CAMPAIGN FUNDRAISING: WHO RUNS FOR OFFICE

ABSTRACT: Because of the way we fund campaigns, we have two elections every cycle, the money election and the voting election. For Congressional races, fewer than 1 in 400 people contribute $200 or more to a campaign. This one-quarter of 1% of the population determines who will show up on the ballot for the voting election. Consequently, these campaign contributors, this 1 out of 400 people, have the power to block candidates from getting on the ballot and, therefore, the power to block – to veto – issues and policies from even getting on the agenda. There are many ways to change the funding of campaigns and broaden who can afford to run.

The current elections will have huge amounts of money spent on negative advertising. Voters will be turned off and disillusioned by the whole process and therefore will not bother to vote. We the voters must stay engaged and elect the best candidates we can find. And then we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions after they are elected.

FULL POST: Because of the way we fund campaigns, we have two elections every cycle, the money election and the voting election. If you don’t win the first, or at least show that you’re competitive, you don’t even get to the second one. For Congressional races, fewer than 1 in 400 people contribute $200 or more to a campaign. This one-quarter of 1% of the population determines who will show up on the ballot for the voting election, the one everyone thinks is the real election. To succeed as a Congressional candidate, you must gain the support of these large contributors.

Consequently, these campaign contributors, this 1 out of 400 people, have the power to block candidates from getting on the ballot and, therefore, the power to block – to veto – issues and policies from even getting on the agenda. This tilts our democracy toward plutocracy, where the wealthy rule and the rest of us try to hold on for the ride. “[A] nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive.” [1]

And the proof is in the pudding; it’s not what candidates say on the campaign trail, it’s what they do in office. There’s plenty of winking and nodding that goes on during the campaign, where the one quarter of 1% know that it’s just rhetoric and that they don’t have to worry that action will follow.

There are many ways to change the funding of campaigns and broaden who can afford to run. One that is in place in Arizona, Maine, and a few other places is to match small campaign contributions from individuals with public funds. Presidential elections used to have a mix of private and public funds until the public funding got overwhelmed by huge sums of private money. A newer idea is to give every taxpayer a voucher that can only be used to contribute to campaigns. Another approach would be to reduce the cost of campaigns and the importance of money by requiring broadcasters – who get to use the public airwaves – to provide free air time to candidates so they don’t have to spend small fortunes on advertising.

The current elections will have huge amounts of money spent by supposedly independent groups outside of the candidates’ own campaigns. The bulk of this money will be spent on negative advertising. The small number of wealthy individuals and corporations that are funding these outside groups hope, in part, that voters will be turned off and disillusioned by the whole process and therefore will not bother to vote.

We, the voters, cannot fall into this seductive trap of cynicism and apathy. We must stay engaged and active in the election, and elect the best candidates we can find, even though they are rarely if ever perfect. And then we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions after they are elected.


[1]       Lessig, L., 7/13/12, “Big campaign spending: Government by the 1%,” The Atlantic

CITIZENS UNITED ACTION (Part 2)

Here’s issue #29 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 5/9/12. It continues from the previous issue the arguments supporting local resolutions calling for the overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

With the 2012 election season underway, the consequences of the Citizens United decision are becoming clear. The unlimited, super political action committee or “Super PAC” spending has already exceeded $100 million. Ninety percent of this money is coming from roughly 500 wealthy individuals or corporations, meaning that they are largely drowning out the voices of the other 300 million people in the US. The Super PACs are out-spending the candidates’ campaigns. This is a real concern because it means that the campaign is out of the control of the candidates and that it is very difficult to hold this spending to any standard of accountability, for example for the accuracy of their campaign ads. The majority of this spending, 86% according to one tabulation, [1] is negative, i.e., targeting an opponent. Negative advertising demeans candidates and our political process. It turns voters off, which, along with the growing voter perception that the huge amounts of money in the campaigns mean that their vote doesn’t matter and that the system is corrupt, reduces voter turnout. [2] Moreover, the amount spent to date is a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars that these Super PACs have stated they will raise and spend during the 2012 election period.

Corporate spending is the big concern because corporations have far greater resources than all other sources combined. Even before Citizens United, 72% ($3.4 billion) of all federal campaign contributions in 2007 – 2010 came from the business sector (individuals and organizations), with labor contributing 4% ($172 million), ideological groups 7% ($308 million), and others 17%. In addition, corporations exert substantial influence in other ways, such as lobbying ($3.3 billion in 2011) and the revolving door (e.g., Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury and his 3 chiefs of staff all came from the financial industry, which has gotten very favorable treatment in the wake of the financial collapse and recession it caused).

