Reform Groups Urge Senators to Co-sponsor, Support the Stop Super PAC-Candidate Coordination Act

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In a letter sent recently to Senators, reform groups strongly urged members of the Senate to support AND CO-SPONSOR the Stop Super PAC-Candidate Coordination Act introduced today by Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, which would essentially shut down individual-candidate Super PACs.

Similar legislation, H.R. 425, has been introduced in the House by Representatives David Price, D-North Carolina, and Chris Van Hollen, D-MD.

The groups included the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Issue One, League of Women Voters, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG.

According to the letter, “The Leahy bill would define coordination between a candidate and a Super PAC to include the elements that establish the close ties that generally exist between a candidate and the individual-candidate Super PAC supporting the candidate.”

The letter stated:

The explosive growth of individual-candidate Super PACs is one of the most dangerous developments to result from the Supreme Court’s destructive decision in Citizens United.

As a practical matter, these Super PACs function as an arm of the candidate’s campaign they   support. They raise and spend unlimited contributions and serve as vehicles for donors and the candidate they support to circumvent and eviscerate the candidate contribution limits enacted to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.

Individual-candidate Super PACs fundamentally undermine the integrity of the Nation’s campaign finance laws. Almost every major party presidential candidate in the 2016 presidential election has an individual-candidate Super PAC that is raising and spending unlimited contributions to support their candidacy.

The letter noted:

Expenditures coordinated with a candidate are treated by existing law as also constituting contributions to the candidate. Thus, the new coordination rules, once applicable, would limit the amount an individual-candidate Super PAC could spend on behalf of the candidate to the amount a PAC can contribute to a candidate, or $5,000 per year. This would have the effect of shutting down the individual-candidate Super PAC.

According to the letter, the bill would also “strengthen the general rules prohibiting coordination between candidates and other outside spending groups.”

The legislation would define as coordinated expenditures any payments for campaign communications made by a person pursuant to any general or particular understanding with the candidate or the candidate’s agents, or made by a person based on discussions with the candidate or the candidate’s agents regarding the communications.

The letter concluded:

We strongly urge you to support and co-sponsor the Leahy bill and thereby support protecting the integrity of the federal anti-corruption candidate contribution limits.

Philly Congressman Fattah, Associates Charged with Racketeering Conspiracy for Political Gain

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A member of Congress and four of his associates were indicted Wednesday for their roles in a racketeering conspiracy involving several schemes that were intended to further the political and financial interests of the defendants and others by, among other tactics, misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal, charitable and campaign funds.

Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr., 58, of Philadelphia; lobbyist Herbert Vederman, 69, of Palm Beach, Florida; Fattah’s Congressional District Director Bonnie Bowser, 59, of Philadelphia; and Robert Brand, 69, of Philadelphia; and Karen Nicholas, 57, of Williamstown, New Jersey, were charged today in a 29-count indictment with participating in a racketeering conspiracy and other crimes, including bribery; conspiracy to commit mail, wire and honest services fraud; and multiple counts of mail fraud, falsification of records, bank fraud, making false statements to a financial institution and money laundering.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Special Agent in Charge Edward J. Hanko of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division and Special Agent in Charge Akeia Conner of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Philadelphia Field Office made the announcement.

“As charged in the indictment, Congressman Fattah and his associates embarked on a wide-ranging conspiracy involving bribery, concealment of unlawful campaign contributions and theft of charitable and federal funds to advance their own personal interests,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “When elected officials betray the trust and confidence placed in them by the public, the department will do everything we can to ensure that they are held accountable. Public corruption takes a particularly heavy toll on our democracy because it undermines people’s basic belief that our elected leaders are committed to serving the public interest, not to lining their own pockets.”

“The public expects their elected officials to act with honesty and integrity,” said U.S. Attorney Memeger. “By misusing campaign funds, misappropriating government funds, accepting bribes, and committing bank fraud, as alleged in the Indictment, Congressman Fattah and his co-conspirators have betrayed the public trust and undermined faith in government.”

“These crimes and the subsequent elaborate cover-up constitute an egregious breach of public trust,” said Special Agent in Charge Hanko. “It is the duty of the FBI, IRS and Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute those who violate this trust and put personal gain above public service.”

“Public corruption by our elected officials and their associates undermines the American public’s confidence in our government,” said Special Agent in Charge Conner. “When our elected officials and their associates violate the law and create sophisticated financial schemes to enrich themselves, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, will work diligently with our fellow law enforcement partners to restore the public’s trust.”

