Dozen Megadonors Gave $3.4 Billion, One in Every 13 Dollars, Since 2009

From today’s New York Times:

A dozen megadonors and their spouses contributed a combined $3.4 billion to federal candidates and political groups since 2009, accounting for nearly one out of every 13 dollars raised, according to a new report.

The report, produced by Issue One, a nonpartisan group that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics, shows the top 12 donors split equally between six Democrats and six Republicans. The list includes multiple Wall Street billionaires and investors, a Facebook co-founder, a shipping magnate and the heir to a family fortune dating back to the Gilded Age.

The study quantifies the intensifying concentration and increasing role of the super rich in American politics following the loosening of restrictions on political spending by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a decade ago.

“This is a stark illustration of our broken campaign finance system,” said Nick Penniman, the founder and chief executive of Issue One. “Today, a handful of megadonors wield outsized influence in our politics.” Mr. Penniman called on Congress “to pass sweeping reforms to create a democracy that works for everyone.”

The growing influence of multimillion-dollar megadonors has been accompanied by another, competing trend: a surge of small online donations to politicians of both parties. Those contributions — in $5, $10 and $25 increments — have given Democrats and Republicans an alternate source of money beyond the super rich.

Still, the study found that the top 100 ZIP codes for political giving in the United States, which hold less than 1 percent of the total population, accounted for roughly 20 percent of the $45 billion that federal candidates and political groups raised between January 2009 and December 2020. The study used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles figures from the Federal Election Commission.

Some of the top ZIP codes for giving weren’t even populated by any people at all; instead, they were primarily associated with skyscrapers and post office boxes that were used as business addresses by the wealthy.

Read the complete article here.

Democrats Are Making Federal Election Standards a Top Priority Under Biden

From today’s Associated Press Online:

Democrats plan to move quickly on one of the first bills of the new Congress, citing the need for federal election standards and other reforms to shore up the foundations of American democracy after a tumultuous post-election period and deadly riot at the Capitol.

States have long had disparate and contradictory rules for running elections. But the 2020 election, which featured pandemic-related changes to ease voting and then a flood of lawsuits by former President Donald Trump and his allies, underscored the differences from state to state: Mail-in ballots due on Election Day or just postmarked by then? Absentee voting allowed for all or just voters with an excuse? Same-day or advance-only registration?

Democrats, asserting constitutional authority to set the time, place and manner of federal elections, want national rules they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the nation. The bill would mandate early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject as federal overreach.

“We have just literally seen an attack on our own democracy,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, referring to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. “I cannot think of a more timely moment to start moving on democracy reform.”

The legislation first introduced two years ago, known as the For the People Act, also would give independent commissions the job of drawing congressional districts, require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors, create reporting requirements for online political ads and, in a rearview nod at Trump, obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns.

Republican opposition was fierce during the last session. At the time, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., labeled it the “Democrat Politician Protection Act” and said in an op-ed that Democrats were seeking to “change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.”

While Democrats control Congress for the first time in a decade, the measure’s fate depends on whether enough Republicans can be persuaded to reconsider a bill they have repeatedly rejected. If not, Democrats could decide it’s time to take the extraordinary and difficult step of eliminating the Senate filibuster, a procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation.

Advocates say the bill is the most consequential piece of voting legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. House Democrats vowed two years ago to make the bill a priority, and they reintroduced it this month as H.R. 1, underscoring its importance to the party.

Read the complete article here.

Democrats Push Voting-Rights Expansion With Fresh Urgency

From today’s New York Magazine:

When the House passed the For the People Act, a package of voting, redistricting, and campaign-finance reforms, in March of 2019, it was a symbolic and aspirational effort. It passed on a strict party-line vote. Its significance as a Democratic “messaging” vehicle was reflected in its designation as HR 1, the first bill introduced in the 116th Congress.

