Monday, July 26, 2010:
- Several newspapers and blogs picked up our analysis of fundraising by candidates for Congress from North Carolina. Stories in the Greenville Daily Reflector and Washington Daily News included informative comments from Rep. Walter Jones and G. K. Butterfield about the burden of fundraising and concern about role of special interests. Jack Betts of the Charlotte Observer noted that the pre-occupation with fundraising distracts incumbents from doing their job of “solving real problems,” while Rob Christensen of the Raleigh News & Observer points to the success of incumbents as one reason why challengers have a slim chance of winning, even when voters are in an anti-incumbent mood. A letter writer in the Asheville Citizen-Times makes the connection between the candidates’ dependence on corporate cash with the need for them to “declare independence from the campaign money chase and get behind the Fair Elections Now Act.”
Friday, July 23, 2010:
- Following up Tuesday’s entry, USA Today has an article about public agencies experiencing more clients and generating more voter registrations during the recession, with the potential for even more growth if the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA) was fully implemented. Demos, one of the nonpartisan groups pushing states to comply with the law, has a new report about “fulfilling the promise” of the NVRA. It notes that there is a 20 percentage point gap between registration of low-income and other citizens (65% vs. 85%); the gap for voting in 2008 was 25 percentage points (54% vs. 79%).
Thursday, July 22, 2010:
- As anticipated, masters of political manipulation like Karl Rove and wannabe Karl Roves are creating new entities to hide the identity of the major donors bankrolling their attack ads and other devious operations. Rove is behind a new 501(c)(4) nonprofit that is raising millions to promote Republican causes and assist a network of affiliated committees that more directly assist Republican candidates. Those affiliated Section 527 or independent expenditure committees are subject to various disclosure rules, which makes some big donors nervous, so Rove and his associates are funneling more money through a (c)(4); its list of donors is a secret.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010:
- The 13 members of the US House of Representatives from North Carolina are crushing their opponents in the all-important money race, according to a new report from Democracy North Carolina. They have a 5-to-1 advantage in overall fundraising, as of June 30, and a smashing 13-to-1 advantage in cash on hand. The source of the big advantage, for both Democrats and Republicans, is their heavy reliance on donations from PACs – which so far supply more than half of the incumbents’ campaign funds but only 4% of the challengers’ money. North Carolina has a law against legislators holding fundraisers with PACs while the General Assembly is in session, but no such law exists for Congress. The report notes that US House members from NC have held 85 fundraisers since March 2009 in Washington with PACs and lobbyists to benefit their campaigns, an average of more than one per week. The situation will likely not change until a real alterative to the money chase is created; the Fair Elections Now Act would be a good place to begin!
Tuesday, July 20, 2010:
- The Pew Center’s electionline provides a brief overview of a detailed set of guidelines from the US Justice Department on how states should implement the National Voter Registration Act or “motor-voter” law. Several states have been sued or threatened with suit (including North Carolina) for public agencies not providing clients with voter registration forms, as required by the NVRA. It’s clear from these guidelines that states can take more initiatives to make voter registration easier and more automatic. A complementary report from Project Vote describes how public agencies could use the electronic transfer of data to register more clients who visit their offices, reducing the burden and mistakes associated with paper registration forms.
Monday, July 19, 2010:
- Gary Robertson of the Associated Press gives an overview of the 2010 election for the 170 seats in the NC General Assembly: “it comes down to money and mood.” Jim Morrill of Charlotte Observer gives more details about the fundraising split between Democrats and Republicans.
Friday, July 16, 2010:
- Professor Michael McDonald shoots holes in a report by a group in Minnesota that claims hundreds of felons voted illegally in the 2008 election, throwing into question the outcome of that state’s super-close US Senate race eventually won by Al Franken. The key point he reiterates is that matching names on a list of supposed felons (in this case, they’re people charged with a felony, not necessarily convicted) with a list of registered voters is fraught with many problems, which he details in a scholarly article and the Brennan Center features in a special report. Don’t be surprised if you see a report like the one from Minnesota coming out of a rightwing group in North Carolina in the future, and likely riddled with similar problems.
- Feeling beaten down? Check out the story of Vernon Baker, who says: “We were all angry. But we had a job to do and we did it. My personal thoughts were that I knew things would get better, and I’m glad to say that I’m here to see it.”
Thursday, July 15, 2010:
- The energy industry, led by oil and gas companies, has donated $337 million in political contributions to federal candidates and committees since 2000 and they’ve spent 8 times that much – $2.6 billion – on lobbying federal officials. In just the first quarter of 2010, the industry spent $244,000 per member of Congress on lobbying! How do you spend that much money – and what do you get in return? A new report from Common Cause says Big Oil alone retains 300 lobbyists who once served in Congress or worked for a federal agency. The report describes how the lobbyists and lawmakers are handsomely rewarded (with cash and campaign contributions) to manipulate legislation, protect billion-dollar tax breaks, weaken regulation and push the enormous social costs of fossil fuel pollution onto taxpayers.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010:
- Unfortunately, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the rescue fund provision in Connecticut’s public financing program is unconstitutional, because it chills the “free speech” (read: high-priced speech) of privately financed candidates whose excess spending triggers the release of extra funds to candidates in the public program. The Ninth Circuit took the opposition position in the McComish v. Bennett case in Arizona, ruling that rescue funds enhance speech and don’t stop the privately financed candidate from continuing to raise and spend money. The US Supreme Court put a stay on the provision in Arizona while it considers whether or not to review the McComish decision. The new decision in the Connecticut case makes it even more likely that the Supremes will examine the trigger provision, and most observers expect the court’s anti-voter, pro-corporate majority to strike down the provision. North Carolina’s three programs for some judicial, executive branch and local elections all have trigger provisions and will likely need revision next year when the court makes its decision. Meanwhile, the programs can proceed, despite rants from the rightwing, and the underlying framework of voluntary public financing incentives is not in jeopardy. In a separate opinion, the Second Circuit also upheld Connecticut’s ban on contractors and prospective contractors from contributing to state officials, but the decision is closely linked to a corruption scandal that sent the state’s governor to prison; bans on lobbyists making contributions and contractors raising funds for candidates were struck down as too broad.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010:
- A California news story highlights how wealthy interest groups are willing to invest millions in local elections, often hiding behind pretty names and saturating a small legislative district with attack ads. We’ve seen it with “Farmers for Fairness” in North Carolina, a front group for a handful of multi-millionaire hog producers. The battle between insurance companies and trial attorneys that is played out in virtually every state legislature continues during the campaign season as each side sponsors electioneering activities, allegedly independent of their favored candidate and therefore less regulated. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision promised to increase such activity by gutting prohibitions against direct corporate spending close to Election Day. Legislation adopted last week by the NC General Assembly (H-748) conforms state law to that court decision, but also expands the disclosure requirements on independent advocacy and electioneering efforts. It began in much weaker form in an effort to win support from anti-regulation conservatives, but fortunately got stronger in many respects under pressure from Democracy North Carolina and others. Given the contentious election ahead, we’ll likely see how well implementation of the new legislation informs the public about which group is investing how much of whose money in what race.
Monday, July 12, 2010:
- The political party that wins a majority of seats in the state House and Senate also gets to draw the district lines that literally shape who will run the state for the next 10 years. The increased importance of the 2010 election played heavily into everything done and not done at the just-completed General Assembly session. Drawing the lines, or redistricting, for state and Congressional seats will be largely done behind closed doors by the majority party leaders in each chamber, but the public can draw its own lines, thanks to the availability of software and data, and also demand more openness and accountability from officials, using a set of transparency principles endorsed by numerous good government groups.
Friday, July 9, 2010:
- The newsletter of the National Conference of State Legislatures reports about the expanded use of vote-by-mail balloting in counties and states. A more thorough look by advocates of this approach can be found on the website of the Vote By Mail Project. Mail-in balloting includes allowing voters to sign up to receive absentee ballots for multiple election cycles, but remarkably 22 states (10 in the South) still require voters to give a specific reason why they can’t vote on Election Day and want to vote by absentee ballot. North Carolina has one of the nation’s largest uses of no-excuse absentee voting, including in-person Early Voting, which is technically a form of absentee voting.
Thursday, July 8, 2010:
- Editorial writers are warning state legislators not to leave Raleigh without adopting a solid ethics reform package. Getting less attention is a bill to expand the Voter-Owned Elections program that addresses the root cause of so much political corruption: the demand to raise ever larger amounts of campaign money and the ready supply from special interests with ever larger appetites for special treatment that cost the rest of us billions every year. A bill (SB-20) is being heard today in the state House. It would expand the state’s successful Voter-Owned program to cover an additional executive branch office (state Treasurer), and it would let another large city (in addition to Chapel Hill) sponsor its own VOE program for local elections. Here’s an Action Alert for those who have not weighed in on the issue. It’s hard to think of an elected position more in need of the Voter-Owned Elections alternative than the state Treasurer; for decades, no agency leader has raised more campaign money from those who do business with the agency.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010:
- Advocates for clean elections celebrated the July 4th holiday with a festive series of demonstrations at posh fundraising events in Washington, DC. Dressed as the founding fathers and mothers, and playing their parts to the hilt, they lampooned the corrupt “pay to play” system inherent in K-Street fundraising and promoted the federal Fair Elections Now Act. Apparently some pay-to-play donors believe that after you give handsomely, you’re immune from any accountability for, say, the meltdown of the economy. The Washington Post reports that Wall Street is withholding its cash support of Democrats because of “rising anger among financial executives who think they have not been treated well based on their support of Democrats over the past four years.” Imagine how they’d feel if they were treated based solely on their performance, without consideration of the protection money they hand out. Wouldn’t it be nice if the politicians didn’t need that money at all.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010:
- A new “pay to play” rule unanimously approved by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will dramatically change how campaigns for state treasurer are conducted in North Carolina. For decades, every successful candidate has relied heavily on campaign contributions from investment advisers eager to manage the state’s pension funds for handsome fees. In 2007, Forbes magazine tagged Treasurer Richard Moore as the prince of “payola” for raising so much money from investment managers while running for governor. Unlike Moore, current Treasurer Janet Cowell readily admits there’s an inherent conflict in taking contributions from managers; she would prefer a viable alternative: a voluntary program that matches hundreds of small donations raised from voters with a grant of “clean” public funds. Legislation to add the office of treasurer to the existing Voter-Owned Elections program for three executive branch candidates has been approved by the NC House Elections Law Committee. The new SEC rule adds urgency to the passage of that legislation, but its fate is unclear. The SEC rule prohibits investment advisers from managing pension funds within two years of contributing more than a token amount ($150 for out-of-state managers, $350 for those in state), directly or indirectly, to a politician who can help pick that fund’s manager; it applies to candidates and elected officials and also covers fundraising and bundling. The sweeping new rule, 200 pages long, comes with a lengthy history about why such a strong measure is necessary. It’s a model for “pay to play” regulation, but it likely will yield end-runs as long as down-ballot candidates for an obscure position like treasurer have big campaign bills and no public financing alternative.
Monday, July 5, 2010:
- Just how rotten is BP? The New York Times describes how the company’s manipulation of propane prices led to a $303 million fine, the biggest ever levied by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. BP has profited handsomely by trading and hording supplies of oil and gas to drive up prices. A federal judge threw out the indictments in BP’s propane deal because the law regulating commodity-futures trading is written so loosely – one of the benefits of having friends in Congress. Speaking of friends, the Center for Responsive Politics correlated the political donations from Big Oil to the way recipients in Congress questioned BP executives and others at a hearing on the Gulf disaster: friends of Big Oil blamed problems on Obama, environmental laws, etc., while other Senators blamed BP and pointed to lax regulation of the oil industry.
Friday, July 2, 2010:
- After the 2002 election cycle, national parties were banned from receiving soft money – the unlimited donations from corporations, unions and individuals that often came in $50,000 or $100,000 chunks on behalf of a Congressional member who solicited the money (and sometimes coincidental sponsored legislations for the donor). The Republican National Committee challenged that ban in 2008, arguing that it “severely restrict[s] the ability of political parties to finance political activities” that are protected by the Constitution. As the entry below from June 30 says, the US Supreme Court this week rejected the RNC’s challenge – at least for now. In a commentary about the decision (called “a win for democracy”), the Brennan Center notes that the parties have in fact not been “severely restricted,” but have made up for the lose of big money with a greater reliance on individuals giving small donations. Actually, data collected by the Campaign Finance Institute from the Federal Election Commission shows that the two major parties have made up for the lose of $300 million in soft money raised in the 2000 election by collecting millions more from individuals giving in all donation-size ranges. Donors giving $200 or less gave the two national parties $187 million in 2008, up from $132 million in 2000; individuals giving from $20,000 to the legal limit of $30,400 supplied $174 million in 2008, up from $34 million in 2000.
