Common Cause Files Complaint Over State Department Promotion of Trump Mar-a-Lago Club


Common Cause filed a complaint with the office of Government Ethics and the U.S. Department of State calling for an investigation into the latter’s publication of an article promoting Mar-a-Lago, which the article refers to as the ‘Winter White House’ owned and operated by President Trump as a private club.

The ethics complaint concerns an article the State Department’s ShareAmerica website published profiling the history of the Trump property and describing the Palm Beach club—which doubled its initiation fee to $200,000 after his election—in glowing terms. The article was subsequently circulated by multiple U.S. embassies, including on the website of the U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom and on the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Albania. Federal ethics rules prohibit government employees from endorsing “any product, service or enterprise.”

“The State Department article promoting Mar-a-Lago constitutes a misuse and abuse of taxpayer dollars that clearly warrants an investigation. This Administration’s refusal to set clear boundaries between the business of the American people and the businesses of Donald Trump has metastasized into the federal agencies,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Not only has the president turned his so-called ‘Winter White House’ into a set for a reality TV show with an audience made up of those willing to pay $200,000 to the Trump Organization, he has set an example himself untethered from ethical standards, beginning with his refusal to release his taxes as every U.S. President has done for the past four decades. It falls to the ethics offices of these agencies to enforce our ethics laws and standards, even if it means running afoul of the White House.”

The complaint calls on the Department of State and Office of Government Ethics to conduct an investigation and to take disciplinary action to hold all responsible federal government employees accountable for this clear misuse and abuse of taxpayer funds.

To view the complaint, click here.

Nebraska Lawmakers Pass Bill to Restore Voting Rights Immediately Upon Completion of Sentence for Past Criminal Conviction


The Nebraska Legislature passed a bill today that would restore voting rights to approximately 7,000 citizens who cannot vote because of a criminal conviction in their past. Under the law, the governor has five days from today to sign or veto the measure.

Under current Nebraska law, citizens who have successfully completed a sentence for a felony conviction must wait two years before their rights are restored. Nebraska Legislative Bill 75, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne, would modify this statute to eliminate that two-year waiting period. The bill passed with a large margin in the state’s non-partisan unicameral legislature, and now heads to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature.

“We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Justin Wayne in bringing this legislation and for the 26 senators that joined him in extending the right to vote to over 7,000 Nebraskans,” said Bri McLarty Huppert, director of voting rights at Nebraskans for Civic Reform. “We are thrilled that those impacted individuals currently living and working in our communities will have their voice and their vote restored.”

“This is a victory for voting rights,” said Danielle Conrad, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska. “This is a victory for racial justice. Ending the needless and confusing two-year waiting period for citizens with a conviction history will ensure more diverse voices are heard in our democracy. It will allow more Nebraskans to fully reintegrate into our neighborhoods and make a positive impact in our communities.”

“This bill would give Nebraskans a second chance to fully participate in the communities where they live and work,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “A key part of that is being able to exercise the most fundamental right in American democracy. Today’s move by the legislature is a key first step, and we’re hopeful the governor will make it the law of the state.”

The Nebraska bill builds on recent bipartisan support for rights restoration around the country. This year in neighboring Wyoming, the state enacted a law establishing automatic voting rights restoration for certain citizens with past criminal convictions. In January, Virginia’s governor announced that he restored voting rights to 140,000 citizens while vowing to continue doing so for thousands more. In 2016, Maryland’s legislature enfranchised more than 40,000 people, and Delaware removed financial barriers to rights restoration. In the last 20 years, more than 20 states have made it easier for people with past convictions to vote, vote sooner, or access the right to vote more easily.

Interested in Your Company’s Political Giving? This Tool Can Help


Ever wonder what kind of political contributions the company you work for makes? Then a new tool at is for you.

Here’s a little bit about the tool according to the website:

​In 2010, Citizens United removed limits on corporate spending to influence elections. Today, corporations are leading contributors in congressional and down-ballot races, where even a small amount of money can have a big impact. This includes hard-to-track contributions made through trade associations and other groups.

With great influence comes great responsibility. When companies are open about how they use shareholders’ money to influence elections, they protect shareholder value, build public trust, and safeguard our democracy.

What are you waiting for? Check those political contributions at the website.

Victory: Following Complaint, Trump Campaign Changes FEC Filings to Fix False Report


In response to a complaint filed by Common Cause and the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging President Trump’s campaign was attempting to violate the contribution limits for his 2020 reelection, the latest campaign finance reports show the Trump campaign has redesignated thousands of entries to count against the contributor’s 2020 election limits and not, as originally reported, for the 2016 election.

