The Real Voter Fraud Scandal: Conservatives Are Trying To Restrict And Distort The Will Of The Voters
Well over a year before the 2012 presidential election, there’s a battle going on over next year’s ballots—how they’ll count and who will get to cast them. At stake is an attempt to distort the voters’ will by twisting the rule of law.
Most recently, Pennsylvania has been the focus of this battle. Dominic Pileggi, the state Senate majority leader, wants to change the way the Keystone State distributes its electoral votes, divvying them up according to how each presidential candidate performed in each congressional district, with the remaining two electoral votes going to the candidate who won the popular vote.
So while Barack Obama’s 55 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania in 2008 netted him all 21 of its electoral votes, the Pileggi plan would have shaved that figure to 11 electors. (Nationwide, Obama won 242 congressional districts while John McCain got 193.) The change would be even sharper as Pennsylvania’s new congressional map is expected to have 12 of the state’s 18 seats drawn to favor the GOP. Obama could win a majority of the Keystone vote again but only score eight of the state’s 20 electors. Do we really want to bring gerrymandering into presidential elections?
The politics here aren’t obscure: Every Democrat since Bill Clinton in 1992 has won Pennsylvania. This is a naked attempt to undercut Democratic nominees. (And while Pennsylvania would join Nebraska and Maine with such a law, Nebraska Republicans are trying to return to the unit rule after Obama won a single elector there in 2008.) But the Pennsylvania gerrymander gambit is only one aspect of a broader push to rig the game.
The 2010 elections marked a huge shift in control of state legislatures from Democrats to Republicans. The result, according to Tova Wang, a Senior Democracy Fellow at the progressive think tank Demos, has been “an attack on voting rights in this country like we haven’t seen in years and years.”
So far this year, bills have been introduced in at least 38 state legislatures designed to make it harder for Americans to exercise their right to vote. Fourteen have actually enacted such laws, according to a report released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, which found that the new rules could make it “significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.” As Rolling Stone reported recently, Kansas and Alabama, for example, now require proof of citizenship to register to vote; Florida and Texas have raised barriers to groups like the League of Women Voters conducting voter registration drives; Florida and Iowa barred ex-felons from voting, instantly removing nearly 200,000 voters from their states’ rolls; Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia have cut back on early voting; and Maine repealed its law allowing citizens to register and vote on Election Day or on the two business days immediately preceding it (even though GOP Gov. Paul LePage had himself used that law to register the day before the 1982 election).
Perhaps the GOP’s most popular vote suppression tool is a set of new laws requiring voters to present photo identification before they cast ballots. Seven states—Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin—have enacted such measures this year. At first glance this may seem reasonable. Who doesn’t have a valid photo ID? The answer may surprise you. A 2006 study by the Brennan Center found that 11 percent of U.S. citizens lack one, a figure in line with a 2005 report by an election reform federal commission which suggested 12 percent of U.S. citizens lack driver’s licenses. Drilling down, the Brennan Center found that the groups worst off in this regard tend to be core Democratic constituencies: 25 percent of voting age African-Americans and 15 percent of voting age citizens who make less than $35,000 annually lack valid photo IDs.
In Ohio, where such a law is pending, roughly 940,000 citizens lack valid IDs, according to a study by a nonpartisan voters group. Or take Wisconsin: Less than half of Milwaukee County African-Americans and Hispanics have driver’s licenses, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the figures are worse for younger voters. Indeed, the Wisconsin law is especially pernicious, specifically not accepting student IDs, even from state institutions. Texas’s voter ID law is even more blatant in who it’s aimed at. State gun permits are acceptable, but student IDs and government employment cards are not.
And these laws are a solution searching for a problem. Conservatives have long bemoaned the menace of voter impersonation, but the evidence for this threat is nonexistent. George W. Bush’s Justice Department spent years ferreting out voter fraud and managed to prosecute not one voter for impersonating another. “Out of the 300 million votes cast [between 2002 and 2007] federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud,” Rolling Stone reported. A 2007 study by the Brennan Center found the instances of voter fraud to be literally infinitesimal. “You’re more likely to get killed by lightning than commit in-person voter fraud,” says the Brennan Center’s Michael Waldman. Which only makes sense: That thousands of people are casting illegal votes in others’ names while evading determined detection (always managing to choose people who weren’t going to vote anyway) doesn’t pass the smell test.
Knock away the spurious reasons for the push to restrict voting and you’re left with bare-knuckled partisanship. “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” former President Bill Clinton told a group of young political activists over the summer. He’s right, and it must be fought at every level.
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, October 6, 2011
As the “Occupy” protests spread across the country with the slogan “we are the ninety-nine percent,” two reports released this week demonstrate how the top one percent are playing an increasingly outsized role in American elections.
The New Yorker reports on a conservative multimillionaire’s successful efforts to buy North Carolina’s elections, and a report from campaign finance reform groups describe how an elite group of donors have laundered unlimited contributions to presidential campaigns. Much of this influence was made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s <a title="reference on Citizens United” href=”http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Citizens_United” target=”_self”>Citizens United decision, and anger over corporate influence in politics is helping fuel the populist uprisings in Manhattan, D.C., and around the country.
Dimestore Donor Dominates North Carolina Elections
James Arthur “Art” Pope, chairman and CEO of the Variety Wholesalers dimestore discount chain, has created a “singular influence machine” in North Carolina, using his family’s wealth to influence that state’s elections and promote right-wing ideology, according to a report by Jane Mayer in this week’s New Yorker magazine.
“The Republican agenda in North Carolina is really Art Pope’s agenda. He sets it, he funds it, and he directs the efforts to achieve it. The candidates are just fronting for him. There are so many people in North Carolina beholden to Art Pope—it undermines the democratic process,” says Marc Farinella, a Democratic political consultant.
