From our families here at Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections to yours: Happy New Year!
We look forward to another year of advocating for free, fair elections for all Pennsylvania residents.
From our families here at Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections to yours: Happy New Year!
We look forward to another year of advocating for free, fair elections for all Pennsylvania residents.
League leaders will participate in regular radio segments to discuss voting rights, public policy issues and advocacy.
“The League looks forward to reaching a diverse new audience of listeners across the country,” said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “The Labor community has a strong record in elections and we embrace the opportunity to have thoughtful discussions about issues that impact American voters.”
The Union Edge is a 4 hour daily live radio program out of Pittsburgh, PA, syndicated on 33 stations nationwide, and available by web stream, mobile apps, and podcast. You can download the free app at http://www.theunionedge.com.
“We are excited to partner with the League of Women Voters for their strong commitment to voter engagement, voter protection and education,” said Charles Showalter, host and founder of The Union Edge. “Union members are Democrats, Republicans and Independents; all should have the unimpeded chance to vote their conscience. As a non-partisan organization, the League always brings a fresh perspective on the critical issues facing working people across the country.”
The League segments will start Jan. 3 and air every first and third Tuesday of the month at 1:30p.m. ET/ 10:30 a.m. PT.
The Portland, Oregon city council passed “Open & Accountable Elections” today, a reform aimed at curbing special interest money in city elections and making city government more representative and accountable to the voters. Portland joined a growing list of cities and states recently passing laws to curb the influence of big money in elections.
“Portlanders have had enough of big-money politics,” said Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon. “We’re opening up a pathway for more representative local government, reflective of and responsive to all our diverse communities.”
“Frustrated by the U.S. Congress’ refusal to reign in the big money abuses that followed the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, Americans have taken matters into their own hands at the state and local level,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “Portland’s new law joins a growing list of reforms that have passed around the country to allow the voice of every American to be heard in system overwhelmed by huge and often anonymous political contributions.”
Portland is the fourth city or state to pass a form of public campaign financing this year, joining Berkeley, California, Howard County, Maryland, and South Dakota. The California legislature also voted this year to remove its ban on local citizen funded elections. Seattle, Maine, and Montgomery County, Maryland have also instituted public financing programs in recent years.
Open & Accountable Elections empowers candidates to run for office without taking large campaign contributions. Instead candidates can fuel their campaigns with small-dollar contributions from local city residents, matched with limited public funds. Candidates who participate agree to accept no more than $250 from any single contributor. Local city residents can have their small campaign contributions matched 6-to-1 up to the first $50, making every voice count. The matching funds system is voluntary, but includes stronger accountability and transparency requirements for all candidates, whether or not they choose to participate.
Open & Accountable Elections is modeled after similar programs in other communities, including in big cities like New York City and Los Angeles, smaller ones across New Mexico, and states such as Connecticut, Arizona, and Maine. “What we’ve seen in other cities,” says Titus, “is that this reform allows for a more diverse and representative candidate pool. Talented people can run viable campaigns, relying on broad community support instead of a narrow political donor class. Moreover this approach incentivizes candidates to campaign and govern differently, to reach out beyond a single narrow zip code area into all parts of the city.”
In rare cases, candidates have won Portland elections without a big money advantage, such as in the recent election of Chloe Eudaly. However, such cases are the exception, and candidates face enormous pressure to look to the city’s wealthy political donor class for support. Only 8 women, 2 people of color, and 2 people from the outer east side of the city have ever been elected to Portland city office.
The Campaign Legal Center filed a letter recently with the Federal Election Commission providing additional evidence that private prison company GEO Group illegally contributed a total of $225,000 to the Donald Trump-affiliated super PAC Rebuilding America Now, in violation of the 75-year-old ban on government contractors making political contributions.
“By contributing to a super PAC closely associated with Trump—the only presidential nominee to endorse private prisons—GEO presumably sought to influence the government contracting process and to ensure that a Trump administration would protect its access to taxpayer dollars,” said Brendan Fischer, associate counsel for the Campaign Legal Center.
