Archive for the ‘Election’ Category
The above diagram (click to enlarge) shows some of the connections described in this (peer-reviewed) article ‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party. Pam Martens in Wall Street on Parade discusses the article and why the DoJ is uninterested in pursuing the matter:
The Justice Department is investigating the investigators of the Tea Party at the IRS while leaving a 29-year criminal conspiracy against the American people by the Tea Party cabal untouched. That’s not surprising, given that the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, and the former head of his criminal division, Lanny Breuer, came from the law firm Covington and Burling which played a seminal role in the conspiracy.
On February 8 of this year, the peer-reviewed health professionals’ journal, Tobacco Control, published an exhaustive study of the roots of the Tea Party dating back to the 1980s. Researched and written by Amanda Fallin, Rachel Grana and Stanton A. Glantz, the study was funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and titled ‘To Quarterback Behind the Scenes, Third Party Efforts’: The Tobacco Industry and the Tea Party.
The authors explain how Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), which split into Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks in 2004, “was co-founded in 1984 by David Koch, of Koch Industries, and Richard Fink, former professor of economics at George Mason University, who has worked for Koch Industries since 1990.” According to the study, “CSE supported the agendas of the tobacco and other industries, including oil, chemical, pharmaceutical and telecommunications, and was funded by them.”
Long before the Tea Party had gained traction in the media, CSE started the first online Tea Party in 2002, calling it the US Tea Party. The federally funded NIH study shows that between 1991 and 2002, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies gave CSE at least $5.3 million.
CSE, a Koch created organization, was considered an integral part of Philip Morris’ strategy to thwart Federal regulation of cigarettes and second hand smoke. The authors write that Philip Morris designated CSE a “Category A” organization for funding and it was assigned its own Philip Morris senior relationship manager. They cite a 1999 internal email at Philip Morris which asked if CSE was worth its current level of funding. Philip Morris’ vice president of federal government affairs, John Scruggs, replied: . . .
This time in Ohio. The GOP really works hard to keep voters from going to the polls; I’m sure if they had the power they would discontinue voting altogether and go for a government staffed by appointments. Of course, they also don’t like appointments, as is shown by their refusal to confirm candidates for judgeships and Executive-Branch posts. Hunter Walker reports at TPMDC:
Republicans in the Ohio Legislature are pushing a plan that could cost the state’s public universities millions of dollars if they provide students with documents to help them register to vote. Backers of the bill describe it as intended to resolve discrepancies between residency requirements for tuition and voter registration, while Democrats and other opponents argue it is a blatant attempt at voter suppression in a crucial swing state.
“What the bill would do is penalize public universities for providing their students with the documents they need to vote,” Daniel Tokaji, a professor and election law expert at Ohio State University told TPM. “It’s a transparent effort at vote suppression — about the most blatant and shameful we’ve seen in this state, which is saying quite a lot.”
The legislation is a provision in the state budget that was backed by the Republican majority in the Ohio House of Representatives. It is now headed to the Ohio Senate, which also has a GOP majority.
Currently, Ohio requires voters to be “a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days immediately before the election in which you want to vote” and to provide photo identification, a current utility bill, a bank statement, current paycheck, current government check, or “an original or copy of a current other government document, other than a voter registration acknowledgement notification mailed by the board of elections, that shows the voter’s name and current address.” Students who live in dormitories and do not have state identification or a job or bank account in Ohio might not be able to meet this requirement even if they have lived in the state for over a month. Public universities provide letters or utility bills to students to help them meet the residency requirement for voter registration. If the legislation is passed, it would force schools that provide this documentation to charge out-of-state students the same tuition they charge students from Ohio.
This change would effectively eliminate out-of-state tuition, which is more expensive than the rates currently charged to students from Ohio. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, university officials have said they will continue to provide the documentation even if this item remains in the state budget and a group called Innovation Ohio that opposes the legislation has estimated the will cost the schools about $272 million. . .
Andy Kroll has a good column at TomDispatch. Tom, as usual, provides an introduction:
Once upon a time, the election season began with the New Hampshire primary in early March and never really gained momentum (or much attention) until the candidates were chosen and the fall campaign revved up. Now, the New Hampshire primary is in early January, and by then, the campaign season has already been underway for a couple of years.
Consider campaign 2016, the next 1% presidential election of the twenty-first century. It’s more than underway with congressional hearings that are visibly organized to skewer possible Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and that special table-setter, the first Karl Rove super PAC attack video/ad, also lighting out after the former secretary of state. Looked at another way, like recent presidential campaigns, the 2016 version actually began before the last election ended. The initial media handicapping of future candidates by reporters and pundits, for instance, hit the news well before the first voter emerged from a polling booth in 2012 — and it’s never stopped. Similarly, the first Iowa poll for the next campaign season made it on the scene within days of the 2012 vote count (Hillary was ahead), and the first attack ads in early primary states are already appearing. With thousands or perhaps tens of thousands of polls to follow, Americans will repeatedly “vote” in contests set up by companies, often hired by political parties or politicians to take the pulse of the public in the unending serial ballots that now precede the actual election.
And don’t forget the single most obvious characteristic of supersizing American democracy: money that will flood the zone. Billions of dollars will go to “political consultants” (in 2012, an estimated $3 billion) and billions of dollars in ads will inundate TV, radio, and almost any other medium around ($6 billion in 2012 and expected to climb in 2016). Billions of words of punditry and commentary about the election (always) “of the century” will flow from well-funded TV news outfits stoked by all those ad dollars. Above all, there will be the money pouring into super PACs and the dark side, which will inundate everything else, shaping the new landscape in which U.S. elections now take place. The sums are staggering, and the limits on how much a wealthy person can “contribute” are rapidly falling away.