Some people argue that unions provide a counter-balance to corporate spending, but past spending and a comparison of overall resources indicate otherwise. Furthermore, union membership in the private sector has dropped from 34% in the 1950s to under 7% today. Clearly, the corporations are winning this battle.

With unlimited corporate funds now unleashed, we can expect even greater business sector dominance. The Citizens United decision dramatically expands potential spending and, therefore, concerns that elected officials will be more responsive to contributors and their money than to constituents. The 15 largest corporations in the US have annual revenues of $2 trillion and annual profits of $146 billion. If just these 15 spent only 1% of their annual profits on campaigns, they would spend more than twice what the Obama and McCain campaigns combined spent in the last presidential election.

Citizens all across the country are concerned that unlimited campaign spending by corporations and wealthy individuals will mean that our elections won’t be a fair fight. 79% of the public supports a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United, including over 2/3 of Republicans and over 80% of Democrats and Independents. Over 1,000 business leaders formally support overturning Citizens United and there has been unusual criticism from state and other federal judges. The Montana Supreme Court upheld the state’s 1912 law limiting corporate spending in campaigns, despite a lower court ruling that Citizens United had invalidated the law in question. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals similarly upheld aNew York City law that places limits on political contributions.

With unlimited corporate campaign spending unleashed, government of, by, and for the people is truly at risk. If, as the Citizens United decision asserts, money equals speech, then those with no money have no voice. This flies in the face of the principles of our democracy and the Constitution that our founders wrote. It is essential that citizens everywhere make their voices heard loudly and clearly to build the incredible momentum that will be necessary to overturn the Citizens United decision.


[1]       Fowler, E., 5/2/12, “Presidential Ads 70% Negative in 2012, Up from 9% in 2008,” http://mediaproject.wesleyan.edu/2012/05/02/jump-in-negativity.

[2]      Kroll, A., 4/24/12, “Poll: Super-PACs will hurt voter turnout in 2012,” Mother Jones

CITIZENS UNITED ACTION (Part 1)

Here’s issue #28 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 5/6/12. It describes an action step – local resolutions – being taken around the country to work toward overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

As you probably remember, in January 2010, the US Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, ruled that corporations, unions, and other groups have the same freedom of speech rights as are granted toU.S. citizens under the Bill of Rights. The court expanded on previous rulings that spending money is considered “speech” and held, for the first time, that limiting campaign spending by corporations, unions, and others would violate their freedom of speech rights. It struck down key provisions of the bipartisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, despite its being upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003, and overturned the 1907 law banning corporate contributions.

In response, many communities and some states have passed resolutions that call for overturning the Citizens United decision. This can only be done through a Constitutional Amendment or by the Court reversing itself (which doesn’t seem at all likely). In my home town ofReading,Massachusetts, we just passed such a resolution. Here’s an overview of it and how it happened. Perhaps this will be valuable to you if you should get the opportunity to be involved in such an effort.

A group of residents got together and decided that we wanted to present a Citizens United resolution in our town. We drafted a resolution based on what had passed in another town in Massachusetts, which was a short and simple version of the draft resolution on the Move to Amend website. [1] The resolution states that:

  • Free speech rights belong to people not corporations or other organizations, and
  • Unlimited spending by corporations and others in our elections presents a real danger to our democracy because they can drown out the voices and interests of ordinary citizens.

The resolution calls:

  • On Congress to pass an amendment to our Constitution to clearly establish that money is not the same as speech, and that only human beings are entitled to constitutional rights such as free speech, and
  • On our state Legislature to pass a resolution calling for such a Constitutional amendment.

We first approached our Board of Selectmen (which may be a Town or City Council where you live). The process will vary, but our Selectmen recommended that we petition to have the resolution on the agenda for our Town Meeting (this is probably unique to New England). We got the handful of signatures required and the resolution became an official agenda item. At Town Meeting, I started off with a short, 10 minute, Power Point presentation to initiate the consideration of the resolution.

