Friday, November 16, 2012

Money in Politics This Week


Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi. 


For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag#moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM AND ETHICS NEWS

NEW YORK

Tech Industry Leaders Push for Fair Elections in New York State
A group of more than 30 technology industry leaders have endorsed the Fair Elections effort to overhaul New York State’s campaign finance laws. In an open letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the tech leaders encouraged the Governor to continue to take the lead in pushing for a system of citizen-funded elections that matches contributions by small donors. The tech advocates pointed to the success of crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter, where citizens can pool resources to support new business ventures, and open-source software as examples of the transparent, diverse and grassroots-oriented culture of the web. “It is time to bring the same way of doing things to campaign finance in NY State, and create a national model that will strengthen small-d democracy,” they insisted. Unfortunately Albany is currently dominated by a small number of affluent campaign donors, professional influence-peddlers and deep-pocketed special interests. New York Tech Meetup chairman and Persona Democracy Media founder Andrew Rasiej said it best, “Democracy is an incredible application, but it’s time for an upgrade to work out some of the bugs that have crept in.”

New York City Campaign Finance Board Tough on Campaign Violators
The New York City Campaign Finance Board has fined Brooklyn ex-City Councilman Kendall Stewart with $200,000 for a series of legal violations. Stewart will have to pay back $136,940 in public funds that he received for the race plus $60,888 in penalties for violating a dozen different regulations, unless he successfully appeals the decision. The Board has charged Stewart with exceeding the spending limits candidates agree to abide by in exchange for public funds, engaging in illegal campaign coordination with his local political club, and failing to respond to requests for post-election audits, among other offenses. The case is an example of the excellent enforcement of the laws on the books by the NYC Campaign Finance Board. Stewart must repay all the fines before receiving any more public funds and may see liens placed on his personal property.

NATIONAL

67 Percent of Americans Support a Small Donor Matching System
Reform NY has previously reported on numerous polls and surveys that express near universal disgust by Americans at our system of legalized political bribery. In the latest poll of 1,000 likely 2012 voters by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, Americans are evermore alarmed at the rate of campaign spending this election cycle and increasingly supportive of overhauling the way our elections are financed. Approximately 61 percent of respondents give the current level of money in politics an unfavorable rating, including 62 percent of Obama voters and 60 percent of Romney voters. Two-thirds of Americans believe that our democracy is undermined by big donors and secret money. Trust in our institutions is faltering as well. A strong majority think that special interests, lobbyists and campaign contributors have the most influence over how members of Congress vote as opposed to their constituents. In perhaps the most startling news, 67 percent of Americans support creating a system which matches small donor contributions (below $100) with public funds, while large majorities support greater disclosure of outside money (85 percent) and closing the revolving door between Congress and lobbyists (81 percent). David Donnelly, executive director at Public Campaign Action Fund states that “Republicans, Independents, and Democrats all agree—our political system too often rewards those with the most cash and elected officials should take action to restore our democracy to one that is of, by, and for the people.”

Occupy Wallstreet and Tea Party Join Hands with Abramoff to Reform Federal Campaign Finance
What do the head of the Tea Party Patriots, an Occupy Wall Street organizer, a former lobbyist, and a Harvard law professor all have in common? They all support major reforms to our campaign finance system. A bipartisan grassroots campaign dubbed Represent.Us is building public support for a new proposal, the American Anti-Corruption Act. The proposed American Anti-Corruption Act restricts contributions by lobbyists to $500 per year, subjects unrestricted Super PACs to the same contribution limits as conventional PACs, broadens federal disclosure requirements to all organizations spending $10,000 or more per election cycle, establishes a five-year moratorium between exiting Congress and entering K Street, and institutes a $100 tax rebate that voters can use to support candidates that agree to accept no more than $500 per contributor per year. After gathering 1 million signatures in support of the initiative, the group hopes to garner Congressional co-sponsors for the legislation.

