Archive for September, 2010
Thursday, September 30th, 2010
A new poll in swing Congressional districts finds that voters heavily favor the Fair Elections Now Act – the bill to provide Congressional candidates with a practical campaign-financing alternative that orients them to small donors and constituents rather than Washington lobbyists and PACs. How the question is asked in a poll always influences the answer, and you can read the question and response details in Celinda Lake’s release. You can also view a parody of our “cash-ocracy” in a new cartoon video by Mark Fiore.
Thursday, September 30th, 2010
Wilmington businessman Rusty Carter got slapped with a $100,000 fine today for funneling illegal contributions to state politicians. The Associated Press story describes what happened at the State Board of Elections meeting and references the letter Democracy North Carolina sent in June, urging the Board to assess a hefty penalty against Carter for his actions. There’s more about the case in our LINKS for June 22 and May 5, 2010.
Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
The divide between rich and poor is widening in the United States, thanks in part to a political system driven by money. “The top-earning 20 percent of Americans — those making more than $100,000 each year — received 49% of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3% earned by those below the poverty line, according to newly released census figures.” That ratio of 14.5-to-1 is nearly twice the 7.7-to-1 ratio in 1968. Politicians more attuned to their money-backers than the masses are enacting government policies (from taxes to spending) that favor the already-wealthy. The mega-rich can jump from unknowns to members of the U.S. Senate, or they can sponsor their own politician or national political committee. Just three billionaires have given 91% of the money behind Karl Rove’s American Crossroads attack-ad machine. Meanwhile, millions of low-income citizens barely have the time and resources to think about political participation. Registration – obtaining a license to vote – is not a simple hurdle in most states. Federal law requires government agencies that administer social service programs to help people become registered but it’s taken years to get many states to follow this law, often after litigation or concerted pressure by nonpartisan advocacy groups. And that just gets people registered, not involved in exerting their actual political power – which could lead to their increased economic power.
Monday, September 27th, 2010
The New York Times exposes the simple function of Americans for Job Security: serve as a front for corporations and business owners with a political agenda “to sidestep campaign disclosure rules.” It is set up as a 501(c)(6) trade association with members paying “dues” that are often one-time payments for attack-ad campaigns against specific politicians or referendum issues. AJS is spending more than $2 million in ads attacking US Reps. Larry Kissell, Bobby Etheridge and Heath Shuler, all Democrats. The 501(c)(6) tax-code classification allows the group to avoid disclosing the identify of any of its “members,” and at least some of them likely treat their “dues” as a business expense that they deduct from their personal or corporation’s taxable income. That means they reduce their tax bill by over $150,000 for every $500,000 they spend on attack ads, so the net cost to them is $350,000. It’s an odd form of publicly subsidized campaign financing that is helping fuel a corporate takeover of elections. As AJS’s ads become more direct in calling for the defeat of candidates, rather than just smearing them via “issue ads,” the donors should lose any tax benefits, but a Federal Elections Commission ruling still allows plenty of ways for AJS’s donors to remain anonymous.
Saturday, September 25th, 2010
The State Board of Elections has posted a list of Early Voting sites for all 100 counties on its website, with days and times each is open. Many counties offer multiple locations and more than one weekend day for convenient voting or same-day registration and voting during this period, Oct. 14 to 30. Seven include an opportunity for Sunday afternoon voting: Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Pitt, Vance, and Wake. You can also check the status of your registration and learn where your Election Day polling place is located; the first searches by name, the second searches by address and both of them go to a link where you can view the entire ballot for your precinct (you may be surprised to see a referendum issue or other item). Hint: When using the “voter lookup” or name search feature, it’s best to use the wildcard asterisk (*) in the first name field – for example, Eliz* – because otherwise you’ll need to type in a middle initial or name exactly as it is in your registration record. The search by address will allow you see a polling site and sample ballot whether or not you are registered.
