Watchdog Groups file FEC Complaints Against Shell Companies Hiding Super PAC Donors

dollar-941246_960_720

Democracy 21 joined the Campaign Legal Center recently in filing two complaints with the Federal Election Commission, calling on the agency to investigate campaign donors who are skirting disclosure laws by hiding behind corporations to anonymously fund elections.

The first complaint asks the FEC to investigate whether DE First Holdings, which came into existence just one day before it gave $1 million to the liberal Super PAC Coalition for Progress, and the person who was the true source of the funds, violated the Federal Election Campaign Act. Based on a report by Politico New Jersey, it appears this company was set up for the purpose of laundering money to a political committee while hiding the true source of the funds.

The second complaint asks the FEC to investigate Andrew Duncan and IGX, LLC for also violating the same sections of the FECA that prohibit the use of straw donors. Duncan admitted in an AP story that he had used the company, IGX, to make a secret donation of $500,000 to the Super PAC supporting Marco Rubio, Conservative Solutions PAC.

“The law is clear that conduits cannot be used by donors to mask the true source of funds given to Super PACs or other political committees,” said Donald Simon, counsel for Democracy 21. “Yet that appears to be precisely what happened here. The FEC should ensure that reporting requirements are met and that citizens know who is behind the money being spent to influence their votes.”

News of Note: TV Spending in Arkansas Supreme Court Race Passes $1 Million Mark

arkansas-608555_960_720

Voting rights experts have raised concerns over the copious amounts of cash flowing into judicial races in states across the country.

Now, Arkansas is the latest to be in the news.

With Election Day just about a week away, total spending on TV ad contracts in Arkansas’ Supreme Court race has passed the $1 million mark.

According to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, the figure now stands at $1,011,105 (for two seats). The new total is more than double the previous TV record of $450, 320 (also for two seats), which was set in 2010, according to estimates by Kantar Media/CMAG. 

Attorney Clark Mason became the latest candidate to jump into the ad race, with TV contract bookings totaling at least $51,785 in recent days, according to FCC records. Mason is competing against Circuit Judge Shawn Womack for an associate justice seat. Womack has not booked any television time, according to records.

The race for chief justice continues to be the more expensive and contentious, with TV ad contracts bought by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network totaling at least $604,405, according to FCC files. JCN ads oppose Associate Justice Courtney Goodson, who is battling Circuit Judge Dan Kemp in the race for the chief justice seat. Judge Kemp has booked TV ad contracts totaling at least $66,910, according to records. Goodson’s campaign has booked TV contracts worth at least $288,005. Ads may be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website.

Totals are current as of 8 a.m. CT, Feb. 22.

“Arkansas continues to see skyrocketing spending by interest groups in this Supreme Court race,” said Susan Liss, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for fair courts and tracks judicial election spending. “It’s a real problem for voters who get no information about who these groups are, or what courtroom decisions they hope to influence by spending big money.”

“The fact that television spending this year is more than twice the previous state record really speaks to how important ads continue to be in judicial elections,” said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and a co-author of Bankrolling the Bench, a comprehensive report on spending in the 2013-14 judicial elections by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. “As judges face pressure to act like politicians, their campaigns are increasingly looking like ordinary politics.”

Disclosures are not yet available for some additional spending by outside groups in the race. Direct mail campaigns are being conducted by both JCN and the Republican State Leadership Committee targeting Justice Goodson. 

The RSLC has been a major player in state judicial elections since it launched its Judicial Fairness Initiative in 2014, according to Bankrolling the Bench.

According to state disclosure forms, the candidates themselves have reported raising a total of $666,857.

ACLU Files Lawsuit After Thousands of Kansans Blocked From Voting Over Documentation Requirement

law-1063249_960_720

Voters in Kansas trying to register to vote at their state Department of Motor Vehicles offices are illegally being forced to provide additional documentation of citizenship, according to a new lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. As a result, more than 30,000 potential voters have been blocked from voting.

“What’s happening in Kansas is outrageous,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Thousands of Kansans, including military veterans who have valiantly served our country, are blocked from voting by unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks imposed by state officials. These shameful actions have made Kansas an epicenter of voter suppression. We say no more barriers. Let people vote.”

The latest obstacle involves a violation of the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law designed to make it easier for Americans to register to vote and maintain their registrations.

To comply with the law, states have to provide people with an opportunity to register to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses at the DMV.

Instead, Kansans are being told they must present additional citizenship paperwork in order to become registered — or they’re not being informed at all, only to find out later that they’ve been suspended from voting.

