Demand Redistricting Reform in PA – Sign Our Petition

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Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections, in conjunction with Fair Districts PA, needs your help in the fight for redistricting reform in the Keystone State.

Fair Districts PA, a nonprofit nonpartisan coalition, is asking voters to sign a petition supporting reform efforts in Harrisburg, including a set of companion bills that call for an overhaul of the redistricting process.

Here’s Fair Districts PA’s message:

When we vote, we want our elections to be fair. We want our votes to count and we want our voices to be heard.

Partisan redistricting allows politicians to choose voters instead of allowing voters to choose politicians. The process happens behind closed doors, with no transparency and no accountability to voters.

Fortunately, a bipartisan group of legislators from both the Pennsylvania Senate and House wants to change that and put real power back into the hands of voters.

Companion bills SB 484 and HB 1835 (not yet posted online) would create an impartial, independent citizens redistricting commission with rules ensuring fairness and transparency.

Join Fair Districts PA in asking our legislators to pass these constitutional amendments to restore accountable government that is of, by and for the people.

We encourage you to sign so that Pennsylvania voters are put back in control of choosing their politicians instead of the other way around.

The petition can be found here.

Voting Rights Nonprofit Files Amicus Brief in “Soft Money” Case that Could End Up Before U.S. Supreme Court

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Yesterday, we told you about some news related to voter ID laws. Today, we want to draw your attention to a legal case that revolves around so-called “soft money.”

Here’s what’s going on:

Nonpartisan non-profit the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, together with a pro-bono team led by Center board member Daniel F. Kolb, filed an amicus brief in Republican Party of Louisiana v. Federal Election Commission, defending the constitutionality of provisions in 2002’s McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, or the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

The case is before a three-judge panel in the D.C. District Court, which means that an appeal would guarantee the U.S. Supreme Court considers the case.

Although the Brennan Center has proposed limited reforms to allow party committees more fundraising flexibility, the brief argues that these recommendations in no way imply that the current regime is unconstitutional:

“In fact, the core relief Plaintiffs seek — permitting certain party committees to raise potentially unlimited funds for federal election activities — could undermine the very objective of broad political participation that led us to call for reform,” reads the brief. “Sensible contribution limits for political parties remain legitimate and necessary.”

The Brennan Center’s interest in the case is especially strong.

The Center’s research was cited by members of Congress during the congressional debate around BCRA, and the Center then represented congressional sponsors, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who intervened to defend the law against a previous constitutional challenge.

You can read more about Republican Party of Louisiana v. Federal Election Commission online, as well as full amicus brief.

Advocates: U.S. Supreme Court Must Take Action so None Are Harmed by Voter ID Law in Texas

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As election 2016 continues, voter ID laws – and their effects – keep making headlines. We wanted to draw your attention to a story developing out of Texas.

Here’s what’s happening:

The Campaign Legal Center recently called on the U.S. Supreme Court to take immediate action in the Texas voter ID case so voters will not be harmed by the law in the 2016 presidential election.

The application filed with SCOTUS follows the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ refusal to offer relief in time for the upcoming election.

Earlier this month, the appellate court effectively denied the Campaign Legal Center’s emergency motion to vacate its stay of a lower court’s ruling that struck down the law. Under the 5th Circuit’s order, the voter ID law will remain in effect as the case proceeds once again in the 5th Circuit, where it has languished since October 2014.

“Seven federal judges have ruled that Texas’ voter ID law discriminates against minority voters, but the law is still in effect,” said Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. “The 5th Circuit has set up a schedule that likely forecloses our ability to obtain relief in time for the presidential election. We are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that that no one is prevented from casting a ballot because this discriminatory law is in place.”

The D.C. District Court, a Texas district court, and a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit have all found that the law discriminates against minority voters. The 5th Circuit’s stay of the district court’s decision in 2014 is the only reason the law is in effect.

“The stay was only granted because the District Court’s order was handed down days before the 2014 election and the 5th Circuit was concerned about changing procedures so close to the election. It should never have extended past 2014,” said Danielle Lang, legal fellow of the Campaign Legal Center. “The dangers identified by the court of appeals have passed, so there is no reason eligible Texas voters should once again be denied the right to vote.”

