Help End Gerrymandering in PA – Save the Date for These Events April 1-8

The redistricting reform movement in Pennsylvania is in full swing. If you are interested in getting involved, or in learning more, please know that a nonprofit coalition of which we are a part has a website with valuable information.

We want to draw your attention today, though, to the event calendar on the Fair Districts PA website. There, you will see all the upcoming events throughout the state.

Please check back often, as more events are being added as we move forward.

Visit the website or check out events planned from April 1 through April 8:

April 18

 

 

CLC, D21 Lawsuit Calling for FEC Enforcement Moves Forward

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A federal district court has refused to throw out a lawsuit Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed against the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

CLC and D21 filed the suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia after the FEC failed to act on five complaints calling on the agency to investigate donors who broke disclosure laws by hiding behind opaque corporate entities like Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) to anonymously make contributions to super PACs.

In response to the lawsuit, the FEC called on the court to dismiss the case, on the ground that CLC and D21 failed to show standing, or the right to sue. The court disagreed as to the majority of the FEC complaints and now the case will be heard on the merits.

“The Federal Election Commission is out of control and this court has made clear that the agency will not be able to easily avoid being held accountable for failing to do its job in enforcing campaign finance laws,” said Larry Noble, senior director of regulatory reform programs and general counsel for CLC. “The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that disclosure laws play a vital role in providing the electorate with critical information to make informed choices. Each time the FEC fails to pursue a serious violation of the law, it weakens our democracy and the ability of Americans to know who is truly influencing our elections. It also sends a loud and clear message that those who violate campaign finance laws will face no penalties. We can’t sit idly by and let the FEC destroy the integrity of our democracy.”

“We have reached the point where the only way it seems possible to get the dysfunctional FEC to do its job is by suing them,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer. “The FEC’s failure to adopt regulations that properly interpret the campaign finance laws is a major reason why so much dark money is pouring into federal elections. We are very pleased that the district court judge has refused to go along at this stage of our lawsuit with the FEC’s stonewalling opposition to our efforts to obtain campaign finance disclosures that the America people have a right to know.”

CLC and D21, over the course of several years, filed complaints with the FEC against several newly formed corporate entities and their undisclosed donors for violating the “straw donor” provision of Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA).

These donors’ anonymous contributions ranged from $857,000 to over $12 million, and some of the donors openly admitted in the media that they had used or even created personal companies to hide their identities from the public. Still, the FEC dismissed all five complaints, after the three Republican commissioners voted not to investigate and sanction these donors.

The lawsuit states that in dismissing these complaints, the FEC has “undermined FECA’s purposes, including its goal of promoting transparency in elections and providing the electorate with information about who is speaking to it during elections.” CLC and D21, along with the public, “were deprived of timely information about the sources of the contributions made to the super PACs – information to which they are legally entitled to under FECA.”

The lawsuit calls for the court to find that the FEC’s dismissal of the complaints was “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion, and otherwise contrary to the law,” and seeks a judicial order demanding the FEC enforce the law within 30 days.

Redistricting in the News: The Latest from the Battle in Wisconsin

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The Wisconsin Department of Justice last week asked the United States Supreme Court to overturn a decision issued by a panel of three judges in Whitford v. Gill, which invalidated Wisconsin’s Assembly districts.

“I am proud to defend Wisconsin’s law and have asked the highest court in the land to take action to protect our legislative districts,” Attorney General Brad Schimel said. “Wisconsin’s redistricting plan is so reasonable that it would pass muster under any legal test ever proposed by any Justice of the Supreme Court.”

Wisconsin’s brief explains that the basis of the entire lawsuit—“partisan gerrymandering”—has never been adopted by the Supreme Court and cannot succeed if a legislative plan follows traditional redistricting principles, which Wisconsin did.

After briefing is complete, the Court will decide whether to “note probable jurisdiction,” in which case, the Court would hear arguments during October Term 2017.

The case is being handled by the Wisconsin Solicitor General’s Office.

Campaign Finance Spotlight: Pillar of Law Institute Wins Cannabis Contribution Case

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The Pillar of Law Institute won summary judgment recently in the case Ball v. Madigan, striking down an Illinois state law that prohibits medical marijuana cultivation centers and dispensaries from making campaign contributions. Judge John Z. Lee of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that the law violates the First Amendment right to free speech.