As a result, “earlier” and “more” are likely to be the operative political words for 2016, which means that, in a sense, American “democracy” couldn’t be more vigorous. Unfortunately, it’s the vigor of the wealthy, as TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll makes clear. Increasingly, it’s their system, politically speaking and in every other way, and welcome to it. Tom
The New Pay-As-You-Go Landscape of American “Democracy”
By Andy Kroll
Billionaires with an axe to grind, now is your time. Not since the days before a bumbling crew of would-be break-in artists set into motion the fabled Watergate scandal, leading to the first far-reaching restrictions on money in American politics, have you been so free to meddle. There is no limit to the amount of money you can give to elect your friends and allies to political office, to defeat those with whom you disagree, to shape or stunt or kill policy, and above all to influence the tone and content of political discussion in this country.
Today, politics is a rich man’s game. Look no further than the 2012 elections and that season’s biggest donor, 79-year-old casino mogulSheldon Adelson. He and his wife, Miriam, shocked the political class by first giving $16.5 million in an effort to make Newt Gingrich the Republican presidential nominee. Once Gingrich exited the race, the Adelsons invested more than $30 million in electing Mitt Romney. They donated millions more to support GOP candidates running for the House and Senate, to block a pro-union measure in Michigan, and to bankroll the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative stalwarts (which waged their own campaigns mostly to help Republican candidates for Congress). All told, the Adelsons donated $94 million during the 2012 cycle — nearly four times the previous record set by liberal financier George Soros. And that’s only the money we know about. When you add in so-called dark money, one estimate puts their total giving at closer to $150 million.
It was not one of Adelson’s better bets. Romney went down in flames; the Republicans failed to retake the Senate and conceded seats in the House; and the majority of candidates backed by Adelson-funded groups lost, too. But Adelson, who oozes chutzpah as only a gambling tycoon worth $26.5 billion could, is undeterred. Politics, he told the Wall Street Journal in his first post-election interview, is like poker: “I don’t cry when I lose. There’s always a new hand coming up.” He said he could double his 2012 giving in future elections. “I’ll spend that much and more,” he said. “Let’s cut any ambiguity.”
But simply tallying Adelson’s wins and losses — or the Koch brothers’, or George Soros’s, or any other mega-donors’ — misses the bigger point. What matters is that these wealthy funders were able to give so much money in the first place.
With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn’t exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama’s first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues. “It’ll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party,” a Democratic strategist recently told me. “We’re in a whole new world.” . . .
Not is so many words, of course. He specifically advises that we avoid false prophets. Brian Tashman reports at Right-Wing Watch:
On today’s episode of the 700 Club, Pat Robertson urged viewers to avoid false prophets and televangelists caught up in scandal. “By your fruits you shall know them, what’s their track record?” Robertson told cohost Terry Meeuwsen, “You can dominate somebody that way: I’ve heard from the Lord, I have a message for you, do this.”
Funny he should mention this, because just today we stumbled across an interview between Pat Robertson and televangelist Benny Hinn the week before the presidential election where Robertson bluntly informed Hinn that “the Lord told me” that Mitt Romney would defeat President Obama.
Not only did God inform Robertson that “Romney will win” but that he will be a two-term president who presides over a huge economic boom.
Robertson even told Romney to save him a ticket for the inauguration: “I told Mitt a long time ago, I called him and said listen, I’ve been in prayer and number one you’re going to win the nomination and number two you’re going to win the general election, he said ‘well what can I do for you,’ I said give me a seat on the platform during your inauguration, give me a ticket to your inauguration.”
“The Lord said he’s going to have a second term, I told him there will be to be trillions of dollars coming into the economy when you’re elected,” Robertson continued, “the stock market ought to boom, everything ought to boom.”
This all deeply reassured Hinn who said that Robertson was conveying “God’s voice.”
It’s nice as a paradox: a false prophet telling us to avoid false prophets—like “This sentence is false.” Also interesting is the discovery that God will lie to you.
Interesting post at Daily Kos by Joan McCarter:
Maine became the 13th state in the nation to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Twenty-five House Republicans (in the state House) and five Senate Republicans joined Democrats to “call upon each Member of the Maine Congressional Delegation to actively support and promote in Congress an amendment to the United States Constitution on campaign finance.”
Maine joins West Virginia, Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, New Mexico and Hawaii in calling for that Constitutional amendment. Which means momentum: . . .
Interesting article by John Sides where he offers four reasons why a presidential campaign may not be relevant to victory.
The narrative after the 2012 campaign was that President Obama’s victory was due to his superior campaign — better messaging, better technology, better organizing, better everything. But this narrative had a circular logic to it: Obama won because of his superior campaign, and we know that his campaign was superior because he won.
Several initial forays into the data on advertising and field offices suggest a much more qualified conclusion: yes, campaigning did matter, but it was not decisive in 2012. This parallels what Ezra wrote earlier last week: we got too excited over money in this election — and by extension the electioneering it could buy. In this post, I build on some previous work for Wonkblog and work with Lynn Vavreck for our book on the 2012 campaign, The Gamble. I’ll briefly explore 4 reasons why it is hard for all that money — in particular the ads and field organization, or what I’ll call “campaign activity” — to be the “game-changer” it is so often made out to be.
Reason #1: Campaign activity can be overwhelmed by other events in the campaign.
Throughout the 2012 campaign, candidates were spending millions every week — blanketing key states with advertisements — only to find that other events swamped any advantage they might have had on the airwaves. Consider what happened to Mitt Romney before his loss to Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina primary. Below are South Carolina polling and advertising data that was gathered by Kantar Media|CMAG and obtained by the Washington Post. (I analyzed these data throughout the fall of 2012 for Wonkblog.) . . .