One objection to the resolution, even from some who supported its content, was that it was not an appropriate matter for a local governmental body. There are three key responses to this argument:

  • This is a local issue because corporations or others could spend unlimited money to elect or defeat local candidates or on a local ballot question. For example, if a developer wanted officials or a zoning change that would allow a development project, it could spend unlimited money to achieve that goal.
  • Only a huge groundswell of citizens voices from the local level on up will overcome the resistance and inertia of corporateAmericaand our political system.
  • Hundreds of communities across the country have felt it was appropriate to consider and pass resolutions that call for overturning the Citizens United decision. And the number is growing rapidly. InMassachusetts, the number is now 34 with 14 added this week.

The next issue of the newsletter will present other arguments that support such a resolution. If you would like a copy of the actual resolution or the Power Point slides and talking points I used, please email me.


[1]       Move to Amend (http://movetoamend.org/) is one of the organizations leading the fight to overturn the Citizens United decision. There is lots of information and tools to support local action at its website. Common Cause (http://www.commoncause.org) and its Amend 2012 project (http://www.amend2012.org) are also leaders of this effort.

MONEY IN OUR ELECTIONS (Part 5): HIGHLIGHTS, HOPE, AND CONCLUSIONS

Here’s issue #17 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 1/29/12. The campaign fundraising issue is a complex and critically important one. Here’s one final piece – for now – on this topic.

First, a little more information on where all the money comes from:

  • Wall Street’s big donors, those who give over $10,000, dominate the individual contributions to campaigns. Their contributions of $178 million in the non-presidential 2010 elections and $328 million in the 2008 presidential election cycle are triple those of the next most generous sector, lawyers. The Wall Street contributions are roughly 10 times what they were 20 years ago. [1]
  • 90% of the Super PAC spending of about $30 million in the Republican primaries is coming from “probably fewer than 100 people” according to David Donnelly of the Public Action Campaign Fund. [2]
  • Roughly 72% ($3.4 billion) of all campaign contributions in 2007 – 2010 came from the business sector (individuals and organizations), with labor contributing 4% ($172 million), ideological groups 7% ($308 million), and others 17%. [3]
  • Campaign giving is of course closely linked with lobbying. The US Chamber of Commerce, the biggest lobbying organization, spent $66 million in 2011. Of the top 20 lobbying groups (each spent at least $13 million), only two are not corporations or business associations, the American Medical Association and the AARP. [4]

A variety of initiatives are working to get campaign contributions and their undue influence under control:

  • Partial public financing of campaigns is working in states fromMaine toArizona where small individual contributions are matched by public funds and total spending is capped (although Supreme Court rulings have weakened some key elements of these state systems). We have a partial public financing system for our Presidential elections that was enacted in response to the Watergate scandal (where secret, large contributions were funneled to the Watergate burglary and related activities), however its effectiveness has been greatly diminished if not eliminated by the huge amounts of money in our presidential campaigns.
  • Hundreds of communities across the US, including Los Angeles and New York City, have passed resolutions asking Congress for an amendment to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited spending by corporations in our elections. A number of state legislatures are considering resolutions as well. [5]  Numerous organizations have come together to organize these efforts. (See www.movetoamend.org and www.commoncause.org for example.)
  • In Montana, the state Supreme Court upheld the state’s 1912 law limiting corporate spending in campaigns, despite a lower court ruling that Citizens United invalidated the law. The law was enacted when it was common practice for the copper industry to bribe state politicians. The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals similarly upheld a New York City law putting limits on political contributions. [6]

Huge campaign contributions by corporations, wealthy individuals, and other groups mean that our elections are not a fair fight, that our “we the people” democracy is undermined by the influence of money, and that there is great potential for outright corruption. Limiting individuals’ contributions and eliminating contributions from corporations are not silencing anyone; they are simply ensuring that some voices aren’t so loud that they drown out all others. If, as the Citizens United decision says, money equals speech, then those with more money have louder voices, and those with no money have no voice. This flies in the face of the principles of our democracy and the Constitution that our founders wrote.