Thursday, July 1, 2010:
- A new version of NC Senate Bill 20 would add the office of Treasurer to the current Council of State public financing program and also authorize a second city (in addition to Chapel Hill) to sponsor its own program for local elections. The bill passed the House Elections Law Committee yesterday by a partisan vote of 9 to 5 and now goes to the House Appropriations Committee. It does not add any new fee or tax. Instead, it says $2.50 from the $3 check-off for the next two years will go into the Voter-Owned Elections Fund. The judicial public financing program has enough reserves built up, so it doesn’t need all the money from the check-off. The VOE Fund also has nearly $2 million left in it, so that money plus the new check-off money will be enough to pay for contests for Treasurer, Auditor, Commissioner of Insurance and Superintendent of Public Instruction.
- Also yesterday, a new comprehensive ethics bill (Senate Bill 716) was approved unanimously by the House Elections Committee and is headed for passage by the full House soon – but it’s fate in the state Senate is unclear because that body has its own bill. Among the many provisions, S-716 would create a bipartisan commission to study the pros and cons of expanding Council of State public campaign financing and report back by March 2011.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010:
- Continuing the coverage of the debate about public campaign financing in the NC General Assembly, Katy Munger has a straight-ahead column in the News & Observer and the Asheville Citizen-Times has a lead editorial urging a shift from the “pay to play” culture.
- The US Supreme Court decided not to take up a challenge to the soft money ban to political parties. By a 6-3 vote, it let stand a lower court decision against the Republican National Committee’s argument that it should be allowed to accept unlimited amounts from corporations as a logical extension of the Citizens United decision. For now, the Supreme Court didn’t agree, but legal expert Rick Hasen notes it’s only a matter of time before a direct challenge to the McCain-Feingold soft money ban is accepted.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010:
- From the original Washington comes this news about the intense, exciting activities of our “Democracy Summer” team in Eastern North Carolina. Our new homepage (hey, it’s fantastic!) features this 11-year-old program, the five teams of students working in different parts of the state, and their blog entries on Tales from the Frontlines. Be inspired by the next generation of social justice advocates.
Monday, June 28, 2010:
- Following up the posting on Friday, here are Sunday editorials from the Winston-Salem Journal, Raleigh News & Observer, and Fayetteville Observer that sharply criticize Democrats in the state Senate for removing the public financing provisions from their now weakened ethics bill. There are still several important elements in the bill, but it’s no longer a serious effort to tackle “pay to play” politics, and Senate Democrats stand to be embarrassed as Republicans and the media pick it apart. Also, another Friday follow-up, here’s a column about the questionable fate of the DISCLOSE Act in the US Senate and the value of a public financing, “floors-not-ceiling” approach at the federal level.
Friday, June 25, 2010:
- We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, so let’s let the Greenville Reflector say it for us when it comes to the recent decision by members of the NC Senate Democratic caucus to pull Voter-Owned Elections from the ethics bill: “That can best be described as a loss for North Carolina, a state condemned to see this type of barely obscured “pay-for-play” continue unabated.” See the full editorial here.
- The DISCLOSE Act finally passed the US House of Representatives by a 219-206 vote. Now it goes to the Senate. Like its name says, the legislation adds new disclosure requirements on independent spenders who promote a candidate’s election or defeat, plus it bans such spending by certain government contractors, bailout recipients and foreign-owned entities. It’s being pitched as a response to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that frees corporations, trade associations, advocacy groups and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money from their general treasuries on election advocacy. NC Republican Walter Jones had been a co-sponsor of the bill but voted against it after the National Rifle Association and others gained “carve out” exemptions from its coverage. Our national allies, Public Campaign, released a statement after the House passage that said it’s a positive step overall, but more must be done.
Thursday, June 24, 2010:
- In a quick reversal, a few state Democratic Senators facing tight elections pulled back their support for an ambitious public financing package introduced the day before in the state Senate. A right-wing group with wealthy corporate backers used robocalls to stir up fear in the Senators’ districts over big tax increases to pay for political campaigns. The tactic worked: Forget the truth, scare the people, and get them to scare the weak politicians. And so the best approach to secure ethical government will be cut out of the ethics bill today. In a talk earlier this week in Raleigh, Larry Lessig described the consequences as applied to Congress: the status quo of politicians distracted and captured by big money interest, with results that cost the public many billions of dollars, not to mention the environment, your child’s health, and honest government.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010:
- In an historic move, NC Senate Democrats yesterday proposed a comprehensive ethics and campaign reform bill that aims to undermine the prevailing perception of a “pay to play” culture in North Carolina politics. Of course, more good provisions could be piled into the bill, but the 35 pages in the latest version of H-961 go a long way to address the root cause of ethical problems: The MONEY hustle. Eliminate the politician’s utter dependency on special-interest money and you’ll take a giant leap toward getting an ethical government. It’s unfortunate that so many Republican lawmakers in Raleigh (not all, but too many) can’t recognize the value of going to the heart of the problem and would rather focus on more restrictions as the path to ethics reform. To change the political culture, we need to change the way private, special-interest money dominates the politician’s life; and that means creating a voter-owned, public financing program that rewards the politician who relies on small donations with enough matching campaign money to safely reject the money brokers who foster corruption. You can’t create a clean-energy economy by only restricting dirty energy; you must create sources of clean energy as a viable substitute. We’re slowly creating a clean elections system for North Carolina, beginning with judicial public financing. The Senate’s bill is big boost forward.
- Some new video-poker stories with data from Democracy North Carolina: Laura Leslie with WUNC public radio tracks the history of the plague in North Carolina; Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch weighs in with his evaluation; and editorials in the Raleigh News & Observer and the Greensboro News & Record call on the NC House to follow the lead of the NC Senate in banning the latest incarnation of video poker.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010:
- Wilmington businessman Rusty Carter was caught funneling $266,900 from his business through employees into the campaigns of Republican and Democratic candidates, including $120,000 during the 2008 election cycle which is still covered by the statute of limitations. His punishment was little more than a $5,000 fine – a mere slap on the wrist – because North Carolina law treats campaign finance violations as misdemeanors, not felonies. However, after a similar egregious case of illegal money laundering, the NC General Assembly added a law in 2001 that authorizes the State Board of Elections to levy civil penalties against violations, up to three times the amount of money involved. In a letter to the State Board of Election, Democracy North Carolina is urging a fine of at least $200,000 against Carter: “By itself, this puny sentence would send a dangerous message that substantial campaign violations are trivial matters in North Carolina. . . . . Thousands of political donors in North Carolina are playing by the rules. Out of respect for them, the voters, and the many others served by an honest election system, I urge the State Board to take this action.” The Charlotte Observer agrees.
Monday, June 21, 2010:
- The folks at Brave New Foundation have put together a short, powerful video that connects the BP disaster, politicians promoting “Drill Baby Drill” and campaign contributions. The Center for Responsive Politics gives more details (Barack Obama received $900,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry in the 2008 campaign, while McCain got $2.4 million). The video’s point is clear: Private-interest money buys privileged treatment that costs the rest of us dearly. Our website has a flyer featuring oil and gas donations to NC members of Congress – and a petition inviting you to help Clean Up Congress and Raleigh. And to personally get your message heard, you can join Larry Lessig, head of Change Congress, at the Legislative Auditorium in Raleigh tomorrow for the Voter-Owned Elections Lobby Day or send an electronic message to NC Senate leaders.
Friday, June 18, 2010:
- There are only two days left for Early Voting for the June 22 runoff election – today and tomorrow until 1 pm. Find the Early Voting location in your county here.
- The scourge of video poker has returned to North Carolina through a loophole that allows games of chance that are tied to commercial products, like the scratch off card you’d get at McDonalds. The state Senate is trying to close the loophole, but it’s not clear the House will go along. Video sweepstakes parlors are popping up by the hundreds across the state. Customers get a “free” chance to play a video sweepstake game when they buy Internet access time. Cash payouts are now legal instead of under the table, but everything else is the same as the old system: The gaming addiction is ruining families, sheriffs complain of criminal side effects, and video operators are raking in millions of dollars and using their profits to buy protection for the games. Many of the same operators who were in the middle of the corruption scandals that ultimately sent former House Speaker Jim Black to jail are behind the reincarnation of video poker. The industry pumped more than $200,000 into Black’s campaigns from 2000-2004 and supplied much of the money Black used to buy Republican Michael Decker’s vote for his Speakership in 2003. Now they’re back with a load of lobbyists, campaign contributions, and the same argument that shutting them down will cost thousands of jobs, but legalizing and taxing the games could yield mega-millions for the state budget.
Thursday, June 17, 2010:
- Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone describes in great detail the battle in the U.S. Senate to regulate Wall Street. It’s an amazing story of power, corruption, and democracy in action. Meanwhile, eight members of Congress are being questioned by the ethics police about the timing of their collection of large donations from Wall Street and their vote on financial reform. In truth, these members’ fundraising events were planned many weeks before the floor vote, so the timing reflects routine business, not a shocking scandal; the deeper corruption is revealed in Taibbi’s account of obsequious lawmakers, beholden to the masters of Wall Street.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010:
- Around the State with Democracy NC: Today’s Greenville newspaper has a good story about Molly Beacham’s presentation on public campaign financing to a “Power Luncheon” sponsored by the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce meeting. In Charlotte, the Democracy Summer team is organizing representatives from six colleges for a unified get-out-the-vote campaign this fall under the banner of “Can You Hear Us Now.” You can read more about the exciting and sometimes grueling labors of the Democracy Summer young organizers on their blog, and see their handsome pictures by scrolling down to early entries.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010:
- A Southern Pines engineering firm that brags about getting state funds for its clients’ construction projects is under investigation for funneling illegal campaign contributions to state officials. The News & Observer gives a few examples of large donations from employees at Hobbs Upchurch Associates to Senate leader Marc Basnight and Gov. Bev Perdue. The State Board of Elections recently uncovered a similar pattern of large donations from employees of Atlantic Packaging to various candidates, mostly Democrats, and company CEO Rusty Carter pled guilty to campaign finance violations. The new case involves former state Senator and engineer Fred Hobbs, his partner David Upchurch and their employees giving, for example, $24,000 to Basnight on April 24, 2008. It may be difficult to prove that political contributions made it possible for Hobbs Upchurch to get public subsidies for projects, but using corporate money or straw donors to make illegal campaign contributions is familiar territory to the State Board of Elections.
Monday, June 14, 2010:
- Two brief essays in American Interest – one by Mark Schmitt, the other by Richard Hasen – provide a breezy overview of the evolution of campaign finance regulation, Supreme Court activism, and the future of public financing linked to small donors, i.e., voter-owned elections. The hostility of the Supreme Court to regulation has emboldened Republicans on the Federal Election Commission to grant new “press” exemptions for ideological groups that produce and distribute political propaganda to the general public; by a 4-to-1 vote, the FEC awarded Citizens United’s film operations a special press pass so it won’t have to file disclosure reports about its donors or spending. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s voter-owned elections program for judges continues to serve as a role model that provides information to voters and incentives to candidates who reject large donations and special-interest dependency.
Friday, June 11, 2010:
- It’s time to make plans and register to attend the Voter-Owned Elections Lobby Day in Raleigh on June 22, sponsored by Democracy NC and other members in the NC Voters for Clean Elections coalition. The featured speaker this year is Larry Lessig, a national leader for public campaign financing and founder of Fix Congress First, a group that backs the Fair Elections Now Act and a boycott of contributions to lawmakers who refuse to support serious political reform. His fascinating multi-media presentation begins at 11 am in the auditorium on the third floor of the Legislative Building on Jones Street. But come as early as 9 am and get materials that will help you see the legislator of you choice and talk about voter-owned elections (we can help with scheduling appointments). Register now and you’ll also be signing up for a free lunch.
Thursday, June 10, 2010:
- By a 5-2 vote on Tuesday, the Asheville city council adopted a resolution calling for passage of a state law that would allow large cities to sponsor their own public financing programs for local elections. (See the June 7 entry below.) Cary, Durham, Greenville, Raleigh, Wilmington and Winston-Salem have passed similar resolutions. In an op-ed column in today’s News & Observer, former state Senators Wib Gulley and Allen Wellons also call for passage of the same state law, as well as expansion of the voter-owned elections program for Council of State offices. A Charlotte Observer editorial reminds state legislators that a package of ethics reforms urgently needs attention, but it should have added that ethics reform without more voter-owned elections will have a limited effect on the “pay to play” culture the media rightly condemns. As Gulley and Wellons note in their column, “It’s no surprise that nearly every political scandal to hit the Tar Heel State over the last 10 years has involved campaign funds.”