The GOP basically wants to prevent people from voting unless they vote for the GOP. Ian Millhiser provides an example at ThinkProgress.org:
In 1979, the Supreme Court affirmed a decision holding that state cannot place unique burdens on college student votes that do not apply to other members of the electorate. Nevertheless, Ohio Republicans now want to punish state universities that encourage students to cast a ballot. Under a budget amendment filed by Republicans in the Ohio House, state universities that provide documents enabling students to register to vote in their college town, rather than in the state where their parents reside, will be forbidden from charging those students out-of-state tuition. Thus, the amendment would effectively reduce the funding of state schools that assist their students in registering to vote.
This is the second GOP attempt to restrict college students from voting in just the past month. About a month ago, a North Carolina Republican lawmaker filed a bill that would raise taxes on families with college students if the student registers to vote at school rather than in their parents’ hometown.
It’s not difficult to guess why Republicans support these — and other — efforts to make it harder for college students to cast a ballot. As former New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien (R) said when explaining his support for measures to make it harder to vote, “the kids coming out of the schools and basically doing what I did when I was a kid, which is voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do.”
Power leads to the due exercise of the power which seems inevitably to lead to overreach and the turning of power to inglorious ends. Katrina vanden Heuvel writes a report of a vivid example by Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
The last few weeks have seen an amazing move by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. In response to a prominent set of arrests of high-ranking Democrats and Republicans, the governor has proposed a series of proposals to strengthen the power of district attorneys to investigate corruption. Okay, that seems like a reasonable enough response.
But the governor has also proposed another response to the corruption scandal. He has proposed banning the Working Families Party. I know, he can’t ban a political party. But he has proposed to eliminate “fusion” voting. He calls it “cross-endorsement,” but fusion is the historical term. More on fusion below, but let’s stay in the news cycle for another moment.
The governor’s stated reason for banning fusion is silly. But his real, unstated reason is not. Let’s take them in turn.
Three weeks ago, State Senator Malcolm Smith was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe his way into the Republican Primary for mayor, despite being a registered Democrat. The governor seized on this and said to the New York Post, “In an ideal world, there would be no cross-endorsements.” In other words, because Smith attempted to bribe his way to a “cross-endorsement,” we ought to ban cross-endorsements. By this logic, as one Working Families Party leader said on television recently, if Malcolm Smith had tried to bribe someone to get his kid a job, would we then pass a law to ban jobs?
The more likely (if unvoiced) reason for this proposal is plain. For reasons both similar and different, the governor and the real estate/Wall Street/low-wage employer wings of the Democratic Party in New York would like to see the Working Families Party disappear. The WFP is the most persistent threat to the power of business interests in the Empire State, and the governor doesn’t want anyone to point out that he governs as a centrist on economic issues and a liberal only on social issues. The business lobby is serious about crushing “the little party that could” (a Newsday headline of a few years ago), spending millions of dollars on television and mail against WFP candidates, and even trying to hire well-known progressive public relations firms to wage a PR battle against them. So far, they have failed.
Now, the governor’s aides are pushing a line to the press that the “third parties” in New York have “too much” influence. It’s true that the Conservatives have power and influence with the Republicans, and that the Working Families Party has the same with the Democrats. But that’s because they have support among the voting public, they have ideas, and they have verve. The Millionaire’s Tax, Paid Sick Days, the minimum wage, Rockefeller Drug Law reform, the Green Jobs Act, the emergence of the Progressive Caucus in NYC, the inclusionary zoning rules, the passage of the Wage Theft and Domestic Workers Acts—each of these, in ways large or small, got a boost from the electoral savvy and relationships that the WFP shows day after day across the state.
So it’s not a surprise that the business class and its allies want to see them weakened or, better yet, destroyed. One can’t help but point out that this is not the first time that establishment power has decided that one potent way to weaken the progressive left is to eliminate fusion voting. It happened more than a hundred years ago, and it’s a vital if little-known part of our political history. It’s unlikely that the legislators and press corps in Albany are aware of this, but it’s a history worth reciting as they consider the current proposals from the governor and Senator Jeff Klein, the renegade/independent Democrat who has aligned with the Republican State Senate majority.
In a fusion system, a candidate can . . .
Businesses love to keep things secret—not merely to hide toxic dump sites but also to hide the list of ingredients in their products: they display those only because they are forced to by law. So far as I can tell, their desire for secrecy is based on the (correct) perception that the public would vigorously object to what they’re trying to keep secret—I bet a lot of ingredients were revised when ingredient labeling became required.
Now they want to be sure that their political donations are secret. With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, they are free to throw money into election campaigns. Why? Because money is considered speech and thus is protected. Thus one would expect, money being speech, we would hear about it. That’s the idea of political speech, isn’t it? To tell things to the public?
But business VERY much want people not to know about their contributions. Why? Are they ashamed?
Nicholas Confessore reports in the NY Times:
A loose coalition of Democratic elected officials, shareholder activists and pension funds has flooded the Securities and Exchange Commission with calls to require publicly traded corporations to disclose to shareholders all of their political donations, a move that could transform the growing world of secret campaign spending.
S.E.C. officials have indicated that they could propose a new disclosure rule by the end of April, setting up a major battle with business groups that oppose the proposal and are preparing for a fierce counterattack if the agency’s staff moves ahead. Two S.E.C. commissioners have taken the unusual step of weighing in already, with Daniel Gallagher, a Republican, saying in a speech that the commission had been “led astray” by “politically charged issues.”
