoon to rebuke Ryan…

Since those votes were counted, Democrats flipped six seats and appear on their way to taking a seventh. One of those losing Republicans, Rep. Jeff Denham, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this week that California needed to revisit its election laws because it’s “statistically impossible” that all six seats that Republicans were winning on Election Night flipped weeks later once provisional ballots were counted.

In California, most of the outstanding ballots in question were ones sent by mail and received on or after Election Day. But there were also many so-called “provisional ballots,” which are ones submitted when voters show up at the wrong polling place or their name isn’t on the rolls and are allowed to still fill out a ballot to be counted later. California also allows for same-day registration, which means a lot of back-end verification that takes time.

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