Post-election Spending Round-up
The flood of money in the Presidential and Congressional races this election cycle was truly shocking. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, $6 billion was spent on the Presidential election. The average winning House candidate spent $1.4 million this year, whereas the winning candidate for Senate spent $9.5 million on the campaign trail. Spending also proved to be remarkably effective in Congressional races. House candidates with more campaign and outside money on their side won 92.7 percent of House races. In the Senate, 63.6 percent of candidates that spent more were victorious. In total, Super PACs and non-profits spent about $1 billion, with $562 million of that directed towards the Presidential race and $360 million for Congress. Of this $562 million figure from the Presidential election, 23.7 percent was from groups that provided no disclosure of their contributors. Analysis by US PIRG and Demos shows just how easily a few wealthy elites drowned out the voices the regular Americans. It took nearly 1.4 million grassroots donors who contributed under $200 to the Presidential candidates to reach a total of $285.2 million. They were overshadowed by just 61 big donors that gave an average of $4.7 million each to Super PACs to reach that same figure--$285.2 million.

Campaign Fundraising Continues Post-Election
Candidates in close House races that are yet to be decided are pleading with donors for assistance as they likely head up litigation challenges and recounts. Reviews of internal and public campaign emails, as well as Federal Election Commission records by The Hill reveal that several campaigns have kept their fundraising operations up and running. In Florida, Representative-elect Patrick Murphy’s campaign sent out an email asking for a monetary “gift” for the “lengthy legal battle” that is about to follow. His opponent, incumbent Representative Allen West (R-FL) has a little less than $3.4 million on hand to fund a legal challenge to these elections results. In California, Ami Bera, Democratic challenger to incumbent Dan Lungren (R-CA), recently asked supporters for more funds to ensure that “every vote counts.” In our high stakes system, mega-political contributions coupled with high spending are a norm that continues well after elections.  Recent victors in Capitol Hill are eager to raise more funds, some hoping to retire debts from the campaign trail while others prepare in advance for the next election cycle. The Gula Graham Group has invited lobbyists to nearly 40 Republican fundraisers, 19 of which are scheduled for next week. The events cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000 per head. These early fundraisers are a prime opportunity for lobbyists to get to know the newest faces in Congress. According to Adam Smith, communications director at Public Campaign, “The fundraising never stops in Washington. These lobbyists are trying to influence this debate and there’s no better way to make your case than by handing over a $1,000 check to a Member of Congress.”

Montana Dark Money Non-profit’s Donors Revealed
Earlier this month, Reform NY reported about the ProPublica and PBS Frontline investigation into a non-profit “social welfare” organization formerly named Western Tradition Partnership and now called American Tradition Partnership. Non-profit 501(c)(4)’s manipulate loopholes and lax enforcement of Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service regulations to hide the identity of their donors. WTP’s bank records were released by a court, and the latest examination reveals not only the major contributors to the organization but also evidence of possible illegal coordination with political campaigns. For example, WTP bank deposits include a $557.50 check from Montana Legislator Dan Kennedy to Direct Mail and Communications, a printing company. Direct Mail and WTP share a post office box. Furthermore Allison LeFer, who runs Direct Mail, is the wife of Christian LeFer, a former WTP official.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Money in Politics This Week


 Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi. 


For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag#moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.
 
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM AND ETHICS NEWS

NEW YORK

NY State Attorney General Should Investigate Shadowy “Non-profits”
Citizens Union has filed a formal complaint with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, asking the office to investigate a Virginia-based 501(c)(4) that poured money into New York State Senate races. Article 7-A of the Executive Law requires charities and nonprofits that solicit contributions from residents, corporations foundations or government agencies in New York to register with the State Charities Bureau. Common Sense Principles, which claims to educate the public about limited government and fiscal responsibility, commissioned dozens of mailers in at least three key State Senate districts, targeting Monroe County Legislator Ted O’Brien, Assemblyman George Latimar (D-Rye) and Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Queens). By organizing as a charitable organization rather than a political committee, Common Sense Principles has avoided the greater level of transparency that political committees are subject to. According to Citizens Union executive director Dick Dadey, “registration with the Charities Bureau is one existing mechanism that can help shed light on 501(c)(4) organizations engaging in this political activity, though campaign communications and expenditures by veiled third-party entities and individuals should be disclosed in a manner similar to candidate campaign committees.”