The March 2 complaint alleged that Trump’s campaign committee violated federal election law by attributing campaign contributions received after Election Day to 2016 “debt retirement,” even though no debt existed, rather than to the 2020 election. These false reports, which were included on both the post-general and year-end filings, would have had the effect of illegally increasing the amount Trump could accept from contributors for his 2020 reelection campaign.

On Trump’s FEC report filed last week, his campaign backed away from its apparent attempt to evade the 2020 contribution limits by altering thousands of entries that had appeared on its earlier reports, and re-designating those contributions from “2016 debt retirement” to the 2020 primary.

“Regardless of any excuse offered by the campaign for filing false reports, it is clear that future FEC filings by the campaign will require close monitoring for compliance,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause V.P. for Policy and Litigation. “The FEC must police these filings itself as the Trump campaign has clearly abandoned its 2016 primary season criticism of donor contributions as corrupting and is now very much in the business of raising money aggressively for the 2020 election.”

“By falsely reporting post-election contributions towards 2016 debt retirement on two separate FEC reports, Trump would have illegally doubled what a contributor could give for the 2020 primaries,” said Brendan Fischer, federal and FEC program director at the Campaign Legal Center. “Additionally, for some of these contributions, the law requires that Trump’s campaign committee receive a donor’s written approval to re-designate their contribution for a future election—and it is not clear the Trump campaign has done so. While the FEC has not yet made public whether it is taking or has taken any action, it should demand a civil penalty from the Trump campaign as a deterrent against future attempts to evade the contribution limits.”

Trump began fundraising for his reelection just days after his Nov. 8 victory. Federal law provides that a candidate may only raise funds after Election Day to retire outstanding debts from the election, or for a future election. But the Trump campaign ended the 2016 election with no outstanding net debt—therefore, all contributions made after Election Day should have either been refunded to contributors or designated for the 2020 primary election. An individual who gave the maximum contribution and had it attributed to 2016 debt retirement might give an additional contribution and have it attributed to the 2020 primary, even though the entirety of both contributions would be used for 2020.

To read the complaint, click here.

New Research: Who Draws the Maps?


We’ve told you a lot about the movement to improve the way political maps are drawn here in Pennsylvania. We want to also make sure we are keeping you up to date with research about the problem of gerrymandering in general, as well.

That’s why we’re bringing your attention today to some new research published by the nonpartisan nonprofit organization, the Brennan Center.

The report, titled, “Who Draws the Maps? Legislative and Congressional Redistricting,” begins with this intro:

Every ten years, states redraw their congressional and state district lines. Each state determines for itself, usually detailed in the state constitution, who will draw these lines.

The way lines are redrawn can influence who can win the next election and affect the balance of political power, which communities are represented, and what laws are passed. Unfortunately, that power means the process also can be abused. Litigation in a number of states currently is challenging the drawing of maps based on race or partisanship or failure to comply with other legal requirements.

However, the past twenty years also have seen significant growth in efforts to fix the process. While the vast majority of states continue to use the state legislature for drawing districts, there is a growing trend for states to use alternative approaches to mapdrawing. Citizen-driven ballot initiatives sparked redistricting reform in Arizona in 2000 and in California in 2008 and 2010. Since then, New York in 2014 and Ohio in 2015 also have adopted various types of reforms.

The following maps show who currently is responsible for redistricting in the United States.

The entire report is absolutely worth a read. It is available free on the Brennan Center website.

Take This Right to Vote Survey

We wanted to pass along an opportunity for your voice to be heard on voting rights.


The We The People Project (they are a nonprofit organization) have launched a Right to Vote Survey.

Here’s a little bit about the project in their own words:

We the People Project works to achieve equal rights and representation for the nearly 5 million Americans living in U.S. territories and the District of Columbia through groundbreaking impact litigation.

We are developing a legal challenge to federal laws that make full enjoyment of the right to vote depend on where you live. Every American deserves the right to vote for President!

We’d like to hear from you!  Please fill out our short 2-3 minute “Right to Vote Survey” to share your experience being denied the right to vote. The information you and others provide will help us make the case that it shouldn’t matter where one lives when it comes to the right to vote.

Want to participate? You may do so right here.

Political Parties and Candidates Dominated 2016 House Elections While Holding Own in Senate

Perhaps it is time to stop bemoaning the weakness of political parties in financing federal elections. The prevailing opinion is that since the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, “outside groups” accepting unlimited contributions have come to play so important a role in competitive races as to be pushing the candidates and political parties to the sideline.

A newly released study by the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) of 2016 general election campaign spending shows decisively that this is not true.

