Monthly Archives: August 2023

“DeSantis Super PAC’s Urgent Plea to Donors: ‘We Need 50 Million Bucks'”


Hours before the Republican Party’s first presidential debate, the chief strategist for the super PAC that has effectively taken over Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign met with donors in Milwaukee.

“Now let me tell you a secret — don’t leak this,” the strategist, Jeff Roe, told the donors last Wednesday, according to a recording of the meeting reviewed by The New York Times. “We need to do this now. We’re making a move now.”

Then Mr. Roe made a bold sales pitch: “The day after Labor Day we’re launching and we need your help to stay up and go hard the rest of the way. We need 50 million bucks.”

With urgency in his voice, Mr. Roe told the donors he required much of the $50 million in the next month before the second G.O.P. debate on Sept. 27. He said he needed $5 million a month just to sustain his Iowa operations. And he said Mr. DeSantis needed to beat Donald J. Trump in “the next 60 days” and separate from all of his other rivals “now.”

The audio revealed that the people running the DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, are placing big bets now in the hope that donors will cover them later. And it underscored just how steep a task the group confronts as it heads into the fall with its candidate far behind Mr. Trump in the polls, a campaign that is low on cash and a growing recognition that a Trump victory in Iowa could accelerate the end of the Republican race.

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“What Happens if Mitch McConnell Retires Before His Senate Term Ends?”


For decades in Kentucky, the power to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate was reserved exclusively for the governor, regardless of whether an incumbent stepped down, died in office or was expelled from Congress.

But with Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, in the state’s highest office, Republican lawmakers used their legislative supermajorities to change the state law in 2021.

Under the new law, a state executive committee consisting of members of the same political party as the departing incumbent senator will name three candidates the governor can choose from to fill the vacancy on a temporary basis. Then a special election would be set, and its timing would depend on when the vacancy occurs.

Though the Times’ piece doesn’t mention it, I expect there would be a legal challenge to this law if McConnell must resign for health reasons:

Though his veto was overridden, Beshear wrote that the changes of SB 228 violated provisions of both the federal and state constitutions on how U.S. Senate vacancies could be filled.

Beshear said the changes violate the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which sought “to remove the power to select U.S. senators from political party bosses.”

“It delegates the power to select a representative to an unelected, unaccountable political committee that only represents a fraction of Kentuckians, when a senator is supposed to represent all of us,” Beshear wrote.

The 17th Amendment states that “the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.”

Beshear also wrote in his veto statement that SB 228 violates Section 152 of Kentucky’s constitution, which states a governor “shall” fill appointments or vacancies in the state at large. The governor wrote that “no conditions, qualifications, or limits are placed on that appointment power” in that section of the constitution.

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“Alabama state lawmaker agrees to plead guilty to voter fraud”

NBC News:

An Alabama legislator has agreed to plead guilty to a felony voter fraud charge that he used a fraudulent address to run for office in a district where he did not live, according to an agreement filed Thursday.

Republican Rep. David Cole of Huntsville will plead guilty to a charge of voting in an unauthorized location, according to a plea agreement filed in state court. He will resign from office on the day he enters his guilty plea.

Cole, a doctor and Army veteran, was elected to the House of Representatives last year. According to a plea agreement, Cole signed a lease in 2021 to pay $5 per month for a “5X5 space” in a home in order to run for office in House District 10. Cole had some mail sent there, but never lived there and never “stepped past the entry foyer” on the two times he visited the location, according to the plea agreement.

Alabama law requires candidates to live in a legislative district for one year before they run for office. Cole signed the lease for the space two days after a redistricting plan was enacted that placed the home, where Cole had lived since 2014, in another House district. Cole in 2022 signed a lease for an apartment in District 10, but he continued to claim a property tax break from the county by saying he resided at his house.

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The current waves of Section 3 claims against Donald Trump are likely doomed to fail before they even touch the merits

Ned and Rick H. have done an impressive job collecting some of the commentary over the last couple of weeks of challenges being filed, or anticipated to be filed, about Donald Trump and his eligibility under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Before arriving at the merits of any Section 3 argument, however, there are plenty of hurdles challengers must clear. Right now, those challenges are likely doomed to fail for any number of reasons.

It’s worth opening with a brief observation. Challenges to presidential candidates’ eligibility are not new. There were extensive challenges to Barack Obama and Ted Cruz (among others) in administrative tribunals and courts. Most of these challenges never reached the merits stage of whether the candidate was a “natural born citizen” because they failed to clear some other hurdle.

The bulk of challenges right now are doing exactly the same thing and making the same mistakes, or are on pace to do the same.

Continue reading The current waves of Section 3 claims against Donald Trump are likely doomed to fail before they even touch the merits
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“Trump Could Clinch the Nomination Before the G.O.P. Knows if He’s a Felon”


By the time Donald J. Trump is sitting at his federal trial on charges of criminally conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, he may have already secured enough delegates to effectively clinch the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

The former president’s trial is scheduled to start March 4, by which point five states are expected to have held nominating contests. The next day, March 5, is Super Tuesday, when 15 states, including delegate-rich California and Texas, plan to hold votes that will determine if any Trump challenger has enough political oxygen to remain a viable alternative.