The bill is back as HR 1 in the 117th Congress, but this time it will also be the first bill introduced when Democrats take over the Senate this week. The Republican majority in the Senate over the past four years made democracy-reform legislation a nonstarter. But now a Democratic governing trifecta in Washington gives such reforms a new impetus, as does the baleful experience of the 2020 election cycle, in which Republicans aligned with the Trump administration doubled down on a strategy of suppressing as many votes as possible and then trying to keep votes already cast from being counted or reflected in the final Electoral College balloting for the presidency.

Here’s a list of reforms in the legislation, as compiled by Daily Kos’s Stephen Wolf when it passed the House last year:

• Automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies

• Same-day voter registration

• Online voter registration

• Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they’ll be on the rolls when they turn 18Allowing state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies

• Banning states from purging eligible voters’ registration simply for infrequent voting

That’s a lot of reforms, and many are at cross-purposes with the GOP’s renewed determination to make voting more, not less, difficult — especially via mail balloting — and the latter-day Republican conviction that massive spending on elections by wealthy interests is not a travesty but a cherished First Amendment right.

So unless Republicans experience some sort of radical post-Trump conversion to enthusiasm for democracy, passage of these reforms in the Senate will almost certainly be blocked by its GOP minority, barring filibuster reform (which in turn would require unanimous Democratic support, which it does not appear to have at the moment). This also isn’t the kind of legislation that can be moved around the filibuster barricades by a budget reconciliation bill, because it doesn’t involve significant fiscal issues.

Read the complete article here.

Voter purge frenzy after federal protections lifted, new report says

From today’s NBC News:

Nine states with a history of racial discrimination are more aggressively removing registered voters from their rolls than other states, according to a report released Friday.

After reviewing voter purges nationally from 2012 to 2016, the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice found that the mostly Southern jurisdictions that had once been required to get changes to voting policies pre-approved by the Justice Department had higher rates of purging than jurisdictions that were not previously subject to pre-clearance.

key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was designed to protect minority voters from state disenfranchisement, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, allowing states to begin making changes affecting voting without first getting federal approval.

“Two million fewer voters would have been purged over those four years if jurisdictions previously subject to federal pre-clearance had purged at the same rate” as other jurisdictions, the Brennan Center estimated.

In Georgia, for example, 156 of the state’s 159 counties reported an increase in removal rates after the Voting Rights Act was changed. In 2016, advocates sued Georgia for making voter registration harder.In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union sued a Georgia county and the state Secretary of State for its purge practices, too.

“There’s cause for concern when the purge rate goes up this much at the same time we’re seeing controversial, sometimes illegal voter purge practice, in addition to changes to other voting laws that make it more difficult to participate,” said Jonathan Brater, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and one of the report’s authors.

The Brennan Center’s analysis found that election officials were purging voter rolls more aggressively nationwide, too, with some using imprecise or possibly illegal methods to do so.

Read the complete article here.

Frustrated Supreme Court Looks For A Solution To Partisan Gerrymandering

From today’s NPR News:

The Supreme Court justices seemed to grasp the problem of gerrymandering in oral arguments on Wednesday and that it will only get worse, as computer-assisted redistricting gets even more refined.

But they appeared frustrated over what to do about it — without becoming the constant police officer on the beat.

This case, involving a Democratic-drawn congressional district in Maryland, is essentially Act II of the gerrymandering play at the Supreme Court.

Act I opened the first week in October when the nine justices heard arguments in a case testing whether there is any constitutional limit to partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing legislative district lines to maximize and perpetuate the power of the incumbent party. At issue in the case is the Republican gerrymander of the Wisconsin Legislature — a design that delivered nearly two-thirds of the districts to the GOP even as Republicans lost the statewide vote.

In the Maryland case argued Wednesday, Michael Kimberly, the attorney for the Republican plaintiffs, contended that the map drawers succeeded in “rigging” an election, and the average American voter understands what’s going on. He dubbed it an affront to democracy.

That’s the kind of argument that Democrats have made about lots of other states throughout the country, where Democrats are underrepresented in both state legislatures and the U.S. House or Representatives.

Read the complete article here.