A petition to the S.E.C. asking it to issue the rule has already garnered close to half a million comments, far more than any petition or rule in the agency’s history, with the vast majority in favor of it. While relatively few petitions result in action by the S.E.C., the commission staff filed a notice late last year indicating that it was considering recommending a rule.
In response to the growing pressure, House Republicans introduced legislation last Thursday that would make it illegal for the commission to issue any political disclosure regulations applying to companies under its jurisdiction. Earlier this month, the leaders of three of Washington’s most powerful trade associations — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable — issued a rare joint letter to the chief executives of Fortune 200 companies, encouraging them to stand against proxy resolutions and other proposals from shareholder activists demanding more disclosure of political spending.
Tax-exempt groups and trade associations spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political advertising during 2012 elections, but they are not required to disclose their donors. Evidence has mounted that a significant portion of the money came from companies seeking to intervene in campaigns without fear of offending their customers, their shareholders — or the lawmakers they target for defeat.
The debate over disclosure poses an early test for Mary Jo White, who was confirmed as the S.E.C.’s chairwoman this month. A new rule would pull the commission into a fierce political battle just as Ms. White and her staff will be wrangling with lawmakers and lobbyists over carrying out legislation imposing new rules on financial institutions. . .
I really cannot see any valid reason for objecting. From the report:
Opponents argue that the agency does not have the authority or expertise to issue regulations about political spending, and that a disclosure rule would infringe on companies’ free speech rights — and damage shareholder value — by exposing them to criticism and attack from political opponents.
Well, speech is like that: If a person makes a speech, wanting to be shielded from any criticism of the speech is pusillanimous and also misses the point of a political speech, which is to state one’s positions and stimulate discussion.
I have to say that most corporations are contemptible.
Andy Kroll has a very intriguing article in Mother Jones:
Investigators with California’s election watchdog and attorney general’s office are hot on the trail of the true source of millions in dark money spent to defeat two hard-fought ballot propositions last fall. The wide-ranging probe has conservatives worried that a network of nonprofit groups used to move secret money around the country could be in for some unwanted exposure.
The investigation, led by the state’s nonpartisan Fair Political Practices Commission, has already done more than most watchdogs to pry open the black box of the conservative dark-money groups that spent freely in 2012 without disclosing the sources of their money. Last fall, the FPPC revealed what it called “the largest contribution ever disclosed as campaign money laundering in California history” after it discovered that three nonprofits had funneled $11 million from Virginia to Arizona to California.
As the probe progresses, some conservatives are nervous that more details—such as the identities of actual donors—could be publicized. “This case has got very, very deep and significant implications,” says a conservative lobbyist with knowledge of the investigation. “A lot of folks are going to have their dirty laundry hung out, and it’s not going to be pretty. Why would money go through such a circuitous route if not to conceal the donors?”
Obviously Federal disclosure rules need to be tightened.
As Thoreau observed, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk.”
Kevin Drum offers that kind of evidence in this post.
What a moist cancerous mess! Brad Friedman reports for Salon:
Given the professed concerns about election fraud among Virginia Republicans, it seems somewhat astonishing that the man at the center of the Commonwealth’s most notorious fraud scandal last year seems to be getting off the hook after initially being charged with 13 criminal counts including eight felony charges.
Colin Small, a Republican Party voter registration supervisor who secretly tossed filled-out voter registration forms into a dumpster last year, had all of his felony charges dropped by the local Republican Commonwealth attorney prosecuting the case yesterday.
Small was arrested and charged with 13 counts – including destruction and disclosure of voter registrations, as well as obstruction of justice — in Harrisonburg, Va., in the run-up to the presidential election last year, after he was seen by a local shopkeeper throwing away a bag of registration forms behind his store. Small’s felony charges were all dropped on Tuesday, according to local Fox affiliate WHSV.
The case had garnered a great deal of national attention last fall — almost everywhere but on Fox News — as it emerged at the pinnacle of an embarrassing nationwide GOP voter registration fraud scandal, which plagued the Republican Party in the weeks just prior to the November general election.
The prosecutor on the Small case is Republican Marsha Garst. Unlike other Commonwealth attorneys, observed a local Democratic-leaning political muckraker yesterday, Garst failed to recuse herself from the prosecution despite what would appear to be very clear conflicts of interests in the case.
The newly dropped charges appear in stark contrast to Garst’s declarations last year, when she told the Washington Post on the Friday before the Tuesday presidential election that the matter was “a very important investigation to the state, and we intend to prosecute Mr. Small to the fullest extent.”
Passing “the laugh test”
Last year, in the run-up to the November presidential election, a widespread voter-registration fraud scandal hit the Republican Party after hundreds of fraudulent forms were first discovered in Palm Beach County, Fla. They had been turned in to the county by the Republican Party after being collected by a firm they had hired to carry out voter registration across the state.
When other apparently fraudulent forms were discovered soon thereafter in nearly a dozen other Florida counties, and then in other key swing states around the country where the same company had been hired to work, the Republican National Committee fired the firm they had hired for voter registration and outreach in those states.
The firm, Strategic Allied Consulting, is said to have been created at the request of the Republican National Committee by Nathan Sproul, a longtime GOP operative with a long and checkered history with the party. Employees of his companies have been accused of various registration fraud schemes on behalf of Republicans in a number of states, during elections going back as far as 2004. Yet, despite those incidents — and the years during which Republicans were pretending that the progressive community organization ACORN was committing voter fraud (they never were) — Sproul was hired once again by the Mitt Romney campaign as a consultant in 2012, and later by the RNC itself. The RNC, however, reportedly asked Sproul to create the company without his name attached to it, due to his history. Sproul confirmed that point directly to The Brad Blog last year.
