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Tuesday, January 31st, 2012
Here’s a strategy to simultaneously fight nasty political money and the nasty political ads they buy: Go after the broadcasters and make them pull any ad not completely substantiated with hard evidence. As a media expert explains, independent ads don’t enjoy the same protection from a broadcaster’s good-taste test as ads produced by candidates during the election season. Independent groups escape many campaign finance regulations because they’re technically not connected to the candidate. So why not use this distinction to insist that their ads get treated like non-campaign ads and are pulled when they cross the line with exaggerated claims and accusations. Here’s another strategy being tried in the high octane Senate race in Massachusetts. Sen. Scott Brown (R) and challenger Elizabeth Warren (D) have signed an unusual agreement that they will give a charity half the cost of any third-party’s ad attacking his or her opponent – and they’re telling outside groups from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads to the League of Conservation Voters to back off and let the candidates handle their own messaging, with the piles of money their raising themselves. Definitely a model worth watching.
Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
As the second anniversary of Citizens United approaches (Jan. 21), the corruption flowing from that decision is becoming more apparent. The Supreme Court declared that independent groups can not corrupt the political process, but the dominant role of Super PACs in the Republican primary is just the latest evidence that their decision was based on bias, not fact. Now another court has stepped up to tell the Supremes exactly that. The Montana Supreme Court rejected the Citizens United ruling, saying the evidence shows that independent spenders can and do wield enough influence to corrupt politics. “Organizations like WTP [a corporate political group] that act as a conduit for anonymously spending by others represent a threat to the political marketplace,” wrote Mike McGrath, Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, for the majority. “Clearly the impact of unlimited corporate donations creates a dominating impact on the political process and inevitably minimizes the impact of individual citizens.” Even the dissenting judges in the 5-2 decision upholding Montana law denounced the US Supreme Court. “While, as a member of this Court, I am bound to follow Citizens United, I do not have to agree with the [U.S.] Supreme Court’s decision,” wrote Justice James C. Nelson, in his dissent. “And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it. For starters, the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield enormous power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins: the transition is seamless and overlapping.” If the Montana case gets a fair hearing on appeal at the Supreme Court, it will completely expose that majority’s hypocrisy and corruption of judicial duty.
Monday, November 28th, 2011
Three individuals on the inside of Bev Perdue’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign were indicted today – not by the feds but by a Wake County grand jury. According to the News & Observer, the indictments allege that a top fundraiser for candidate Perdue “schemed to pay a staffer $32,000 for work that was kept off the books in violation of state election laws.” The felony charges result from a year-plus investigation into the campaign’s handing of finances, including hiding in-kind donations of airplane flights and other donations that would put the donor over contribution limits. The charges include obstructing justice and failure to report campaign finances. As the N&O report continues: “Earlier this year a retired state magistrate was charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to hide an illegal campaign flight. Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has said that Perdue, a former lieutenant governor and state lawmaker, is not a target of the probe, but today’s indictment reached into the campaign’s inner circle. ‘The conduct of the governor has not been an issue, nor any other elected official,’ Willoughby said. ‘She cooperated in the investigation, was interviewed. We asked her not to talk about the facts of the case. We thought it might be inappropriate, and there might be additional charges.’” The Associated Press story is here, and the brief indictments for each charge are here.
Thursday, November 17th, 2011
What can those new Super PACs do with their money. Stephen Colbert’s ad with presidential candidate Buddy Roemer gives you the clue. Meanwhile, Larry Lessig of Rootstrikers is joining with Dylan Ratigan’s “Get Money Out” to create a new organization to work against special-interest control of government: United Republic. Lessig also has a new book out about the corrupting culture of dependency that dominates Congress. As one reviewer said, “If anything unites the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street protesters, surely it is the sense that the system is rigged in favor of big shots in Washington and against little guys back home. Money is at the heart of it.”
