Campaign Finance & Elections

Obamacare Will Play a Big Role in Upcoming Elections

The Hill:  “More than 80 percent of people in a new poll say the healthcare law will be an important factor in determining their vote in the midterm elections.”

“A USA Today-Pew Research survey released Thursday found 54 percent call the law “very important” in determining their vote.”

“Overall, support for the law has changed little in the past month. Thirty-seven percent approve of the law while 50 percent disapprove.”

GOP Voters More Likely to See ACA as ‘Very Important’ to their Vote

There Are No Moderates Left in Congress

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The Fix: “In the last three decades, the number of members in the middle in the House dropped from 344 (79 percent of the House) in 1982  to four (.9 percent of the House) in 2013.  As the slide suggests, redistricting — the decennial redrawing of the nation’s congressional lines — plays a major role in that decline. The last two nationwide redraws have largely been incumbent-protection efforts, making Republican districts more Republican and Democratic districts more Democratic.”

Chief Justice Roberts: A Deft Politician

John Cassidy observes that Chief Justice Roberts is a “deft politician” for navigating his way through support of Obamacare to arrive at a justifiable reason for striking down the cap on aggregate campaign contributions.

“Roberts evidently feels confident enough to continue the Court’s assault on the campaign-finance laws, which is fast emerging as the signature contribution of his tenure.”

“Wednesday’s decision, once again a five-to-four ruling, represented another significant step away from the antiquated principle of ‘one person, one vote’ toward the more modern, and utilitarian, notion of ‘one dollar, one vote.’”

Adam Liptak sees Wednesday’s ruling as a sign that more campaign finance dominoes could fall.

“According to experts in election law, there is no reason to think that the march toward deregulating election spending will stop with the ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

“’My fear is that the court’s next target is the most revered pillar of campaign finance: public financing,’ [Yale Law] Professor Gerken said. ‘The lines are in the water, and we’ll see if the Roberts court bites.’”

Supreme Court Strikes Down Ban on Aggregate Campaign Donations

New York Times: “The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a major campaign finance decision, striking down limits on federal campaign contributions for the first time. The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will change and most likely increase the role money plays in American politics.”

“The decision, by a 5-to-4 vote along ideological lines, … said that overall limits of $48,600 every two years for contributions to all federal candidates violated the First Amendment, as did separate aggregate limits on contributions to political party committees, currently $74,600.”

“The decision chipped away at the central distinction drawn by the Supreme Court in its seminal 1976 campaign finance decision, Buckley v. Valeo.”

Federal law continues to ban contributions by corporations and unions.”

“Wednesday’s decision may increase overall campaign spending, but it may also rechannel some of it away from “super PACs” and toward candidates and parties.”

More Restrictions on Voters’ Rights

David Firestone comments on Wednesdays ruling by District Judge Eric Melgren that the federal Election Assistance Commission does not have the power to overrule a state’s voter qualification standards.

“There isn’t a state in the country that allows non-citizens to vote. And there is no evidence that people who are in the country illegally want to vote, or have tried in any significant number. But that hasn’t stopped Arizona and Kansas from insisting on proof of citizenship in order to register, knowing full well that the legitimate voters who will have the most trouble coming up with that proof tend to lean Democratic.”

New York Times: “There has been little evidence of in-person voter fraud or efforts by noncitizens to vote, but the poor and minorities are likely to be affected.”

Richard L. Hasen, an expert on voting regulations, comments: “The upshot of this opinion … is that states with Republican legislatures and/or Republican chief election officials are likely to require documentary proof of citizenship for voting, making it harder for Democrats to pursue a relatively simple method of voter registration.”

Chart of the Day

What are the sources of money for U.S. elections? Increasingly, the answer is unclear.

Kathleen Miles: “Spending by ‘dark money‘ groups — organizations that do not have to disclose the sources of their political money — has skyrocketed from about $25 million in 2000 to about $336 million in 2012, according to Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service data that the Center for Responsive Politics.”

