Voter-Owned Elections Category

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LOD: Suing on the Money

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Anti-public financing lawyer James Bopp has filed a lawsuit to make North Carolina abandon part of the “voter-owned elections” program for state judicial candidates. It’s the part that awards candidates in the public program extra money if their privately financed opponents spend beyond a certain limit. But the US Supreme Court has already ruled that a similar matching funds provision in Arizona is illegal, and NC regulators say they have no intent of using the NC version of the provision. In fact, on Thursday, the State Board of Elections ordered the Town of Chapel Hill to abandon the provision in its program for municipal candidates in 2011. So why did Bopp file his lawsuit? Maybe he wants to make a point: He had challenged this provision years ago and the federal courts repeatedly ruled against him and his client, the NC Right to Life organization. But now that Chief Justice John Roberts is in charge, facts and precedent matter less than ideology and politics. As a result, James Bopp has been on a roll; he’s the same attorney who brought the Citizens United case to the Supremes. In his current suit against North Carolina, he also wants to collect attorney’s fees – and some say his suit may just be a way to get a judge to award him a million dollars or more for the expenses of his previous NC suits that failed. Hmm . . . J. Bopp, a publicly financed lawyer.


LOD: Break the Stranglehold

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Stan Greenberg, the veteran strategist for Democratic candidates, has an important op-ed in the New York Times that says people are disgusted with government because it “operates by the wrong values and rules, for the wrong people and purposes. . . . Wall Street lobbyists govern, not Main Street voters.” This is the prevailing view across the board, from Tea Party reactionaries to left-of-center progressives. Then Greenberg provides a recipe for better leadership that includes tackling the corrupting influence of money in politics, special-interest spending, deficit reduction, immigration reform and more. Break the stranglehold of the wealthy lobbies and focus on rewarding responsibility.


LOD: Sizing Up Small Gifts

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

The recent Supreme Court decision knocking down rescue funds is pushing advocates of public campaign financing to look at alternative models that meet many of the goals of the Voter-Owned or Clean Elections approach. In a new report, the Campaign Finance Institute has applied its favorite model to state legislative elections in six Midwestern states. Its model matches on a five-to-one basis the first $50 an individual donor gives a qualified candidate; i.e., a $50 donation earns the candidate $250 in public funds. (The model follows a six-to-one matching program that has worked well in New York City and a variation is used in the federal Fair Elections Now Act.) The new CFI report points out that small donors typically account for only 3% to 12% of the money raised in state legislative campaigns. That share would rocket up thanks to the public funds triggered by small donations – and it would make small donors more important to candidates thanks to the matching funds. Rather than restrict opposition or outside spending, which the Roberts’ Court abhors, the model focuses on providing incentives that empower small donors and increase their influence in campaigns.


LOD: The Supreme Five

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

When the US Supreme Court liberated purchased political speech from nearly all regulation in the Citizens United decision, it opened a Pandora’s Box loaded with all sorts of strange creatures: partisan c-4s, super PACs, corporate slush funds. The Federal Election Commission is struggling to apply its rules to new creatures served up by operatives across the political spectrum. Even Stephen Colbert sought FEC approval for using his show’s resources to produce partisan ads. On the same day the FEC gave Colbert partial approval, it did the same for federal candidates who wanted permission to raise unlimited donations for their super PACs to support candidates of their choice. The FEC said, No, neither President Barack Obama nor Sen. Mitch McConnell can ask General Electric to give $2 million to a super PAC, but they can ask for the current limit ($5,000) AND attend the event where others ask for and receive the $2 million. The money suppliers and fundraising arms race never had it so good, thanks to the Supreme Five. As E. J. Dionne writes, “The United States Supreme Court now sees its central task as comforting the already comfortable and afflicting those already afflicted. If you are a large corporation or a political candidate backed by lots of private money, be assured that the court’s conservative majority will be there for you, solicitous of your needs and ready to swat away those pesky little people who dare to contest your power.” Given that mission, Arizona’s matching fund provision didn’t stand a chance for fair treatment.


Is that a Politician in Your Pocket??