U.S. Air Force veteran and plaintiff Ralph Ortiz landed on the “suspended voter list” after registering to vote while renewing his driver’s license at a DMV in Augusta, Kansas. A year after renewing his license, he received a letter informing him he was suspended from voting and had to provide additional documentary proof of citizenship to complete the voter registration process.

“I joined the military to help protect American freedoms, yet now I’m being denied the most fundamental right in our democracy,” said Ortiz.

The lawsuit, Fish v. Kobach, was filed in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City. It seeks an order requiring Kansas to immediately register thousands of Kansans who sought to register to vote at a DMV office, but who were denied due to their supposed failure to comply with the state’s citizenship documentation requirements.

The case was brought by the ACLU, ACLU of Kansas and Dechert LLP.

Kansas is at the center of several recent voting rights skirmishes. Most recently, the ACLU and other groups sued a federal elections official who unilaterally decided that residents of Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia could no longer register to vote using a federal form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship.

And last month, a state court struck down Kansas’ two-tiered voter registration system, ruling that Secretary of State Kris Kobach overstepped his legal authority by creating a system that prevents federal form registrants from voting in state and local elections. The ACLU challenged the dual system as well.

“Ordinary people who play by the rules and follow all necessary instructions still end up not being able to register to vote because of this bureaucratic maze,” said Ho.

The complaint is here. Want to learn more about Fish v. Kobach? Here you go.

 

New Book Explains Importance of Voting to Teens

EveryVoteMatters-1

As the 2016 presidential election continues, there is a new book out that helps kids better understand the electoral process and why their participation is key to a functional democracy.

The book, titled, “The Importance of Voting: The Power of Your Voice, from Student Elections to the Supreme Court,” was written by Thomas A. Jacobs, J.D. and Natalie C. Jacobs, J.D. and was published by Free Spirit Publishing.

Here’s a summary of the paperback – appropriate for children ages 15 and older – from the publisher:

“Encourage teens to recognize the importance of voting and making their voices heard in the democratic process with this timely book focused on Supreme Court decisions that came down to a single vote. Chapters examine key Supreme Court rulings and explore how these cases have affected the lives and rights of U.S. citizens—especially teens. Using a straightforward, impartial tone, the authors take a close look at often controversial cases and at the history of voting in the United States. The emphasis is involvement in local and national elections as well as other ways to be an engaged citizen. With an accompanying digital discussion guide, the book is a perfect choice for teachers and youth leaders to offer teens in the upcoming 2016 presidential election cycle.”

The book has also elicited some editorial praise.

Rob Richie, the executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan good-government group Fair Vote said of the book:

“We are in urgent need of effective civic education, and Every Vote Matters is an excellent contribution that deserves wide readership.”

Publishers Weekly also lauded the write up:

“Clear explanations, relevant supplemental cases, reader-directed questions, and suggested resources help make the legal issues at play relevant and readily accessible. . . . A fascinating window into recent U.S. legal history.

You can order it here.

New Scholastic News Website Teaches Kids About Electoral Process, More

browsing-15824_960_720

Scholastic News recently launched a new resource for kids- the Scholastic News Election 2016 website, a resource designed to immerse them in the 2016 Presidential Election and help them better understand the electoral process.

Throughout the election, students will have the opportunity to learn about the candidates and the democratic process, track the latest primary and caucus results on interactive maps, and vote in polls on the issues that matter most to them. The Scholastic News Election 2016 site also features age-appropriate news and information about the electoral process. Also featured are original reports from the campaign trail written by Kid Reporters ages 10-14 in the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps, the country’s oldest and largest national student reporting program.

“The 2016 election is an exciting opportunity to engage kids in current events by introducing them to the intricacies of democracy and our country’s electoral process,” said Stephanie Smith, editorial director of Scholastic News editions 3, 4 & 5/6. “From primary and caucus debates to Inauguration Day, our hope is that the Scholastic News Election 2016 website will spark students’ interest in politics and history while providing teachable moments through a deep dive into the relevant issues that our nation is facing today. We make the election engaging, educational and fun.”

Before the general election in November, additional features will be published on the Scholastic News Election 2016 website, including an Electoral College map, detailed profiles of the final candidates, and the Scholastic Student Vote, a mock-election that allows kids across the country to cast their votes for President of the United States online, or through print ballots for Scholastic News magazine subscribers.

Since 1940, the outcomes of the Scholastic Student Vote have mirrored the outcomes of every general election, except two: in 1948, students selected Thomas E. Dewey over Harry S. Truman; and in 1960, students selected Richard M. Nixon over John F. Kennedy.