“No state enjoys the power to simply prohibit certain people or groups from participating in politics,” said Benjamin Barr, President of Pillar and lead counsel in the case. “While Illinois allowed other industries—including alcohol, pharmaceuticals and gambling—to contribute up to $10,800 to candidates, it arbitrarily prohibited the nascent medical cannabis industry from contributing a penny.”

The case was brought on behalf of Claire Ball, a Libertarian candidate who ran for the office of comptroller in the 2016 election and Scott Schluter, a Libertarian candidate ran for state representative. Both were prohibited under the law from accepting contributions from medical marijuana organizations.

“Our clients were new to politics and the law cut off an important source of funding to run for office, crippling their ability to share their message with the public,” said Barr. “Today’s opinion ensures that everyone–including third-party candidates–have a chance to compete.”

Illinois began its medical marijuana pilot program in 2014, and it is currently effective until 2020.

“No one knows whether medical marijuana will be a success in Illinois, but we do know that talking about the issue is a healthy function of a free society,” said Barr. “It is never appropriate for the government to cut one side out of the debate due to misguided fear and speculation.”

Click here to download the ruling.

Want to Get Involved in PA Redistricting Reform? Save the Date!

The redistricting reform movement in Pennsylvania is in full swing. If you are interested in getting involved, or in learning more, please know that a nonprofit coalition of which we are a part has a website with valuable information.

We want to draw your attention today, though, to the event calendar on the Fair Districts PA website. There, you will see all the upcoming events throughout the state.

Please check back often, as more events are being added as we move forward.

Visit the website or check out the rest of this month’s offerings below:

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Common Cause and Georgia NAACP Appeal Ruling Greenlighting Voter Roll Purge

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Common Cause and the Georgia NAACP filed notice of appeal today with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in response to a lower court dismissal of their complaint against Georgia Secretary of State Kemp for violating section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act regarding how voters are purged from the registration rolls.

“The law regarding voter registration is very clear, and no one – not even Secretary Kemp – is above it,” said Sara Henderson for Common Cause Georgia. “We must do everything we can to ensure eligible voters are properly registered to vote, and that those registrations are maintained according to the law. No one deserves to show up on election day only to learn that he or she has been unfairly – and illegally – removed from the process. Our system of governance requires that all eligible voters have their voices heard, and accounted for.”

The state of Georgia’s law allows the purging of eligible voters for not voting – a direct violation of the NVRA and the fifty-year-old Voting Rights Act. Common Cause Georgia and the Georgia NAACP, through the law firm of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, first notified the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, on November 12, 2015, of their intention to file a lawsuit unless the state began complying with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) regarding how it maintains its voter registration lists. The NVRA requires individuals to notify a state’s chief elections official before filing suit.  When Kemp failed to fix the problem, the groups sued.

This past Friday, March 17, 2017, Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr., of the Northern District of Georgia, granted defendant Kemp’s motion to dismiss the complaint. The judge acknowledged in his ruling that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last year found that defendant Ohio Secretary of State Husted’s practices, in a comparable case, violated the NVRA.

“Secretary Kemp has and continues to violate federal law regarding Georgians’ voter registration rights,” said Allegra Chapman, Common Cause Director of Voting and Elections. “We gave him an opportunity to fix it first.  He failed to take that step. We’re disappointed that the lower court didn’t recognize the state’s practices for what they were – violations of the law – but we won’t rest until the rights of all Georgians to be registered and freely cast their ballots are vindicated in court.”

Georgia state law is at odds with the federal law’s requirements regarding how and when to purge individuals’ names from voter registration lists. The NVRA specifically prohibits states from initiating voter registration purges against individuals for having failed to vote; however, Georgia’s law initiates such purging programs precisely after identifying individuals who have failed to vote for the previous three years. Such targeting is prohibited. Due to the state’s practice, as of June 2015, over hundreds of thousands of Georgians have been placed on an inactive list – due to voting inactivity – and await being removed permanently unless they either respond to a notice or appear to vote within the following two election cycles.

“Instead of limiting our democracy, our elections officials should be looking for ways to ensure the voter registration process – and the act of voting – is free, fair, and accessible to all citizens,” said Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson. “Secretary of State Kemp is limiting the rights of Georgians, but we believe the appellate court will uphold the rule of law.  Democracy is on the line here, and we have every intention of protecting it.”