Small, who had initially been hired by Strategic, continued working for the Republicans in Harrisonburg (in Rockingham County), even after Sproul’s firm was supposedly fired by the RNC in the wake of the registration fraud scandal.
After Small’s arrest, when Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced his office would be investigating the matter, . . .
California does get some things right. Michael Marois reports in Bloomberg Businessweek:
California politicians used to joke that the state’s U.S. House delegation had less turnover than the Soviet Politburo. It’s funny because it’s true. Only once in 265 races from 2002 to 2010 did a district’s representation flip parties. Incumbents held onto all but one seat they vied for in a general election. That’s because like most politicians around the country, they controlled the maps laying out the boundaries of their districts.
In 2010, California voters stripped lawmakers of their authority over redistricting, the once-a-decade process of redrawing congressional lines to account for demographic shifts, and awarded that power to an independent citizens’ panel. By the 2012 elections, the group’s work had done exactly what it was supposed to: create competition for seats that had long been safe. After the 53 new districts were revealed, 14 House members decided not to seek reelection or lost their race in November, resulting in a 26 percent turnover in the state’s delegation.
“You’ve had voters shoehorned into districts for the sake of maintaining incumbency, and we aren’t doing that in California anymore,” says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan advocacy group. “That’s probably what would happen everywhere if you had fair redistricting.”
Legislators control the process in most states, using the centuries-old tradition of gerrymandering to ensure job security for politicians already in power. In every congressional race from 1964 to 2012, at least 85 percent of incumbents nationwide retained their seats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and data compiled by Bloomberg.
A handful of states—Iowa, Washington, Idaho, and Arizona among them—have undertaken redistricting reforms. Yet most continue to give party leaders some say over the final maps. New York’s legislature recently approved a constitutional amendment, which will go before voters in 2014, to create a 10-member redistricting commission. However, lawmakers would pick eight of its members.
No state has come as close as California to getting partisan politics out of legislative mapmaking. Advocates for fair elections say the state’s reform could be a model for others, leading to more competitive races. And because representatives whose constituents are disproportionately Republican or Democratic are under less pressure to find middle ground on legislation, more competition could produce a House that’s much less polarized. At least theoretically. . .
Sam Wang has an interesting op-ed in the NY Times:
HAVING the first modern democracy comes with bugs. Normally we would expect more seats in Congress to go to the political party that receives more votes, but the last election confounded expectations. Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II.
Using statistical tools that are common in fields like my own, neuroscience, I have found strong evidence that this historic aberration arises from partisan disenfranchisement. Although gerrymandering is usually thought of as a bipartisan offense, the rather asymmetrical results may surprise you.
Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based political group dedicated to electing state officeholders, recently issued a progress report on Redmap, its multiyear plan to influence redistricting. The $30 million strategy consists of two steps for tilting the playing field: take over state legislatures before the decennial Census, then redraw state and Congressional districts to lock in partisan advantages. The plan was highly successful.
I have developed approaches to detect such shenanigans by looking only at election returns. To see how the sleuthing works, start with the naïve standard that the party that wins more than half the votes should get at least half the seats. In November, five states failed to clear even this low bar: Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Now let’s do something more subtle. We can calculate each state’s appropriate seat breakdown — in other words, how a Congressional delegation would be constituted if its districts were not contorted to protect a political party or an incumbent. We do this by randomly picking combinations of districts from around the United States that add up to the same statewide vote total. Like a fantasy baseball team, a delegation put together this way is not constrained by the limits of geography. On a computer, it is possible to create millions of such unbiased delegations in short order. In this way, we can ask what would happen if a state had districts that were typical of the rest of the nation.
In North Carolina, where the two-party House vote was 51 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican, the average simulated delegation was seven Democrats and six Republicans. The actual outcome? Four Democrats, nine Republicans — a split that occurred in less than 1 percent of simulations. If districts were drawn fairly, this lopsided discrepancy would hardly ever occur.
Confounding conventional wisdom, partisan redistricting is not symmetrical between the political parties. By my seat-discrepancy criterion, 10 states are out of whack: the five I have mentioned, plus Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Texas. Arizona was redistricted by an independent commission, Texas was a combination of Republican and federal court efforts, and Illinois was controlled by Democrats. Republicans designed the other seven maps. Both sides may do it, but one side does it more often.
Surprisingly absent from the guilty list is California, where 62 percent of the two-party vote went to Democrats and the average mock delegation of 38 Democrats and 15 Republicans exactly matched the newly elected delegation. Notably, California voters took redistricting out of legislators’ hands by creating the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Gerrymandering is not hard. . .
Continue reading. Good for California, I say.
NOTE: It was a referendum that reformed the redistricting process: the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, charged with redrawing the lines for legislative, Board of Equalization, and congressional districts, was created when voters approved Proposition 11 in 2008. An attempt by the GOP to overturn the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s new State Senate districts, Proposition 40, failed: more info here. In Prop 40, a “Yes” vote approves, and a “No” vote rejects, new State Senate districts drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission. If rejected, districts will be adjusted by officials supervised by the California Supreme Court. The GOP spent heavily to get “No” votes ($1.7 million out of $2.3 million for “No”, vs. a total of $601,100 for “Yes”), but the “Yes” votes won 71.9% of the vote. Thus Prop 40 was proposed by its opponents, but they threw in the towel and decided not to campaign for it: see this interesting story in the Sacramento Bee.
California Republicans initially put the measure on the ballot in the hopes that voters would reject it and, with it, the lines drawn by the commission. Then they had second thoughts and now support the commission and the measure, along with a broad spectrum of backers.