The basic source of misunderstanding stems from the legal categories under which federal financial activities are reported. Formal political party committees are designated, but all others are lumped together as non-party actors. Within the supposedly “non-party” organizations are four major Super PACs clearly associated with congressional party leaders.

The Congressional Leadership Fund and Senate Leadership Fund are associated strongly with the House and Senate Republican leaders; the Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC are strongly associated with the Democratic leaders.

When the leadership committees are included in the calculations, the picture comes to look radically different from the conventional wisdom. These four committees were massively important in 2016, spending $232 million in general elections for the House and Senate (see table 1). This more than doubled the $114 million of independent expenditures (IEs) by the comparable committees in 2014*. Substantial increases were posted by each of the four leadership PACs – House and Senate, Democratic and Republican.

By comparison, the four formal party committees’ IEs and receipts stayed roughly level. (For party receipts since 2002, see table 4.) The remaining non-party committees spent less on IEs in House races in 2016 than 2014 but more for the Senate, with the combined total going up by about 15%. Taken together the formal party committees and the leadership Super PACs combined to outspend all of the other non-party spenders by a margin that was more than four times as large in 2016 ($132 million) as in 2014 ($29 million).

The results are particularly visible in marginal contests. In House races, the parties (defined here to include the leadership Super PACs) were responsible for 88% of the independent spending in the 34 competitive elections with $2 million or more of IEs in the general election (see table 2). These races accounted for 93% of all general election IEs for the House in 2016. Independent spending in those races exceeded candidate spending by 1.31 to 1.

In Senate elections, the battle for majority control stimulated substantially more non-party IEs than for the House. As a result, the parties plus leadership committees together spent roughly the same amount in the eight states with the highest IEs as all other non-party organizations combined. These races accounted for 92% of all general election IEs in the Senate (see table 3). Independent spending in these eight races nearly doubled candidate spending, 1.97 to 1.

When candidate spending is included, the candidates plus parties accounted for 65% of all spending in the eight Senate elections. The other 35% came from non-party organizations other than the leadership Super PACs. In the generally less competitive races below these top ones in both House and Senate, spending by the candidates predominated. The 35% coming from these truly non-party organizations is significant. It is much more than one would have seen before Citizens United. But parties have found a way to fight back; and neither they nor the candidates have been displaced.

The precise way in which the parties have rebounded says something about the current law’s permeability. The four leadership Super PACs raised about three-quarters of their 2016 money from individuals. Of that, 80% of the money from individual contributions came from donors who gave the Super PACs more than the maximum they would have been allowed to give the formal party organizations. The remaining money going to the leadership Super PACs came from organizations (including corporations) that may not give to the formal parties at all. By combining unlimited contributions from all these sources, the leadership Super PACs’ funding looks much like the soft-money the formal parties accepted before the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA).

The two main differences are these. First, before BCRA the soft money typically would be spent on “issue ads” targeting specific candidates. Unlike IEs, these could not “expressly” advocate the election or defeat of those candidates. Second, spending by the new leadership Super PACs ostensibly has to be “independent” of the candidates’ and parties’ campaigns while the soft-money spending before BCRA – by wearing the fig leaf of being about issues – did not have to wear the similarly thin fig leaf of claimed independence.

Want to Help Common Cause End Gerrymandering? Make a Donation Today


Gerrymandering—it’s when political maps are drawn unfairly, essentially allowing politicians to choose their voters instead of the other way around.

But who’s gonna help stop it?

Common Cause, for one. And the nonpartisan nonprofit organization is asking for your help to get put an end to the practice. What can you do? One of the quickest, simplest ways to make a difference is to make a donation.

Here’s how Common Cause explains it:

Help end gerrymandering!

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in two opinions that they are open to ending political gerrymandering for good if the right case heads their way. Common Cause is leading an effort to find that case and win a ruling that gerrymandering violates our basic constitutional rights.

Common Cause sued the North Carolina legislature to challenge the gerrymandered congressional map they drew. We are providing key strategic support to plaintiffs in separate partisan gerrymandering cases out of Maryland and Wisconsin.

Support the Common Cause Redistricting Litigation Fund so we can take this fight all the way to the Supreme Court and win!

Even a donation of a few dollars can make a HUGE difference. Get involved—here’s how.

Fair Districts PA: Volunteers Needed!


Are you a Pennsylvania resident who wants to see real, substantive changes to the way political maps are drawn in the Keystone State?

Do you want to become more aware of the issues surrounding redistricting? Do you want to make a difference in your community by helping bring about a change that would allow voters to choose their politicians and not the other way around?

Then Fair Districts PA is looking or volunteers like you.

Get involved—help make a difference. Here’s how.