Wednesday, June 9, 2010:
- A New York Times editorial today begins: “In a burst of judicial activism, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upended the gubernatorial race in Arizona, cutting off matching funds to candidates participating in the state’s public campaign finance system.” The Supreme Court creates this election chaos while it considers a challenge by privately funded candidates who claim their First Amendment “free speech” rights are “chilled” when their extraordinary fundraising triggers the release of additional public money to qualified publicly funded candidates. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that challenge, but several high-court justices apparently are eager to cynically use the First Amendment as a tool to elevate the rights of property and wealth over the rights of voters and fair elections, similar to their manipulations in the Citizens United case. In North Carolina, the private-wealth advocates at the John Locke Foundation are celebrating and telling NC officials the “stay” in the Arizona case means they should not award matching funds in our judicial public financing program. But the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that matching fund provision and the Supremes rejected an appeal to hear challengers in the case; importantly, our program involves judicial elections, while Arizona’s involves legislative and executive branch elections. The Fourth Circuit judges ruled that the plaintiffs challenging the NC program “remain free to raise and spend as much money, and engage in as much political speech, as they desire. They will not be jailed, fined, or censured if they exceed the trigger amounts. The only (arguably) adverse consequence that will occur is the distribution of matching funds to any candidates participating in the public financing system. But this does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. To the contrary, the distribution of these funds ‘furthers, not abridges, pertinent First Amendment values’ by ensuring that the participating candidate will have an opportunity to engage in responsive speech.” Even if the Supremes use their ultimate power to kill all provisions that link the release of matching funds to the spending of others, that’s just one part of a public financing program and other models (like the federal Fair Elections Now Act) use different approaches to help candidates in expensive contests. The case will likely not be decided until next year.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010:
- Delaware’s House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that will count, for redistricting purposes, incarcerated people at their last known residence, giving those areas more political representation. Maryland has adopted this principle as law, and other states are considering similar legislation. The Census counts incarcerated people at the prison’s address; those numbers can inflate the political clout of the surrounding area by giving a relatively small number of voters a seat in the state legislature. Meanwhile, populated areas with high crime rates and socio-economic problems that need attention, lose political voice.
- A prominent election-law attorney has written an enlightening essay on the contorted logic and lack of coherence in the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling. The essay traces the swings and contradictions in how federal judges have balanced the competing interests of protecting free speech and First Amendment rights on the one hand, and protecting fair elections and the public’s right to a government free from corruption, on the other.
Monday, June 7, 2010:
- On Tuesday, June 8, the Asheville City Council will vote on a resolution to ask the General Assembly to allow larger cities to sponsor public financing programs for their local elections. House Bill 120 has passed the NC House and is in the state Senate. Several other cities have passed similar resolutions, and the town of Chapel Hill has a pilot program that runs through the 2011 election. Today’s Asheville Citizens-Time features a strong editorial endorsing a positive vote for Tuesday’s resolution. Yesterday, the paper ran an op-ed column by two local business leaders calling for the expansion of Voter-Owned Elections in the state and beyond. If you live in the Asheville area, consider sending an email to all the city council members with your view about the resolution; like a similar resolution from Greenville, it doesn’t say the city plans to enact a program, but merely asks for the option to do so.
Friday, June 4, 2010:
- Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Center for Responsive Politics have teamed up to produce a database of the “earmarks” members of Congress placed in the FY 2010 federal budget to fund favorite projects in their home districts – or to please campaign donors and special-interest lobbies. The database matches each earmark to the recipient’s spending on lobbying and campaign contributions. Four members of Congress from North Carolina are on the list, but not as leading abusers of the system; most of their earmarks go to projects for public agencies, cities and area universities that did not hire lobbyists. Wonder why the towns of Wilson, Ayden and Greenville felt compelled to invest $120,000, $40,000 and $80,000 respectively in federal lobbying.
Thursday, June 3, 2010:
- A reporter from the Associated Press called yesterday for a comment about the discovery that Secretary of State Elaine Marshall had raised $2,500 from five registered NC lobbyists in her bid for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Marshall regulates some aspects of lobbying, and lobbyists are not permitted to donate to any incumbent candidate for state office, but that restriction doesn’t apply to candidates for federal office. The reporter asked if I thought Marshall should be criticized for taking the donations. I laughed. It was another simple-minded, “gotcha story” the media is thrilled to latch on; meanwhile, the larger abuses of actual self-interested money by the tons polluting politics are apparently too difficult for reporters and editors to track down. I asked the AP reporter a couple questions: the money is part of the $440,000 she’s raised so far and it’s from lobbyists who have known her for decades, before she was Secretary of State; the lobbyists are not under investigation, nor is there any quid pro quo suspected. I said she might return or refuse such donations as part of making an issue of how we need a better campaign finance system, but I didn’t think these particular donations were worth criticizing. The reporter didn’t like my answer, so he went to another good government spokesperson and got the quote he wanted for his story. It’s another example of our media’s warped sense of “educating” the public about politics and government.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010:
- News & Observer columnist Ruth Sheehan recently encouraged Gov. Bev Perdue to become the “Ethics Governor” through persistent leadership that forces the General Assembly to adopt additional disclosure measures and restrictions that thwart “pay to play” politics. Gene Nichol and Bob Orr give three examples of worthy ethics reforms. But in a letter to the editor, Chase Foster of NC Voters for Clean Elections points out that progress won’t come through disclosure and restriction alone; let’s get to the core problem: the dependency of politicians on private campaign money that often comes with strings attached. A real Ethics Governor would tell the public they are being cheated when private interests dominate government through their monopoly control of election financing. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus illustrates how self-serving donors view their contributions as investments for favorable policies and government contracts; she rightly concludes that a well-crafted public financing option for candidates is crucial if we want ethical public officials.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010:
- A new law in Arizona requires the state’s university system and community colleges to “adopt a plan to increase student voter registration and voting,” with a set of specific items such as providing voter registration forms during orientation. Student government associations strongly pushed the bill, which gained bipartisan support. In Illnois, Democrats are backing a bill opposed by Republicans that would require university campuses to host early voting sites for the 2010 elections; the pilot project’s impact on youth turnout would then be evaluated. North Carolina had early voting sites on (or next to) 20 college campuses in the 2008 general election which helped elevate participation. But what about the youth who are not on college campuses? A report from the Case Foundation points out the wide gap in voter turnout rates among college and non-college youth (62% versus 32% in 2008) and outlines the reasons why more attention should focus on young people not in school.
Monday, May 31, 2010:
- Representative Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) has introduced House Bill 2023 in the NC General Assembly to address the expected increase in “independent expenditures” by corporations and other entities following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The bill adapts the features of a new law in Iowa to require greater disclosure, prior approval by the entity’s board, and restrictions on certain foreign spenders. A bi-partisan team of state legislators, blessed by Democratic and Republican leaders, is crafting another bill that could provide less disclosure and fewer restrictions, due to fears that a more ambitious approach would be struck down by the courts. However, Harrison’s bill – and the Iowa law – are actually quite modest in scope and could be beefed up in some areas, rather than weakened. One area that needs attention is a clear definition of what relationships or activities constitute “coordination” between an “independent” spender and the candidate or party the spending assists.
Friday, May 28, 2010:
- Yesterday, the Winston-Salem Journal and Wilmington Star-News published op-ed pieces with a statement from prominent business and civic leaders calling for expansion of Voter-Owned Elections programs: “We believe their enactment is crucial, especially after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. To do otherwise is shortsighted. Unless we address the demand for money in campaigns, we won’t secure the progress we all want and deserve.” We have a good shot at expanding VOE in North Carolina this year, but state Senate leaders are holding back. A Democracy NC Action Alert invites people to contact Senate leaders to urge them to include VOE in the ethic reform package now being prepared.
Thursday, May 27, 2010:
- Florida is exhibit A when it comes to the problem of legislators picking the voters, rather than the other way around. The voters are divided fairly evenly in their political leanings (remember the Bush/Gore count?), but by redrawing district lines over the past 20 years, Republicans have managed to pack people of color and registered Democrats into fewer districts to give the GOP increased control of the Florida legislature and the state’s Congressional delegation. In anticipation of the redistricting process following the 2010 Census, a citizens’ ballot initiative called FairDistricts would thwart gerrymandering by requiring that districts be compact, respect city and county lines wherever possible, and not just protect incumbents. Unions, the League of Women Voters, NAACP, and pro-Democratic donors are backing the measure, but Republican legislators have cynically added their own initiative to confuse voters and trump FairDistricts. It adds “community of interest” as a priority factor, which sounds good but would allow packing to continue. FairDistricts backers are suing to block the “poison pill” initiative, while two Florida members of Congress (a Dem and a Rep) are suing to block FairDistricts from appearing on the fall ballot. It’s arcane stuff, but it’s at the heart of who has the power to run government and who doesn’t.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010:
- Some of the biggest political donors in the United States are on strike. They are refusing to donate to federal candidates who do not endorse and work for adoption of legislation to provide a public campaign financing option in Congressional elections. At the moment, the Fair Elections Now Act has 151 co-sponsors in the U.S. House and 18 in the U.S. Senate. The donor-strike is part of a national effort to add more co-sponsors and bring the Fair Elections Now Act to a vote this year. Wealthy donors admit they are giving up special access they gain through their big donations, but say the system needs to change. “The more money I give, the more I allow them to maintain the status quo,” says software magnate Steve Kirsch. “My money’s working against me.”
Tuesday, May 25, 2010:
- Think we don’t need the Voting Rights Act anymore? Welcome to Georgia, May 2010: A coalition of civil rights groups is asking a federal court to block Georgia’s Secretary of State from putting in place procedures that purge thousands of legal voters from the registration rolls. In 2008, without proper pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department, Georgia began denying registration if a person’s name matched a non-citizen designation in the state’s databases. But the databases were filled with errors, chronically out-of-date, and proven to purge legal voters. The Justice Department eventually ruled that the procedures violated the Voting Rights Act and a federal court ordered them stopped, but the Secretary of State wants to resume using them anyway.
- The H K on J and POC Legislative Lobby Day is Wednesday, May 26, beginning at 9 AM at the First Baptist Church, 101 S. Wilmington St., Ralegh. It continues with a press conference at the press room in the Legislative Building on Jones Street at 10:30. The focus is on all the ways the H K on J 14-point “People’s Agenda” is impacted by a strained state budget, including the need for expanding Voter-Owned Elections programs to ensure that tax loopholes protected by wealthy campaign donors are closed and people’s voices are heard above the clamor of special-interest lobbyists. Please come, attend the press conference, meet with a legislator; we’ll join you in the meeting if you want.
Monday, May 24, 2010:
- Candidates who earn the right to use public campaign funds can get an additional dose of public money if they face big-spending opponents and outside groups. There’s a cap on these rescue funds, usually twice the amount of the original public grant, but they help “voter-owned” candidates keep up in a message battle with privately financed forces. Right-wingers hate this provision and have challenged it everywhere, including in North Carolina. On Friday, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Arizona’s rescue (or matching) funds provision by a 3-0 vote, reversing the decision of a federal district court. Opponents of public financing had used the U.S. Supreme Court’s Davis v. FEC ruling to win in the lower court last year; that sent chills throughout the Clean Elections advocacy community, so this new decision is being celebrated. (The decision cites favorably a 2008 ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the rescue funds provision in North Carolina’s judicial public financing program.) The Arizona opponents have already said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, so stay tuned.
Friday, May 21, 2010:
- Should an independent candidate who got nearly 31% of the vote in 2008 be required to gather thousands of signatures in order to have his name on the 2010 ballot for the same office? North Carolina requires an unaffiliated candidate for the state legislature to get signatures from 4 percent of the district’s registered voters to qualify to be included on the ballot. Only Georgia and South Carolina have higher thresholds. (Our state also imposes high burdens on third parties to keep them from fielding candidates – see entry for March 8, 2010.) Mark Brody of Matthews is challenging the provision that requires him to repeat the signature-gathering process to get on the ballot. The case is in the lower courts and will be interesting to watch.
- A 28-page report from UNC-CH’s Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity analyzes the dramatic changes in the North Carolina’s population and economy over the past several decades and the deep challenges the state faces as rapid change continue. It’s important reading for anyone concerned about policy, politics or people.
Thursday, May 20, 2010:
- Alexis Pena, a sophomore at Jordan High School in Durham, has been awarded first prize in a statewide youth voter registration contest sponsored by the NC State Board of Elections, Democracy North Carolina, the North Carolina Civic Education Consortium, Kids Voting NC and the North Carolina Center for Voter Education. Her poster will be used this fall on the Board of Elections’ website and posted in high schools across the state as a reminder that 16- and 17-year olds can now pre-register to vote. Pre-registrants will become automatically registered when they reach the eligible age to vote. Download our press release for more, including the names of the second and third place winners from Fayetteville.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010:
- How much difference does public campaign financing make? Common Cause compared fundraising by state legislative candidates in California with those in three states that offer a public financing option. The findings are telling: In California, 96% of the campaign money raised came from donors giving over $250. By contrast, $250-plus donors supplied just 2% of the funds in Connecticut, 6% in Maine and 15% in Arizona. Also, candidates who out-raised their opponent won 97% of the general elections in California compared to 66% in Maine, Arizona and Connecticut. Winning legislative candidates in California out-raised their opponents by a 5-to-1 margin in 86% of the races, compared to 33% of the races in Maine, Arizona and Connecticut. Says Derek Cressman of Common Cause: “The bottom line is that California elections are bought much more often and easily than elections in states with public financing, and the people doing the buying comprise a narrow slice of the electorate who are unlikely to represent the interests of ordinary voters.”