Aaron Sankin had some fun with the story in Huffington Post:
In 2008, California voters passed a ballot measure that took the responsibility of drawing legislative districts out of the hands of politicians and entrusted it to a bipartisan commission.
Using the figures from the 2010 census, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission drew up a new set of lines that, unsurprisingly in a state that heavily favors Democrats, heavily favored Democrats. Some Republicans feared the new districts would endanger the one-third of seats in the state senate the party needs to block the passage of any new taxes, so they put a measure on the ballot mandating the California Supreme Court appoint a “special master” to determine new state senate districts.
Here’s where it gets complicated, so pay attention: Prop 40 is a referendum on maintaining the original 2008 redistricting ballot measure, meaning that a yes vote would keep the system the way it is now and a no vote would mean changing the way the lines are drawn. Yes, the people who put Prop 40 on the ballot wanted everyone to vote against it. Sigh.
Those pushing a yes vote on Prop 40 (a group that includes every major newspaper in the state) argue that, while the new lines may not be perfect, they’re a whole lot better than the ones drawn under the old system, which promoted the protection of incumbents more than it did the accurate representation the population within each district.
On the other side….well…at this point, there is no other side. Republicans were hoping to overturn the new districts for 2012. However, since the state Supreme Court ruled the current lines would stand for 2012 no matter what happened, the groups initially pushing the measure have suspended their campaign and have stopped urging citizens to vote no.
Christie Thompson and Theodoric Meyer have a good round-up at ProPublica of articles on how the GOP is working to rig elections to ensure GOP wins, regardless of voter preference:
Republicans in the Virginia Senate made headlines Jan. 20 when they rammed through legislation that would concentrate the state’s Democratic voters into fewer districts.
The Virginia bill is the latest effort by both parties to turn redistricting to their advantage around the country. We’ve rounded up some of the best reporting on how the parties have tried to influence both congressional and state electoral maps — and, in most cases, gotten away with it — for political gain.
Republicans Seeking Electoral College Changes, The Washington Post, January 2013
Only two states — Maine and Nebraska — currently apportion their electoral votes by congressional district. But Republicans in Virginia, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania have recently proposed switching their states to a similar system. Each of those states “went for Obama in the past two elections but are controlled by Republicans at the state level.”
Va. Republicans’ Redistricting Draws Criticism, The Washington Post, January 2013
While Virginia state senator Henry Marsh was in Washington celebrating Obama’s inauguration, state senate Republicans were redrawing district lines to favor GOP candidates. Republican senators took the opportunity of Marsh’s absence to pass a bill, 20 to 19, that made “technical adjustments” to district boundaries. State Democrats are decrying Republicans’ political maneuver, accusing them of trying to “pack and crack” the influence of the state’s black voters.
How Maps Helped GOP Keep the House, The New York Times, December 2012
Democratic House candidates across the country won more than a million more votesthan Republicans ones, but the Republicans kept control of the chamber. How did they manage it? Republicans seized the upper hand in redistricting: “thanks to the gains they made in 2010 state-level elections, Republicans controlled the redistricting process in states with 40 percent of the seats in the House, Democrats controlled it in states with 10 percent of the seats, and the rest of the seats were drawn by courts, states with divided governments or commissions.”
So Few Swing Districts, So Little Compromise, Five Thirty Eight, December 2012
Why is it so difficult for members of the U.S. House to find compromise? Because most members come from “hyperpartisan” districts where they face no real threat of defeat. Nate Silver breaks down the decline of swing districts due in large part to redistricting (as well as less split-ticket voting).
How Dark Money Helped GOP Hold the House, ProPublica, December 2012
Republicans launched an effort in 2010 designed to help the party win statehouses — which control the redistricting process in most states — in the elections that fall. We detailed how dark money helped fund the GOP’s statehouse victory in North Carolina and subsequently helped pay for redistricting consultants, who worked out of the Republican party headquarters in Raleigh.
The League of Dangerous Mapmakers, The Atlantic, October 2012
Who are the cartographers behind the U.S.’s constantly shifting district maps? Journalist Robert Draper follows Republican National Committee redistricting consultant Tom Hofeller as he travels the country, advising legislators how to best designate districts to their advantage. Draper charts the history of redistricting, to show how what “was intended by the Framers solely to keep democracy’s electoral scales balanced…has become the most insidious practice in American politics.”
Redistricting, a Process Cloaked in Secrecy, Center for Public Integrity, November 2012
Though the Supreme Court has dictated how often states redraw district lines, how they do it is mostly up to them. The State Integrity Investigation rated each state on the transparency and potential for public input of their redistricting process. Roughly half didn’t make the grade: “while 18 states received A’s; 24 received a D or an F.”
How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission, ProPublica, December 2011
In an attempt to insulate redistricting from party politics, California created a citizens’ commission in 2010 to determine state districts. But Democratic strategists still found new ways to influence the process: from secretly enlisting local organizations to creating a sham community group to push for a map that favored Democratic candidates.
Welcome to America’s Most Gerrymandered District, The New Republic, November 2012
Democrats have been especially aggressive about redistricting in Maryland, where they dominate the state legislature. Maryland Democrats approved a new congressional map so tortured that a federal judge called the state’s Third Congressional District “reminiscent of a broken winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.” The redrawn maps helped Democrats capture seven of Maryland’s eight House seats, despite winning only 62 percentof the total votes cast in all the state’s House races.
Robert Parry points out the direction the GOP has taken:
Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Old Confederacy, is a fitting place for the neo-Confederates who now control the Republican Party to reinstate a version of the slave-era provision counting African-Americans as “Three-Fifths” of a person for the purpose of representation.