[1]       Drutman, L., 1/26/12, “On FIRE: How the finance, insurance, and real estate sector drove the growth of the political 1% of the 1%,”, http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2012/01/26/on-fire-how-the-finance-insurance-and-real-estate-sector-drove-the-growth-of-the-political-one-percent-of-the-one-percent/

[2]       Eggen, D., 1/16/12, “Super PACs dominate Republican primary spending,” The Washington Post

[3]       Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 1/29/12, “Business-Labor-Ideology split in PAC and individual donations to candidates and parties,” http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/blio.php?cycle=2008

[4]       Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 1/29/12, “Lobbying: Top spenders,”  http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?showYear=2011&indexType=s  

[5]       Jarvis, B., 1/6/12, “How cities and states are sticking it to Citizens United,” YES! Magazine

[6]       CommonDreams.org, 1/4/12, “States take on Citizens United,” http://www.commondreams.org

MONEY IN OUR ELECTIONS (Part 4): THE IMPACT OF CITIZENS UNITED

Here’s issue #16 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 1/25/12. Having taken a look at the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision generally, I’ll now describe a specific example of its impact.

First, a mea culpa. I was wrong when I wrote in the last issue: “These PACs currently have no requirement to disclose their contributors … ” The PACs are required to report contributors and expenditures on a monthly or quarterly basis, at their choice. However, because this schedule is not tied to the schedule of elections, voters may not know until after they have voted who paid for the ads they have seen. In addition, the identity of actual donors can be made difficult to find out. For example, a $1 million donor to one of the pro-Romney Super PACs set up a corporation in Delaware, made his contribution through the corporation, and then dissolved the corporation. [1]

As an example of the impact of the Citizens United decision, a $5 million contribution from Las Vegas casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, to the pro-Gingrich Super PAC, Winning Our Future, may well have singled-handedly saved Gingrich’s campaign. (We only know who made the contribution because it was leaked, and when asked, Adelson confirmed it. Other contributors will not be revealed until the end of the month.) [2]

This contribution allowed the supposedly independent Super PAC to run ads in South Carolina that are very likely to have allowed Gingrich to win its primary and stay in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The Super PAC ran ads both attacking Romney and promoting Gingrich at a level that matched the spending of the pro-Romney Super PAC. Without these ads, it is highly likely Gingrich would have lost inSouth Carolinaand that his campaign, which is lacking money and organization, would have been over. It appears that the PACs outspent the candidates inSouth Carolina.

News hot off the press: Adelson’s wife has just given the pro-Gingrich Super PAC another $5 million. This will allow Gingrich to be competitive in theFlorida primary on January 31.

As I noted in the last issue, I call the Super PACs “supposedly” independent because they are required to be by law, but the reality is quite different. For example, Becky Burkett founded and heads up the pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future. She is former top aide to Gingrich, an experienced fundraiser, and as recently as 2011 was the chief development officer for American Solutions, a PAC Gingrich founded in 2007. [3]  In addition, candidates and their campaigns can communicate with the Super PACs through their public statements and their campaigns’ ads and strategies, as well as through mutual allies.

Overall, Super PACs have reported spending about $28.5 million to-date in the Republican presidential primaries. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the $1 billion they are expected to spend during the whole 2012 election period.


[1]       Efforts to increase reporting and transparency passed the House in 2010 but were filibustered by Republicans in the Senate where there were 59 votes (out of 100) in favor, one short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

[2]       Mooney, B.C., 1/20/12, “Super PACs and their cash are political game-changers,” The Boston Globe

[3]       Confessore, N., 12/13/11, “Former Gingrich aide forms fund-raising group,” The New York Times

MONEY IN OUR ELECTIONS (Part 3): THE CITIZENS UNITED DECISION

Here’s issue #15 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 1/15/12. Having examined campaign fundraising amounts and sources in the previous two issues, now I’ll look at the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

The previous two issues documented the large amounts of money spent on political campaigns and that a small number of very wealthy individuals give huge amounts of money to candidates and to our political parties. They also noted that the amounts of money are growing fairly rapidly. This trend is going to continue in the 2012 election cycle and is expected to accelerate, in large part because of a US Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

In the 5 to 4 Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court held that corporations (and also unions), which are often treated as “persons” under the law, have a First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, it ruled that this right to freedom of speech means that these “persons” can spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose candidates for elected office. [1] [2]

This decision overturned key, and in some cases longstanding, campaign finance laws, rules, and precedents. It did not overturn the prohibition on direct contributions by corporations to candidates, but allowed unlimited contributions to political action committees (PACs) that are supposedly independent of and not coordinated with the candidate and his or her campaign. I say “supposedly” independent because these PACs are often run by former close associates or campaign staff of the candidate, or in other ways have connections to the candidate or his or her campaign. In addition, a candidate’s strategy is often well known and can be amplified by these PACs.