“Government contracting is the most obvious way for a politician to reward friends and political donors, which is why companies that receive contracts have been banned for 75 years from making political contributions. Officials are supposed to decide how taxpayer money is spent based on what’s best for the public, not based on what’s best for their big money backers.”
Today’s filing is a follow-up letter to CLC’s original complaint filed on Nov. 1, 2016 after GEO gave $100,000 to Rebuilding America Now the day after the Obama Administration announced it would be ending private prison government contracts. GEO receives 45 percent of its annual revenue from federal contracts, and its stock soared the day after Trump’s election.
The filing describes how the GEO subsidiary that made the $225,000 in contributions, GEO Corrections Holdings, Inc., is listed as the “employer” in multiple labor relations cases involving federally-contracted detention facilities, and has stated in state and federal proceedings that it operates detention facilities. Additionally, both GEO Group and GEO Corrections Holdings, Inc. are effectively indistinguishable and both appear to rely on taxpayer funds for their operations.
The company also contributed $200,000 to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC associated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and last year gave $100,000 to super PAC supporting Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential bid.
CLC filed a similar complaint in July against a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton, Priorities USA Action, for accepting a $200,000 contribution from a federal contractor, Suffolk Construction Company.
CLC more recently filed complaints with the FEC against both the Trump and Clinton campaigns for coordinating with their super PACs in violation of federal law.
New Census Bureau population estimates for 2016 released today shows no change from last year’s study generated by Election Data Services, Inc. on which states would gain or lose congressional seats if the current numbers were used for apportionment in 2016.
But projecting these numbers to 2020, using several different methods, leads to more states being impacted by the decennial census scheduled to take place in just four years.
The Bureau’s 2016 total population estimates shows the same eight states as identified last year being immediately impacted by changes in their congressional delegation if these new numbers were used for apportionment today. The states of Florida, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas would each gain a single seat, while the states of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania would each lose a seat in Congress using the new data.
The new numbers, however, reflect subtle changes taking place across the nation in birth and death rates and resulting total population numbers that become magnified when the information is projected forward to coincide with the taking of the 2020 Census on April 1 that year.
A short-term projection method, utilizing the change in population in just the past year (2015-2016), would trigger a second seat lost to Illinois and a gain in Montana (going from the at-large seat they’ve had for the last three decades back to a two-member house delegation) on top of the changes anticipated last year. But Montana’s gain of a seat may not come about if one utilizes a long-term projection method (2010-2016), with that state’s seat instead becoming the fourth seat gained by Texas.
As we head into the holiday weekend, everyone here at Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections wanted to with you and yours a very merry Christmas!
We hope your holiday is a safe and happy one!
Florida’s lifetime ban on voting for people with past felony convictions is one of the harshest laws in the nation and its severe moral, racial, and economic consequences demand it be replaced, according to a new report released today by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The analysis comes as the Florida Supreme Court is evaluating a ballot initiative that would amend the state’s constitution and drastically reform the law.
Florida’s law is radically out-of-step with policies around the rest of the country. It is one of only three states with a lifetime voting ban for people with felony convictions. Currently, the only way they can vote is if they’re granted clemency by the government. Individuals with past convictions can apply for rights restoration after waiting five years (in some cases seven), and completing all elements of their sentence including community supervision and paying any outstanding fees and fines.
This strict law impacts 21 percent of Florida’s voting-age African Americans and can be traced back to America’s Jim Crow past, explains author Erika Wood, a professor at New York Law School.
During Reconstruction, Florida’s constitution technically extended voting rights to all males, but it included several provisions, like criminal disenfranchisement, to make it harder for blacks to vote. The state further infringed on voting rights when it targeted criminal laws to impact African Americans, and instituted a poll tax. By 1958, just seven African Americans were registered to vote out of 10,930 black adults in one Florida county.