This revival of the infamous “Three-Fifths” clause of the U.S. Constitution is part of a Republican scheme to give lesser value to the votes of African-Americans and other minorities who tend to cluster in cities than to the votes of whites in rural, more GOP-friendly areas. The goal is to give future Republican presidential candidates a thumb-on-the-scale advantage in seeking the White House, as well as to assure continued Republican control of the House of Representatives.
The scheme is a direct Republican response to the emergence of Barack Obama’s coalition, which pulled together the votes of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and young urban whites (who are more comfortable with a multi-cultural future for the United States).
The racist and right-wing white males, who now dominate the Republican Party, have seemingly concluded that they can only continue to dominate American politics if they can devalue the votes of Americans who are inside this Obama coalition. If the Republican schemes prevail, those votes may well be worth even less than three-fifths of the vote of a rural white.
The initial phase of this Republican plan was to aggressively gerrymander congressional districts in states under GOP control to concentrate minority voters in a few districts while creating safe GOP majorities in most of the remaining districts. That strategy allowed Republicans to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 despite losing the nationwide popular vote by more than one million ballots.
Now, in several states that voted for President Obama, Republican-controlled state legislatures are changing how electoral votes for President will be allocated in the future, by basing them on who wins the gerrymandered congressional districts rather than the current system of giving all the electors to the statewide winner.
That way, even if a GOP presidential candidate loses a state decisively, he might still snake away with the majority of electors by carrying most of the Republican-tilted congressional districts. However, in other Republican-controlled states that voted for Mitt Romney, the GOP is leaving the old winner-take-all system in place.
Thus, the effect of this electoral chicanery is to systematically reduce the value of votes cast by African-Americans and other minorities (as well as urban white youth). In many cases, the value of their effective representation would be reduced to the three-fifths level or even less. . .
Fascinating graphics. The detailed ones are worth the click. The final story:
This is what the 2012 electoral map would have looked like had each state apportioned its electors using [the GOP's new] rules.
The GOP controls enough statehouses that I imagine their plan will succeed. And they’ve gerrymandered the districts so that they will continue to control the House of Representatives (again, by controlling statehouses, which
do the gerrymandering draw Congressional district lines.)
Who needs votes when you can manipulate the system in order to win? Josh Israel at ThinkPorgress:
In a subcommittee vote Wednesday, Virginia State Sen. and former Republican National Committee Chief Counsel Jill Holtzman Vogel (R) abstained on a key vote on a bill to rig the state’s electoral college vote. The bill advanced (on a three-to-three party-line vote) to the full Committee on Privileges and Elections, without recommendation.
National Republicans, frustrated with their failure to win the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, are pushing to change the electoral allocations only in states Obama carried. With control of the state governments in Michigan,Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and elsewhere, they are hoping to pass legislation to ensure that most of those states’ electors go to their 2016 nominee — even if he or she does not carry those states.
Sen. Charles “Bill” Carrico Sr. (R) is the author of Senate Bill 723, which would allocate Virginia’s 13 electoral votes by congressional district, rather than the current winner-take-all system. With the state’s GOP-gerrymandered Congressional districts, Republicans hold eight of the 11 Virginia House districts. Even though President Obama won Virginia by four points, under this plan vast majority of Virginia’s electors would have gone to loser Mitt Romney.
Another report, by Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect:
This morning, I wrote on an emerging Republican plan—in swing states won by President Obama—to rig presidential elections by awarding electoral votes to the winner of the most congressional districts. Because Democratic voters tend to cluster in highly-populated urban areas, and Republican voters tend to reside in more sparsely populated regions, this makes land the key variable in elections—to win the majority of a state’s electoral votes, your voters will have to occupy the most geographic space.
In addition to disenfranchising voters in dense areas, this would end the principle of “one person, one vote.” If Ohio operated under this scheme, for example, Obama would have received just 22 percent of the electoral votes, despite winning 52 percent of the popular vote in the state.
For this reason, I didn’t expect Republicans to go forward with the plan—the risk of blowback is just too high. My skepticism, however, was misplaced. In Virginia, a local news station reports that just this afternoon, a state Senate subcommittee recommended a bill to end Virginia’s winner-take-all system and apportion its 13 electoral votes by congressional district.
Unlike similar proposals in Pennsylvania and Michigan, this one wouldn’t award the remaining electoral votes to the winner (Virginia has 11 districts). Rather, the winner of the most congressional districts would get the final two votes. If this were in effect last year, Obama would have gotten just 4 of the state’s votes, despite winning 51 percent of its voters.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Charles W. “Bill” Carrico, says the change is necessary because Virginia’s urbanized areas can outvote rural regions, weakening their political strength. In other words, Carrico thinks winning land is more important than winning people when it comes to presidential elections.
It should be said that this scheme, if carried out on a large scale, will guarantee an explosion of recounts. In any district where there is a narrow margin between the two candidates, there will be every incentive to challenge the results. Republicans present this as a way to streamline elections, but in reality, it would complicate them, and drag out the process for weeks—if not months. It would be Florida in the 2000 election, multiplied by 435.
It should also be said, again, that this constitutes a massive disenfranchisement of African American and other nonwhite voters, who tend to cluster near urban areas. When you couple this with the move on Monday to redraw the state’s electoral maps—eliminating one state senate district and packing black voters into another, diluting their strength—it’s as if Virginia Republicans are responding to Obama’s repeat victory in the state by building an electoral facsimile of Jim Crow.
Though the Privileges and Elections committee is also Republican controlled — an eight-to-seven majority — the 40 member Senate is evenly divided, with Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling breaking ties. Assuming the bill passes from the full committee and comes up on the floor, if all 20 Democrats vote against it and Vogel abstains again, it will fail.