 

Want to Vote in PA’s Primary? You MUST Register to Vote Today

Today’s the day – it’s last call for voter registration in the state of Pennsylvania for those who want to cast a ballot in the primary.

The primary isn’t until April 26, but state law requires all Pennsylvanians who want to participate in an election to register to vote 30 days beforehand.

That means that if you want to vote in the primary you MUST register to vote by the end of today, Monday, March 28.

Not sure what to do? No worries, Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections has you covered.

Here’s what you need to know if you want to vote next month:

WHAT: The Pennsylvania primary election.

WHEN: April 26.

WHO: Pennsylvania primaries are closed. That means that Democrats must vote for Democrats and Republicans must vote for Republicans. Voters who are registered Independents may not participate. This means that if you are a Democrat and want to vote for a Republican, or if you are a Republican and want to vote for a Democrat, you must change your registration. If you are an Independent and want to vote for either a Democrat or a Republican, you have to change your affiliation.

HOW: As you might have heard, online voter registration is now available to prospective voters in Pennsylvania. If you need to register, change your registration or confirm it, click here. You can also register in person and via mail. Under certain circumstances, eligible voters may also request and complete an absentee ballot. For information on those options, click here.

WHERE: On election day, voters must cast their ballot at their particular polling location. If you’re registered but aren’t sure where your polling place is, you can check that out here.

Voting Rights Watchdog to Governors, Mayors: Shut Down Political Non-profits

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A voting-rights watchdog group says New York Mayor Bill de Blasio set the bar recently when he announced he is closing a controversial non-profit group created to support his political agenda.

The organization, Common Cause, is now urging governors, mayors and other elected officials to follow his example.

“Americans from all political perspectives are coming together to reject the influence of money on our democracy and secret money in particular,” said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport. “This is how wealthy special interests buy access and influence. As these trends move from the national to local politics, their impact could be devastating.  De Blasio set an example other politicians should follow – listen to the people and close these personal political slush funds.”

Under pressure from Common Cause’s New York office, de Blasio announced he will close the Campaign for One New York, an organization the good government watchdog group said was skirting campaign finance laws to raise money to support the mayor’s policies and programs.

Similar groups are springing up in other states and localities. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder tapped funds raised by his Moving Michigan Forward organization to hire public relations experts to deal with the political fallout from the Flint water crisis as it became national news.

Common Cause’s Michigan office is demanding more transparency from Snyder, about both emails and other correspondence that could answer the people’s questions about the chain of events leading to the Flint water crisis. Common Cause Michigan is also urging Snyder to reveal contributors and other information about the non-profit that is paying for his public relations offensive. Gov. Snyder testified before Congress this morning, attempting to shift blame away from his administration and Flint’s emergency managers as part of this PR blitz.

“Common Cause New York does not accept that secret money is a necessary function of the modern mayoralty and we are pleased to read that the Mayor will be shutting down the Campaign for One New York,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “It does not serve the public interest to have a shadow government, serving only to breed mistrust and confusion among voters. This is the right decision which we hope others will follow.”

Last month, Common Cause New York sent a letter to New York’s Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board requesting an investigation into the Campaign for One New York.

Watchdog Group Announces Appeal of LLC Loophole Decision

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Last year, we told you about a lawsuit that watchdog group the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, along with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP filed on behalf of several former and current state legislators and other plaintiffs against the New York State Board of Elections to close the state’s infamous “LLC Loophole.

The big deal about the loophole? The Brennan Center says it has allowed millions of secret dollars – also known as Dark Money – to enter state elections.

Earlier this month, a judge on the Supreme Court of the State of New York ruled against the Center and co-plaintiffs, leaving the “LLC Loophole” open for the time being.

“There’s no question we are disappointed. We believe this ruling was wrong,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “The state legislature never intended to create this loophole, and it has had a detrimental effect on New York’s elections and governing. We intend to pursue all of our options for correcting the Board of Elections error, including an appeal of this ruling.”

“As shown in the Silver and Skelos trials, LLCs are at the center of the corruption that infects Albany,” said Elizabeth Saylor, counsel for petitioners and a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff and Abady LLP. “This corruption is made possible by the Board of Election’s decision to treat LLCs as natural persons that are not subject to the limits the legislature set for corporations, partnerships, and other artificial entities. We are confident the appeals court will recognize that the LLC Loophole undermines the campaign finance restrictions passed by (the) Legislature.”