Primaries in Florida, Ohio and Illinois come two weeks later. Florida and Ohio will be the first winner-take-all contests, in which the top vote-getter statewide seizes all of the delegates rather than splitting them proportionally. Winner-take-all primaries have historically turbocharged the front-runner’s path to the presidential nomination. Mr. Trump’s federal trial, if it proceeds on its current timeline, won’t be close to finished by then.

The collision course between the Republican Party’s calendar and Mr. Trump’s trial schedule is emblematic of one of the most unusual nominating contests in American history. It is a Trump-dominated clash that will define not only the course of the 2024 presidential primary but potentially the future direction of the party in an eventual post-Trump era.

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“Judge rules for Fulton election workers in Giuliani defamation lawsuit”


A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that Rudy Giuliani is liable in a defamation lawsuit brought by two former Fulton County election workers.

In her 57-page order, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell issued a default judgment against the former New York City mayor. This means that all that remains is for a jury to decide whether Giuliani should pay damages and, if so, how much. Howell’s sanction is among the most severe a judge can issue against a defendant in a civil case.

Howell cited Giuliani’s “willful” refusal to turn over documents that could have shed light on whether he knowingly made false and defamatory statements about the two women. And she ordered Giuliani and his companies to pay a combined $132,857 in attorneys fees — at a time when he is already having difficulty paying his legal bills.

The ruling affirms a claim that Giuliani defamed election workers Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss when he accused them of committing fraud during the 2020 presidential election. The case now heads to trial by early 2024 solely to determine whether Giuliani must pay damages for spreading the false claims.

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Parsons, Penrose, and Carroll: “Pico & Proportional Ranked Choice Voting”

The following is a guest post from G. Michael Parsons (Senior Legal Fellow, FairVote), Drew Penrose (Policy Consultant, FairVote), and Terrance Carroll (Senior Fellow for Voting and Democracy, FairVote):

The California Supreme Court’s decision in Pico Neighborhood Association v. City of Santa Monica last week was a major victory for voting rights, fair representation, and the essential protections provided by a growing number of state voting rights acts (SVRAs) across the country. In this post, we raise three observations about what the decision might mean for SVRA litigation going forward. First, alternative “modified at-large” electoral systems (such as proportional ranked choice voting) may offer the clearest benchmark for establishing liability in future SVRA cases. Second, the Court’s emphasis on “lawful” alternatives contemplates a range of potential changes to a locality’s electoral system, including eliminating staggered elections or moving to multi-member districts. Finally, proportional ranked choice voting offers a uniquely compelling remedy in SVRA cases because it encourages the kind of crossover voting that the Pico decision protects as a means of providing communities of color a “real electoral opportunity” to elect their candidate of choice.

Continue reading Parsons, Penrose, and Carroll: “Pico & Proportional Ranked Choice Voting”
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Must-Read NYT Piece on How Changes to Campaign Finance Contribute to Extremism

Tom Edsall in the NYT does a masterful job synthesizing the state-of-the-art empirical knowledge on how changes in recent years to the way elections are financed have contributed to polarization and extremism. Relying on this data, the piece makes two main points.

The first is that campaigns have come increasingly to rely on individual donors and spenders. And one of the most robust social-science findings in this area is that individual donors — large and small — are both the most ideologically motivated donors and have more extreme ideological views than average citizens. This is particularly true for small donors. One study cited finds “that the total number of individual donors grew from 5.2 million in 2006 to 195.0 million in 2020. Over the same period, the average size of contributions fell from $292.10 to $59.70.”

As one cited study also found:

Republican donors’ views are especially conservative on economic issues relative to Republican citizens, but are typically closer to Republican citizens’ views on social issues. By contrast, Democratic donors’ views are especially liberal on social issues relative to Democratic citizens’, whereas their views on economic issues are typically closer to Democratic citizens’ views. Finally, both groups of donors are more pro-globalism than citizens are, but especially Democratic donors.

The NYT piece notes that this explains:

a variety of puzzles in contemporary American politics, including: the Republican Party passing fiscally conservative policies that we show donors favor but which are unpopular even with Republican citizens; the focus of many Democratic Party campaigns on progressive social policies popular with donors, but that are less publicly popular than classic New Deal economic policies; and the popularity of anti-globalism candidates opposed by party establishments, such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

The piece quotes from my work demonstrating how small donors fuel extremism:

“As a case in point, Pildes noted that in the 2022 elections, House Republicans who backed Trump and voted to reject the Electoral College count on Jan. 6 received an average of $140,000 in small contributions, while House Republicans who opposed Trump and voted to accept Biden’s victory received far less in small donations, an average of $40,000.”

The second major point in the article is that,when money is funneled away from political parties to outside groups, that also contributes to extremism and polarization. Party funding is a source of moderation b/c parties support competitive candidates regardless of candidate ideology.