Although the nation has made great strides in extending equality at the ballot box since then, this impact is still felt. Nearly one-third of Florida’s 1.6 million disenfranchised voters are black, even though African Americans make up just 16 percent of the state’s population, according to data cited in the study.
“Florida’s criminal disenfranchisement law is rooted in some of our country’s most discriminatory voting practices, and it continues to have its intended effects today,” said Wood, who is also the director of the Voting Rights and Civic Participation Project of the Impact Center for Public Interest Law. “It is time for Florida to learn from the past and then leave it behind. The right to vote should not be used as a tool for lifetime punishment.”
“This state’s law is the fullest expression of the antiquated system that bars millions in our very own communities from voting,” writes Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights & elections project at the Brennan Center, in the foreword. “The public deserves to understand where this law came from, how it works today, the effects it has on citizens and the state — and why it must change.”
“Silencing 1.6 million voices is precisely the opposite of what democracy looks like,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “These are citizens who have paid their debt to society, and have a second chance. They are living and working in communities across the Sunshine State. Just like everyone else, they should be able to have input on decisions that will impact them every day.”
On the day that President-elect Donald Trump promised a press conference to discuss how he will “remove” himself from his businesses, activists across the county delivered over 400,000 petition signatures to Trump properties and Senator Pat Toomey’s office regarding Trump’s conflicts of interests.
Six groups gathered the petitions delivered today. Common Cause, Every Voice, and Public Citizen circulated petitions demanding that Trump fully sell his businesses and put his assets into a truly blind trust. CREDO Action and MoveOn.org gathered petitions demanding the House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz begin a congressional investigation into Trump’s financial arrangements and potential conflicts of interest, while Rootstrikers called on Congress to pass the Presidential Accountability Act that would require Trump put his assets into a true blind trust before taking office.
Since announcing the press conference regarding the future of his businesses over Twitter, Trump has postponed it until January, leaving the public in the dark about his plans to address concerns that he may put his business interests before the American people.
Activists rallied outside Trump properties and delivered petitions to Trump Tower in New York, Trump Hotel in DC, Trump Tower in Chicago, and Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. Activists also delivered petitions to Senator Pat Toomey’s office in Philadelphia to urge him to use his congressional powers to address Trump’s conflicts of interest.
Statements from the organizers:
“It is imperative that President-elect Trump sell his assets and put them into a true blind trust instead of asking Americans to blindly trust him,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY who spoke outside Trump Tower in New York. “We can not have a leader use his public position to personally enrich himself: that’s the textbook definition of corruption”
“Trump is poised to violate the foreign bribery clause of the Constitution on his first day in office, a violation that could have serious consequences for American foreign policy,” said anti-corruption activist Zephyr Teachout who joined protestors in New York. “Unless he sells his assets, President-elect Trump will make America unsafe again by leaving our national security vulnerable to foreign bribery”
“This is a question of priorities. Does the next President of the United States believe in putting the national interest or his personal interests first? Nothing short of selling off his businesses and let his holdings be managed by an independent trustee will be enough,” said Adam Smith, Communications Director at Every Voice, who spoke to the crowd in New York. “Not only is it the only constitutional option, It’s the only way to reassure voters he’s working for them.”
“Mr. Trump must fully divest and create a blind trust or it is unavoidable that his family’s business will be used by individuals, corporations and foreign governments to buy influence and curry favor with the Trump White House,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause Vice President for Policy and Litigation, who spoke outside Trump Hotel in DC. “This is the way business is done in many nations in the world ruled by despots, but it is not way business or democracy is conducted in the United States.”
“Not only does Trump bring unprecedented conflicts of interest into the next administration, so do his nominees for cabinet posts,” said Craig Holman, Ph.D., Public Citizen Government Affairs Lobbyist, who spoke to the gathered activists in DC. “If Trump fails to address these conflicts of interest, his is likely to be the most scandal-ridden administration in memory.”