Like the Koch brothers (whom Meyer profiled in the New Yorker last year), Pope grew up wealthy, inherited his family dimestore business, and has spent massive amounts of money funding organizations and candidates opposing environmental regulations, taxes, minimum wage laws, unions, and campaign-spending limits. In addition to their sizable personal fortunes, the Kochs and Pope can spend millions in corporate funds because their companies are privately held. Pope regards Charles and David Koch as friends, and is one of the four directors of the Koch-funded-and-founded Americans for Prosperity, to which he has donated over $2 million.
John Snow, a centrist Democrat who was defeated by Art Pope-funded attacks after three terms in state Senate, told the New Yorker, “[i]t’s getting to the point where, in politics, money is the most important thing.” Snow was expected to easily win reelection, but his Tea Party-affiliated candidate with no experience had a seemingly endless flow of money. “A lot of it was from corporations and outside groups related to Art Pope. He was their sugar daddy.”
Chris Heagerty was another Democratic candidate defeated by a flood of Pope-connected money. One ad depicted Heagerty, who is caucasian but has dark hair and complexion, as Hispanic. “They slapped a sombrero on a photo of me, and wrote, ‘Mucho Taxo! Adios, Señor!’” Heagerty told the magazine. “If you put all of the Pope groups together, they and the North Carolina G.O.P. spent more to defeat me than the guy who actually won.” According to the article, he fell silent, then added, “For an individual to have so much power is frightening. The government of North Carolina is for sale.”
“We didn’t have that before 2010,” said Bob Phillips, head of Common Cause North Carolina. “Citizens United opened up the door. Now a candidate can literally be outspent by independent groups. We saw it in North Carolina, and a lot of the money was traced back to Art Pope.”
According to an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies, Pope, his family, and their organizations targeted twenty-two legislative races and won eighteen. The wins placed both chambers of North Carolina’s General Assembly under Republican majorities for the first time since 1870. Three-quarters of “independent expenditures” in North Carolina’s 2010 state races — spending made independently of a candidate or their committee — came from accounts linked to Pope.
Wealthy Elites’ Influence on Elections Grows, Post Citizens United
In the post Citizens United era, the outsize influence of a small group of wealthy donors making “independent” expenditures is not limited to North Carolina, according to a report released this week by Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center, and the Center for Responsive Politics. A handful of elite donors are capitalizing on the lawless campaign finance environment to exceed federal candidate contribution limits. Individuals have spent as much as a million dollars supporting Mitt Romney’s bid for president, and two million to support President Obama’s reelection.
“Super PACs” emerged in the wake of the Citizens United decision, which struck down limits on corporate independent expenditures. Super PACs can now raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, and unions, and use it on political ads for or against federal candidates. They are not allowed to donate directly to candidates or coordinate with their campaigns.
In striking down corporate independent expenditure limits, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld limits on individual contributions to candidates reasoning that “the potential for quid pro quo corruption distinguished direct contributions to candidates from independent expenditures.” The majority opinion stated “[t]he absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent not only undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate, but also alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments.”
The first presidential race after Citizens United, though, reveals that the distinction between direct campaign contributions and “independent” expenditures has been eliminated — and with it, the idea that corruption follows one but not the other.
In the second quarter of 2011, over 50 individuals donated the legal maximum to Romney’s campaign ($2,500), then made around $6.4 million in additional contributions to Romney’s “Restore Our Future” Super PAC. Almost half of these individuals gave between $100,000 and $500,000 to the Super PAC, and one person donated $1 million. These donations made up half of the “Restore Our Future” funds.
Nine individuals donated to both President Obama’s reelection campaign and his “Priorities USA Action” Super PAC. The nine donors collectively gave $2.6 million to Obama’s Super PAC, primarily from Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who donated $2 million, and Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner, who gave $500,000.
“This analysis offers yet more proof that these candidate-specific Super PACs are nothing more than an end-run around existing contribution limits,” said Paul S. Ryan, FEC Program Director at the Campaign Legal Center. “The Super PACs are simply shadow candidate committees. Million-dollar contributions to the Super PACs pose just as big a threat of corruption as would million-dollar contributions directly to candidates.”
In addition to Super PAC spending, corporations and corporate executives can also launder campaign spending through non-profit “social welfare” groups organized under section 501(c) of the tax code. Non-profits are not required to disclose their donors, preventing the public from knowing the source of a particular message. Last week, certain business leaders denounced this secret spending, and Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate this alleged abuse of the tax code.
Ninety-Nine Percent: Money Out of Politics
The Citizens United decision affirmed that “money is speech,” and declared that spending limits violate the 1st Amendment rights of corporations and the uber-wealthy. As the 2012 presidential election heats up and election spending ramps up, corporations and the top 1% will speak louder than everyone else. The money that flows into the 2012 elections will come overwhelmingly from the top one percent — only a tiny sliver of Americans donate to political campaigns, and the bottom ninety-nine percent who can afford to contribute will have their dollars drowned out by the million-dollar contributions made possible by Citizens United.
And money matters. In modern elections, 9 out of 10 races are decided by who raises more campaign cash. Given this reality, it stretches the imagination to believe elected officials won’t be indebted to those deep-pocketed donors who help them get the edge over their opponent.
With average Americans — the ninety nine percent — sidelined by a political process and an economy that increasingly benefits only those at the top, they have taken to the streets. It is little wonder, then, that as the nascent Occupy protests grow and gain shape, at least one message is becoming clear: get corporate money out of politics.
By: Brendan Fischer, Center For Media and Democracy, October 7, 2011