Voting Rights Advocates Ask Court to Immediately Protect the Right of North Carolina Residents to Vote in 2016 Election

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This week, a coalition of voting-rights advocates and North Carolina residents asked a federal judge to issue an interim order to prevent widespread disenfranchisement in the November 2016 general election before the lawsuit they filed is resolved.
What lawsuit?
Here’s some background:
Action NC, Democracy North Carolina, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and three North Carolina voters filed suit against state officials in charge of the State Board of Elections, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Division of Motor Vehicles alleging pervasive violations of National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
“North Carolina’s NVRA violations are keeping eligible North Carolina citizens off the rolls, and, if uncorrected, will prevent these citizens from participating in the presidential election in November,” said Matthew D’Amore, a partner at Morrison & Foerster, which is representing the coalition pro bono. “The Board of Elections hasn’t fixed the problems raised in the complaint, and immediate action by the Court is therefore necessary to ensure that the state fulfills its obligations to provide critical voter registration opportunities to the people of North Carolina so they can vote this fall.”
In their request for a preliminary injunction, the advocates cite evidence that North Carolinians were turned away from the polls during last week’s presidential primary election, despite having attempted to register to vote at the DMV. They also point to evidence demonstrating that DHHS is systematically ignoring the NVRA’s requirements that it provides voter registration opportunities to its clients.
“We first notified the state of the voter registration problems with DHHS and DMV last summer,” said Allison Riggs, senior counsel at Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “As last week’s primary election shows, however, these problems are still very much present in North Carolina. Given this, we believe that it is imperative to ask the court to intervene and ensure they don’t recur in the June Congressional Primary or the November General Election.”
“North Carolina had a near record turnout in the primary election earlier this month, despite lines being slowed down by complex changes in the state’s voting laws,” said Bob Hall, Executive Director at Democracy North Carolina. “We expect a high turnout in November, but we’re worried many citizens will be disenfranchised if a court does not intervene.”
Congress passed the NVRA to increase voting opportunities for eligible citizens by making voter registration available through public assistance agencies and motor vehicle offices. More specifically, the law requires that states offer voter registration services every time an individual applies for or renews public assistance benefits, driver’s licenses, or state-issued identification cards, as well as when individuals report a change of address to a public assistance or motor vehicle agency.
“All of our individual plaintiffs interacted with the DMV prior to the 2014 general election, registered to vote or submitted updates to their voter registration information, and were told that their names were not on the rolls when they went to cast a ballot,” said Stuart Naifeh, Senior Counsel at Demos. According to the motion, all of the individual voters named in the complaint were allowed to cast provisional ballots, but none of them were counted. “Although it was the DMV that was at fault for these North Carolinians not being on the voter rolls, it was the voters who suffered the consequences.”
North Carolina citizens like Sherry Holverson, one of the individual plaintiffs in the case, are frustrated with the DMV’s inaction in the wake of the notice sent last year.
“You do everything right and it doesn’t make a difference,” said Holverson, who has been nicknamed “Auntie Sam” because of her history helping individuals register to vote and get to the polls. “People have fought to obtain the right to vote, fought to register, and now–even when those battles have been won–you have the state failing to put people on the rolls. The voices of the citizens of North Carolina should not be silenced due to state error.”
In seeking to compel DHHS to take immediate action to comply with the NVRA, the motion cites and seeks to rectify both a dramatic decline in voter registration originating with DHHS, and evidence that public assistance clients are not being made aware of their right to register when applying for aid.
The coalition’s motion asks the court to order the board of elections and DHHS to send voter registration applications to all potential voters who should have received them after interacting with DHHS in person, by phone, or online.
It also asks the board of elections and the DMV to mail voter registration forms to people who interacted with the office online, and to ensure that any person who, like the individual plaintiffs, interacted with officials there and thought they were registered to vote is in fact able to vote in the November election.

 

Watchdog Groups File Campaign Finance Complaint Against ‘Ghost Corporation’

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Another day, another headline about problems with money in politics.