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

This week has definitely been one for the books!!!! We’ve been tabling, phone banking, writing letters to the editor, researching, base building, and even some picketing. Our week began on Saturday.  We tabled at an event in Ayden, North Carolina to try to get residents up-to-date with the Voter Photo ID bill and also to introduce our work on money in politics.  We were expecting a large turnout but the heat must have kept people inside because there weren’t as many people as we expected.  Monday afternoon we phone banked after we realized that in the haste of week 4 we forgot to phone bank on Friday night.  We’ve had VERY successful phone banking nights the last past two weeks so we were pumped about phone banking again (never thought we’d say that).  Monday, Shaunee told us that things may get a little more interesting in the week. A picket protesting the GOP fundraiser had been scheduled for Wednesday and we were going. Tuesday we went to work with posters, markers, and posterboard in hand to make signs for the protest and we brainstormed catchy slogans that we could use.  Of course work never stops so on Wednesday, even though we had a picket later in the day in Raleigh, we still traveled to Halifax early in the morning to do some base building and go out to a few one on ones we had set up.  We received and impromptu tour of the Tillery Community Center which was definitely nice and informational.  On Wednesday we definitely learned something new.  After our tour we were back on the road again to Raleigh.  As we turned down Franklin Street we approached a crowd of people, signs, and police cars. Yes….we were in the right place.  We enjoyed our first protest under Dem NC and it was definitely nice to see people come together from different organizations and walks of life.  While we have enjoyed our work so far, we would be lying if we said that we were not excited about our upcoming 4 day weekend.

P.S. We got another letter to the editor published in the Wilson Daily times on redistricting in Wilson, NC (see letter below)

2010 marked the year of another Census, which means another round of redistricting. Every 10 years when the Census is counted district lines are examined and adjusted if deemed necessary to accommodate shifts in populations. The city of Wilson is offering a public hearing to discuss two redistricting plans that the city council is considering. This public hearing allows citizens to come out and voice their concerns, issues, and suggestions about the districts in the city of Wilson.

This is an effort to get residents of Wilson to let their voice be heard, so why not take advantage? If your districts change and you have not educated yourself on the proposals, or taken the time out to voice your opinion on them, your complaint is in vain.

Individuals like transparent government; this is transparency in one of its best forms. I strongly urge residents of Wilson to attend the redistricting public hearing on July 21 during the city council meeting. I have attended several redistricting public hearings and workshops across the eastern North Carolina area and can attest to the fact that they are informative and allow input from residents.

Redistricting maps out who you vote for, it’s only right that you have a voice in that process.

Jasmine Johnson

Elm City


Jasmine and Shaniqua


LOD: Supremes Veto Rescue Funds

Monday, June 27th, 2011

The US Supreme Court issued its expected 5-to-4 rejection of the matching or rescue funds provision in Arizona’s public campaign financing program. Some worried that the activist justices would overreach (as they did in the Citizens United decision) and find some means to outlaw public financing altogether. That didn’t happen; maybe the public’s outrage over the CU decision had an effect. In his opinion for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts proclaimed that public financing programs are indeed constitutional and their “wisdom” is “none of our business,” i.e., not a question for the courts to settle. The dissenting opinion on matching funds, written by Justice Kagan, is especially worth reading – beginning on page 37 of the ruling. Here’s one link to the ruling, highlights of Kagan’s dissent and a number of statements about the impact of the case. Other models of public financing, particularly the multiple match for small-dollar donations (as used in New York City and the proposed Fair Elections Now Act), will likely get a boost from the decision. Statements from the NC Center for Voter Education and Justice at Stake suggest that rescue funds in programs for judicial elections may be viewed differently by the Supreme Court, but even if not, a public financing option can and should be offered to protect us from the consequences of justice for sale.


As Busy as Bees

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

We are in week four and we have been busy busy busy. On Saturday we were stationed in both Wilson and Greenville doing voter registration and speaking on our work as a part of Democracy North Carolina. Monday was set aside as an administrative day but on Tuesday we were back on the road again. We had meetings in Wilson and then had to began our Cut the Strings Tour with a showing of the Academy Award winning documentary Inside Job in Greenville.  We have been working on getting the word out about our money in politics work since so much has been focused on voting and redistricting.  We weren’t sure at first how many people we would come out, but to our delight we had a crowd of at least 50.  After seeing the film multiple people spoke up about how “upset” (or other choice of words) that the film made them. We had a really good discussion of how money plays a role in government and how everyone could get involved to try and stop it. By the end of the night we had 49 petition signatures! That was a lot more than we expected to get. It was a really tiring night, but we were so pleased to see that so many people had taken an interest in this issue.