Specifically, the indictment alleges that, in connection with his failed 2007 campaign to serve as mayor of Philadelphia, Fattah and certain associates borrowed $1 million from a wealthy supporter and disguised the funds as a loan to a consulting company. After he lost the election, Fattah allegedly returned $400,000 to the donor that the campaign had not used, and arranged for Educational Advancement Alliance (EAA), a non-profit entity that he founded and controlled, to repay the remaining $600,000 using charitable and federal grant funds that passed through two other companies, including one run by Brand. To conceal the contribution and repayment scheme, the defendants and others allegedly created sham contracts and made false entries in accounting records, tax returns and campaign finance disclosure statements.

In addition, the indictment alleges that after his defeat in the mayoral election, Fattah sought to extinguish approximately $130,000 in campaign debt owed to a political consultant by agreeing to arrange for the award of federal grant funds to the consultant. According to the allegations in the indictment, Fattah directed the consultant to apply for a $15 million grant, which he did not ultimately receive, on behalf of a then non-existent non-profit entity. In exchange for Fattah’s efforts to arrange the award of the funds to the non-profit, the consultant allegedly agreed to forgive the debt owed by the campaign.

The indictment further alleges that Fattah misappropriated funds from his mayoral and congressional campaigns to repay his son’s student loan debt. To execute the scheme, Fattah and Bowser allegedly arranged for his campaigns to make payments to a political consulting company, which the company then used to lessen Fattah’s son’s student loan debt. According to the allegations in the indictment, between 2007 and 2011, the consultant made 34 successful loan payments on behalf of Fattah’s son, totaling approximately $23,000.

In another alleged scheme, beginning in 2008, Fattah communicated with individuals in the legislative and executive branches in an effort to secure for Vederman an ambassadorship or an appointment to the U.S. Trade Commission. In exchange, Vederman provided money and other items of value to Fattah. As part of this scheme, the indictment alleges that the defendants sought to conceal an $18,000 bribe payment from Vederman to Fattah by disguising it as a payment for a car sale that never actually took place.

Finally, the indictment alleges that Nicholas obtained $50,000 in federal grant funds that she claimed would be used by EAA to support a conference on higher education. The conference never took place. Instead, Nicholas used the grant funds to pay $20,000 to a political consultant and $10,000 to her attorney, and wrote several checks to herself from EAA’s operating account.

The charges and allegations contained in an indictment are merely accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by the FBI and IRS-CI. Assistance was also provided by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General, the NASA Office of Inspector General and the Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Eric L. Gibson, T. Patrick Martin and Jonathan Kravis of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul L. Gray of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Trial Attorney Bob Dalton of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section also provided assistance in this case.

Judge: PA Code Unfair to Minor Party Candidates

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A U.S. District Court Judge last week ruled that Pennsylvania’s method of charging high court costs against candidates petitioning to run for public office violates the Constitution.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Stengel issued the 41-page opinion in Constitution Party of Pennsylvania v Cortes on July 4.

Here is an excerpt from a story posted by Philly.com:

In an opinion released Friday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel wrote that the ability of minor parties to organize and speak out “has been decimated” by portions of the state’s election code.

Specifically, Stengel took issue with a rule that has forced third-party candidates to gather many times the number of signatures required of Republicans or Democrats – and then pay as much as $100,000 in legal fees when their petitions are challenged.

Those burdens have together had a “chilling effect” on third-party candidates seeking office, the judge wrote, “demonstrated by the disappearance of minor parties from the general election ballot.”

Last November, Pennsylvania was one of four states whose statewide ballots lacked independent or third-party candidates, said Richard Winger, editor of the website Ballot Access News. “I don’t think Pennsylvanians realize they’re in there with Alabama and New Mexico and California,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

To read the entire story, click here.

To read the entire decision (via Ballot Access), click here.

Common Cause, Allies Urge 2016 Presidential Candidates to Embrace “Fighting Big Money” Agenda

To ensure that presidential candidates do more than pay lip service to curbing the influence of money in politics, good government nonprofit Common Cause joined other leading advocates to focus voters and candidates on a detailed “21st Century Democracy Agenda” to modernize and strengthen government of, by, and for the people.

“Americans are hungry, indeed starving, for candidates who will take action to ensure that government works for every citizen, not just those who are able to write big checks to candidates, parties, and political action groups,” said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport.