The Campaign Legal Center, a leading campaign finance watchdog, along with Democracy 21, filed a complaint recently with the Federal Election Commission, calling on the agency to investigate contributions to “the ghost corporation” “Children of Israel LLC” – which funneled $400,000 to two super PACs.

According to an article by The Washington Post, the California-based LLC contributed $50,000 to Pursuing America’s Greatness, a super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee’s previous presidential run, and another $100,000 in November.

And in January, it donated $250,000 to Stand for Truth, a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC. These donations made “Children of Israel LLC” the fourth-biggest donor to each of these groups, although the true source of the funding was never disclosed to the public.

Additionally, Shaofen “Lisa” GAO, the founder of the LLC,  filed paperwork with the California’s secretary of state’s office in September listing “donations” as her company’s type of business, an apparent admission the company was created to act as a conduit for secret money.

“Without FEC action, we’ll continue to see a trend of donors hiding behind LLCs to skirt disclosure laws,” said Larry Noble, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center. “As secret super PAC donors face no consequences, Americans are left in the dark, without any way of knowing who is funding and influencing campaigns, including whether illegal foreign money is creeping into American elections.”

This is the fourth complaint this year that the Campaign Legal Center has filed with the FEC against donors funneling money through LLCs to avoid disclosure laws. CLC and Democracy 21 await FEC action.

 

What you Need to Know About SB 484 and Pennsylvania Redistricting Reform

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Last week we told you about a bipartisan group of legislators and nonprofits who have come together to announce redistricting reform efforts in Pennsylvania.

Two bills were discussed at an associated press event – HB 1835 and SB 484.

Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections, a Pittsburgh-based nonpartisan, nonprofit voting-rights advocacy group and proud member of Fair Districts PA – which is working in tandem with policy makers to help with reform efforts – wanted to ensure you had a working knowledge of these pieces of legislation.

So today we wanted to start by giving you an FAQ of sorts about Senate Bill 484.

Here’s what you need to know:

WHO? The bill was introduced by Sen. Lisa Boscola, a Democrat serving parts of Lehigh and Northampton counties.

WHAT? SB 484, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution by reforming the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn.

HOW?  This legislation calls for the establishment of a Citizen’s Redistricting Commission, which Boscola said will help “to achieve true independence in our redistricting process.

Here’s how it would work under SB 484: The commission would consist of registered Pennsylvania voters who do not currently hold public office or are employed by a public official.

The panel would be composed of five registered Democrats, five registered Republicans and four with other party affiliations.

WHY? Legislators and nonpartisan nonprofit groups like Fair Districts PA want to help amend the way political maps are currently drawn because the system – as is – allows lawmakers to have a hand in drawing their own districts, a conflict of interest that gives an advantage to an incumbent legislator or political party. If approved, SB 484 will require the final version of the commission’s map be approved by voters.

By way of background: This proposal is similar to the redistricting model currently used in the California, which aims to produce a redistricting process that is independent from legislative or political influence.

In short: It would allow voters to choose their politicians and not the other way around.

If you believe redistricting reform is necessary in Pennsylvania, and want to support efforts to help make political map-drawing in the Keystone State more open, fair and transparent, contact your state senator and ask they he or she support SB 484.

Not sure who your senator is or how to get in touch with is or her office? There’s a website for that!
 

Want Campaign Finance Info on POTUS Candidates? Just Google It

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As the race to the White House continues, Google just made it easier for voters to glean information about the various candidates on both sides of the aisle.

The company rolled out new features to help users track primary election results and obtain information on candidates’ stances on various policy issues of interest.

But this week, Google added another tool for users: Now they can easily see who is funding what candidate’s campaign – and what percentage of money is being derived by Super PACs vs. what is raised through personal donations.

Here’s how Google explained the new feature on its blog:

Finding information on campaign funding can be difficult, if not seemingly impossible. Today, working with one of the most respected data sources in the industry, the Center for Responsive Politics, we’re making presidential campaign finance information easy to access and understand, right from Google Search. So when you search for donald trump or clinton campaign finance, you’ll see a snapshot of their campaigns’ finance breakdown and be able to dig into interesting insights, like the percentage of funds coming from SuperPACs versus individual donations, or which industries have donated the most to a given candidate.

Check it out!