“Trump’s massive web of potential corruption is on a never-before-seen scale,” said CREDO Deputy Political Director Josh Nelson. “Because he is still hiding the full extent of his business entanglements, we have no way of knowing if he is under the thumb of foreign interests, whether his business interests overseas run counter to American foreign policy or whether he is merely using the presidency to enrich himself.”
“With a global network of businesses, there are simply too many opportunities for foreign leaders to leverage these relationships to gain favor with Donald Trump, and too many opportunities for Trump to use the power of the Presidency to influence these arrangements and build upon his family’s personal fortune,” explained Justin Krebs, campaign director for MoveOn.org. “The American people need a President who makes decisions that are in the best interest of the country and its citizens, not the best interest of his family’s businesses and assets. Congress should fully investigate President-elect Trump for any potential conflicts of interest that could put our national security and our economy in jeopardy and Trump needs to divest himself of his business entanglements. The President should have only one client: the American people.”
“Trump has already abused the public trust by using his power as president-elect to benefit his business empire, and without fully divesting his assets into a true blind trust, Trump is poised to abuse the American presidency for his own personal profit,” said Kate Kizer, Campaigner at Rootstrikers. “Trump’s decision to cancel his announcement this week makes clear that it’s up to Congress to force Donald Trump to end his conflicts of interest and prevent an unprecedented corruption of the presidency.”
See photos and videos from each of the petition delivery events on their Facebook event pages:
Ohio 50th District State Rep. Christina Hagan (R-Alliance) has belatedly resigned as a member of the presidential Electoral College. The Electoral College was slated to meet at noon on Dec. 19, in the state capitol in Columbus.
Hagan was facing a complaint and motion for a temporary restraining order before Judge John Haas of Canton, showing that Hagan, by serving as both a member of Ohio’s General Assembly and presidential elector, was violating Article II, Section 4 of the Ohio Constitution. Her vote would have been illegal.
Lead counsel for Plaintiffs Deborah L. Cain and Andrew J. DiLiddo, Hagan’s constituents, said, “This is a victory for Ohioans who believe in integrity in
government. Rep. Hagan should have never put herself in this position, and may well have vacated her office under the Ohio Revised Code for having done so. It’s not surprising that Donald Trump and his campaign would have abetted such unconstitutional behavior, and the behavior is consistent with Rep. Hagan’s prior disregard for the U.S. Constitution.”
A bipartisan group of organizations and individuals, many of whom specialize in ethical and conflicts of interest issues, today called on President-elect Trump to divest his businesses into a true blind trust managed by an independent trustee, or the equivalent.
This is the approach that has been taken by Trump’s predecessors for the past four decades.
“Americans expect their President to put the business of the nation first. Mr. Trump has promised to serve his country before his business interests but he can only live up to that pledge by divesting his assets and setting up a true blind trust,” said Paul S. Ryan, Common Cause Vice President of Policy and Litigation. “He was elected on a promise to change the way business is done in Washington for the better, not to introduce unprecedented conflicts of interest to the office of the President. If Mr. Trump does not remove these extensive and multi-national conflicts of interest, then as President his every move will be second-guessed and he will both undermine the American people’s faith in the office and the nation’s standing in the world.”
According to the letter sent today:
By combining your presidency with your family business enterprises, you will create ongoing conflict of interest and credibility problems for your presidency. Questions will regularly arise as to whether your domestic and foreign policy positions are being taken on behalf of the interests of the American people or the financial interests of the Trump family, which will necessarily diverge on numerous occasions from those of the nation as a whole.
Since your business is a private one and not a public company, furthermore, the American people will have no way of knowing all of the financial benefits that may come to your business enterprises from domestic and foreign interests who benefit from your decisions.
The letter was signed by Democrats and Republicans, and by liberal and conservative groups.