Want to check it out? Visit the Scholastic News Election 2016 website at: www.scholastic.com/election

National Poll: Republican Voters Overwhelmingly Support Redistricting, Voting Reform

Writing Tools
The College of William of Mary and the nonpartisan electoral reform organization
FairVote have released a report on a national survey offering new insights into voter preferences and views on electoral reform.
In partnership with YouGov and scholars Alan Abramowitz, of Emory University, and Walter Strone, of UC Davis, they conducted a national online survey of a representative sample of 1,000 Republican and independent voters, with half of the sample from January 21-25 (before the Iowa caucuses) and half from February 4-8 (before the New Hampshire primary).

“Our survey provides journalists, pollsters, and campaigns with valuable insights into voter preferences that have been largely overlooked in national polling,” said FairVote executive director Rob Richie.

The full report, with analyses and appendices with all responses and crosstab information for questions involving electoral reform, is available at FairVote.org.
But one of  highlights? Republican and independent voters are ready for electoral rule changes. Voters are generally ready to embrace changes in the nature of congressional elections and the composition of Congress.
Here are some of the numbers:
  • More than four in five respondents on an absolute scale support voter identification requirements (86.5 percent) and term limits for Congress (82.6 percent).
  • Support was also high for a voter registration system that registers all eligible voters while blocking ineligible voters (78.6 percent) and easier ballot access for third parties and independents (73.2 percent).
  • Support for limits on political donations was also high (72.7 percent).
  • The majority of respondents said they are in favor of impartial redistricting (66 percent), and a national popular vote for president (66.4 percent).

Want to read more? Click here.

Common Cause Asks You to Help End Gerrymandering Now

hand-784077_960_720

The nonpartisan nonprofit good-government group Common Cause is calling on all Americans to help stop gerrymandering now.

On its website, the group has posted a call-to-action along with a form for folks to write their representatives in Congress.

Here’s the problem, and the potential solution to gerrymandering (otherwise known as the unfair drawing of legislative lines for partisan advantage), according to Common Cause:

Voters should choose politicians — not the other way around. But today, party insiders use their control over our broken redistricting process to protect their own power.

The Redistricting Reform Act of 2015 would put the people back in charge by setting up independent commissions that prioritize inclusive public participation, fair representation, and transparency when drawing maps.

What is the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015? It is legislation that would require states to conduct Congressional redistricting through independent commissions, and for other purposes.

Want to chime in and tell your reps that you support the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015? Click here to fill out an easy online form.

BPC Leading National Effort with Corporate, Nonprofit Organizations to Improve the Electoral Process

vote-661888_960_720

The Bipartisan Policy Center announced this week that it was launching a nationwide initiative to strengthen the election process in the United States. In concert with leading national employers, nonprofit organizations and government officials, BPC said the initiative will focus on encouraging employees to register, to vote, and to work as volunteers at polling places.

Starbucks, Marriott International, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce join BPC in launching this effort. BPC will be providing guiding principles for participating organizations and technical support to connect organizations with local election administrators.

“We believe we have a role and responsibility to elevate citizenship through service, civility and civic engagement that includes voluntary participation in elections,” said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. “The BPC principles underscore that everyone’s voice matters in this important national process.”

In the 2012 election, fewer than 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. Compounding the problem, mail-in registration forms and inadequate staffing and support at polling places present burdens even for those who try to participate. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, led by Ben Ginsberg and Bob Bauer, was created as a bipartisan effort to improve the voting experience.

“As the Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended, employers can play an important role improving professionalism in the administration of American elections,” said PCEA co-chairs Ginsberg and Bauer in a statement. “We are delighted to see leading institutions encourage their employees to volunteer at polling places and support the democratic process.”

“Our democracy suffers if only half the eligible voters participate in national elections,” said former Sen. Olympia Snowe, a co-chair of BPC’s Commission on Political Reform, which advocates for greater voter engagement. “BPC is thrilled to be joining with major companies and great institutions to encourage participation in the democratic process.”

Participating organizations see this effort to engage their employees in the voting process, through registering, voting, and volunteering as poll workers, as a natural extension of their commitments to engaging in the community.

 

Proof of Citizenship Action Illegal, Federal Suit Alleges

hammer-719066_640

U.S. Election Assistance Commission Executive Director Brian D. Newby’s action to allow three states to require documentary proof of citizenship on the federal voter registration form is illegal, argued the League of Women Voters of the United States, along with its Alabama, Georgia and Kansas state Leagues, and others in a suit filed recently in federal court.

