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“Ignoring Well-Established Law”: Gov. Scott Walker, Allies Knew Prevailing Interpretation Of State Law

Supporters of Gov. Scott Walker have been working hard in recent weeks to conjure up excuses to dismiss the John Doe campaign finance probe.

First, they attacked it as a partisan witch hunt, ignoring the fact that the investigation is led by a Republican who voted for Walker and that it has the participation of both Republican and Democratic district attorneys from across the state.

Then, they tried to dismiss it as a “legally baseless” investigation, and argued that Wisconsin law does not prohibit the Walker campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth from coordinating on electoral “issue ads” that omit the phrase “vote for” Scott Walker.

Now, Walker’s allies are acknowledging that the probe is grounded in Wisconsin law, but are claiming that prosecutors are enforcing a “zombie law” — allegedly rendered unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court — that the Walker campaign was purportedly free to ignore.

This is not the case.

The governor is endowed with many powers, but he cannot single-handedly rewrite the law or reverse legal precedent.

For decades, Wisconsin law has capped campaign donations to limit the influence of money in elections, and required candidates to disclose major contributions so the public can see who is bankrolling our politicians. Courts have interpreted the law to mean that “issue ads” coordinated with a candidate for state office can be regarded as in-kind contributions to the campaign, because they are of great value to the campaign. Any coordinated issue ad “contributions” that exceed donation limits and are omitted from campaign filings can be illegal. The same is true in federal elections, under federal law.

Even if the Walker camp believed that coordinated issue ads shouldn’t be regulated, or that at some point in the future a court might overrule existing Wisconsin precedent, this belief shouldn’t have given them license to ignore well-established law during the 2012 elections, as the prosecutors’ theory in the case alleges.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never held that counting electoral issue ads as contributions is unconstitutional. In fact, in 2003 the court explicitly upheld a provision of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that treats issue ads that air near federal elections (called “electioneering communications”) as in-kind contributions if coordinated with a candidate. That holding has never been overturned.

And, even as a slim majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has chipped away at campaign finance limits for PACs and non-profits, it has done so with the express proviso that these groups are “independent” and their activities not coordinated with candidates.

Conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy explained in Citizens United vs. FEC that “the absence of prearrangement and coordination…undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate.” In other words, if a candidate is coordinating with a third-party group, that group’s expenditures are of value to the campaign — and the contribution limits and disclosure requirements that apply to candidates would be rendered meaningless if politicians can work closely with a group that takes secret, million-dollar donations.

Wisconsin courts have had a similar take, and the John Doe prosecutors are relying on an interpretation of state law established by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in 1999, in a precedent-setting case called Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation.

In that case, the court rejected arguments identical to those now being made by Walker and the Club for Growth, and held that, under Wisconsin law, electoral issue ads coordinated with a campaign count as contributions to the campaign.

Despite the claims of op-ed writers published by the Journal Sentinel, it is not the case that the courts had overturned the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation precedent or rendered its holding unenforceable in advance of the recall elections. Just ask Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen. As thousands of people were occupying the Wisconsin capitol in 2011 — sparking a movement that would lead to the recall elections — Van Hollen was citing Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation in court briefs as controlling precedent.

Just months later, with recall elections heating up, prosecutors believe the Walker campaign and Club for Growth began working together, an alleged violation of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ interpretation of state law that Van Hollen had recently endorsed.

The Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation precedent was no secret. It is explicitly cited in the end notes to the Wisconsin statutes, which provide guidance on the prevailing interpretations of Wisconsin law for candidates such as Walker and the raft of lawyers who advise him.

Plus, the Wisconsin Elections Board — the precursor to the Government Accountability Board — issued a 2002 opinion citing both state and federal cases to advise that coordinated electoral issue ads are contributions under Wisconsin law. That opinion was affirmed by the GAB in 2008 and is clearly posted on the GAB website.

If the Walker campaign or Wisconsin Club for Growth believed courts were “moving” toward a different interpretation of Wisconsin statutes, they could have sought an advisory opinion from the GAB, or requested advice from Van Hollen. If they believed that U.S. Supreme Court rulings had made the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation decision unenforceable, they could have sought a declaratory judgment from a state court.

The Walker campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth cannot claim they were unaware of the prevailing interpretation of Wisconsin law, and Wisconsinites should know better than to buy their after-the-fact rationales.

 

By: Brendan Fischer, General Counsel, The Center for Media and Democracy in Madison: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 17, 2014

July 20, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways”: FEC Investigation Into Michele Bachmann’s Election Campaign Now Focusing On Marcus

In 2011, Michele Bachmann claimed God spoke to her and told her to run for president. Apparently, the Lord works in mysterious ways. The Minnesota Congresswoman’s presidential campaign was a disaster on the inside even more than on the outside, as evidenced by all the ethics investigations she’s facing. Now Marcus Bachmann, the Congresswoman’s husband,  is the subject of a Federal Elections Commission investigation, according to the New York Times.