Rapoport said the participating groups will push candidates across the political spectrum to advocate for:

  • Contribution limits and public financing systems that rein in the power of big dollar donors while enhancing that of modest givers and those who can’t afford to contribute at all.
  • Strong disclosure laws and regulations, so that voters know exactly who is spending money — plus when and where they’re spending it — to promote or defeat particular candidates.
  • Shutting down super PACs tied to individual candidates and blocking coordination between candidates and non-profit “dark money” political committees.
  • Restructuring the Federal Election Commission so that current and future campaign finance laws will be enforced.
  • Passing a constitutional amendment clarifying the authority of Congress and state legislatures to put reasonable limits on political spending and ensure that every citizen has a chance to be heard and represented in the political marketplace.
  • Filling Supreme Court vacancies with justices who understand that money is not equivalent to speech and that sensible limits on political spending enhance rather than impede free speech.
  • Voting laws that guarantee easy access to the ballot box and encourage every citizen to participate.

“None of these ideas are even remotely radical; most have been tested successfully at the state or local level,” Rapoport said. “All over the country, Republicans and Democrats alike are increasingly supporting a range of democracy reforms, including common sense limits on campaign contributions. Those local leaders and a growing number at the national level see a groundswell of public concern and support for reform,” he said.

A recent survey for The New York Times concluded that 81 percent of Republicans (and slightly more Democrats) favor an overhaul of the way political campaigns are financed. Another poll, for the Wall Street Journal, found that the political influence of the wealthy is among voters’ top concerns for 2016.

The groups’ policy platform grows out of a “Unity Statement of Principles” on money in politics and democracy reform that was signed earlier this year by more than 150 organizations.

“We want to see candidates do more than embrace the principles. They should commit to specific reforms on a specific timetable. At the same time, we are not asking candidates to curtail their fundraising; we recognize that they must play the 2016 game by 2016’s rules,” Rapoport said. “But as the campaign proceeds, we will be measuring the candidates by how strongly they commit themselves to sensible reforms. We’re convinced that the dominance of big money is a danger to democracy; we want to see hard evidence that the candidates understand that and are committed to changing it.”

Motion to Dismiss Filed in Wisconsin Voter ID Law Case

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Late August, a divided court upheld a Wisconsin voter ID law, and in doing so, rewrote part of it – causing confusion.

This week, a motion to dismiss was filed by the defendants in the case, Judge Gerald C. Nichol, et al, as well as their answer and affirmative defenses.

It states in part:

1. This Court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the Amended Complaint because Plaintiffs lack standing.
2. The Amended Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
WHEREFORE, Defendants respectfully request that judgment be entered in their favor dismissing this action with prejudice, denying all of the relief requested, and granting them such further relief as the Court deems appropriate

To read the defendants’ entire answer and affirmative defenses, click here.

To read the entire 29-page motion to dismiss, just click here.

Didn’t follow the case closely? No problem! Here’s what you need to know to get caught up:

The court ruled in two cases that can be read here and here.

At issue? Whether Wisconsin statute requiring voters to produce photo ID at polls violates several provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution.

Brennan Center, Others File Lawsuit to Close a NY Campaign Finance Loop Hole

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Money in politics continues to capture the national spotlight – even becoming a key talking point among 2016 presidential candidate hopefuls.

Last week,several plaintiffs filed suit against a campaign-finance related loop hole in New York.

The Brennan Center and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, on behalf of several former and current state legislators and other plaintiffs, filed suit against the New York State Board of Elections to close the state’s infamous “LLC Loophole.”

Since the Loophole was created by the BOE in 1996, contributors donating through LLCs have circumvented contribution limits and disclosure requirements that the Legislature created to protect the integrity of New York’s democratic process — and injected millions of secret dollars into state elections.

In April the Brennan Center and Emery Celli asked the BOE to close the Loophole, but the board, in a 2-2 vote, refused to rescind its earlier decision and thereby defeated this attempt at reform. This lawsuit presents a promising opportunity to close the Loophole once and for all.

In addition to the Brennan Center, plaintiffs include:

  • SUNY New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin, one of the foremost experts on New York government. Benjamin served on the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, and as the Republican Chairman of the Ulster County Legislature.
  • Former New York State Sen. John R. Dunne, a Republican who served as Deputy Majority Leader of the New York State Senate and as Assistant U.S. Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division under President George H.W. Bush.
  • New York State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a veteran of New York City government who served as chief of staff to City Councilmember Gale Brewer.
  • New York State Sen. Liz Krueger, former chair of New York’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.
  • Former New York State Assembly candidate Maureen Koetz, the 2014 Republican challenger to incumbent Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver in New York’s 65th district.
  • New York State Sen. Daniel Squadron, a longtime advocate for state government reform and former aide to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

“By treating LLCs as individuals rather than artificial business entities like corporations or partnerships, the Board of Elections created a gaping hole at the heart of our state’s legislatively enacted campaign finance system,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “It defies common sense and state law.”