A Flurry of Courts Have Ruled on Election Maps. Here’s What They’ve Said

From today’s New York Times:

Judges in a number of states have recently thrown out election maps, saying that they have been gerrymandered to the point of being unconstitutional, effectively dooming one party to permanent underrepresentation.

The decisions are certain to have drawn the Supreme Court’s interest as it mulls a resolution to the question of extreme partisan gerrymanders. The justices are expected to decide this spring whether the practice violates the Constitution, and if so, how to determine whether an electoral map is fairly drawn.

Here are the basics of the major contested cases.

Wisconsin: State Assembly districts

How many seats does each party hold?

In the most recent general election, 52 percent of the votes were cast for Republican Assembly candidates, who won almost two-thirds of the seats — 64 out of 99. Democrats received 46 percent of the vote and won 35 seats.

What’s happened so far?

In November 2016, a panel of three judges ruled that the map was unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans, the first time a partisan gerrymander was struck down in federal court. The ruling was notable, according to experts, because it provided a clear mathematical formula to measure how partisan a district map is.

The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court, which took the case(known as Gill v. Whitford) and heard arguments in October 2017.

What’s next?

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the spring, probably setting the course for the other cases in federal court as well.

North Carolina: Congressional districts

How many seats does each party hold?

In 2016, Republican candidates received 53 percent of the votes cast, and won 10 of the state’s 13 seats; Democrats received 47 percent of the votes and won 3 seats.

What’s happened so far?

The map was thrown out and ordered redrawn by a panel of three federal judges on Jan. 9, who said that Republicans had drawn it most recently in 2016 in an attempt to gain a political advantage. The

Supreme Court temporarily blocked the lower court’s order to redraw the map nine days later.

What’s next?

It’s unclear. The Supreme Court has not said whether it will schedule arguments in the case, known as Rucho v. Common Cause. The court may choose instead to let whatever ruling it issues in another gerrymandering case stand as its final word on the matter. Because of the temporary block, experts say the current North Carolina map will probably remain in effect for the midterm elections this fall.

Read the complete article here.

#VotingRights Update: Group Targets GOP States to Attack Gerrymandering

From today’s New York Times:

A Democratic group backed by former President Barack Obama intends to pour millions of dollars into an eclectic array of elections in a dozen states, in an effort to block Republicans from single-handedly drawing congressional maps after 2020, officials leading the group said.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, formed last year under the leadership of Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general, has settled on a strategy to contest a combination of governorships, legislative seats and more obscure state offices to chip away at Republicans’ sweeping control of the redistricting process.

Mr. Holder said in an interview that the group was chiefly determined to deny Republicans so-called trifectas in state governments — places where a single party controls the governorship and an entire legislature, as Republicans do in Ohio and Florida, among other critical battlegrounds.

The group’s list of high-priority states includes most of the critical states in presidential elections. Mr. Obama, who has made redistricting a focus of his attention since leaving office, plans to visit some of those states in 2018, and Mr. Holder reviewed his strategy with the former president in Washington on Monday, aides said.

States at the top of the just-finalized target list include traditional purple states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where Republicans can currently design maps without Democratic input, and others — including Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada — where Democrats have significant influence in government but must defend it in the 2018 elections.

Read the complete article here.

Americans return Obama to the job

The most expensive election campaign in U.S. history came to an end yesterday. According to FEC and independent estimates over $4 billion was spent in the race between President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney. Although the race appeared to be tight, and in the final days appeared to be a dead heat, in the end the electoral map barely changed and Obama was swept into power with 303 electoral college votes and a much slimmer margin of victory by popular vote. (This morning Florida’s 29 electoral college votes are still undecided as counting continues in that state. The race is very close there with Obama ahead by a mere .07 of a percent.)