Tuesday, May 18, 2010:
- President Obama’s choice of a woman for the U.S. Surpreme Court would help the court’s composition move a little closer to the mainstream. Two new studies look at who sits on the court benches in each state. The National Center for State Courts gives a state-by-state chart indicating that women lead 40% of the states’ top courts and women hold 31% of all seats on these courts of last resort. (The chief justice of NC’s Supreme Court is Sarah Parker and two of the other justices are women; NC is one of 16 states where women occupy more than 40% of the seats.) The latest in a series of reports by the American Judicature Society examines the question of “how does the method of judicial selection advance or inhibit diversity on the bench?” The new report found that, for example, minorities are more likely to be chosen for state high courts through merit selection and gubernatorial appointment than through partisan and nonpartisan elections, but women are less likely to be merit-selected than elected to intermediate appellate courts. Also, minority judges are found at higher rates on the courts of last resort in states where judges are required to have a minimum number of years of legal experience, but just the reverse is true for women.
Monday, May 17, 2010:
- Want to keep track of what new bills state legislatures are adopting to address the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court or require proof of citizenship for voters or add new penalties for election law violations? Bookmark the elections resource website of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Friday, May 14, 2010:
- An op-ed column in the News & Observer features a statement from 100 NC business, professional and civic leaders calling for an expansion of Voter-Owned Elections. “The fundraising arms race drives up the cost of public office and drives down public confidence in government at all levels. It results in incumbents, who are responsible for directing policy, spending too much time dialing-for-dollars rather than focusing on their job. Reforms that address ethics, lobbying and disclosure are important, but they do not get to the heart of the problem: How can candidates compete without stepping onto the treadmill of the money chase? . . . Proposals to expand public campaign financing programs for North Carolina and federal elections are alive in the General Assembly and in Congress. We believe their enactment is crucial, especially after the Citizens United decision. To do otherwise is shortsighted. Unless we address the demand for money in campaigns, we won’t secure the progress we all want and deserve.”
- Legislation in California would establish grounds for removing a judge from hearing a case in which one of the parties had given him or her more than $1,500 in campaign contributions in the previous six years. The legislation (AB2487) was approved unanimously by the Assembly and now goes to the state Senate. North Carolina has no clear standard for when judges should disqualify themselves, but this issue will gain more attention in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June regarding recusal in a case involving the Massey coal company.
Thursday, May 13, 2010:
- Katrina vanden Heuvel’s weekly column in the Washington Post lays out the reasons for passing the Fair Elections Now Act, which would provide a public financing option for Congressional candidates. She gives the data on a federal government dominated by Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Banks, Big Money. A Voter-Owned Elections program is one indispensible tool needed to give ordinary people a fighting chance for a government of, for and by the people.
- A new poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News shows that likely 2010 voters favor Republican Congressional candidates over Democrats by a 20-point margin (56% to 36%), the biggest margin all year, with the swing from 2008 most noticeable among “independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters.” Importantly, the survey shows that “voters were far more motivated by their frustration with Democrats and government in general than by an affinity for the GOP.”
Wednesday, May 12, 2010:
- Are you interested in learning how to track, and tackle, the rush of big money in NC politics? Balance & Accuracy in Journalism (BAJ) has invited Bob Hall to demonstrate some investigative web-tools and talk about alternative approaches to containing the undue influence of private money in public elections. The meeting, open to the public, is at the Community Church in Chapel Hill (106 Purefoy Road), beginning at 7:30 PM, today. In its announcement about the event, BAJ provides a link to an in-depth interview by Democracy Now with Antonia Juhasz, who dissects the way BP has invested its enormous wealth in political spending to “escape regulation, restriction, oversight and enforcement” and convince the public that the industry can be trusted and doesn’t need close scrutiny.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010:
- Two new reports from the National Institute on Money in State Politics examine the influence of money and incumbency in state legislative elections in 2007–2008. The first report, The Role of Money & Incumbency in 2007–2008 State Elections, found that the biggest fundraiser won 80% of the contested races (85% in NC) and incumbents won 94% of their races (98% in NC). One third of the seats in state legislatures were uncontested in the general election (42% in NC). The second report, Competitiveness in 2007–2008 State Legislative Races: No Contest?, found that only 22% of state legislative candidates had a financially competitive race. Significantly, five of the 10 states with the most financially competitive races offered candidates a public funding option. Seven of the 10 most competitive states also ranked among those with the least expensive races. Three states (Georgia, Florida and New Mexico) where candidates received the largest share of their contributions from corporations and business-related special interests were among the least competitive, while three states (Minnesota, Montana and Connecticut) with the smallest share from these sources were among the most competitive. The scope of the study is small, but it shows that Voter-Owned Elections programs increase financial competitiveness in elections, while a high reliance on business funding does just the opposite.
Monday, May 10, 2010:
- News stories and a blitz of editorials in the past week have called for tougher campaign finance and ethics laws in North Carolina. Make money laundering a felony, not a puny misdemeanor; change a law that hides violations by lobbyists; tackle secret spending by unions and corporations; adopt a raft of ethics reforms to undermine a pay-to-play culture. The News & Observer’s “going deeper” site features links to a series of memos reflecting the evolution of Governor Perdue’s recommendations for reform, dating back to December 2009. The General Assembly’s “short session” begins Wednesday, but Democratic leaders in the state Senate remain resistant to many of these proposals and are reluctant to promote even better ones, including expanding the Voter-Owned Elections program to cover more offices. What’s their plan? It looks like the ostrich stance: Stick your head in the sand and hope the pending indictment of Mike Easley and voter disgust with special-interest politics will magically disappear in time for the November election. That position could yield a plunge in Democratic turnout and mass shift of Unaffiliiated voters to the Republicans.
Friday, May 7, 2010:
- An Asheville Citizen-Times editorial draws the connection between Citizens United, ethics, and Voter-Owned Elections. It also features an important column by Republican and Democratic former Congressmen describing the need for optional public financing in Congressional campaigns.
- Karl Rove and other top Republican operatives have created a new network of political organizations in order to mimic pro-Democratic groups and move from what Rove calls “a half-assed rightwing conspiracy” to a unified force capable of regaining Republican control of Congress and the White House – with big money the glue holding it all together.
Thursday, May 6, 2010:
- Washington Post editorial writer Ruth Marcus wrote a column yesterday suggesting that Arizona’s public campaign financing program deserves blame for electing a crop of rightwing state lawmakers who hatched up the radical anti-immigration law. (For a few election cycles now, a majority of AZ legislative candidates have qualified for “Clean Elections” funds.) Marcus says the Clean Elections program hijacked the ability of “business groups” to screen the candidates who could become nominees of the major parties, because candidates could bypass big-buck blessers and go straight to the people under the rules of the Clean Election program. That may be a true statement, but it doesn’t mean public financing is the cause of rightwing laws in AZ: “Eighty percent of elected lawmakers voting against the immigration statute used Clean Elections to gain office, while just 54 percent of those supporting the bill used Clean Elections to win,” says Adam Smith of Public Campaign. He points out that Clean Elections is very popular with Latino legislators in Arizona. Ezra Klein of the Post adds a clincher point: If you look at other states, “you’re seeing primary challenges mounted in the absence of Arizona’s law that are nevertheless proving extremely effective at turning sensible conservatives into people who’ll do whatever the base demands.” Public financing highlights the fundamental importance of widespread political education in a democracy.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010:
- You can review the preliminary results of the primary election on the website of the State Board of Elections. Overall turnout reached barely 15% of registered voters, a pitiful showing. The anti-government furor of the Tea Party failed to produce any broad shifts in election outcomes; measures to increase taxes actually won voter approval in Onslow and New Hanover counties. In General Assembly races, one Republican state House incumbent (Pearl Burris Floyd of Gaston County) lost her primary to a challenger, as did four Democratic House members (Nick Mackey of Mecklenburg County, Bruce Goforth of Buncombe County, Ronnie Sutton of Robeson County and Earl Jones of Guilford County). No incumbent state Senator lost a primary race. In the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Cal Cunningham trailed Elaine Marshall by 9 percentage points (he had 27.3% of the vote count compared to her 36.4%), but he apparently still wants a runoff, which will mean all the polls in the state will open on June 22 at a cost of over $3 million to local governments. Many polls will be open anyway because of other runoffs in judicial, legislative, and county races. But at least the statewide runoff could be avoided with a version of Instant Runoff Voting that has been used in NC city elections. For more on IRV or ranked-choice voting, see FairVote’s website.
- In another case of a major political donor caught making illegal campaign contributions, Rusty Carter of Wilmington accepted a deal where he pleas guilty to misdemeanor charges, plays a $5,000 fine, receives a 30-day suspended sentence, and agrees to not make political contributions for two years. The candidates who received more than $150,000 from Carter and his associates at the Atlantic Corporation will cough up the money from their campaign accounts; it goes to the school fund of New Hanover County, in accordance with the state constitution. More money is involved, including federal contributions to the Republican National Committee and George Bush in 2004, but the statute of limitation for illegal state contributions expires after two years because the crimes are only classified as misdemeanors. Democracy NC and the NC Association of District Attorneys have lobbied to increase the penalty in state law to a felony, at least for crimes involving substantial sums of money, and the district attorney in this case agreed. But it’s not clear he will take advantage of the compromise change in the law we won several years ago; he could work with State Board of Elections to made sure that Carter is fined up to three times the amount of the illegal contributions, forcing him to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the school fund.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010:
- The vindictive new law in Arizona to authorize harassing challenges to anyone’s citizenship based on their appearance will depress voter turnout among Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and others, as a blog entry by Tova Andrea Wang explains. Arizona has a poor record of stopping voter intimidation efforts; whether or not the new law was aimed in part to reduce the political clout of citizens who don’t fit the Tea Party stereotype, it will have that effect – if it holds up in court and is enforced. Progressive States Network offers a comprehensive review of the political and economic climate behind Arizona new law and alternative approaches for immigration reform.
Monday, May 3, 2010:
- The Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secret website has an eye-opening profile of the political clout of BP, the London-based oil company that is in damage control mode now, worried about its image and financial future as much as a vast eco-system that stretches to North Carolina.
Friday, April 30, 2010:
- As expected, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) filed legislation in the Senate and House yesterday intended to blunt the full force of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision. See the April 23 entry for more background about the DISCLOSE Act. Here’s a link to the 94-page bill and to a 6-page summary. Public Campaign and Common Cause point out that the bill doesn’t go far enough to tackle the core problem. Democracy North Carolina released this statement: “Democracy North Carolina commends Congressional leaders for introducing the DISCLOSE Act to address some of the dangerous consequences of the recent Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Act provides more disclosure about the sources of new streams of corporate and union money spent to influence the outcome of elections; and it aims to restrict foreign sources of money, as well as sources that profit from tax funds. It’s difficult to predict how much new money will be spent, by whom, and in what ways in wake of the Citizens United decision. The disclosure requirements in the new legislation will help the public get at least partial answers to those questions. But we should not kid ourselves: Disclosure can tell us when the water in our well is contaminated, but it doesn’t take out the poison or provide a new source of clean water. The Supreme Court has essentially given permission for new levels of toxins to invade the political system, which could potentially overtake and poison some elections and policy debates. There are no simple solutions or silver bullets to keep our democracy in the hands of “We the people,” especially if five out of nine judges can convert inanimate entities into persons. We support the new DISCLOSE Act but point out that there’s a stronger foundation upon which to build and maintain our democracy: Give candidates the option of drinking from a clean well of water, relying on a voter-owned public financing program instead of the private money hustle that is so vulnerable to toxic influences. One place where Congress can lead: pass the Fair Elections Now Act (HR-1826, S-752) endorsed by North Carolina’s U.S. Representatives Jones, Butterfield, Kissell, Miller, Price, and Watt. North Carolina legislators can take similar action with bills alive in the General Assembly.”
Thursday, April 29, 2010:
- Heads UP! There are only THREE days left in the Early Voting period for the 2010 primary in North Carolina; most locations close at 1 PM on Saturday. Only about 110,000 voters have used Early Voting to cast ballots as of this morning! Check out NCElectionConnection.com for information about candidates, locations of Early Voting sites, and link to see a sample ballot for your county. If you miss Early Voting, remember to vote on May 4 at your regular precinct location.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010:
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is leading a diabolical, fake-populist campaign to gut the financial reform legislation in Congress, much as it did with healthcare reform. Strong polling against Wall Street gives the reform effort genuine popular momentum, but the master manipulators of fear and hate are at it again, complemented by insider lobbying and campaign fundraising. Dozens of interests, from auto dealers to eBay to agribusiness, are weighing in to protect their piece of the financial world. An in-depth look at Warren Buffett’s lobbying shows how hard legislating is. Adding more pressure, the big banks and Wall Street firms are threatening the Democrats by moving more of their campaign donations to the Republicans.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010:
- Democratic leaders in Congress are accusing Republicans of siding with Wall Street because of their opposition to a financial regulatory reform bill; but Republican leaders from North Carolina are saying, no, it’s the Democrats who are Wall Street patsies, just look at all the campaign money they take in from the securities and investment industry. Wow, how often to we see this: Republican officials saying that public policy is for sale to major campaign donors. Look for a press release from Democracy North Carolina later today that dissects the numbers used by the Republicans to learn who is really in the pocket of Wall Street.