“The latest is a federal inquiry into whether an outside ‘super PAC’ improperly coordinated strategy with Mrs. Bachmann’s campaign staff, including her husband, in violation of election laws,” the Times reports

In a complaint to the F.E.C. in February, Peter Waldron, a Florida Republican operative hired to enlist evangelical Iowa pastors, described overhearing the president of the super PAC ask Brett O’Donnell, a senior campaign adviser, about radio and TV stations.

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Waldron said Mr. O’Donnell had replied, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Election law prohibits substantial coordination, though not all contacts, between campaigns and super PACS, Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Waldron, who calls himself a whistle-blower, also disclosed an e-mail from Mr. Bachmann describing a phone call Mr. Bachmann made to a donor asking for $7,000. In the e-mail, Mr. Bachmann wrote that the donor had agreed to give the money through the super PAC. He concluded: “Praise the Lord!! Thank you Peter for your servant leadership.”

Mr. Ryan said the call appeared to violate a rule against campaign staff members raising more than $5,000 for a super PAC.

Regular readers of The New Civil Rights Movement are all too familiar with Peter Waldron, Bachmann’s evangelical outreach director who has ties a top advocate of Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

Even the Times notes Waldron “has a controversial past,” and adds:

In 2006 he was jailed briefly in Uganda for possession of assault rifles, according to news reports. In the 1990s he led a Florida youth charity that received more than $600,000 in state and local grants before it collapsed amid questions about its effectiveness, according to The St. Petersburg Times, now The Tampa Bay Times.

But there’s so much more.

Waldron, who one year before the 2012 elections announced that the Holy Ghost had told him Michele Bachmann is the one for president, just published a new book, Bachmannistan: Behind The Lines, that claims Rep. Bachmann fired a staffer who had seven children, and another on the way, on Christmas eve.

Christian family values?

 

By: David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement, September 6, 2013

 

September 7, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Choice Between Two Supreme Court’s: This November, A Chance To Vote On Citizens United

In today’s polarized political climate, there are a few things on which American voters overwhelmingly agree. For all our disputes, we can find common ground in this: we’re completely fed up. About 80 percent of us don’t think Congress is doing a good job. Only about one third of us view the federal government favorably. In a precipitous drop, less than half of Americans have a favorable view of the Supreme Court. Across all political lines, 75 percentof Americans say there is too much money in politics, and about the same percentage think this glut of money in politics gives the rich more power than the rest in our democracy.

Interestingly, another thing that most Americans have in common is that 80 percent of us have never heard of Citizens United v. FEC, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Our feelings of frustration with Washington are deeply connected with the widespread, and entirely founded, suspicion that our elected officials aren’t representing voters, but are instead indebted to the wealthy interests that pay for their campaigns. This distrust has only deepened as politicians and the courts have handed over more and more power to those with the deepest pockets.

Citizens United is only the most famous of the recent spate of Supreme Court decisions aimed at eliminating hard-won campaign finance regulations. In fact, shortly before Citizens United, the George W. Bush-created right-wing bloc of the Supreme Court issued major rulings that had already begun to undermine decades of federal clean election laws.

And we are only partway down the slippery slope. It keeps getting worse as the Supreme Court gradually dismantles state-level clean elections laws, as it did in Arizona, and clarifies that its sweeping decision in Citizens United applies to states as well, as it did in Montana. Indeed, it won’t be long before this or some future right-wing Supreme Court cuts to the chase and lifts the century-old ban on direct corporate contributions to political candidates, one of the most basic checks we have against widespread corruption.

Believe it or not, this November, we’ll have the chance to vote on whether this slippery slope continues, or whether we stop it and roll it back. Each of these regressive campaign finance rulings has had a monumental impact on our democracy. It’s easy to forget that they have been made by one-vote 5-4 majorities of the Supreme Court. That means we’re just one Supreme Court vote away from stopping the trend in its tracks — and even reversing it. Although Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on many issues, he’s crystal clear about how he feels on this issue and exactly what kind of judge he would appoint to the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. He has said he believes “corporations are people” and he means it. He’s promised to nominate more Supreme Court justices like the ones who handed down Citizens United. And his chief judicial adviser, former judge Robert Bork, is legendary in his opposition to individual voting rights while advocating expansive corporate power. On this issue in particular, President Obama has been very clear and comes down unambiguously on the opposite side. Look no further than his Supreme Court picks so far. Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor have consistently resisted the right-wing court’s radical transformation of our democracy. In fact, his nominees now represent half the votes in the High Court who are standing up for democracy against “government by and for” the highest bidder.