“At a time when New York government is in crisis thanks to a series of high-profile corruption scandals, the Board has opted to perpetuate its deeply flawed rule that enables frequent and harmful circumvention of the law,” said Elizabeth S. Saylor, a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP. “The LLC Loophole undermines the New York State Legislature’s clear intent to control campaign contributions by limiting the donations permitted and mandating full disclosure of donors. It must be closed.”

Other plaintiffs issued the following public statements:

Gerald Benjamin: “As a scholar, candidate, and elected official, I have seen how the need to raise large contributions can generate corruption and negatively affect the efficacy of government. The problem has only grown worse because of the increasingly large contributions made through the LLC Loophole.”

John R. Dunne: “The existence and abuse of the LLC Loophole causes me great concern over the condition of our government. It is important to take a stand against the excessive influence of political contributions and correct the Board of Elections’ clear misinterpretation of the law.”

Brian Kavanagh: “The individuals and businesses who give large contributions through LLCs have much more power than those who have not contributed or have contributed under the lower limits that apply to other entities and individuals. The result is that government does not adequately represent those New Yorkers who do not have the ability or desire to exploit the LLC Loophole.”

Liz Krueger: “The prominence of LLC contributions has a significant effect on the willingness and ability of people to run for office.  I have seen many people who would have made excellent public servants lose or decline to even run because they were unable or unwilling to raise enough large campaign contributions.”

Maureen Koetz: “As a voter in New York, I agree with the assessment of many voters I met during the 2014 campaign: my confidence in our democracy is shaken because of the power of special interests whom the LLC Loophole allows to make virtually unlimited campaign contributions. Because of the power of those donors, my elected representatives are much less likely to work to protect my interests.”

Daniel Squadron: “Voters feel enormous cynicism about the political process, in part because of the proliferation of big money in politics. The fact that undisclosed entities like LLCs can give virtually unlimited contributions makes individuals feel disempowered. It is often difficult to convince voters to participate in the political process, whether by contributing, volunteering, or even voting, because they feel that big money controls the entire process.”

Read the full brief here.

House Members Urge Obama to Veto Bill if Campaign Finance Riders Not Removed

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(Rep. Van Hollen organized a letter to President Obama regarding campaign finance riders in the House Financial Services Appropriations Bill)

This week, 47 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed and sent a letter to President Obama urging him to block campaign finance riders that have been placed in the House Financial Services Appropriations bill.

The letter organized by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, states that the bill would prevent the executive branch from issuing rules to require campaign finance disclosure by government contractors and non-profit “social welfare” organizations, as well as shareholder disclosure by corporations.

The letter from House members urges the president to veto this legislation if the riders are not removed from the bill.

It reads in part:

“Unfortunately, in the face of an increasing public demand for disclosure by corporations and outside groups, the House Appropriations Committee has inserted provisions in the FY 2016 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill that would prohibit the disclosure of secret money designed to influence elections. We request that you strongly oppose the inclusion of these limitations on greater transparency in the FY 2016 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill.  The American people have a right to know who is bankrolling elections and who is attempting to influence their votes.  If these legislative restrictions on transparency are not removed, we strongly urge you veto this bill.”

Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer was supportive of the push to have the provisions vetoed:

The House Financial Services Appropriations bill would block the executive branch from taking steps to provide citizens with campaign finance information they have a right to know.

In particular, the legislation would block President Obama from issuing an Executive Order, currently under consideration in the White House, to require government contractors to publicly disclose all of their campaign activities.

President Obama should act promptly to issue the Executive Order and thereby make a vital breakthrough in beginning to expose the dark money currently being laundered into federal elections. President Obama also should make publicly clear that he will veto any legislation that restricts the Executive Branch from addressing the problem of dark money contributions being spent in federal elections.

To read the entire letter: click here. 

Praise for Plan for End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting

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We told you about the The End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting (E2E-VIV) Project – and how it would help shape the future of how Americans cast their ballots.

First, for those who need a little background: The project examined the viability of secure, open and transparent Internet elections.

It was led by the U.S. Vote Foundation through its Overseas Vote initiative, formerly known as Overseas Vote Foundation.