Monday, April 26, 2010:
- Odds & Ends: The Durham Herald-Sun published a letter with Dem-NC’s perspective on Ruffin Poole’s recent plea deal. Greensboro’s Rhino Times describes a meeting of county commissioners considering their new code of ethical conduct, a scene being replicated across the state in compliance with a new state law. Media Matters, which spends much of its energy monitoring the distortions and bias of Fox News, has a new analysis that details nearly 300 examples of Fox commentators raising money, endorsing or otherwise promoting Republican candidates and causes. The Washington Post reports that the major parties are spending more than half the money they have raised this election cycle on, well, parties. And more fundraising.
Friday, April 23, 2010:
- Any day now, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) are expected to file legislation in Congress that responds to the Citizens United decision. The bill will (1) require greater disclosure of political spending by corporations (including non-profit trade groups) and unions, (2) tighten the definition of coordination between independent spenders and candidates/parties, and (3) bar political spending by foreign corporations and corporations with large government contracts or TARP bailout funds. The bill will be called the DISCLOSE Act, an acronym for “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections.” The emphasis on disclosure will make it difficult for the bill’s Republican opponents because they have long claimed robust disclosure is the solution to all campaign finance problems. Meanwhile, 50 of the top 100 corporations on the S&P index have now signed agreements to voluntarily disclose direct and indirect political spending in public records to their stockholders; they are not agreeing to limit spending. The increasing pro-corporate bias at the U.S. Supreme Court is tracked in a report by People for the American Way called “The Making of the Corporate Democracy.” It analyzes a decade of Supreme Court decisions (from Bush v. Gore in 2000 to Citizens United v. FEC in 2010) that relate to a variety of topics, from elections and the environment to worker rights and consumer protection.
Thursday, April 22, 2010:
- Following up on the post yesterday about financial regulation: The News & Observer has a story today about a new bill by Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) to regulate the payday lending industry. North Carolina has led the nation in regulating this industry at the state level, thanks to the initiative of the Center for Responsible Lending, Self-Help and NC Justice Center and the cooperation of many mainstream banks. It’s a natural area for Hagan to show leadership. Kudos to the reporter for noting the “dozens of fundraisers” the payday crowd is holding for federal legislators, including for anti-regulation zealot Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), a member of the House Financial Services Committee. McHenry was in the national news recently for holding a fundraiser for his personal PAC, the House Conservatives Fund, at a Bruce Springsteen (!) concert skybox provided by a national association of credit unions.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010:
- The debate over regulating the financial services industry, like the one on healthcare reform, seems to pivot around who can buy off the most lawmakers with campaign money. The New York Times writes about Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln’s conflicted role: serve the people or serve her Wall Street donors. It’s a tough call for so many. As it happens, Lincoln is in a primary fight for the Democratic nomination this year, against a more progressive candidate who is pushing her to remember the people back home. So which way will Lincoln go (and how many compromises will water down the final re-regulation bill)? Maybe we need a futures market in “legislative outcomes” similar to the futures market for gold, oil and pork: Traders could bet against each other on the outcome of the sausage-making process in Washington, maybe even bet on who will be the big winners and losers from the legislation. Then investors could bet on the trades, and a derivatives market could develop. It seems a small step from having legislation auctioned to the highest bidder. The only saving grace is those voters back home who still believe they are the proper constituents for their representatives. Polls show that backing serious financial reform is an easy place for politicians to score points with a broad swath of upset voters.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010:
- C. Ruffin Poole, former Gov. Mike Easley’s right-hand man for political patronage, cut a deal yesterday with the US Attorney; in exchange for providing crucial information and cooperating with a public corruption investigation targeting Easley, Poole pled guilty to one count of tax evasion that exposes him to up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The tax evasion charge relates to a $30,000 profit Poole made on Cannonsgate, a coastal development brokered by Lanny Wilson, a major donor to Easley and appointee to the NC Board of Transportation. The revised indictment, which dropped 56 of 57 original charges against Poole, lays out his role in helping the Cannonsgate developers (also Easley donors/appointees) get vital permits for their projects. In the court yesterday, Assistant US Attorney Dennis Duffy made a point of connecting the dots between campaign fundraising, political appointments and personal profiteering: “These guys were falling all over each other because of the value of these appointments,” he said. He could have added: If you’d like less corruption, you need to shrink the importance of private money in politics.
Monday, April 19, 2010:
- Can campaign contributions lead to more sickness and deaths from chemical poisons? Read this story about how Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, stalled EPA’s effort to reassess the health risk of formaldehyde after he received tens of thousands of dollars in political donations from the industry and its lobbyists. Vitter single-handedly blocked an Obama senior appointment to EPA until the agency relented. Apparently campaign money is more important to Vitter than the health of thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims who suffered respiratory problems after living in FEMA trailers contaminated with formaldehyde.
- Another court has ruled against a constitutional challenge to Instant Runoff Voting (also known as Rank Choice Voting). This time it’s a federal district court denying a request to stop the IRV system used in San Francisco, to the delight of IRV supporters. The 19-page decision provides a review of previous court cases and details the legal explanation for why IRV, to quote another decision, “is not a derogation from the principle of equality but an attempt to reflect it with more exquisite accuracy.”
Friday, April 16, 2010:
- A remarkable new website is offering a new way to review and retrieve information about federal and state campaigns. TransparencyData.com combines the data on political contributions assembled and analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics and National Institute on Money in State Politics into one searchable system that includes an ability to download large chucks to create your own files. For example, you can look up the state and federal campaign donations given by Charlotte billionaire C. D. Spangler, family members, and associates who list Spangler Construction as their employer. Or you can download the contributions that Rep. Virginia Foxx received in the past six years. The site is sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation and is in beta test mode now, with lobbying data being added and more datasets to come. Take it for a test ride.
- Speaking of transparency, US PIRG has just released a report that analyzes and ranks states on the web-based access they provide to details about state government spending. Kentucky, with its pioneering OpenDoor website, leads the list and North Carolina gets a middle-of-the-pack C. The full report includes examples of best practices and recommendations for “one-stop, one-click” budget accountability and accessibility.
Thursday, April 15, 2010:
- Early Voting begins today for the May 4 primary. Many races will be decided today, ranging from the nonpartisan school board contest in Orange County to dozens of partisan elections where only one political party is fielding candidates. Visit Democracy North Carolina’s all-purpose election website, NCElectionConnection.com, for links to Early Voting locations in all 100 counties, sample ballots and candidate profiles, plus answers to questions about registration and voting. Today is also Tax Day – don’t forget to check YES for the Public Campaign Fund.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010:
- Maryland became the first state to adopt a new method for counting prisoners for purposes of drawing equal political districts after the 2010 Census. The Census counts people in prison as residing at the prison, but that method deprives the prisoners’ home neighborhoods of much-needed tax money and political clout. Under the new Maryland law, the Census figures are adjusted by counting prisoners at their last known address, and the new counts are used to draw local, legislative and Congressional districts that meet the “one person, one vote” standard. See our entry for February 11, 2010, and a brief article in American Prospect for more background. Several other states have legislation pending to accomplish similar adjustments. Meanwhile, Virginia’s Republican Governor Robert McDonnell is proposing new rules (not yet pre-cleared with the U.S. Justice Department) that will make it harder for citizens convicted of a nonviolent felony to regain their voting rights; the announcement follows his earlier proclamation celebrating the Civil War and alienating civil rights advocates.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010:
- Imagine if Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Tom Paine and dozens of patriots came to Raleigh to recount their fight for liberty – would you attend? Many of the intellectual and organizational wizards behind the 1960s Freedom Movement are returning to Shaw University and nearby venues, beginning Thursday, for four days of seminars, singing, films and hot debate commemorating the 50th anniversary of the birth of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Democracy North Carolina traces its roots to SNCC and SSOC (Southern Student Organizing Committee). We’ll be there. The agenda reveals the stellar cast and rich array of workshops; pre-registration is closed. Show up and expect an energetic, educational experience.
Monday, April 12, 2010:
- Kinston, North Carolina, may be ground zero for the next challenge of the Voting Rights Act that reaches the U.S. Supreme Court. Several voters and prospective candidates in the city filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice for refusing to pre-clear a change in the method Kinston uses to elect its city council, from partisan to nonpartisan. The lead plaintiff is former Republican House member and current House candidate Steve LaRoque. Voters overwhelming passed a ballot measure in November 2008 to make the change, with African-American voters in apparent support. Blacks are the majority of registered voters in the city, but are not typically the majority of voters in the municipal elections. Using its power under the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department denied the shift to nonpartisan elections, saying the “effect will be strictly racial.” It turns out the shift as proposed would also eliminate the primary, where black candidates often gain position to win the general election; the two-stage election would be replaced with a single, nonpartisan plurality election. It’s a complicated case, with multiple complicating factors, including the legal “standing” of the plaintiffs to bring the suit, but it has the backing of national rightwing litigators determined to gut the Voting Rights Act.
- Recent newspaper articles in North Carolina explore the weakness of not requiring electronic filing of campaign disclosure reports; the ethics complaint by Richard Morgan against Lanier Cansler, the Republican head of Gov. Perdue’s Department of Health and Human Services (because Cansler is receiving funds from his former lobbying firm, which helped win lucrative no-bid contracts with the department); and charges that former Sen. Tony Rand used his political muscle to pressure a business owner into selling his firm to a corporation affiliated with Rand.
Friday, April 9, 2010:
- Iowa became one of the first states to enact a set of proposals to address the Citizens United decision. The legislation focuses on greater disclosure, a “stand by your ad” provision for corporate sponsors, and a requirement for stockholder approval of corporate spending for independent expenditures. Meanwhile, the city of Durham joined Raleigh, Wilmington and Greenville in adopting a resolution that asks the NC General Assembly to give large cities the authority to sponsor their own public financing programs for local elections.
Thursday, April 8, 2010:
- The NC Center for Voter Education released a poll that shows overwhelming bipartisan support for bold changes to the campaign finance system in North Carolina – and bipartisan support for electing legislators who champion such changes. While 23% of respondents said “small tweaks” in the system would be enough, 71% favored a major overhaul. In addition, 54% said they would “prefer a candidate whose campaign funds came from taxpayer money” rather than “from special interests,” and 57% said they’d be more likely to vote for a legislator who supported public campaign financing. Interestingly, support for far-reaching reform among Republicans is as strong, and sometimes stronger, than from Democrats.
- Meanwhile, editorial writers at the Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Greenville newspapers (among others) are generally applauding Gov. Perdue for her package of ethics reforms (see April 6 entry), as well as encouraging state legislators to adopt them in the short session that begins in May. The Center’s poll shows that the best approach would be to add expanding voter-owned, public campaign financing to the ethics reform package to give it real heft and lift.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010:
- Sadly, money corrupting politics is the story behind the deaths of more than 20 miners in West Virginia this week. A column in the Washington Post explains how the boss of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, “has more or less purchased the state’s government” and thwarted federal mine-safety regulations; a failed ventilation system apparently led to an explosion of accumulated methane gas and the miners’ deaths. Blankenship is well known in campaign finance circles as the man who invested $3 million to buy the election of a West Virginia Supreme Court justice who then overturned a $50 million judgment against Massey. Another quid-pro-quo story yesterday, this one from Alabama, describes the bungled effort of a lobbyist for bingo operators to buy the votes of state legislators with six-figure campaign donations. There’s no simple remedy to “the power of money to sway local elections,” but a different campaign finance system would help, points out Erik Ose in a blog entry about why Chapel Hill adopted voter-owned public financing for its elections. Curiously, Ose’s reference to rightwinger Bob Luddy, the Civitas Institute’s board chair and biggest donor in last year’s decisive Wake County school board election, is omitted in the version of the blog printed in the Chapel Hill News.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010:
- Governor Bev Perdue rolled out a package of useful reforms to enhance ethics in state government and reduce potential conflicts of interest (where a public official’s allegiance is torn between serving the public versus a private interest). Republicans continue to trash-talk Perdue, and sometimes the media piles on without exercising much balance. In truth, Perdue is ahead of any previous governor in providing leadership for ethics and campaign reform. Her proposals deserve support among lawmakers when the General Assembly convenes in May, but they won’t have real impact unless they are combined with public financing reforms that get to the heart of the problem: the endless money chase that is overtaking all aspects of politics. It makes little sense to restrict contractors from donating directly to the campaigns of state officials when the down-ballot candidates have so few sources of campaign money and when the U.S. Supreme Court is encouraging the same business interests to finance “independent expenditures” to elect or defeat the candidate. We’re in an era where private donors are being empowered by the courts to exert more influence over public elections and public policy. Candidates and conscientious citizens (including many donors) need to be empowered through Voter-Owned Elections programs to not only stand their ground but move in a positive direction that promotes the common good over narrow interests.