Notable Success by Two Anti-Super PAC Super PACs
Friends of Democracy, the Super PAC opposed to Super PACs, had formidable success in helping to elect reform-minded candidates in New York State and Congressional races. In an upstate New York Senate race, Friends of Democracy and a similar Super PAC, Protect Our Democracy, spent $250,000 each to assist Cecilia Tkaczyk, a Duanesburg dairy farmer and school board member who has voiced her support for campaign finance reform and citizen-funded elections. Her opponent, Assemblyman George Amedore, is largely viewed as a defender of the status quo. Tkaczyk is leading thus far by 139 votes, but the race will not be settled until all absentee ballots are counted over the coming weeks. In New York Congressional races, Friends of Democracy was involved in the contest between Sean Patrick Maloney and Nan Hayworth in the lower Hudson Valley’s 18th district, as well as the race between Dan Maffei and Ann Marie Beurkle in Syracuse’s 24th district, targeting reform opponents Hayworth and Beurkle. Jonathan Soros, co-founder of Friends of Democracy, stated that the results signal an unprecedented and important message to lawmakers: "Being on the wrong side of reform can cost you your seat."

NATIONAL

Money Totals from the Presidential Campaign
Now that the Presidential election is over, it is time to do crunch the numbers. According to the Sunlight Foundation Influence Explorer, President Barack Obama raised $639 million for his campaign, and spent $553 million. Mitt Romney raised $393 million and spent $360 million. In the aftermath of Citizens United, independent expenditures were quite heavy this cycle. The duo of Super PACs and non-profits, bearing advantages such as unlimited spending and secret donors, provided extensive funds to keep the Presidential campaigns going. Nearly $26 million worth of independent expenditures were made supporting Barack Obama and over $330 million opposing him, according to totals by Sunlight’s Follow the Unlimited Money. Super PACs and non-profits spent $64 million supporting Mitt Romney, and $94 million against him.  

Big Contributions Came Largely from White and Wealthy Neighborhoods
Almost all of the large contributions that fueled the Presidential campaigns came from people who live in predominantly wealthy, white neighborhoods. Analysis by AP assessed all contributions over $200 based on census blocks—neighborhood units described by the U.S. Census Bureau. Hispanics constitute 16 percent of the U.S. population but less than 4 percent of large political donations came from majority-Hispanic neighborhoods. The trends were similar for campaign contributions from majority-African American, Asian or Native American neighborhoods. Majority-white neighborhoods accounted for more than 90 percent of big donations this Presidential election cycle. A citizen-funded matching system, such as the one in New York City would likely change this equation. The fair elections system in New York City boasted dramatically greater political contributions from minority and poor neighborhoods in City Council races, when contrasted with New York State Assembly contests, which lack small-donor matching funds.

Citizens Unite Behind Opposition to Citizens United
As voters headed to the polls to elect the next President across the United States, citizens in Montana and Colorado had the opportunity to demonstrate their views on corporate personhood and unlimited campaign contributions. The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court held that independent expenditures by corporations and unions cannot corrupt. A subsequent ruling by a lower court opened the door for corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums as long as their spending is independent of campaigns. In Montana’s challenge to Citizens United, the Supreme Court extended its ruling to state and local laws, in addition to federal. Montana’s Initiative 166, Stand with Montanans, establishes an official policy that corporations are not people with constitutional rights, and charges state elected officials with supporting a constitutional amendment. More than 70 percent of the electorate voted for the initiative. Montana, a solid red state, provides testament to the notion that citizens across the political spectrum demand reform of our broken campaign finance laws. In Colorado, Amendment 65 instructs Colorado’s Congressional delegation to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allows Congress and states to limit campaign contributions and spending. Amendment 65 garnered 74 percent of the vote with 95 percent of precincts reporting. The Colorado and Montana resolutions are the first statewide initiatives by citizens calling for the overturn of the controversial court ruling. Eleven state legislatures have already passed resolutions denouncing Citizens United including California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont.