Thursday, September 23rd, 2010
In Congress today, a House committee passed the Fair Elections Now Act, an historic achievement for the public campaign movement; however, it is unclear if the bill will be taken up on the floor before the House recesses in a few weeks for election campaigning. Meanwhile, by a vote of 59-39, Senate Democrats failed to gain a single Republican supporter for ending a filibuster against the DISCLOSE Act. The Act would require more information about many of the shadowy groups now spending millions on the election. Because 60 votes were needed for closure, the measure will not be taken up – even though 59% of the 100 Senators favor it.
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
We have a challenge for you. Democracy North Carolina can’t support particular candidates, but we can promote a big turnout of conscientious voters. And you can help. Right now, we’re in the middle of a giant voter mobilization campaign designed to target, educate and turn out 100,000 North Carolina voters who support Voter-Owned Elections BUT who don’t typically vote in mid-term elections like 2010. We have five organizers working in more than 20 key counties across the state. We’re producing over 200,000 voter guides, church bulletin inserts and flyers with information about how to use Early Voting and Same-Day Registration. We’re mounting a two-week phone bank and a “Souls to the Polls” campaign that involves more than 300 churches and faith organizations in voter education and mobilization. And here’s where the challenge comes in: Your contribution of $25 or $50 or more will help us implement this bold, statewide plan – and your donation will be matched, dollar for dollar, toward a special $10,000 challenge gift. We need your help to meet this challenge! Please donate now on line. It’s essential for people who care about reform to have their voices heard where politicians listen the most – at the polling place. A low turnout of voters this year will be a disaster. If people of goodwill stay home, the passionate anti-government forces who fight pro-democracy reform will carry the day. Please use the link to give what you can or send your tax-deductible donation for the Voter Mobilization Campaign to Democracy NC, 1821 Green Street, Durham, NC 27705. Thank you!
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
Update on yesterday’s post: As another benefit from the federal health care reform law, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced it will refund $155.8 million to about 215,000 individual Blue Advantage policyholders in the state – or about $690 for the typical customer. In more good news, NC Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin successfully pushed Blue Cross to accept a 23% lower rate increase than it sought. The negotiated 5.37% increase is the lowest hike from Blue Cross in the past four years. Importantly, candidates for NC Insurance Commissioner can opt into a public campaign financing program. Goodwin got only about 5% of his campaign money in 2008 from insurance industry-related donors, compared to the 66% share supplied to his predecessor who had no public option for his campaign. Yesterday’s LINK also referred to the health-care money taken in by NC members of Congress. A report by the News & Observer includes an updated list of the top industries donating to Richard Burr’s campaign: three of his top four are related to health care providers, pharmaceuticals and the insurance industry.
Tuesday, September 21st, 2010
Contrary to the right-wing cry to “get government off my back,” the NC Council of Churches and the national coalition, Faithful Reform in Health Care, point out that government can help people solve problems. The coalition released a list of nine new benefits that begin this week because of the federal health care reform law. Families The substantial changes come about despite the millions spent by the insurance and health-care industry on lobbying and campaign donations to block reform. As Democracy NC research shows, there’s a strong correlation between the members of Congress who got the most money and the ones who side with the industry against consumers, with Sen. Richard Burr leading the NC list. The Faithful Reform coalition makes plain which side it’s on: “As people of faith, we envision a society where each person is afforded health, wholeness, and human dignity. This vision embraces a system of health care that is inclusive, accessible, affordable, and accountable.”
Friday, September 17th, 2010
The Fair Elections Now Act (which would provide Congressional candidates with a public campaign financing option) is slated for its first historic vote next week. The Committee on House Administration will “mark up” the bill on September 23 and hopefully vote to move it forward on its journey through Congress. The New York Times, many other newspapers, 160+ members of Congress, and a host of organizations have endorsed the measure, which would be financed with proceeds from auctioning parts of the unused broadband spectrum, not from taxes. The bill’s advance is “a clear sign that members of Congress realize that the American people are fed up with the status quo in Washington. Voters want a Congress that is accountable to them, not corporate and special interests,” says Public Campaign. A new ad illustrating that sentiment from tea party activists to progressive liberals begins airing this week. The reform coalition promoting the bill (now HR 6116, rather than HR 1826) includes Democracy North Carolina and many NC groups.