Monday, April 5, 2010:
- Who are the “Heavy Hitters” in national politics? The Center for Responsive Politics maintains a unique list of the 100 unions, special interests and corporations that give the most money to federal candidates and parties. Walmart recently joined the list; individuals and PACs associated with the company have a history of strongly favoring Republicans, although that changed after Democrats regained majority status in the U.S. House in 2007. Exxon Mobil remains stubbornly loyal, still favoring Republicans over Democrats by a 4-to-1 ratio. The big labor unions consistently favor Democrats by even bigger margins, often 20 to 1. The Center’s Opensecrets.org website allows you to view the donations by election cycle and recipients, plus the top individual contributors within a company and its major legislation of interest.
Friday, April 2, 2010:
- You can download a voter registration form, but why can’t you just fill it out online and submit it electronically, like a tax form? Big news (you heard it first here): Election officials say that North Carolina will soon begin online registration! Only a citizen with a valid NC driver’s license can use the system, because your signature with DMV will be automatically transferred to your county board of elections for a verification match when you first vote. Arizona and Washington are the national pioneers in online registration and a new evaluation of their systems shows that they save money, are popular, streamline the registration process, and provide more accurate information than hand-written responses on forms. North Carolina statutes already authorize electronic submission of a completed voter registration form; the State Board of Elections and DMV are in the final steps of getting the system worked out so this new tool will soon become a reality.
Thursday, April 1, 2010:
- While there is plenty of disturbing news about the political system, here are some encouragement for a better way: One report is about two Henderson County women – Francee Sherman and Sally Godehn – who are being honored for their bold, pioneering work to expose election corruption and promote civic participation. Also, the Fayetteville Observer has a strong editorial in support of expanding public financing in North Carolina. And an editorial in Greenville’s Daily Reflector encourages people to support the judicial public financing program by checking the box YES for the Public Campaign Fund on the state tax form. In honor of Francee and Sally, onward!
Wednesday, March 31, 2010:
- Stand Against Racism: Did you know that the YWCA was a pioneer in combating racism in America? During World War I, it offered many programs in African-American communities and, shortly after, welcomed African-American women on its local and national boards. During the 1920’s, it mandated interracial seating at its conventions and, for the next 40 years, in some areas, became the only organization in many outhern towns where interracial meetings were held. The YWCA was also a pioneer in advocating for racial justice on the federal level. As early as the 1930’s, its members lobbyied Congress to pass anti-lynching legislation, repeal the poll tax and enforce fair employment practices. Its chapters paid a price for their activism, losing members and funding. The YWCA was accused of race-baiting and, eventually, Communist ties before the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities. It stood firm in its support for civil rights, however, and it continues the legacy today with Stand Against Racism, a movement of the YWCA that aims to combat racism by raising awareness through an annual event. Organizations across the United States are invited to become Participating Sites by hosting their own “Stand” locally. Individuals are invited to join any of the “Stands,” where hundreds of thousands of people will take a Stand Against Racism across the country. Groups of any size that are located within the geographic area of a participating YWCA Association can become a Participating Site by hosting a “Stand.” The YWCA also invites individuals to look up Participating Sites in their community and come out to take a Stand Against Racism at the end of April. Democracy NC will be sponsoring a Stand on April 30th: check back here for detals later this month.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010:
- In the midst of the nation’s hot partisan bickering, two former govenors of opposing parties have teamed up to circulate a letter that encourages North Carolinians to say Yes on the $3 tax check-off for the Public Campaign Fund. Democrat Jim Hunt and Republican Jim Holshouser are proud of the success of the judicial reform program and hope people will support it as they fill out their NC tax return. Here’s what they wrote: “With the April 15 tax deadline fast approaching, here’s something that even we (as former Republican and Democratic governors) agree is worth your attention: There’s a question on the North Carolina tax return that helps protect our courts from special-interest influence – and it won’t cost you a dime. The question reads, “Do you want to designate $3 for the NC Public Campaign Fund from the taxes you already pay?” The wording varies on different software, so look for these key words: Public Campaign Fund! The fund pays for an independent voter guide about candidates for the state’s highest courts. And it provides those candidates with limited campaign money if they meet several public-trust standards, including refusing to accept special-interest donations. The program is successful and other states are adopting it, but it needs your careful attention. Some tax consultants may skip the question or ask if you want to “contribute” to the fund. But saying “yes” does not change your refund or tax bill; it just directs $3 to the fund from what you’re paying anyway. Please find the question about the Public Campaign Fund on the state tax form and check “yes” for fair courts and fair elections!” Signed: James E. Holshouser Jr., former governor, Pinehurst; and James B. Hunt Jr., former governor, Wilson
Monday, March 29, 2010:
- Two significant court rulings on Friday applied the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to more situations. In one case, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals took as gospel the sentence in the Citizens United majority opinion that said “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” It therefore upheld the challenge by SpeechNow.org and ruled that the Federal Elections Commission could not limit contributions by individuals to a 527 committee engaged in independent expenditures. Fortunately, the court rejected the other challenge by SpeechNow.org and ruled that those donations must be quickly disclosed to the FEC. Because Citizens United did not address the longstanding recognition that direct contributions to candidates and parties can give rise to corruption, a federal district court on Friday ruled against the Republican National Committee’s claim that it should be allowed to accept unlimited contributions. An amazingly frank, confidential powerpoint presentation by the Republican Party says overturning that soft money ban fits with its larger aggressive fundraising plan based on appeals to “fear” of the country “trending toward socialism.” The expedited appeal with give the Supremes another chance to weigh in on their view of political corruption. Someday, perhaps in your lifetime, a judge or group of judges will take the time to look at the evidence and will scorn the Citizens United definition that independent expenditures can not be corrupting, just as judges in 1954 overturned the definition that separate schools can not be unequal. Sometimes, and very often, they are.
Friday, March 26, 2010:
- A WRAL-TV report follows the standard “gotcha” approach of emphasizing only the negative aspects about a series of amendments filed by the campaign committee of Gov. Bev Perdue. Most recently, the Perdue committee sent $48,000 to the State Board of Elections that it received from donors tied to Rusty Carter of Wilmington from 2005 to 2008, but now believes were likely from Carter’s business, an illegal source of campaign money. Perdue should actually get more applause for hiring staff to audit her committee’s finances so thoroughly and ferret out problems that have occurred with campaigns of Republicans and Democrats for years. But the one-track media (that boasts of being the state’s best) wants to take credit for exposing wrongdoing, even when the Governor is the one who exposes it, as when her staff exposed improper gifts by Verizon to DMV employees during the Easley administration. The state Republican Party wants Perdue and her committee interrogated at a State Board of Elections hearing. As a Charlotte Observer editorial illustrates, look for media outlets to continue to pile on Perdue rather than take a balanced approach. The system of private donors supplying millions of dollars to politicians is guaranteed to produce enough fodder for an endless flow of gotcha stories.
Thursday, March 25, 2010:
- MoveOn.Org has announced that “our next big fight” (after the healthcare struggle) will be to push for passage of the Fair Elections Now Act that creates a public financing option for Congressional elections. MoveOn scolds some Democrats for sponsoring “small potatoes” legislation that addresses the Citizens United decision by requiring beefed up disclosure without “reining in” the influence of corporate-backed spending in elections. To make its point, MoveOn provides this nifty chart showing that successful measures to increase transparency have done nothing to slow the rising flow of private money into federal elections. The core problem is not the amount of money, but the source: private contributions that come with strings attached. The Fair Elections Now Act offers an alternative source of financing that helps candidates, voters, small donors and taxpayers.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010:
- The official NC Judicial Voter Guide for the 2010 primary is being mailed to over four million households across the state, in time for absentee voting by mail, which has now begun. The Guide is also available on-line at the State Board of Election’s website. Two of the Court of Appeals seats have three or four candidates; the May 4th primary will narrow the field, and the top two candidates for each position will face each other in the November general election. The other appellate court races are not involved in the primary because they only involve one or two candidates. In addition to candidate profiles, the Guide has loads of information about voter registration, methods of voting, the judicial public financing program, and a voter’s bill of rights (page 15) based on material provided by Democracy North Carolina. All the candidates in the primary have signed up to participate in the public financing program!! The Guide and judicial public financing program are supported in part by the $3 check-off on the NC income tax form. Checking YES for the Public Campaign Fund does not change your tax bill or refund; it just sends $3 to the Fund from the taxes you’re paying anyway. BE HEARD: Check YES on your state income tax form and support Voter-Owned Elections.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010:
- Canada, France and other countries use driver’s license, tax collection, public assistance and other databases to automatically register their citizens to vote, while allowing them to opt out if they choose; registration rates exceed 90 percent. Demos, a national nonpartisan think tank, has published a new report that examines how easily states could link their databases of clients receiving public assistance to voter registration files to increase the number of low-income registrants; the process is cheaper and provides more accurate, updated information than the current methods we use. A large number of states collect all the necessary information needed for registration, including citizenship status, at public assistance agencies, but a variety of changes would be needed in some cases, such as getting a physical residential address rather than just a box number. The report text and footnotes indicate that between 44 and 60 million citizens were unregistered during 2008 and registration rates directly correlate with income levels. Handy state-by-state charts are at the end of the report.
Monday, March 22, 2010:
- The Law Review at NC Central University’s Law School is sponsoring an important symposium on “The Future of Voting Rights in the 21st Century” on Friday, March 26, 2010 from 9 AM to 4 PM. Four panels during the day examine the impact of recent court decisions on voting rights issues and redistricting, strategies to protect and expand voting rights, and the interplay of campaign financing and voting rights. Speakers include Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center, Damon Circosta, Anita Earls, Bill Gilkeson, Bob Hall, Irv Joyner, Al McSurley, Gene Nichol, Don Wright, and others. The event will be at the NCCU Law School in Durham, at Nelson Street and Alston Avenue.
- The Asheville Citizens-Times published an exemplary report about the campaign money Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) received from the healthcare industry in the days immediately before and after important votes on healthcare reform. It’s the kind of reporting that the MAPlight resource mentioned in Friday’s link can make possible, as well as the array of data available from the Center for Responsive Politics.
Friday, March 19, 2010:
- MAPLight.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that tracks contributions to members of U.S. Congress, has launched a redesigned, new website in honor of Sunshine Week. It has some nifty new search tools and allows users to track how money aligns with votes on specific bills, reveals how much individual legislators have received from different industries and organizations and also allows you to search for specific contributions by parties, by committee and within date ranges. Visit it now.
Thursday, March 18, 2010:
- This is Sunshine Week, a time to highlight the problems of weak disclosure laws, secret meetings, hidden documents, and the inappropriate privacy surrounding public affairs (which drives the media crazy, for good reason), as well as a time to celebrate the access to public records that we do have (which you won’t read about because the media has a pathological aversion to revealing good news about government.) A private group, Sunshine Review, evaluates the websites of 5,000 state and county governments, school systems and some large cities for the access they provide to budgets, contracts, decisions, etc. A summary page indicates that only 63 of the 100 counties post meaningful information about their county budgets and none provides information about contracts; our state government receives a grade of C for transparency.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010:
- Democracy North Carolina analyzed the state’s 100 counties to identify the ones with the greatest risk of losing federal funds because of an undercount during the 2010 Census. All the counties are in danger, and about half are at elevated or very high risk. Public radio (WUNC-FM) cited the report in a nice feature about the campaign to involve churches in Census education in Wake County, part of the statewide effort called “Count All Souls” that we’ve helped organize. A feature story in Beaufort County’s Daily News and editorial in the Salisbury Post illustrate how the report is being used by local papers.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010:
- Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, non-profits will be under new pressures to act like for-profit corporations – not only as the front groups that do the bidding of their for-profits donors, but also as supporters of candidates who supply them with government grants and contracts. The current controversy about curbing earmarks in the federal budget highlights how the lines are already blurred between non-profit and for-profit corporations seeking favors from members of Congress. Most earmarked money goes to non-profits that have business partners run by individuals who often contribute to the earmarker; now the non-profit can just as easily sponsor “indepndent expenditures” or other electioneering activities that benefit the benefactors. (The Washington Post recently profiled seven members of Congress who received $834,000 from campaign donors tied to recipients of $245 million from their earmarks, mostly brokered through a pay-to-play lobbying firm.) At the least, we recommend that non-profits be required to spend any money for electioneering from a segregated account whose donors are disclosed and whose income is fully taxed, i.e., there’s no tax benefit to the donor and funds going into the account are treated as taxable income.