Some 2008 Obama voters may not be thrilled by the last four years. Some may even be considering giving Mitt Romney a chance, despite their misgivings. But no matter who your candidate is, what issues you care about or on what side you come down on them, most importantly your vote this November will likely determine the Supreme Court for a generation. If Romney has the opportunity to replace one of the more moderate Supreme Court justices, the Court’s far-right majority will not remain narrow. The votes will be there to dismantle any remaining limits of money in politics for the foreseeable future. Conversely, future Obama appointments give Americans the chance to halt this downward spiral and the opportunity to reclaim our democracy.

Whatever the issues you most care about, this November’s election will be a choice between two Supreme Courts. And the two alternatives could not be more different. Quite simply, this is the chance that the overwhelming majority of Americans — who recognize that there is too much money in politics and that it is corrupting our government at every level — finally have to vote on it.

Will we seize this opportunity?

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post, September 6, 2012

 

September 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Southern Republicans Aim To Make White Democrats Extinct

State Rep. Stacey Abrams serves as the Georgia House Minority Leader.

Across the state, legislative maps are drawn to split voters along artificial lines to isolate them by race. Legislators see their districts disappear, themselves the target of racial gerrymandering. Citizens rise up in protest and demand the right to elect the candidate of their choice, but the ruling party ignores them. Racial groups are identified and segregated; their leadership eliminated. It is the way of the South. Only this isn’t 1964, the year before the signing of the Voting Rights Act. This is Georgia in 2011.

But this time, the legislators at risk are white men and women who have had the temerity to represent majority African-American districts, and Latino legislators who spoke up for their growing Hispanic population. In crossover districts, where whites and blacks have worked together for decades to build multi-racial voting coalitions, the new district maps devised by the Republican majority have slashed through those ties with speed and precision.  If the maps proposed by the GOP in Georgia stand, nearly half of the white Democratic state representatives could be removed from office in one election cycle. Call it the “race card”—in reverse.

Reapportionment is a dangerous business. Once every 10 years, the naked ambition of political parties wars with the dwindling hope of voters that this time their voices will be heard. In the South, the voting lines traditionally aimed for specific targets—racial discrimination that purged minorities, diminishing their numbers and political power. If a legislator had the poor fortune to be of the wrong race, that district would disappear for a decade or more.  The voters who relied on you would find themselves isolated and polarized, the victims of racial gerrymandering.

For most of the nation, the battle lines are drawn by partisan leaders who search for the sinuous lines that will connect like-minded voters to one another and disadvantage those who have shown a preference for the other side. That, as they say, is Politics 101.

But for a handful of states, the stakes are higher. Below the Mason-Dixon Line and scattered across the country, a legacy of poll taxes and literacy tests required a special remedy—Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act has a simple goal—integrate the voting of minorities into the fabric of our democracy. For any state held to its obligations, no changes can be made to election laws without pre-clearance by the Justice Department. In the last decade, the minority population across the South has increased, and by any measure, the Voting Rights Act has been the engine of racial progress.

In Georgia, the gains made under the Act are undeniable. Districts populated predominately by African-Americans have routinely elected white legislators to speak for them. In enclaves across the state, white voters have punched their ballots to elect African-American and Latino representatives. Crossover districts, where blacks and whites and Latinos co-mingle, have grown in prominence–combining with majority-minority districts to comprise nearly 35 percent of the House of Representatives.

In 2011, Georgia should stand as a model for the South and a beacon for those who believe in the rights of voters. However, based on the maps passed last week by the Republican majority, we are in danger of returning to 1964.

Redistricting is fundamentally about voters, and in Georgia, minority voters comprise fully 42 percent of the population. More importantly, these populations have aligned themselves with majority white constituents to demonstrate political power. Under the proposal, Republicans will pair 20 percent of Democrats and 7 percent of Republicans in the state House and eliminate the sole remaining white Democrat in Congress from the Deep South. The House pairings pit black Democrats against white Democrats in four contests, white against white in another and eliminate multi-racial coalition voting across the state. When the dust settles, between pairings and the creation of GOP-leaning districts, Republicans stand to knock off 10 white Democrats—half the total number. They will pick up seven new seats, for a total of 123 Republican seats, 56 Democratic seats and one Independent. This will give Republicans a constitutional majority in the state of Georgia; in other words, they will be able to pass any piece of legislation without opposition.

Let’s be clear. It is absolutely the prerogative of the majority party to maximize its political gains. No one questions the right of the GOP to draw as many districts as it can legally muster. The issue is not whether the GOP can increase its hold, but how.