The balance of power in Washington remained largely the same despite the large sums of money thrown into this race by individuals, parties, and Super PACs alike. Democrats picked up 1 additional seat in the Senate and 2 additional seats in the House. The President returns for a second term to confront the political gridlock that stymied efforts in his first term to pass a comprehensive jobs bill and financial regulation. The country is poised to dip back into recession as growth slows, revenues drop, job creation remains slack, and the soaring deficit run amok. To avoid another financial cliff more compromise by the Republican Party will be needed, but whether it can get beyond its vicious anti-Obama sentiments in order to do the hard work of governing remains to be seen. It is, in fact, doubtful given its track record during the President’s first term.

In other electoral results the news for progressive politics was largely great. The night was a major political victory for the Constitution and gay and lesbian politics. In Wisconsin, Rep. Tammy Baldwin defeated former governor Tommy Thompson by a decent margin, making her the first lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate. Voters in Maryland and Maine voted to legalize same-sex marriage, while voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Referendum 74 to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Washington was ahead in the polls, and with King County still tallying its ballots the measure will most likely pass. These important votes in four states represents a water-shed moment for the equality movement because they are the first time states have voted to uphold rather than deny the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian citizens. Minds really do change.

The election was also an important victory to bring the senseless and costly war on marijuana to an end. Voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalize recreational use of the drug. Although a similar measure failed in Oregon, this represents a direct challenge to the federal government by states to change its drug policy. Recent backlash against medical marijuana users by the DEA in California and other states is a case in point why the federal law needs to change to accommodate states’ rights.

Here in California, several important initiatives passed. Voters passed Prop 30 to raise taxes on the wealthiest Californians and temporarily increase sales taxes in order to avoid otherwise devastating cuts to education. Although Prop 34 to eliminate the death penalty did not pass, it was by a narrow margin (53 to 47 percent), signaling the public’s shifting mood on capital punishment. In a victory for criminal justice Prop 36 to reform the state’s draconian “3 strikes” law passed by a wide margin, and this victory should bring some relief to an overcrowded prison system filled with non-violent offenders. Finally, the State Assembly is approaching Democratic supermajorities in both houses, which may help alleviate the state’s governance and budget problems.

In the end, American voters rejected Republican lies that deregulation and less taxes on the wealthy is the solution to a slow economic recovery. Across the nation, voters who were concerned about unemployment voted for Democrats by a significant margin. Perhaps people did not easily forget that 4 years ago the recession swept across America because of, not in spite of, those same policies. The question remains whether President Obama and Congress can get the job done and bring the economy back with healthy, sustainable growth. In the meantime, this victory of progress over the forces of reaction will almost certainly go down in the history books as a vindication of the hard work Obama has done bringing the country back from economic ruin and a crucial turning point in American politics.

 

Storm wreckage to disrupt election

Election Day is just two days away. The cost of Hurricane Sandy to the region is estimated to be around $60 billion. While the clean up crawls forward, tensions in the Northeast are running at an all time high. Many officials are now stating publicly that this untimely storm has had and will have adverse and unexpected consequences for the outcome of the presidential race.

In New Jersey, Connecticut, and parts of New York, voters will find it more difficult than usual to cast a ballot. Widespread damage from the storm and a lack of basic services is creating an organizational nightmare for election officials who must find adequate polling stations and resources to accommodate voters. In New Jersey, which absorbed the storm surge along its coast, state officials are finding other, novel means for voters to cast their ballots. Gov. Chris Christie announced yesterday that displaced citizens, and those living in areas hardest hit by the storm, may be able to vote this year by email ballot, an extreme measure for what many see as extreme circumstances.

Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno of New Jersey said voters may find polling stations at military trucks dispersed across the state with “a well-situated national guardsman and a big sign saying, ‘Vote Here.’”

The disruption of mail services across the Northeastern states will also slow the election process. In addition to absentee and mail-in ballots that are either delayed or gone missing, election officials are bracing for a larger influx of paper ballots that must be counted. All of these post-storm consequences are likely to delay the counting of votes and the certification of elections.

Even thought the states most affected by the storm sit firmly in President Obama’s column, some pundits are predicting that lower than average voter turnout in this region, increasing the likelihood of splitting the electoral college and popular vote. That scenario has been a popular one touted in policy and media circles the last few weeks as the race between Obama and Romney closed to a dead heat.