Monday, March 15, 2010:
- More good news on judicial public financing (following Friday’s entry): West Virginia ended its 2010 legislative session on Saturday with a flurry of activity, including passing a pilot public financing program for state Supreme Court contests in 2012. The legislation culminates years of work by advocates and received strong support from Gov. Joe Manchin; it is modeled on North Carolina’s program. The Center for Competitive Politics, a national rightwing think-tank, tried to kill the bill last week by claiming federal judges have already declared key provisions used in the bill unconstitutional, despite the fact that just the reverse has happened with NC’s program. Legislators changed the funding method for the pilot to eliminate court fees and rely solely on a $3 million surplus account in the state Auditor’s office. When the governor signs the legislation, West Virginia will become the fourth state with a “voter-owned” method of judicial public financing, joining NC, New Mexico and Wisconsin.
Friday, March 12, 2010:
- Good news for the judicial public campaign program in NC: Ten of the 11 candidates in contested races for NC appellate courts have signed up to participate in the program; they must gather at least 350 qualifying contributions from registered voters, accept spending and fundraising limits, and earn a spot of the general election ballot in order to receive a public grant for the general election. Appeals Court Judge Ann Marie Calabria is the only candidate who didn’t sign up; she’s running for re-election. Judge Sanford Steelman Jr. also signed up, but he has no opponent. The high level of participation is especially good news in the face of warnings that the recent Citizens United decision could turn judicial elections into a bidding war and scare candidates away from the public financing option. Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor noted the positive effect of judicial reforms in North Carolina at a recent speech at Elon University, but reiterated her call for ending all judicial elections in favor of an appointment system. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg echoed the call for ending judicial elections this week. Our position has simply been: As long as elections continue, a strong public financing program is needed.
Thursday, March 11, 2010:
- It’s easy to second-guess the way the US Census Bureau is spending money: This week, it sent out 120 million letters in envelopes with individual addresses, with information that could have gone out at less than one fourth the cost on an attractive postcard, pre-addressed to Residential Customer, with an 800 number asking people to call if they don’t get a Census form in the next two week or if they need assistance filling it out. And that’s giving the Bureau the benefit of the doubt on the value of providing an advance notice. How well is the Census Bureau working to get full participation in your community? Many nonprofits that signed up as “Census partners” are frustrated by the Bureau’s ineptitude, but in other places it’s doing solid work. Rather than gamble, local governments should take their own initiative, devote some staff and resources for Census education, similar to what’s being done by the City of Greensboro, because the payback for getting everyone counted is enormous. Here’s a one-minute YouTube on the money at stake, from NC Policy Watch and Democracy NC. A press conference today in Raleigh will highlight the “Count All Souls” campaign of religious groups in Wake County and statewide: 1 PM at First Baptist Church, 101 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010:
- It’s tempting to see today’s entry as the Angel versus the Devil. Or Charity vs. Greed. On the one hand is a truly remarkable individual: Granny D aka Doris Haddock of New Hampshire. She died yesterday at age 100 with family and friends at her side. At age 90, she inspired millions by walking across the country for campaign finance reform, stopping in scores of communities for rallies and posting eloquent appeals for Americans to put human life and the common good ahead of narrow-minded powerful interests. (“Democracy is not something you have, it’s something you do.”) Her walk culminated with the passage of the McCain-Feingold law, which banned corporate donations to the national parties and corporate-funded, last-minute electioneering ads. On the other hand is a corporation that promotes the gospel of self-centered greed: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In contrast to many local chambers, the national chamber is turning into an aggressive political machine with hard-line stances that have caused many businesses to quit (including Apple and Nike). But encouraged by recent Supreme Court decisions and a massive fundraising operation, the trade group is intervening in more elections across the country and building a ground force that rivals the political parties.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010:
- The NC House passed a bill last year to bar the PACs, officers, directors and managers of entities with state contracts worth more than $25,000 from contributing a combined total of more than $1,000 to the public official responsible for awarding the contract. H-961 is narrowly tailored to address “pay-to-play” practices; a more ambitious bill might cover donations made six month before and six months after the term of the contract, or donations made by the immediate family members of the contractor’s officials. The narrow scope of the bill allowed it to gain co-sponsorship by the House Republican leader (Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam) and Democratic guardian of the First Amendment (Rep. Deborah Ross); it passed by a vote of 115 to 1. The state Senate still did not touch H-961, and it will be one of several bills to watch in the short session beginning on May 12. The difficulty of enacting more ambitious pay-to-play laws is illustrated by two events last week: The Colorado Supreme Court struck down that state’s pay-to-play law for being overly broad (for example, it banned contributions to local officials by contractors with state agencies); however, the court signaled how a new law could be more narrowly written to withstand challenge. Meanwhile, the New Mexico legislature adjourned without the state Senate adopting a House-passed bill that would prohibit all contributions from lobbyists, contractors, principals of contractors, and “seekers of targeted subsidies” to any candidate for state office. The NM House sponsors thought a tough bill was needed, but critics said it would be quickly struck down by the courts. Of course, if candidates had the alternative of using a public funding system for their campaign, the pay-to-play system would face an even better challenge than any court-approved regulation could provide.
Monday, March 8, 2010:
- The Libertarian and Green parties in North Carolina are suing the state, claiming that the large number of signatures required to put a new party’s candidates on the ballot violates the state constitution. A party must collect signatures from registered voters equal to two percent of ballots cast in the previous gubernatorial election – the second largest number in the nation behind only California. The two political parties submitted their appeal brief to the NC Supreme Court on March 1, 2010. Nine organizations across the political spectrum, including Democracy NC and the John Locke Foundation, filed an amicus brief in support of the parties.
Friday, March 5, 2010:
- The State Board of Elections did not use a statute [NCGS 163-278.19(b)] against coerced contributions to referendum committees to find NC Association of Realtors in violation of state law, but Board chair Larry Leake used his bully pulpit to admonish NCAR as “morally wrong” and essentially warned them not to levy a similar special assessment again. See yesterday’s entry and today’s pieces by the Greensboro News & Record, Associated Press, and Charlotte Observer. The legal morass surrounding regulation of political speech/spending means we need a higher level of moral leadership from the officials in charge of private organizations and corporations, such as NCAR, Blue Cross and GlaxoSmithKline.
- In happier news, Oregon has joined a small number of states that allow citizens with driver’s licenses or other state ID to register to vote via the Internet. Not just download a form, but fill it out and submit it on line. You may be surprised to learn that existing law allows North Carolina to launch a similar program, and it’s only a matter of time before it does.
Thursday, March 4, 2010:
- The Greensboro News & Record provides this preview of a hearing today at the State Board of Elections in Raleigh. One key issue is whether the NC Association of Realtors used an assessment imposed as a condition of membership to fund, directly or indirectly, referendum battles in numerous counties, and if so, did the assessment violate state law against coerced funding of referendum committees [NCGS 163-278.19(b)]. The case has larger implications given the Supreme Court’s decision that corporations and trade associations can spend money from their treasuries to promote the election or defeat of candidates. See our February 19, 2010 entry for background on the case.
- Last night, WRAL-TV examined the political contributions tied to the parent company of a Chapel Hill nursing home under investigation following the death of a patient. One top executive at Britthaven’s Hillco Ltd. gave the maximum contribution to both Democratic candidates in the 2008 primary and to the winner’s Republican opponent, betting on all the horses for guaranteed success.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010:
- The city council of Greenville, North Carolina, approved a resolution on March 1 asking the General Assembly “to enact legislation that gives municipalities, at their option, the authority to sponsor a public financing program for their elections.” Greenville’s Daily Reflector ran this strong editorial for the resolution a week before the vote. The city of Raleigh and Wilmington have each passed similar resolutions in the past six weeks. These resolutions give added reason for the state Senate to adopt H-120 when it reconvenes in May 2010; the bill passed the House in 2009. Click here for more on local campaign reform.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010:
- Insurance companies love the idea of the government mandating that everybody get health insurance, but why are they so terrified about government offering the public an alternative method of buying health insurance? In a word: greed. And a fear of honest competition, which is something the industry has gradually rooted out. The America Medical Association has a new report that concludes: “Competition in the health insurance industry is disappearing with more markets across the country dominated by one or two insurers . . . In 24 of the 43 states reported in the new AMA report, the two largest insurers had a combined market share of 70 percent or more. Last year, just 18 of 42 states had two insurers with a combined market share of 70 percent or more.” For decades, insurance companies have been exempt from anti-trust regulation, but that could come to an end even if the big health reform bill fails. President Obama and a bipartisan majority of the House of Representative are backing legislation to repeal the exemption, despite the political clout of the insurance industry; it spent $164 million lobbying Congress and federal policymakers in 2009 and $46.7 million in campaign contributions during the 2008 election. Perhaps the industry tolerated last week’s lopsided 406-19 House vote for repealing the exemption because it knew the bill would have “no significant effect” on premium prices, as the Congressional Budget Office warned, or because it knew the Senate would kill the bill.
Monday, March 1, 2010:
- The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a handy guide to bills and others initiatives by state officials aimed at addressing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Maryland has perhaps the largest package of legislative proposals, earning attention from USA Today. On Thursday, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy of the Brennan Center for Justice gave Maryland legislators an overview of the proposals’ weaknesses and strengths, as well as “four steps to take back our democracy” that mirror our position: promote public funding of political campaigns; modernize voter registration; demand accountability through consent and disclosure; and advance a voter-centric view of the First Amendment.
- Meanwhile, the New York Times gives a lazy account of the difficulty of requiring disclosure from non-profits that use corporate donations for political advertising; the report fails to describe IRS requirements that could facilitate disclosure or interview accountants and other insiders about how corporate donations used for lobbying and electioneering are currently tracked and reported to the donors. Since IRS rules require nonprofits to keep records of the donations used in whole or part for political advocacy, why shouldn’t that information become public if the non-profit spends above a certain level?
Friday, February 26, 2010:
- REMINDER: Three events are worth your participation: (1) NC Policy Watch and NC Voters for Clean Elections are holding a “Crucial Conversation” on March 2 about what the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision means for you, with national expert Brenda Wright, director of the Democracy Project at Demos. (2) Democracy NC is holding another in its series of Census workshops this Sunday (2/28) in Charlotte for groups and individuals interested in helping their community gain a full count in the 2010 Census. (3) The annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street [HKonJ] march and assembly takes place on February 27; all progressive-minded North Carolinians (and the curious) should attend.
Thursday, February 25, 2010:
- Carter Wrenn, the Republican political consultant and former axman for Jesse Helms, is using his blog to flog Republican Lanier Cansler, Secretary of the NC Department Health & Human Services, for the department’s eagerness to contract with firms Cansler formerly represented as a lobbyist, particularly related to Home Care for seniors. Wrenn’s entries on February 6, 16, and 19 offer plenty of details; one wonders if the Association for Home and Hospice Care of NC or something similar is one of Wrenn’s clients. The story echoes previous revelations about DHHS and Cansler’s dealings with mental health policy that turn out to benefit Value Options, another Cansler client, and other for-profit “health providers” at the expense of patients and taxpayers.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010:
- A new report by Global Integrity that evaluates corruption in 35 nations gives the Obama administration high marks for its new ethics and disclosure rules, but says that’s not enough: “Despite a change of administration in the United States in 2009, significant progress has not been achieved in curbing corruption at the national level.” To make serious progress, Global Integrity’s Nathaniel Heller told The Hill, the administration will have to take action “to minimize the influence of special-interest money in politics.” The report is one more indication that Voter-Owned public financing is the best way forward.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010:
- Rides are available from such places at Greenville, Greensboro, Winston-Salem Fayetteville, and Durham for the fifth annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street (H K on J) march and rally in Raleigh on Saturday, February 27. It’s a shorter walk this year, with plenty of good fellowship and inspiration.
- Another blue-chip lobbying firm provides guidance to trade associations about how to maneuver in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
Monday, February 22, 2010:
- Channel 14’s weekly Political Connections show featured interviews with Bob Phillips of Common Cause and Bob Hall of Democracy NC on the ramifications of the Citizens United decision.
Friday, February 19, 2010:
- The State Board of Elections will convene on March 4 at 1 PM to hear, among other items, a complaint by Becky Harper of Raleigh that the NC Association of Realtors forced her and other real estate brokers to pay a $50 fee to the association’s political advocacy committee; if she didn’t pay, she’d lose her membership and access to the multi-listing service that is crucial for marketing properties. The fee paid for the association’s successful multi-million dollar campaign to fight counties that held referendum votes on enacting a real estate transfer tax to help pay for the cost of growth. Becky Harper and others protested the “extortion” fee, which got relatively little media attention considering the policy and statewide impact. Greg Flynn began a blog/website that has chronicled the transfer tax fights and provides important news about the association, including the steady decline of its membership, now down 18% from it high in 2007. It’s unclear what the State of Elections will do with Harper’s complaint, but the issue could finally get its day in the sunlight.