Ben Popper has a very interesting article at The Verge:
The tech team behind the 2012 Obama campaign has probably received more attention than any political programmers in history. A so-called “dream team of engineers from Facebook, Google and Twitter [who] built the software that drove Barack Obama’s reelection” were extolled in the press for bringing Silicon Valley strategies like Agile development to the normally hidebound process of a political campaign. In the post mortems that followed Obama’s victory, many credited the superiority of the Democrats’ tech team and its famous Narwhal platform, in contrast to the failure of Mitt Romney’s digital efforts, with mobilizing the vote and winning crucial swing states.
But in the aftermath of the election, a stark divide has emerged between political operatives and the techies who worked side-by-side. At issue is the code created during the Obama for America (OFA) 2012 campaign: the digital architecture behind the campaign’s website, its system for collecting donations, its email operation, and its mobile app. When the campaign ended, these programmers wanted to put their work back into the coding community for other developers to study and improve upon. Politicians in the Democratic party felt otherwise, arguing that sharing the tech would give away a key advantage to the Republicans. Three months after the election, the data and software is still tightly controlled by the president and his campaign staff, with the fate of the code still largely undecided. It’s a choice the OFA developers warn could not only squander the digital advantage the Democrats now hold, but also severely impact their ability to recruit top tech talent in the future.
“The software itself, much of it will be mothballed,” believes Daniel Ryan, who worked as a director of front-end engineering at OFA. To the techies who supported the campaign, this would be a travesty. The historic work the campaign was able to achieve in such a short time was made possible, Ryan and others argue, because the Obama tech team built on top of open source code — code that has been shared publicly and can be “forked,” essentially edited, by anyone. “The things we built off of open source should go back to the public,” says Manik Rathee, who worked as a user experience engineer with OFA. The team relied on open source frameworks like Rails, Flask, Jekyll and Django. “We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we did in one year if we hadn’t been working off open source projects,” says Rathee.
In this sense, the decision to mothball the tech would be a violation of the developers’ ethical principles. But the argument is about more than whether putting the tech back in the hands of the public is the right thing to do. “The biggest issue we saw with all of the commercial election software we used was that it’s only updated every four years,” says Ryan. It was these outdated options that convinced team Obama to build all the campaign tech in-house. If the code OFA built was put on ice at the DNC until 2016, it would become effectively worthless. “None of that will be useful in four years, technology moves too fast,” said Ryan. “But if our work was open and people were forking it and improving it all the time, then it keeps up with changes as we go.”One argument made by the DNC against making OFA’s code open-source is privacy. The campaign collected millions of names, addresses, credit card numbers and, of course, political affiliations. But Rathee says the tech was developed with this in mind. “I understand the need to keep the data sets private, but not the codebase. The work was meant to be modular, so it could go from site to site and be applied to different campaigns without sharing sensitive information.”
Members of the tech team suspect that the real rationale for keeping the code private is much less high-minded. “The gist of it is, they’re concerned that with the superior funding of the Republicans, if they had our software, they’d be unstoppable,” says Ryan.
OFA’s top engineers believe that keeping the code base private would actually do more harm than good to Democrats. . .
An amazing admission by the GOP, reported in ThinkProgress by Scott Keyes:
In a classic Kinsley gaffe, the Republican State Leadership Committee released a report boasting that the only reason the GOP controls the House of Representatives is because they gerrymandered congressional districts in blue states.
The RSLC’s admission came in a shockingly candid report entitled, “How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Races in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013″. It details how the group spent $30 million in the 2010 election cycle to sweep up low-cost state legislature races in blue states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Their efforts were so successful, in fact, that Republicans went from controlling both legislative chambers in 14 states before Election Day to 25 states afterward.
In turn, the new Republican majorities would be tasked with redrawing congressional districts for the 2012 election. “The rationale was straightforward,” the report reads. “Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn.”
This effort paid off in spades. As the RSLC’s report concedes (and ThinkProgress has documentedextensively), a majority of Americans voted for Democratic congressional candidates on Election Day, but only through the miracle of gerrymandering did Republicans wind up controlling the House. From the report:
Farther down-ballot, aggregated numbers show voters pulled the lever for Republicans only 49 percent of the time in congressional races, suggesting that 2012 could have been a repeat of 2008, when voters gave control of the White House and both chambers of Congress to Democrats.
But, as we see today, that was not the case. Instead, Republicans enjoy a 33-seat margin in the U.S. House seated yesterday in the 113th Congress, having endured Democratic successes atop the ticket and over one million more votes cast for Democratic House candidates than Republicans. The only analogous election in recent political history in which this aberration has taken place was immediately after reapportionment in 1972, when Democrats held a 50 seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives while losing the presidency and the popular congressional vote by 2.6 million votes.
The report credits gerrymandered maps in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin with allowing Republicans to overcome a 1.1 million popular-vote deficit. In Ohio, for instance, Republicans won 12 out of 16 House races “despite voters casting only 52 percent of their vote for Republican congressional candidates.” The situation was even more egregious to the north. “Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress.”
Though party officials typically dance around the unseemly issue of gerrymandering, this report is surprisingly candid and unabashed. The RSLC, after all, is tasked with winning control of state legislatures in large part so they can redraw congressional maps to the GOP’s benefit after redistricting. Because most states allow partisan redistricting, its understandable that the RSLC would release a report boasting of its gerrymandering success that “paved the way to Republicans retaining a U.S. House majority in 2012.”
It is something to see: a political party bragging that it does not represent the will of the voters.