How Money Mattered this Election cycle
In the aftermath of the Presidential election, pundits are analyzing whether all the money spent by candidates, parties, Super PACs and non-profit “social welfare” organizations actually mattered. Early analysis by the Sunlight Foundation reveals that the drastic surge may not have been the crucial determinant of election outcomes, at least in races for the House. Outside spending did not alter the likelihood of winning although it did increase the vote share of the candidate favored by the group. For Republicans, each additional Super PAC million boosted the Republican vote share by 0.16 percentage points. But it is too soon to dismiss the role of outside money and its impact on our elections. Money mattered to a great extent in smaller races, especially when it arrived as a surprise and en masse. These four House races provide stark examples of instances where outside money made the vital difference. On the other hand, direct spending by candidates had a positive relationship with the probability of victory. In the 25 House races with no consistent lead, the candidate the spent more won 60 percent of the time. In cases where one candidate outspent the other by at least $500,000, that candidate won 65 percent of the time. Whatever the outcomes, the big donors sent a clear message to all candidates that they cannot ignore those who bankroll them. As the American Prospect put it, on “November 7th, the real game begins—when those who purchased a full term of access to their favored candidate begin to exercise an undemocratic advantage over the millions of Americans who merely voted, to shape the laws and regulations that are written for all of us.”

Several Pro-reform Senators Elected Tuesday
Fellow Americans disgusted by the influence of big money over our elections may be relieved by the knowledge that six new Senators who are stalwart supporters of campaign finance reform, will be joining the Congressional chamber next year. The new Senators will be replacing Senators who were absent, inactive or in some cases entirely against the prospect of citizen-funded elections. Senators-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) co-sponsored reform initiatives such as the Fair Elections Now Act during their tenure in the House. Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) campaign website specifically mentions her support for citizen-funded elections. Former Governor and Senator-elect Angus King (I-ME) is a fervent supporter of his state’s Clean Election system. In the lower chamber, 114 House members that co-sponsored the Fair Elections Now Act or the Grassroots Democracy Act will join the 2nd session of the 112th Congress.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Money in Politics This Week


Every Friday, the Brennan Center will be compiling the latest news concerning the corrosive nature of money in New York State politics—and the ongoing need for public financing and robust campaign finance reform. We’ll also be linking to dispatches from around the country highlighting the national scope of this crisis. This week’s links were contributed by Syed Zaidi. 

For more stories on an ongoing basis, follow the Twitter hashtag#moNeYpolitics and #fairelex.


CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM AND ETHICS NEWS

NEW YORK

Campaign Finance Reform Must Include Small-Donor Matching
In an editorial last week the Albany Times-Union urged New Yorkers to support critical initiatives for campaign finance reform, such as fully funding the New York State Board of Elections, closing loopholes, lowering contribution limits, and ensuring greater donor disclosure. Letters to the Editor penned by Alex Camarda, director of public policy and advocacy at Citizens Union and Miles Rapoport, president of Demos, emphasize that while all of these measures are necessary for empowering New Yorkers, the best mechanism to increase participation in state elections is a small-donor matching system. Matching contributions by small donors can inspire civic engagement by new donors in state elections, encourage candidates to be more accountable to their constituents and embolden new types of candidates to run for office. The state of Connecticut and New York City already match contributions by small donors in different ways, it is time for the Empire State to enact real reform.

Even After Death, Campaign Committees Live On
Republican Assemblyman George Amedore recently received $2,000 for his State Senate race from the Committee to Re-elect Senator Stafford. The only problem is that State Senator Ronald Stafford has been dead for seven years. And yet his campaign committee, now being run by a former aide, has been doling out funds ever since. Unfortunately this scenario is all too common; the New York Public Interest Research Group has documented that former politicians in New York State have over $10 million sitting in their campaign coffers. This includes ghost committees like the one for State Senator Carl Kruger, who is now in prison for corruption. He used $1.5 million from his campaign fund for legal bills, and still has $400,000 in his campaign account. “After a state politician leaves office, it’s time to close shop, including the campaign fund,” argues a New York Times editorial. State Senator Liz Krueger has proposed a bill that would require former campaign funds be closed out within four years of an election and a year after the candidate’s death. The money could go to a charity, the state or a working campaign. Like many other campaign finance reform bills in the legislature, this one is not moving. As the New York Times put it, “The only real solution is to provide public matching funds for small contributions. That model should be the next step when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators return to work in Albany.”