These PACs currently have no requirement to disclose their contributors, meaning we, the public, won’t know who is behind the messages the PACs put forth and whether the contributors present potential conflicts of interest for the candidate. Even if these PACs operate independently of candidates and their campaigns, it is unrealistic to believe that candidates won’t know and reward the contributors to PACs that support their campaigns. [3]  Clearly, this will result in elected officials who are less accountable to their constituents and more responsive to contributors.

As a result of Citizens United, we have PACs and their sponsors stating that they will raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars during the 2012 elections. Already, in the Republican primary race, PACs have spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising, most of it negative and some quite nasty and untruthful, supposedly independently of the candidates’ campaigns. [4]  This “free speech,” bought with large amounts of special interest money, is drowning out the voices and interests of the public; it represents a real threat to our democracy.

A large number of groups has formed a coalition to work to overturn the Citizens United decision. An effort to hold protest rallies at every federal courthouse in the country on January 20, the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision, is being spearheaded by Move to Amend (www.movetoamend.org). In Boston, there will be a protest rally at the Moakley Courthouse on Friday, 1/20, from 12:30 – 1:30 and a Summit on Citizens United and the efforts to overturn it on Friday afternoon and evening and all day Saturday (http://wiki.occupyboston.org/wiki/The_Rally_and_Summit_to_Unite_Citizens_for_Democracy).


[1]       It should be noted that the Supreme Court went out of its way to make this broad, precedent setting decision when the case before it was much narrower. This will be a topic for a future issue of this newsletter.

[2]       Nader, R., 7/18/11, “The Corporate Supreme Court,” CommonDreams.org

[3]       Hohenstein, K., Summer 2011, “Said the Pot to the Kettle: Citizens United and the Power of Corporate Speech,” Justice Rising, vol. 5, #2,Alliance for Democracy

[4]       Scharwath, K., 12/16/11, “The Fight to End Corporate Personhood Heats Up,” TriplePundit

MONEY IN OUR ELECTIONS (Part 2): WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?

Here’s issue #14 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 1/8/12. The previous issue examined the total dollar amounts for federal election campaigns overall and on a per office basis. Now, I’ll start to take a look at where all the money comes from.

The money contributed to federal election candidates comes from 5 sources:

  • Large individual donations, which are $200 or more and have to be reported with the individual’s name and are supposed to include the individual’s employer and occupation
  • Small individual donations of less than $200 where the individual’s name is not reported
  • Political Action Committees (PACs)
  • Self-funding by candidates
  • Other, miscellaneous sources

The percentages for the 2010 election cycle for Congressional seats are as follows: [1]

Congress in 2010

Large Indiv.

Small Indiv.

PACs

Self

Other

Senate

53%

12%

15%

12%

8%

House

47%

9%

38%

3%

3%

The dominance of the large individual contributions is dramatic, and even more so when one examines the overall contributions of these individuals. And even more dramatic if the focus is on the largest of these contributors.

In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals each contributed a total of more than $10,000 to federal election campaigns. (This group is roughly 1 out of every 10,000 Americans, or 1% of the 1%, i.e., 0.01% of Americans.) Combined, these contributors gave $774 million to politicians, political parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. This 0.01% of Americans contributed 24.3% of all contributions from individuals. Overwhelmingly, these individuals are corporate executives, investors, lobbyists, or lawyers. [2]

On average, they contributed $28,913, which is more than the median individual income in the US of $26,364. The top 3,480 donors gave $336 million in total, an average of almost $100,000 each, with:

  • The top 17 contributors averaging $1.6 million each for a total of $28 million
  • The next 995 averaging $136,000 each for a total of $136 million
  • The next 2,468 averaging $70,000 each for a total of $172 million

As a result, these extremely wealthy contributors have unique access to and influence on our elected officials and political parties. Leaders of both parties are very aware that more than 80% of party money comes from these few donors. Although elections may be one person, one vote, the disproportionate influence of these few donors on who runs for office, who gets elected, and what policies are enacted, undermines the core of our supposed democracy.

In future issues, I will look at some likely results of the access and influence of large contributors; the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision; the supposedly independent expenditures that are not part of candidates’ official campaigns; fundraising for presidential campaigns; contributions from business, labor, and ideological sources; and other important campaign fundraising topics.