Until next time,

Jasmine and Shaniqua


LOD: Judicial Public Financing

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

The same rightwing law firm that engineered the Citizens United decision also attacked North Carolina’s judicial public financing program a few years ago; they took their challenge all the way to the US Supreme Court and lost. Now they’re representing a “right to life” group in Wisconsin, claiming that state’s new judicial program (modeled on ours) is unconstitutional. Democracy North Carolina and others have signed onto an amicus brief supporting the public’s right to sponsor a viable public campaign financing option, especially for judicial elections. Because judges have a constitutional duty to be impartial, there is a “compelling government interest” in preventing even the appearance of bias or corruption. The brief says this interest even justifies some public financing provisions that might be struck down for programs covering other elective offices – particularly the “rescue” or matching funds provision that helps enrolled candidates keep up with their opponent’s spending against them. The Supreme Court recently heard a case challenging Arizona’s system of providing matching funds (the McComish v. Bennett case). Most observers expect a 5-to-4 decision very soon that will throw out the matching-funds provision as an unconstitutional burden on the “free speech” (i.e., fundraising) of privately financed candidates. But even with the expected hostile decision, North Carolina’s judicial public financing program can continue, maybe without its rescue funds provision or maybe we’ll provide another test case.


LOD: Voter Suppression Update

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

North Carolina’s infamous photo ID bill (H-351 – we call it the “Voter Suppression Act of 2011”) passed as expected on party line votes and is on its way to Gov. Bev Perdue. You can encourage her to veto the bill with this handy action alert. The other major anti-voter bill, S-47, was pulled off the floor tonight and will be taken up in July when the General Assembly reconvenes to tackle redistricting and other topics. Before the sponsor pulled the bill, he gained support for an amendment to delete the provision that would have killed Sunday afternoon voting, so “Souls to the Polls” faces one less threat. The bill still has a bucket load of obnoxious provisions, from ending Same-Day Registration and Voter-Owned Elections for executive branch offices to permitting corporate donations to political parties. In other action at the General Assembly, the bill (H-710) to merge three government watchdog agencies into a new underfunded, overtasked agency was also pulled for further study and action in the July session. Looks like a long hot summer.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Yesterday, after hours of debate on the House floor over the proposed state budget, Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell County) suddenly introduced an amendment to kill North Carolina’s public campaign financing programs. The mood in the chamber dramatically shifted. With blistering intensity, several Democrats plummeted Republican leaders for using the devious tactics they campaigned against to insert a major policy proposal into the budget, without a public hearing, “in the dark of the night.” Starnes eventually withdrew his amendment as rank-and-file Republicans began realizing the downside of voting on an amendment that exposed their hypocrisy. Starnes noted that he has a separate bill to kill public financing, including the nationally acclaimed judicial program, and agreed to attack the policy that way. Kudos to Democratic Representatives Rick Glazier, Joe Hackney, Grier Martin and Deborah Ross for their eloquence and tenacity on the floor yesterday.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

The federal Fair Elections Now Act was introduced in Congress on Wednesday, followed by a press conference featuring actor Alec Baldwin calling for an alternative to politics dominated by special-interest fundraising. The bill provides a path for ordinary community leaders to become viable candidates and national policy makers, thanks to a program that matches small donations from local voters with the release of public funds to the candidate’s campaign. You can read a summary of the bill, and become a Citizen Co-Sponsor, and also learn other ways to spread the word about this important approach for transforming politics. Imagine the debate about the federal budget, or the Clean Air Act, or tax reform, or a federal jobs program, or regulating Wall Street – if big money from special interests didn’t distort the vision of our lawmakers.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday, April 1st, 2011

If you’re doing your taxes this weekend (or later), don’t forget to check the $3 question on the NC income tax form about the NC Public Campaign Fund. Checking YES does not change your tax or refund; it just transfers $3 to the Fund from what you’re paying anyway. The Fund pays for the judicial voter guide and helps statewide judicial candidates who accept strict spending and fundraising limits. The program has been highly successful and the model for others in New Mexico, Wisconsin and West Virginia. Unfortunately, a large number of tax preparers will not check the $3 box or ask the taxpayer; you must look over their shoulder and tell them to “Check the 3 for NC.” (A separate $3 check-off on the NC form will send $3 to the political party of your choice, so don’t be confused. There are two check-offs, one for a political party fund and one for the Public Campaign Fund.)


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