The 29 signers included Norm Eisen, President Obama’s chief ethics lawyer, and Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer. They also included two former Republican governors and four former Republican House members.
Signers ranged from Harvard Law Professor Laurence H. Tribe to former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-OK), a former chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee; from Norm Ornstein and Tom Mann to Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute; from Public Citizen to Take Back Our Republic. (See below for a full list of the signers of the letter.)
The letter pointed out that serious domestic and foreign policy problems would be caused by Trump’s continued ownership of his business enterprises or by turning the businesses over to his children:
Turning your businesses over to your children will not prevent the credibility problems that will arise when your policy positions appear to have been made to benefit domestic and foreign interests that have provided financial benefits to the Trump family.
In taking foreign policy positions, furthermore, foreign countries will not be able to tell if your positions are being taken on behalf of the United States or your business interests. This will seriously affect the ways in which other countries view the United States and our foreign policies. It will create the widespread appearance and belief that the way for countries to curry favor and gain advantageous treatment from the United States is to do business with your children and the Trump businesses.
The letter stated that Trump’s continued ownership of his business enterprises will cause legal problems for Trump from day one of his presidency, as a result of “the anti-corruption Emoluments Clause of the Constitution which prevents Trump from accepting any presents or other financial benefits from foreign governments and their agents.” According to the letter:
The framers included this provision in the Constitution to help ensure that the president does not have divided loyalties between the interests of the United States and the interests of a foreign country in carrying out his responsibilities. Given the world-wide dealings of your businesses, the Emoluments Clause would come into play in numerous ways.
The letter noted published reports that illustrated the problems:
– A Washington Post analysis (November 20, 2016) found that at least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories throughout the world;
– A Washington Post article (November 25, 2016) detailed how your presidency and your foreign business deals and relationships with foreign governments could become intertwined;
– A New York Times analysis (November 26, 2016) showed that many of your foreign development ventures involve business partners with close ties to foreign governments; and
– A New York Times article (December 4, 2016) spelled out the entanglements that exist between the Trump family, your business empire and those who have interacted with your family at home and abroad.
The letter stated:
We urge you to divest your business enterprises into a true blind trust managed by an independent trustee having no family relationship with you, or the equivalent, in accordance with the guidelines of the Ethics in Government Act. The trustee would then dispose of any business enterprises divested to the trust behind the blind trust wall and would invest the new assets without any information going to you as to the new holdings. We also urge you to divest any other investments you may hold into the blind trust or the equivalent.
According to the letter, “It must be clear to all that any domestic and foreign policy decisions you make are not being influenced by your business arrangements and family relationships…”
The letter concluded:
Republicans and Democrats called for similar strong measures regarding the Clinton Foundation if Hillary Clinton were elected president. It is no less important for you to take the steps set forth in this letter with The Trump Organization now that you will be entering the Oval Office.
We urge you to protect the integrity and credibility of the presidency by divesting your business interests and investment holdings into a true blind trust with an independent trustee.
Signers of the letter include:
Ambassador (ret.) Norm Eisen, chief White House ethics lawyer, 2009-2011
Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer, 2005-2007
Campaign for Accountability
Arne H. Carlson, Former Governor of Minnesota (R)
Kathleen Clark, Professor of Law, Washington University, Affiliation noted for identification purposes only
Center for American Progress
Center for Media and Democracy
Former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-OK), Former Chairman, House Republican Policy Committee
People For the American Way
Trevor Potter, President, Campaign Legal Center
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
John Pudner, Executive Director, Take Back Our Republic
The Rootstrikers Project at Demand Progress
Former Rep. Claudine Schneider (R-RI)
Former Rep. John J.H. Schwarz, M.D. (R-MI)
Peter Schweizer, President, Government Accountability Institute
Former Rep. Peter Smith (R-VT)
Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School, Affiliation noted for identification purposes only
Christie Whitman, Former Governor of New Jersey (R)
Read the full letter here.