The President has pulled head slightly in some of the important swing states, but close polls show that America is still a nation more divided than ever by partisan lines—even during a time of national crisis.

Blame it on Obama? Don’t forget Republicans to blame for this mess

Tonight is the third and final presidential debate before the election next month. The primary focus of this debate in Boca Raton, FL will be foreign policy, but most commentators agree that the economy remains the number one concern on voters’ minds.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney will try to do two things in tonight’s debate:  capitalize on irrational anti-Obama discontent over the economy, and then displace it on the President’s record on foreign policy. Most experts agree that the Obama Administration has been deft and pragmatic on the international stage in a time of tumultuous change in the Middle East and a contracting global economy. Nevertheless, his detractors-cum-international-relations-experts grasp at straws. For example, they blame the President for the actions of Libyan terrorists in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens. They also claim he is at fault for the widespread discontent in the Muslim world over the same things they are angry about, including diminished economic opportunities and a growing sense that the “system” is out of control. That is a lot of responsibility for someone with so little control over the ways of the world.

Such misplaced blame is a little like blaming God for bad luck. Why do bad things happen to good people? Their reaction is much like the first wave of Job’s reaction to his own suffering:  blame God.  Yet, the answer is more simple if not difficult to acknowledge openly. Instead of being honest about their responsibility for facilitating the present economic mess, or even being realistic about its scope and the time it will take to clean it up, Republicans such as Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan prefer instead to be guided by their anger, even their xenophobic and irrational fears that Barack Hussein Obama is not an authentic American. They place everything that is wrong both home and abroad squarely on his shoulders, rather than seeing the situation for what it is—the harvest reaped by their own policies of economic deregulation, expensive pre-emptive wars, and stupid tax cuts that the country could not afford in the first place. Job, too, was blind before he could see.

The cultivation of these irrational impulses by Fox News, the Republican establishment, and wealthy billionaires who are spending record amounts of their personal money to influence elections through Super PACs and commercial lies is revealing. Times are tough, so blame it on Obama.

If you have lost your job because Wall Street traders, investment bankers, and business executives over the last decade made bad decisions on unacceptably risky calculations with no accountability for their actions, blame it on Obama.

If you cannot find a job because American corporations no longer make real products requiring good paying jobs, while sitting on record mountains of cash that inflate their bottom lines to prop up the short-term, short-sighted expectations of greedy investors, blame it on Obama.

If you think the rising cost of health care is crippling small businesses, but prefer to do nothing about it rather than risk taking any steps along the road to reform, blame Obama.

Never mind that to blame Obama for pursuing health care reform, you have to ignore that former Gov. Romney is the original architect of “Obamacare” in Massachusetts. The truth of the Affordable Care Act is that it uses market principles to ensure that competition among private insurers brings down the cost of insuring all individuals who otherwise could not afford it and whose health care costs would be absorbed by those of us who can afford it—through higher premiums and spiraling emergency room costs. In short, you have to believe falsely in the rhetoric that the ACA is a government takeover of health care, and ignore the fact that it simply incentivizes private insurance and requires all individuals to be responsible for their own health care.

Gov. Romney has done nothing but run a competitive campaign in an easy political climate. It’s an easy thing to blame one man on the world’s problems. That pretty much sums up the Republican policy for turning American around:  get rid of the sitting Democratic president at all cost. But let’s not forget how we got into this mess in the first place. Let’s not forget that America is in a time of crisis because policy choices were made in the past, and they were poor choices. Reversing the consequences of those choices is not something that can be done overnight, let alone in four years. Blaming the President won’t change the past, even if we try to forget that it is the past that is prologue.

If “some” Americans think we cannot afford four more years of Obama, they should consider that the reason America cannot afford much of anything right now is due primarily to those poor policy choices. Demanding that we return power to the party that not only made those choices but want to make them all over again, is not a solution to America’s problems—it is a suicide pact we “other” Americans are wisely unwilling to go along with.