“The vast majority of dark money can be attributed to so-called ‘social welfare’ groups, considered 501(c)(4) nonprofits. ‘Social welfare’ groups have been a choice form of political spending for everyone from corporations to unions because of the anonymity they provide.”

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Will the Supreme Court Cause a Tidal Wave of Money in Politics?

Rick Hasen, law professor, campaign finance expert and proprietor of the excellent Election Law Blog, joined us on the Political Wire podcast for a discussion about money in politics, “the voting wars” and how an upcoming Supreme Court decision may soon shake the election world.

It’s a great interview. Listen here:

Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or RSS to get episodes automatically downloaded.

Christie May Be Facing Another Storm With Hurricane Sandy Aid

The Chicago Tribune reports that “U.S. investigators are looking into whether embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie misused about $2 million in Superstorm Sandy relief funds for an ad campaign that put him in the spotlight in an election year, a lawmaker said on Monday.”

“The inspector is focusing on a federally financed $25 million Jersey Shore marketing campaign that included a television commercial featuring Christie and his family, which cost $2 million more than a competing bid without them.”

There’s Income Inequality in Politics Too

Nicholas Carnes “raises serious questions about our democratic process” by illuminating the economic inequities between “ordinary Americans and the people who represent them in the halls of power.”

“If millionaires in the United States formed their own political party, that party would make up just 3 percent of the country, but it would have a majority in the House of Representatives, a filibuster-proof super-majority in the Senate, a 5 to 4 majority on the Supreme Court and a man in the White House.”

“If working-class Americans … were a political party, that party would have made up more than half of the country since the start of the 20th century, but its legislators … would never have held more than 2 percent of the seats in Congress.”

Carnes’ findings are “squarely at odds with the rosy notion that class doesn’t matter in our political institutions.”

“The consequences for economic policy are often enormous. In White-Collar Government, I simulated how Congress would have voted on several high-profile economic reforms if it had had the same social class makeup as the country as a whole. Several major conservative economic victories … probably wouldn’t have passed if Congress had been made up of the same mix of classes as the nation it represents.”

FEC Understaffing Threatens Fair Elections

A recent study of the Federal Election Commission reveals a host of problems that could undermine the integrity of the country’s  election process.

Chris Cillizza’s summary of the Center for Public Integrity’s study: The FEC, which is “tasked with monitoring and regulating all of that activity is close to crippled due to staff cuts and partisan bickering.”

“Average people … have either never heard of the FEC, don’t really know what it does or both. But, remember this is the rule-making and rule-enforcing entity for all federal money in politics.”

The study’s bottom line: “As the nation heads into what will undoubtedly be the most expensive midterm election in history and a 2016 presidential election that, in no small way, has already begun, the FEC is rotting from the inside out.”

Chart of the Day

Monkey Cage: “What we found was that restrictions on voting derived from both race and class.  The more that minorities and lower-income individuals in a state voted, the more likely such restrictions were to be proposed. Where minorities turned out at the polls at higher rates the legislation was more likely enacted. More specifically, restrictive proposals were more likely to be introduced in states with larger African-American and non-citizen populations and with higher minority turnout in the previous presidential election.”

Obama Seeks to Shine Light on Dark Money

According to The New York Times, the Obama administration has taken a major step toward greater oversight of political activity by 501(c)4 non-profit organizations.

“New rules proposed by the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service would clarify both how the I.R.S. defines political activity and how much nonprofits are allowed to spend on it. The proposal covers not just television advertising, but bread-and-butter political work like candidate forums and get-out-the-vote drives.”

“Political spending by tax-exempt groups … skyrocketed to more than $300 million in 2012 from less than $5.2 million in 2006, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.”

Although the proposed rules would not prohibit non-profits’ political activity, it would, as a Treasury spokesman explained, be a “first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations.”