The piece quotes Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California-San Diego:
“Parties often played a beneficial role,” he added, “helping to bind together broad coalitions on one side or the other and boosting electoral competition by giving in the most competitive races, regardless of a candidate’s ideology. Then much of their power was taken away, and other forces, often more ideologically extreme and always less transparent, were elevated.”

And also this from Ray La Raja and Brian Schaffner:

“a vast body of research on democratic politics indicates that parties play several vital roles, including aggregating interests, guiding voter choices and holding politicians accountable with meaningful partisan labels. Yet this research seems to have been ignored in the design of post-Watergate reforms.”

If we accept the data, what reforms might follow, in principle (whether they could be enacted is a difft matter)? One is traditional public financing, where the source of funding doesn’t favor any particular type of ideological candidates. The second is encouraging more money to flow through the political parties, rather than outside groups.

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“Court Skirmishes Show Divergent Strategies by Prosecutors in Trump Cases”


While a federal judge was fast-tracking the start of former President Donald J. Trump’s election interference trial in Washington on Monday, the sprawling prosecution of Mr. Trump and 18 co-defendants by the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., on similar state charges showed signs of slowing to a slog in Atlanta.

The two cases, stemming from the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election, rely on many of the same facts, documents and witnesses. But as Monday’s court skirmishes demonstrated, the approaches of the two prosecutors in charge of the investigations — Jack Smith, the Justice Department’s special counsel, and Fani T. Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County — could not be more different.

Mr. Smith took over the two federal Trump investigations with a promise to move rapidly in hopes of wrapping up legal proceedings before the 2024 election, and the indictment handed down against Mr. Trump on Aug. 1 included just four counts. While it referred to six unindicted co-conspirators, only Mr. Trump was charged.

By contrast, the indictment brought by Ms. Willis includes 41 counts against the former president and encompassed allegations against his long roster of co-defendants. The legal and logistical complexity of the Georgia case came more clearly into focus on Monday, when Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s final White House chief of staff, took the stand in an effort to move his case to federal court, underscoring how some of the co-defendants are splintering to pursue their own strategies.

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“Secretaries of state get ready for possible challenges to Trump’s ballot access”

NBC News:

Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes said Tuesday that his office is figuring out how to handle potential complaints over whether former President Donald Trump should be disqualified from appearing on the 2024 ballot. 

The issue centers on the 14th Amendment, which prohibits people who have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding public office. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson raised the theory at last week’s GOP presidential debate that Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6, 2021, might disqualify him on those grounds — a theory that has gained traction among some legal scholars, though others discount the possibility. 

Now, the people running state elections are trying to figure out what to do if people bring legal challenges against Trump.

“We have to have a final certification of eligible candidates [for the primary ballot] by Dec. 14 for Arizona’s presidential preference election,” Fontes, a Democrat elected last year, told NBC News. “And because this will ultimately end up in court, we are taking this very seriously.” 

New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan is dealing with the same question as he watches a potential challenge to Trump brewing in his state. There, a Republican former Trump ally is considering bringing a 14th Amendment challenge against him. …

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“In court, Trump supporter faces election official he violently threatened”


The election officials piled into the front row of a federal courtroom — a show of support for a local public official who has endured more than two years of attacks for his role in helping to certify Donald Trump’s loss in Arizona in 2020.

Clint Hickman’s simple act — which was required by law and his oath as chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors — resulted in hundredsof mostly anonymous threats. Hickman, a 58-year-old Republican who has served as a supervisor for a decade, says he is so tired of election denialism and hostility toward rank-and-file staff that he has not yet decided if he will run for reelection next year.

On Monday, he came face-to-face with one of his harassers.

Mark Rissi, a 65-year-oldfrom Iowa who has worked in customer service in recent years, walked into the courtroom using a cane. He slowly passed Hickman as he made his way to the defendant’s table. In April, he pleaded guilty to sending threatening communications to Hickman and the state’s former attorney general, Mark Brnovich, also a Republican.

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Wisconsin: “Speaker Robin Vos keeps open option of impeaching newly elected Justice Janet Protasiewicz”

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos continues to leave the door open to launching impeachment proceedings against state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz if she does not recuse herself from lawsuits challenging the state’s electoral maps.

The Rochester Republican raised the possibility earlier this month, adding that he does not take the issue lightly. Since then, behind-the-scenes battles among justices and court employees have escalated with the court’s conservative chief justice accusing its new liberal majority of pulling off “an unprecedented coup.”

Asked about the court during a Tuesday news conference in Oak Creek, Vos told reporters he respects the judiciary’s independence as a co-equal branch of government and said most of the dispute appears to be an internal struggle over how the court should operate.

But asked specifically about the possibility of impeaching Protasiewicz, Vos said it’s “common sense” that she should not rule on a case she has “prejudged.”

In January, Protasiewicz called the state’s legislative maps “rigged” in a public forum and in March, she told Capital Times reporters in a podcast interview she would “enjoy taking a fresh look at the gerrymandering question.”

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