Thursday, February 18, 2010:
- Good news and bad news to ponder: North Carolina’s unique Innocence Inquiry Commission declared a man innocent of the murder he was convicted of committing two decades ago. Three other men wrongfully convicted in NC greeted Greg Taylor as he left the courtroom. Read the stories, ponder the lives involved, and imagine other innovations like the Innocence Inquiry Commission, a government agency, by the way. The bad news story describes a lobbying firm advising its clients how to use the Citizens United decision to ramp up obstruction of free elections while avoiding the embarrassment of public disclosure.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010:
- Three events are worth your attention and participation: (1) The annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street [HKonJ] march and assembly takes place on February 27; all progressive-minded North Carolinians (and the curious) should attend. (2) Democracy NC is holding Census workshops this Saturday (2/20) in Winston-Salem, Fayetteville, and Greenville for groups and individuals interested in helping their community gain a full count in the 2010 Census. A similar workshop will be in Charlotte on February 28. (3) NC Policy Watch and NC Voters for Clean Elections are holding a “Crucial Conversation” on March 2 about what the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision means for you, with national expert Brenda Wright, director of the Democracy Project at Demos.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010:
- Three recent items on the NC Policy Watch website are linked to Democracy NC: (1) a compelling essay by Chase Foster of NC Voters for Clean Elections on how to respond to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling; (2) a radio interview with Bob Hall about Democracy NC’s analysis of the changing profile of the state’s electorate and the 2010 Census; and (3) a paint-by-numbers guide to Blue Cross Blue Shield, including our data on its campaign contributions and other figures related to Sen. Tony Rand’s conflicting statements about the insurance company’s role in the exorbitant cost of health care for prison inmates.
Monday, February 15, 2010:
- The Center for Responsive Politics released its annual analysis of the money spent on lobbying federal policymakers – a whopping $3.47 billion, with the pharmaceutical and health products industry in the lead. Rather than suffering from the recession, spending on lobbying increased and especially jumped in the fourth quarter of 2009 during intensive debates on health care, energy policy and financial industry regulation.
- Even Fortune magazine recognizes that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is based on fiction and ideology, and is therefore creating lots of negative reaction. Fortune’s contributing editor David A. Kaplan writes, “The fact is, special-interests groups – through lobbying, soft money, and legal direct contributions to candidates – already exercise huge influence on elections. You can’t prove that observation, yet there is widespread agreement among both Republicans and Democrats that the way we finance American campaigns is an abomination – and that if voices are missing from the marketplace, they are of individuals rather than groups like corporations.”
Saturday, February 13, 2010:
- The Wilmington Star-News published op-ed columns for and against a giant cement factory proposed for southeast NC as part of its on-going coverage of the money-in-politics, environmental, ethics and other controversies surrounding Titan Cement (sees the links of background reports in this news story). The controversy has gained additional attention because it involves key administrators under former Gov. Mike Easley (who is now under federal investigation), a number of Easley’s friends and political appointees who are also under scrutiny, and his current law firm, which lobbies for the company in Raleigh.
Friday, February 12, 2010:
- Democratic leaders in Congress outlined a package of measures to blunt the full impact of the recent Supreme Court Citizens United decision. The Washington Post has this article on some reactions. More details are needed; public campaign financing is not in the package. Meanwhile, three recent polls show public disgust with the gridlock in Washington is sky high; the public believes the political system is broken; they blame the power of wealthy narrow interests and they support going beyond new disclosure or campaign limits by enacting a small-donor public financing option for candidates. Indeed, voters are more likely to re-elect a lawmaker who supports public campaign financing than one who doesn’t.
Thursday, February 11, 2010:
- The Census Bureau announced it would release the population count of prisons in time for states to reallocate prisoners back to their hometowns for purposes of drawing political district lines. If state legislatures choose to use the data, it could help urban communities gain resources and political influence because prisons are often located in rural areas but disproportionately filled with young black men from cities. Several advocacy groups applauded the decision by the Census director and are mounting campaigns in New York and elsewhere to have prisoners counted in their home communities. If you have an interest in such an effort in North Carolina, please let us know (call Bob at 919-286-6000).
Wednesday, February 10, 2010:
- UNC public radio features a show about the 2010 Census at noon today on “State of Things,” with Democracy NC represented at the table.
- When you follow the money supporting the Wake County school board candidates against diversity policies, it leads you to two businessmen with extensive investments in conservative and libertarian causes – Art Pope and Robert Luddy.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010:
- Lawmakers in Washington and Raleigh are trying to figure how to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision that will allow corporations to spend more money in more ways to influence who wins elections. There are some good ideas, but a fundamental problem still needs fixing – how can candidates compete without becoming a captive or a victim of the big money hustle? Please CLICK HERE and encourage lawmakers to support a public financing alternative for candidates who abide by public-trust rules.
Monday, February 8, 2010:
- What is the correlation between excessive fear of others, racism, hostility to government, and selfishness? The “tea party movement” is showing us the answer. The combination destroys democracy and breeds demagogues, as we in the South should know only too well.
Saturday, February 6, 2010:
- Law professor Lawrence Lessig pens a powerful indictment of Congress and the President that explains why conservatives can’t make government smaller and liberals can’t make it more effective. Another eloquent essay: Former Republican Sen. Warren Rudman has this op-ed column that urges Republicans to lead the charge for public campaign financing.
Friday, February 5, 2010:
- Preventing “corruption and the appearance of corruption” has long been the gold standard for evaluating whether a campaign finance regulation serves a genuine public interest and can survive a challenge that the regulation violates the First Amendment protection of free speech. The Citizens United case is exposing the weakness of linking that standard solely to corruption of public officials. In our view, the deeper concern should be the corruption of democracy itself, i.e., corruption of the integrity of the election process, where public confidence in the value of the vote and the outcome of elections is undermined and the right to participate in a fair election process becomes a hollow promise. You’ll see a hint of this reasoning in this Daily Kos blog entry about a constitutional amendment (“Free Speech for People”) being introduced by Rep. Donna Edwards and Rep. John Conyers to limit corporate powers.
- For a hearty laugh and unvarnished message, view this ad on YouTube by the first corporation to announce its candidacy for Congress. More serious commentary and recommendations, good and bad, can be found in video and written testimony at a Senate hearing on the Citizens United decision.
Thursday, February 4, 2010:
- The Raleigh city council recently voted 8-1 to support a bill in the NC General Assembly that would give large cities the authority to sponsor a public campaign financing program in local elections. Mayor Charles Meeker thinks a program similar to the one being tested in Chapel Hill would be helpful, because “Raleigh has had a problem with certain special interests paying a lot of money.”
- Tova Andrea Wang provides an overview, update and useful links regarding the debate in state legislatures about requiring voters to show an ID each time they vote. Electionline.org has a state-by-state chart of the ID laws for voting. There also is this piece in Slate about the shady doings of Mark “Thor” Herne, Hans von Spakovsky and Bradley Scholzman, three of the top Republican warriors promoting the theory of mass voter fraud.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010:
- Please see the call for entries in this new contest for the best poster promoting voter registration and pre-registration, created by and for teenagers. We appreciate your help in spreading the word about the contest.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010:
- The US Senate and House are both having hearings this week to begin crafting legislation to address the harmful impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. A new poll shows strong public disgust with the decision and support for containing the damage. The Campaign Legal Center offered Senators a set of recommended changes that includes expanding disclosure in several areas and restricting election spending by foreign nationals, federal contractors, and entities making direct campaign contributions. The Brennan Center for Justice offers more robust requirements for accountability from corporations involved in election spending, modeled on British law. Brennan also endorses expansion of federal public financing programs more strongly than the Legal Center, which shies away from systematic remedies to the CU decision.
Monday, February 1, 2010:
- Electionline.org Weekly describes the momentum behind more states adopting laws to allow teenagers as young as 16 to pre-register to vote. Rhode Island and California are the latest states to join the trend, following North Carolina, Florida and Hawaii. NC’s law became effective January 1, 2010 – see the entry for December 31, 2009 for links to lesson plans about pre-registration designed for NC high schools. A study of pre-registration in Hawaii and Florida highlights the importance of face-to-face contact and education to make pre-registration most effective. Democracy NC is looking for volunteers to approach teachers, principals, etc., about integrating pre-registration in the Civics education curriculum at local schools. Contact Jenn Frye (919-286-6000 ext. 15) for an orientation kit on how you can be involved.
Saturday, January 30, 2010:
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC is paying a $95,000 fine for making 100,000 automated (“robo”) calls to North Carolina residents as part of its intensive lobbying campaign on national health care reform. The state Attorney General levied the fine because the non-profit company violated provisions of the state’s no-call law. State Rep. Pricey Harrison asked NC Attorney General Roy Cooper to investigate BCBS’s robo-calls and mailings, Sen. Ellie Kinnaird joined the call, and many residents complained about the insurer’s lobbying blitz at the same time it was raising its rates. BCBS is one of the state’s most prolific political spenders – see Democracy North Carolina’s analysis of the state campaign contributions from Blue Cross and the insurance industry’s contributions to members of Congress from North Carolina.
- Tom Campbell of NC Spin has a column published in various state newspapers that emphasizes the growing influence of unaffiliated voters in North Carolina and draws heavily on our recent analysis of the changing profile of the state’s electorate.
Friday, January 29, 2010:
- An important report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics analyzes appellate court elections in 35 states in 2007 and 2008 with a focus on the relationship between the candidates’ fundraising, electoral success, and ethnicity, race or gender. “Diversity in State Judiciary Campaigns, 2007-2008” concludes: “First, women and members of ethnic or racial minorities were underrepresented on the ballot. Second, the advantage of incumbency and the ability to raise money played key roles in the success of a campaign, regardless of a candidate’s gender or ethnicity. Third, the money raised by partisan candidates exceeded all others.” The report incorrectly says, “One of the two females who won their contest despite raising less than their opponents was Cheri Beasley, an African American who not only unseated the incumbent Caucasian male in North Carolina, but was ‘the first black woman to win a statewide elected office without the advantage of incumbency — without first having been appointed to the seat then running in the next election to try to keep it.’” The achievement of defeating an incumbent is significant, but Beasley and her opponent, Doug McCullough, both participated in North Carolina’s public financing program and had roughly the same amount of money for their campaigns. Beasley raised slightly more in private qualifying donations than McCullough, but McCullough included his public grants on the wrong line of his disclosure report, which misled the Institute’s researchers.
Thursday, January 28, 2010:
- Here’s a link to a petition that lets your elected officials know you support expanding public campaign financing programs in North Carolina, as well as nationally through the Fair Elections Now Act. FENA creates a public financing program in Congressional elections modeled after our program for statewide judges and three Council of State position. Pass copy and forward this message (or the link) to your lists, Facebook, friends, etc. with your own introduction. Pushing for new clean streams of Voter-Owned campaign funds is really the best remedy for the Supreme Court ruling that aims to uncork more streams of dirty money.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010:
- The Citizens United case will continue to reverberate in many directions. USA Today has a story that outlines some directions for future court challenges. Don’t be surprised to see disclosure rules being challenged. James Bopp, the missionary for privatively-owned elections, already has challenges to disclosure provisions working their way through lower courts. He will be encouraged by the language of the majority opinion in Citizens United which asserts that public disclosure is enough to solve the corrosive influence of big money in elections BUT also asserts that it’s a terrible burden, indeed an unconstitutional burden, to require the people behind corporations (employees, stockholders, etc.) to form committees, registers with elections officials and file regular disclosure reports so the public knows how they spend money on elections. This is typical of the twisted logic and hypocrisy running throughout the Citizens United decision.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010:
- The head of the Republican Party in North Carolina is excitedly claiming the GOP will make corruption in Raleigh a big enough campaign issue to win majority control of the General Assembly. NC GOP Chair Tom Fetzer is fond of saying the “culture of corruption has risen out of a century of one-party dominance in state government.” He was in the news again today, chastising Gov. Bev Perdue for not forcing Democratic fundraiser Lanny Wilson off the NC Board of Transportation and NC Turnpike Board as soon as it became known that he used his insider influence to get environment permits for the coastal developments of Gary and Randy Allen. Fetzer may want to be careful where he points. One of those developments, Cannonsgate, is becoming well known because of the waterfront lot purchased by former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley and because of its central role in the indictment of Ruffin Poole (see Jan. 22 entry below). Now Jack Betts of the McClatchy chain has a column that traces the Cannonsgate mischief back to the days when Republican Gov. Jim Martin was in charge and the original developer of the Cannonsgate property, GOP fundraiser E. Steve Stroud of Raleigh, was using his influence to gain favored treatment from Martin’s environment officials. Betts’ column names the secretary of Gov. Martin’s environment agency, Tommy Rhodes, but he doesn’t name one of the department assistant secretaries: Tom Fetzer. Fetzer was later a chief deputy secretary in Gov. Martin’s Department of Transportation, which provided so many favors to GOP political patrons that it merited an investigative series by ace reporter Barry Yeoman in the NC Independent called “Highway Robbery.”