[1]       The Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 12/31/11, “Where the Money Came From,” http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/wherefrom.php?cycle=2010

[2]       Drutman and Phelps-Goodman, 12/13/11, “The Political One Percent of the One Percent,” Sunlight Foundation, http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2011/12/13

MONEY IN OUR ELECTIONS (Part 1): HOW MUCH IS SPENT?

Here’s issue #13 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 1/1/12. Having taken a look at voting, I now turn to campaign fundraising. This is a complicated story and will require multiple issues of the newsletter.

The amount of money spent on election campaigns in the United States is staggering. This is due to many factors, but, particularly for the federal offices that are the focus here, the long duration of campaigns and the heavy use of TV advertising are two key ones. Fundraising is critical because the candidate with the most money usually wins. The sources of campaign funds are important to examine because they have implications for who gets elected and what policies are enacted. The large sums of money involved lead to concern about the influence that contributors have over elected officials and the policies put in place, as well as to concern about opportunities and temptations for outright corruption.

Because campaigns are expensive and because money is a key factor in determining who wins, a central qualification for running for office is the ability to raise money. Deciding whether or not to run is much more dictated by the ability to raise money than by the ideas, positions on issues, or other attributes of a candidate. It also means that many people who would be good public officials don’t even bother to run.

The total campaign spending for federal elections in 2010 was $3.6 billion. In the presidential election year of 2008, it was $5.3 billion and this will increase for the 2012 election. The cost of campaigns has been growing consistently and significantly. The total for the 2010 Congressional elections was more than twice the amount of the 1998 elections. The 2008 presidential election year amount was 70% higher than the amount in 2000, just two presidential elections ago. [1]  In the 2008 presidential race, President Obama raised $745 million and Senator McCain had $368 million.

The national Republican and Democratic Parties raised roughly $750 million each in the 2007 – 2008 presidential election cycle and over $500 million each in the Congressional election cycle of 2009 – 2010.

In the 2010 Congressional races, the average winner of a Senate seat spent $9.8 million and of a House seat spent $1.4 million. In part because incumbents standing for re-election typically have a big advantage in fundraising, 85% of the incumbents for Senate and House races were re-elected. The average cost of winning a Senate or House seat has gown substantially since 1990: [2]

Congress

2010

2000

1990

Senate (ave. per seat)

$9.8 million

$7.3 million

$3.9 million

% of 1990

253%

188%

100%

House (ave. per seat)

$1,440,000

$840,000

$408,000

% of 1990

353%

206%

100%

The next issue, Money in Our Elections, Part 2, will examine where all this money comes from.


[1]       The Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 12/31/11, “The money behind the elections,” http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/index.php

[2]       The Center for Responsive Politics, retrieved 12/31/11, “Election Stats,” http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/elec_stats.php?cycle=2010

WHY THE RESTRICTIONS ON VOTING? (Part 2)

Here’s issue #12 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 12/18/11. This newsletter continues looking at the issue of voting, exploring who is affected by the changes in voting laws and why they are happening.

The new hurdles to voting and registering to vote that have recently been put in place in various states (see Newsletter #11) will have the greatest impact on the young and old (particularly those who don’t have a driver’s license), on minorities, and on low income individuals. For example, the requirement for a government-issued picture ID will have the greatest impact on the 10% of US citizens who lack such IDs, including, disproportionately, 25% of African-Americans, 18% of 18 – 24 year olds, and 15% of those with incomes under $35,000. Some states’ laws disqualify or make it difficult to use student IDs. Note that before 2006, no state required voters to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. In some states, one has to pay to get a government-issued voter ID or the documents required to qualify for one; this has the effect of instituting a backdoor poll tax. Some states’ laws requiring an ID were blocked by courts on the ground that they interfered with the right of eligible citizens to vote. [1]

So where is the thrust for these new, restrictive voting laws coming from? The charge is being led by conservative Republicans and an advocacy group they and corporations created and fund called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC was founded by arch conservative Paul Weyrich, who in 1980 stated, “I don’t want everybody to vote. … our leverage in elections … goes up as the voting populace goes down.” ALEC is funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, who bankrolled the Tea Party. It develops model legislation that it provides to state legislators. [2]  [3]

The 6 states that passed new voter ID laws this year have Republican Governors and Legislatures. In 5 of those states, the law was sponsored by a legislator who is a member of ALEC. The 5 Governors who vetoed voter ID laws were all Democrats.