The project combined the abilities, knowledge, experience and expertise of a diverse group including election officials, election integrity advocates, and usability, technical, security and cryptographic experts. The technical project management, report writing and production was executed by Galois, Inc.

The project was funded by the Democracy Fund, a Washington D.C.-based philanthropic organization.

Fair elections groups both locally and nationally have been rallying for verified voting. Here is some praise for the plan released this month by the U.S. Vote Foundation:

“I’m proud of this team and their willingness to work together on defining the challenge of Internet voting in hardcore technical terms. Although it is not certain that a system meeting all of these requirements can be developed, or even that vendors who might claim to do so will stand their systems up to testing and certification, it is a path forward. Knowing how Americans love challenge, I have no doubt that these recommendations act as a catalyst to an exciting new phase of research and development,” Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, President and CEO, U.S. Vote Foundation


“As Americans come to rely more and more on technology to participate in civic life and engage with government, we must be adequately prepared to make voting secure and accessible on Internet-enabled devices. The security of our election systems is essential to maintaining public trust in our political system, and a real debate about the feasibility of Internet voting should be open and rigorous. This effort adds an essential piece to that public debate: potential benchmarks that can be publicly vetted and discussed by expert government, industry, and nonprofit leaders. As a field, we need to openly examine and research what is really needed by voters and election officials,” Adam Ambrogi, Program Director, Responsive Politics, The Democracy Fund

“Internet voting is an incredibly interesting and difficult topic. After personally examining the correctness and security of several commercial and research Internet voting systems over the past dozen years, it has been thrilling to work constructively this past year with a team of internationally renowned researchers, advocates, and election officials on End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting. I expect that this report will be the new touchstone for research and development in the field,” Joseph Kiniry, Principal Investigator, Galois, Inc.

What do you think about the prospect of internet voting? If you don’t vote now, would you if you could cast a verifiable ballot online?

U.S. Vote Foundation Releases New System Requirements, Specs for End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting

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The release this month of The Future of Voting: End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting Specification and Feasibility Assessment Study by U.S. Vote Foundation establishes a new reference for the security, usability and transparency requirements essential to the U.S. in any consideration of Internet voting for public elections.

Developed by a team of the nation’s leading experts in election integrity, election administration, high-assurance systems engineering, and cryptography, the report starts from the premise that public elections in the U.S. are a matter of national security. The authors assert that Internet voting systems must be transparent and designed to run in a manner that embraces the constructs of end-to-end verifiability – a property missing from existing Internet voting systems.

An end-to-end verifiable (E2E-V) voting system allows voters to:

  1. check that the system recorded their votes correctly;
  2. check that the system included their votes in the final tally;
  3. count the recorded votes and double-check the announced outcome of the election. An Internet voting system that is end-to-end verifiable is an E2E-VIV system. The new set of system specifications that could eventually lead to a model E2E-VIV system includes an ideal cryptographic foundation, security, audit, and usability considerations, as well as technical approaches to the system architecture.

As election technology evolves and more states evaluate Internet voting, caution on compromises to integrity and security is warranted, and according to the report, should be particularly avoided by the  premature deployment of Internet voting. The report aims to list the security challenges that exist with Internet voting and emphasizes that research should continue as the threat landscape continues to shift. Existing proprietary systems that meet only a subset of the requirements cannot be considered secure enough for use in the U.S.

Key recommendations in the report to make Internet voting more secure and transparent include:

  1. Any public elections conducted over the Internet must be end-to-end verifiable – The report asserts that the use of Internet voting systems without end-to-end verifiability is irresponsible, and E2E-V is the only publicly available technology that provides assurance an Internet voting system is secure and transparent.
  2. End-to-End Verifiable systems must be in-person and supervised first – It is critical to first enhance the security of in-person voting systems with E2E-V, and learn from its deployment, before assuming the more complex task of deploying E2E-VIV systems.
  3. End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting systems must be high assurance – E2E-VIV systems must be designed, constructed, verified, certified, operated and supported according to the most rigorous engineering requirements of mission- and safety-critical systems. A voting system vulnerable to privacy violations, programming errors, and security issues will undermine the trust of the electorate and validity of the results.
  4. End-to-End Verifiable Internet Voting systems must be usable and accessible to all voters – E2E-VIV systems must ensure usability and accessibility for all voters including those with disabilities.
  5. Maintain aggressive election R&D efforts – Formidable challenges in usability, reliability and security remain for the development of E2E-VIV systems and will require continued investment in peer-reviewed research and development to overcome.