Thursday, September 16th, 2010
If you’re looking for a nail-biting close election, welcome to North Carolina in 2010. The NC Republican Party is excited about the prospect of gaining majority control of the state Senate for the first time since 1898, but Democrats believe they will narrowly hold their majority. A handy race-by-race projection from an astute analyst who helps businesses invest in “free market” candidates shows the Republicans winning the NC Senate and very likely the NC House. Of course, projections are tricky. Both sides are using polls to woo financial support with a message that they can win, with a little more money. The stakes are extra large this year: the winner gets to use the 2010 Census to redraw legislative and Congressional district lines that will favor their party for the next decade. Who wins comes down to who shows up to vote. The GOP is counting on an energized base of supporters, plus discouraged Democratic voters staying home and independents heavily favoring Republican candidates.
Thursday, September 16th, 2010
Check out this Facebook feature about North Carolina’s US Rep. Heath Shuler. He wants to hear something from you.
Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
Some updates: The company trying to build a giant cement factory near Wilmington (LINK, Feb. 13, 2010) has changed its legal and lobbying team, abandoning the McGuireWoods firm that once boasted having former Gov. Mike Easley and several of his associates on its payroll. Easley and Ruffin Poole have left McGuireWoods, and some key legislative supporters (e.g., state Senators Tony Rand and David Hoyle) won’t be back in 2011. Titan America is going with Womble Carlyle, the state’s largest law firm with a well-established lobbying arm; opponents of the proposed factory say they’re gearing up for continued battle.
In national news, the New York Times has two more stories about the escalating spending of outside groups in the 2010 elections – one about the unprecedented scale of the money this year, thanks to billionaires backing GOP candidates, and another about a pro-labor group that has filed a complaint with the IRS against the Chamber of Commerce for allegedly using money from a foundation for its political spending. AdWeek also reports that spending on advertising by the candidates will break the 2008 record, even though this is not a presidential election year.
Monday, September 13th, 2010
The up-coming use of the Instant Runoff Voting method to fill a vacancy on the NC Court of Appeals is beginning to get more media attention, which is good. But the 13 candidates in the race deserve attention, too; IRV works best when voters know more about the candidates. To help, a Special Edition of the Judicial Voter Guide is now posted on the website of the State Board of Elections and it will be mailed in early October to four million households. (The Voter Guide for five other appellate court races was already printed when the vacancy occurred; it’s at the same web address and will be mailed late this month.) The Special Edition includes profiles of the 13 candidates, plus information about voter registration, voting rights and the Instant Runoff Voting method, with a graphic illustration of the ballot. Producing a voter guide in appellate court races is an integral part of the state’s public campaign financing program, not the extra cost of having an IRV election. Like other judicial voter guides, the roughly $500,000 cost is paid by the Public Campaign Fund, from the voluntary $3 check-off and a surcharge on attorney dues, not from general tax funds. The same expense for this special edition would happen for a plurality election. While it’s far from ideal to have any election begin this late in the season, with or without IRV, it’s helpful that there is a source of funding through the Public Campaign Fund to provide an important educational booklet about the candidates and the voting method –- and to have it mailed statewide. Mailing to all households is actually much cheaper than picking only those with registered voters, and citizens who are not registered can still use Same-Day Registration at the One-Stop Early Voting sites. The Guide tells them how.
Saturday, September 11th, 2010
NC Congressmen Larry Kissell and Bobby Etheridge, both Democrats, will be blasted with $1.4 million worth of attack ads in the next month by the anti-government Americans for Job Security. Like many front groups designed to help a narrow segment of the super-rich, AJS uses emotional themes tied to fear, greed and insecurity to sway voters. The group pretends to care about jobs for Americans but it is bankrolled by job exporting corporations. Public Citizen filed a complaint with the IRS against its sham issue ads a few years ago, but now, after the Supreme Court’s ruling, AJS is free to raise corporate money and overtly advocate the defeat of its enemies. It joins an expanding galaxy of 527 committees, PACs, 501-c-6 trade associations (AJS is one, so is the US Chamber of Commerce) and other vehicles capitalizing on the Citizens United decision.