In Maine, a new Tea Party Republican Governor and Republicans in the Legislature repealed the state’s 38 year old same day registration law. (It was reinstated by a referendum.) In Floridaand Iowa, new, conservative Republican Governors removed ex-felons’ right to vote, disenfranchising 100,000 voters in each state. And the pattern goes on. [4] 

In conclusion, these new barriers to voting are the result of a concerted effort to reduce voting among citizens who tend to be progressive or Democratic. Conservative Republicans are engaged in an unprecedented effort to reduce voting to gain partisan advantage. These are the first efforts to systematically diminish rather than expand voting and voting rights since the final days of southern resistance to black voting. These efforts represent an attack on the basic principle of democracy on which this country was founded.


[1]       Weiser, W., and Norden, L., 10/3/11, “Voting law changes in 2012,”BrennanCenter for Justice, New York University School of Law

[2]       Berman, Ari, 8/30/11, “The GOP war on voting,” Rolling Stone

[3]       Nichols, John, 12/9/11, “Koch Brothers, ALEC, and the savage assault on democracy,” The Nation

[4]       People for theAmerican Way, retrieved 10/29/11, “The right to vote under attack: The campaign to keep millions of Americans from the ballot box,” http://www.pfaw.org/print/16472

WHY THE RESTRICTIONS ON VOTING? (Part 1)

Here’s issue #11 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 12/16/11. This newsletter addresses the issue of voting – an issue that has been simmering in the background but is coming to the forefront.

The ability and right to vote is a foundational principle of our democracy. From the end of the Civil War, through the 19th Amendment in 1920 that gave women the right to vote, to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the US has worked to achieve this principle of government by, for, and of the people through universal voting. Until recently, efforts have been focused on making it easier to:

  • Register to vote (e.g., motor voter laws that allowed voting registration when getting a driver’s license and same day registration when voting) and
  • Cast a ballot (e.g., expanded early or absentee voting, on-line or mail voting, and voting on weekends).

Despite these efforts voting participation in the US is well below participation levels in other western democracies. [1]  Turnout in the last six Presidential elections averaged only 53% and only 37% in the last six Congressional elections. Turnout in recent national legislative elections was 93% inAustralia, 66% in theUnited Kingdom, and 61% inCanada.

Starting in the 1990s, a range of efforts with the stated goal of preventing voter fraud were initiated that are making it more difficult to register to vote and to vote. Despite assertions of voter fraud, every non-political investigation of the issue has failed to find any significant voter fraud. “A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter.” [2]  “In fact, Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.” [3]  “There is no evidence – none – that fraud is a major problem in any state.” [4] 

Nonetheless, in 2011, state governments have enacted an unprecedented array of new laws to make it harder to register and to vote. These new laws are likely to make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to vote in 2012. [5]  The new restrictions on voting and registering include: [6] [7]

  • Requiring a government-issued picture ID to vote (in 14 states including Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin. Vetoed by Governors in 5 states. Proposed in 22 more states.)
  • Requiring proof of citizenship to register. (Kansas andAlabama)
  • Repealing same day voter registration. (Repealed inMaine after being in effect for 38 years without any problems but reinstated by voters in a statewide referendum.) In 2008, over 1 million voters registered on Election Day.
  • Reducing early voting (i.e., prior to Election Day). (Florida,Georgia,Ohio,Tennessee,West Virginia) In 2008, 40 million voters took advantage of early voting.
  • Prohibiting ex-criminals who have served their time from voting. (Florida,Iowa,Kentucky,Virginia)
  • Restricting voter registration drives. (Florida,Texas)

In the next issue, I’ll take a look at who is affected by these changes and why they are happening.


[1]       Caldwell, Patrick, Nov. 2011, “Who stole the election?” The American Prospect

[2]       Berman, Ari, 8/30/11, “The GOP war on voting,” Rolling Stone

[3]       Weiser, W., and Agraharkar, V., 10/22/10, “Ballot security and voter suppression: Information citizens should know,”BrennanCenter for Justice, New York University School of Law

[4]       Roberts, C., and Roberts, S., 10/25/11, “Voting barriers keep popping in 2012,” syndicated column in the Reading Daily Times Chronicle

[5]       Weiser, W., and Norden, L., 10/3/11, “Voting law changes in 2012,”BrennanCenter for Justice, New York University School of Law

[6]       Berman, Ari, 8/30/11, “The GOP war on voting,” Rolling Stone

[7]       Caldwell, Patrick, Nov. 2011, “Who stole the election?” The American Prospect