The GOP’s newly drawn voting lines in the state of Georgia reveals a pernicious new cynicism in our politics—the use of the Voting Rights Act as a weapon to destroy racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. It is no consolation if individual black legislators benefit in the GOP’s new scheme. The Voting Rights Act was never intended to protect a particular minority. Indeed, the highest goals of the Act, one of modern America’s most progressive pieces of legislation, was to encourage multi-racial cooperation and understanding. Precisely, what we in Georgia have begun to achieve. More alarmingly, this new strategy targeting white legislators is not limited to our state. If effective here, the cradle of the civil rights movement, the strategy is expected to be implemented in mid-term redistricting across the South. Republican lawmakers in Alabama, Louisiana, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia are watching closely.

Today, we all decry a national partisanship that seems unhealthy and corrosive. But there is nothing wrong with partisanship, when it is a battle of ideas. The Voting Rights Act is intended to ensure that differing ideas be heard, that no single voice drown out the rest. Sadly, that is not what we see rising in the South. The Voting Rights Act is in danger of not protecting the promise of a new day, but becoming a new tool in the politics of destruction.

By: Stacey Abrams, Georgia House Minority Leader, Published in U. S. News and World Report, September 19, 2011

September 20, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, Equal Rights, GOP, Government, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Justice Department, Lawmakers, Politics, Racism, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Voters, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The GOP Assault On Voting Rights: A Poll Tax By Another Name

AS we celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, we reflect on the life and legacy of this great man. But recent legislation on voting reminds us that there is still work to do. Since January, a majority of state legislatures have passed or considered election-law changes that, taken together, constitute the most concerted effort to restrict the right to vote since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Growing up as the son of an Alabama sharecropper, I experienced Jim Crow firsthand. It was enforced by the slander of “separate but equal,” willful blindness to acts of racially motivated violence and the threat of economic retaliation. The pernicious effect of those strategies was to institutionalize second-class citizenship and restrict political participation to the majority alone.

We have come a long way since the 1960s. When the Voting Rights Act was passed, there were only 300 elected African-American officials in the United States; today there are more than 9,000, including 43 members of Congress. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act — also known as the Motor Voter Act — made it easier to register to vote, while the 2002 Help America Vote Act responded to the irregularities of the 2000 presidential race with improved election standards.

Despite decades of progress, this year’s Republican-backed wave of voting restrictions has demonstrated that the fundamental right to vote is still subject to partisan manipulation. The most common new requirement, that citizens obtain and display unexpired government-issued photo identification before entering the voting booth, was advanced in 35 states and passed by Republican legislatures in Alabama, Minnesota, Missouri and nine other states — despite the fact that as many as 25 percent of African-Americans lack acceptable identification.

Having fought for voting rights as a student, I am especially troubled that these laws disproportionately affect young voters. Students at state universities in Wisconsin cannot vote using their current IDs (because the new law requires the cards to have signatures, which those do not). South Carolina prohibits the use of student IDs altogether. Texas also rejects student IDs, but allows voting by those who have a license to carry a concealed handgun. These schemes are clearly crafted to affect not just how we vote, but who votes.

Conservative proponents have argued for photo ID mandates by claiming that widespread voter impersonation exists in America, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. While defending its photo ID law before the Supreme Court, Indiana was unable to cite a single instance of actual voter impersonation at any point in its history. Likewise, in Kansas, there were far more reports of U.F.O. sightings than allegations of voter fraud in the past decade. These theories of systematic fraud are really unfounded fears being exploited to threaten the franchise.

In Georgia, Florida, Ohio and other states, legislatures have significantly reduced opportunities to cast ballots before Election Day — an option that was disproportionately used by African-American voters in 2008. In this case the justification is often fiscal: Republicans in North Carolina attempted to eliminate early voting, claiming it would save money. Fortunately, the effort failed after the State Election Board demonstrated that cuts to early voting would actually be more expensive because new election precincts and additional voting machines would be required to handle the surge of voters on Election Day.

Voters in other states weren’t so lucky. Florida has cut its early voting period by half, from 96 mandated hours over 14 days to a minimum of 48 hours over just eight days, and has severely restricted voter registration drives, prompting the venerable League of Women Voters to cease registering voters in the state altogether. Again, this affects very specific types of voters: according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, African-Americans and Latinos were more than twice as likely as white voters to register through a voter registration drive.

These restrictions purportedly apply to all citizens equally. In reality, we know that they will disproportionately burden African Americans and other racial minorities, yet again. They are poll taxes by another name.

The King Memorial reminds us that out of a mountain of despair we may hew a stone of hope. Forty-eight years after the March on Washington, we must continue our work with hope that all citizens will have an unfettered right to vote. Second-class citizenship is not citizenship at all.

We’ve come some distance and have made great progress, but Dr. King’s dream has not been realized in full. New restraints on the right to vote do not merely slow us down. They turn us backward, setting us in the wrong direction on a course where we have already traveled too far and sacrificed too much.

 

By: Rep John Lewis, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, August 27, 2011

August 29, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, Education, Elections, Equal Rights, Freedom, GOP, Government, Governors, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Liberty, Politics, Public, Racism, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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