Civil rights groups the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and Project Vote, along with Marvin Brown and JoAnn Brown, also join the suit against the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

“Voters should not have to face an obstacle course in order to participate in our democracy,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, national League president. “We had hoped that a reconstituted EAC would focus on improving election administration. This action by the executive director would make the election system worse. His action challenges the impartiality of the commission.”

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Arizona could not require documentary proof of citizenship on the federal registration form without EAC approval. Kansas implemented a law similar to Arizona’s the same year, and both states put proof of citizenship requirements into effect for voters using their state forms.

Subsequently, the EAC and a federal court ruled it invalid for the federal form. Alabama and Georgia, which passed similar provisions in 2011 and 2009, respectively, had not implemented their laws. Research shows 7 percent of voters do not have documentary proof of citizenship, and tens of thousands of Kansans have been blocked from registering to vote in the state.

On Jan. 29, Newby sent letters to the secretaries of state of Alabama, Georgia and Kansas stating, without further explanation, that he would allow the three states to require citizenship documents for applicants using the federal registration form. If the documents, such as birth certificates or passports, are not provided, Americans will be denied the fundamental right to vote. The federal form is designed to guarantee a “simple means of registering to vote,” and already requires applicants to swear that they are U.S. citizens under penalty of perjury.

The executive director did not have authority to allow the three states to enforce documentary proof of citizenship requirements on the federal form, and doing so violated both EAC policy and federal law, according to a complaint submitted today by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law with pro bono counsel at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the American Civil Liberties Union with pro bono counsel Steptoe & Johnson LLP; and Project Vote with pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter LLP.

Documentary proof of citizenship requirements undermine the groups’ efforts to increase civic participation and make it more difficult for individuals to vote, according to the court filing.

“This change was unauthorized and illegal, and is hugely detrimental to voters in Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy program and representation for the Leagues in this case. “With presidential primaries fast approaching, these citizens deserve clarity on how — or if — they can register to vote. This will bring unneeded confusion and uncertainty during this presidential election year.”

Good-government nonprofit Project Vote also voiced its concerns.

“Mr. Newby’s decision is an abrupt and outrageous reversal of the EAC’s previous position, which was already upheld by a federal appeals court,” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, election counsel for Project Vote. “We will continue to fight against documentary proof of citizenship requirements, which are designed to cripple community voter registration drives and limit who gets to have a say in our democracy.”

Nearly identical requests from Arizona and Kansas have already been rejected by the EAC multiple times. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a petition from Arizona and Kansas to hear Kobach v. United States Election Assistance Commission, thereby letting stand a 10th Circuit ruling that the states may not force applicants using the federal voter registration form to show documents.

Expanded Voter Information Tool Will Provide More People with Access to Nonpartisan Voter Information

The League of Women Voters has announced it will expand access to VOTE411.org, a site for nonpartisan information on elections and candidates in all 50 states.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing $100,000 to support new delivery tools for VOTE411 information, helping to extend its reach to at least one million more people – including 200,000 from underrepresented groups.

Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest of all established democracies.

In fact, presidential year turnout is around 60 percent and midterm turnout is around 40 percent. The 2014 election had a 42 percent turnout rate, the lowest since 1942.

One of the more common reasons why people don’t vote is lack of information, the nonprofit said.

The League of Women Voters has run VOTE411.org since 2006. It answers common questions on candidate qualifications, the ballot, polling places and administrative rules. Since its creation, nearly 20,000 websites have linked to the site and 25 million people have accessed the information through VOTE411. The League anticipates that three million people will use the site in 2016, up from two million in 2012, the last presidential election year.

In 2014, the League of Women Voter’s tested an embeddable application that would allow media outlets, government agencies, elections officials and nonprofits to share VOTE411 information on their websites, meeting voters where they are. With Knight funding, the League will expand, develop and market the tool in order to reach millions more people, including those from underrepresented groups. The tool will provide information on all candidates involved in a particular race as well as a broad range of topics of interest to the community.

“Elections ensure that communities are informed and the needs of people are fairly represented. As such, low voter turnout undermines the health of individual communities,” said Shazna Nessa, Knight Foundation director for journalism. “By providing nonpartisan and reliable information about elections and partnering with news organizations and others to widen their reach, the League of Women Voters will help increase participation in elections and help build a stronger democracy.”

“If people don’t vote and use their voice, someone will speak for them,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, chair of the League of Women Voters Education Fund. “This work will help us build a democracy where more voters have easy access to reliable information.”

Funding for the League of Women Voter’s is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to help ensure citizens have access to important information to help them make decisions about their communities and build stronger democracies. Knight has made many investments in this area including more than $3 million to winners of the Knight News Challenge on Elections, announced in July 2015.