NATIONAL

Evidence Shows American Tradition Partnership May Have Coordinated with Campaigns
In 2010, American Tradition Partnership, a non-profit “social welfare” organization, bought a lawsuit against Montana challenging the state’s restrictions on independent campaign expenditures. In June of this year, the United States Supreme Court struck down Montana’s one-hundred year old ban on corporate political contributions in the American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock decision, extending the reach of Citizens United to state and local elections. Because of the way the group is organized, American Tradition Partnership, previously known as Western Tradition Partnership, is legally barred from coordinating with campaigns or producing electioneering materials without disclosing its donors. Recent documents uncovered by a Pro Publica investigation and a PBS Frontline Special demonstrate significant evidence of coordination between the group and several campaigns. Further inquiries reveal that mailers from the organization, targeting specific legislators in the Republican primaries, went beyond the scope of “issue ads.” Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices found that ATP’s purpose is “to directly influence candidate elections through surreptitious means.” All this deception “raises the specter of corruption of the electoral process,” according to the agency. The Supreme Court would do well to rethink the notion that independent expenditures cannot corrupt.

Outside Groups Outspend Candidates in the Most Competitive House Races
There is no doubt that outside groups have been playing a crucial role in the Presidential election this year. These groups, some with undisclosed expenditures and donors, may also determine the winners of several House races across the U.S. Analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice reveals that outside spending has been on par with party committees in the 25 House races deemed the most competitive. Take the 8th District of Minnesota for example; Republican incumbent Chip Cravaack spent $1.2 million compared to his Democratic challenger Rick Nolan, who spent $536,000. But outside spending in the race totals $ 5 million, including $1.7 million by the conservative American Action Network and $762,000 by the liberal House Majority Committee. What does this mean for political parties that have long been the central force in elections? That outside spending is shifting power toward the big donors and corporate interests funding outside groups.” Small donors are the most minimal of participants in the most important Congressional races. Republican candidates raised only 7.6 percent of their campaign funds from small donations, relative to 12.4 percent by Democrats. Politicians operate in a system in which it pays — literally — to ignore the public interest in favor of the agenda of special interests. The costs — in inefficient government, tax giveaways to big-spending industries, and a failure to act on the issues that matter most to the middle class — are staggering,” according to Adam Skaggs and Sundeep Iye from the Brennan Center. “To fix our government, we need to empower small donors in federal elections and restore regular voters to their rightful place at the center of our democracy.”

The Aftermath of Citizens United
As the first post-Citizens United Presidential election comes to a close, the negative effects of the decision are apparent. Unrestricted Super PACs, secret campaign spending, and wealthy mega-donors have been the hallmarks, with voters increasingly disgusted by the avalanche of money in politics. Outside groups such as Super PACs and politically active non-profits have spent $890 million thus far, three times the amount they spent in 2008. There are 700 Super PACs registered with the FEC. Sixty-seven percent of all Super PAC contributions originated from only 209 donors that gave $500,000 or more. Organizations that do not have to disclose their donors under the fa├žade of “social welfare” non-profit status spent millions targeting candidates. Some 501(c)(4)s donated to Super PACs, establishing complicated money transfers to obscure their funding sources. Campaign spending by groups that do not disclose their donors has exceeded $265 million so far, more than triple the amount non-disclosing groups spent four years ago. According to Trevor Potter, former chairman of the FEC, “you have a real potential for corruption here, when the officeholders know where the money comes from, and the spenders know where it comes from, but the public doesn’t.”

Top Lobbyists of 2012
The Hill has released its list of the Top Lobbyists of 2012. The lame-duck session after the election may be the “busiest and most consequential of modern times.” Washington’s corps of lobbyists will be working with policy makers to shape decisions regarding taxes, expenditures and the budget, among others. Although some of the lobbyists are hired guns from K Street or corporate and trade association groups, others are broad based grassroots advocates that draw influence from the strength of their members rather than the money in their coffers. Among the most influential corporate lobbyists are Tucker Foote representing MasterCard, a former aid in the House Financial Services Committee, who will be engaged in a battle with retailers next year over swipe fees on credit cards, and Sid Ashworth of Northrop Grumman, who saved the company’s Global Hawk drones after the Pentagon threatened to cut them. On K Street, Mitch Feuer, a former Senate Banking Committee counsel is a top financial services lobbyist and a trusted name among banks and insurers. Fred Fraefe, of the Law Offices of Frederick H. Graefe, is a leading healthcare lobbyist among Democrats on Capitol Hill.