Tuesday, November 15th, 2011
Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch recently interviewed Bob Hall, our executive director, for his radio show. Their brief audio conversation amounts to a quick tour through Democracy NC’s hot topics: Duke Energy buying an inside track for its rate hike and merger, the dirt you find when you dig into piles of special-interest money, election disasters on the horizon, and more. Meanwhile, Progress NC recently honored Hall and Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies for their investigative research into Art Pope’s empire that became the basis for the New Yorker’s expose of Pope. Your support of Democracy NC, through your activism and donations, makes all our work possible. PS: An invitation to donate may be arriving in the mail soon! THANKS!
Friday, November 11th, 2011
Following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the Federal Election Commission relaxed more of its rules to regulate political spending. Wealthy individuals and trade groups, as well as corporations and unions, now have a wide variety of ways to exert even more influence over an election’s outcome. The New York Times boils the campaign finance rules down to a clever interactive guide for the 9 ways to invest $25 to $10,000,000 in a political campaign, with various degrees of privacy and impact. The Supreme Court majority essentially says all these ways to spend money are expressions of your right to “free speech,” protected by the First Amendment. Here’s a clear video explanation of why controlling undue corporate domination of elections will likely require changing the U.S. Constitution and the Court’s view of the First Amendment. A group of Senators has introduced an amendment that is less sweeping but aims to restore society’s ability to regulate “free speech” that is really paid electioneering.
Monday, October 31st, 2011
The Pew Center on the States has a new on-line service called Election Data Dispatches. It’s billed as a round-up of the best stories, data, research and analysis about what’s involved in administering elections across the 50 states, what works, what needs improvement, etc – from voter registration to ballot design to election costs. Check it out. Check out Pew’s other election-related features from this site, too.
Thursday, September 29th, 2011
Two national campaign reform groups are asking the IRS to take away the tax-exempt status of 501(c)(4) organizations that are electioneering shells, not genuine “social welfare” organizations as required by law. The letter challenges four Republican- and Democratic-leaning non-profits. Democracy NC has promoted this approach to cope with the expanded use of non-profits after the Citizens United decision. Using c-4 and c-6 vehicles allows corporations and wealthy donors to remain unknown to the public, and many of them lower their tax bills by deducting their donations as business expenses. Art Pope’s Variety Stores may have done exactly that with the $470,000 it donated to Civitas Action, Americans for Prosperity and Real Jobs NC (a 527 organization) for electioneering in key 2010 legislative contests. Variety’s money only became known because North Carolina’s disclosure laws are stronger than those at the national level. Hopefully, the reform groups will continue to press their case and make these donations taxable gifts rather than tax dodges.
Wednesday, September 21st, 2011
Two more developments in the evolving world after the Citizens United decision: One is a legislative response by the Congressional brain trust of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). They have introduced a bill that calls for an amendment to the US Constitution to give Congress and the states authority to regulate political spending by corporations. “It is individual voters who should determine the future of this nation, not corporate money,” said Conyers. The Conyers-Edward bill, first introduced last year, will likely not get very far under the GOP-controlled Congress, but it deserves support from Tea Party populists who oppose wealthy special-interest controlling government. In a second development, the New York Times notes that lower courts are using the Citizens United’s positive emphasis on the value of rapid disclosure to strike down rightwing attacks on various state laws requiring detailed reports from electioneering groups. If we’re stuck with corporate-funded politics, legislators in Washington and state capitals should be much more aggressive in demanding full disclosure of the real donors behind the big-time spenders with sweet sounding names like Americans for Apple Pie.
Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
Democracy North Carolina today awarded 22 state legislators its Sunshine Award for the superior quality of their campaign disclosure reports filed during the 2010 election cycle. The first reports for the 2012 election are due on Friday – it’s the beginning of a super-sized, record breaking cycle. The 22 winners were the only legislators who met several criteria described in a press release that also highlights problems with the lack of resources for auditing reports. Because of staff cutbacks, thousands of reports filed with the State Board of Elections have not been reviewed for compliance with the basic requirements of NC’s disclosure law. The reports for House Speaker Thom Tillis lacked the occupational descriptions for dozens of his donors, going back to 2006, but it turns out his campaign treasurer didn’t realize that information was part of the public filing. Once notified by our questions, he filed amendments with the missing information. Other committees routinely leave out addresses for donors or the purpose of payments or make bigger mistakes that could be corrected by requiring electronic reporting for quicker public access and staff review.