To read the notice of appeal, click here.

Want Redistricting Reform in PA? Contact Your Legislator – Here’s How

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Editor’s Note: The information below was taken in part from the Fair Districts PA website.

Want to see redistricting reform in the Keystone State? It could start with you.

To change the redistricting rules in Pennsylvania, it takes an amendment to the state constitution.  Many states allow citizens to amend the state constitution through a citizen-initiated referendum. In Pennsylvania, a constitutional amendment requires passage in two consecutive legislative sessions followed by passage on a statewide ballot.

Concern over voter disengagement and loss of representation, commitment to accountable government and dislike of costly, disruptive litigation have prompted some of Pennsylvania’s legislators to champion redistricting reform.

Unfortunately, some party leaders on both sides are more interested in continuing to game the system. Both parties have already announced their plans to capture state legislatures through strategic redistricting following the next national census. Redmap 2020 is the Republican reprise of their highly effective Redmap 2010. Advantage 2020, Unrig the Map and the Democratic National Redistricting Committee are the Democratic responses. All are attempts to control the map-drawing process in favor of party power at the expense of voters and local communities. Pennsylvania, as one of the few large remaining swing states, is at the top of target lists for these campaigns.

Our legislators need to hear from constituents who would like to see a more fair and transparent process:

  • A phone call or letter can make a big difference. (Email is not as effective.)

  • Visiting a legislator in person can make an even bigger impact. These visits are easiest to schedule and communicate most strongly if you schedule them in your legislator’s district office. Just call, ask for an appointment and let the staff person know your purpose and who will be joining you in the visit.

Be prepared and share what you learn:

  • To see if your legislator has cosponsored bills we support, click here.

  • To let us know about your planned visit and get more information about your
    legislator’s positions, click here.

  • To share a report of a legislative visit or other conversation, click here.

NOT SURE WHO YOUR LEGISLATOR IS? It’s quick and easy to find out.

Common Cause & More Than 100 Groups Urge Senators to Challenge SCOTUS Nominee on Money in Politics Record

Common Cause joined with more than 100 organization in urging Senate Leaders challenge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, to clarify his position on the power of big money in politics.  The letter asks Senators to determine whether Judge Gorsuch believes the wealthy and powerful should be heard above the voices of everyday people and cites overwhelming public support for curbing the influence of big money in politics. The letter is signed by 121 democracy, civil rights, environmental, labor, and other local, state, and national organizations representing tens of millions of Americans.

The groups ask members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to press Judge Gorsuch about his troubling record on the power of money in politics at next week’s hearing.

“Americans are deeply troubled by the overwhelming impact of big money in our elections and by the influence it buys with elected officials,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “Senators owe their constituents a rigorous questioning of Judge Gorsuch repeated rulings for corporate business interests over everyday citizens and how that pattern would translate to his rulings on big money in politics. The electorate is fed up with those with the biggest checkbooks writing the rules in this country, and voters don’t want their Senators rubber-stamping another judge who will favor the very richest over the vast majority.”

As the letter states:

“In future decisions, the Court might erase our few remaining protections against big-money influence in campaigns and policy making, or permit a balanced political system in which all voices are heard and currently marginalized communities have a full say in the decisions that affect their lives.

“Americans understand this, and 93% of voters think it’s important that President Trump nominates a Supreme Court justice who is open to limiting the influence of big money in politics. Unfortunately, Judge Gorsuch’s record on money in politics and corporate power is deeply troubling, and suggests he would support increasing the power of the wealthiest interests within the system.

“As the Senate Judiciary Committee considers whether Judge Gorsuch is fit to serve all Americans as a Supreme Court Justice, we ask that you vigorously pursue this essential question:

“Will Judge Gorsuch’s legal philosophy lead him to strike down even more protections against the use of corporate or personal wealth to influence elections, such as candidate and party contribution limits, or will he permit sensible limits on political money in order to ensure the voices and will of all Americans are fully represented within the political process?”

As detailed in a factsheet by the Campaign Legal Center and Demos, Gorsuch’s record shows a strong belief that corporations are people, has signaled openness to a legal standard that could lead to the end of campaign contribution limits, and opposed accountability for corporate bad actors as a private attorney–views that if acted upon, during  a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, would further weaken our democracy and tilt it in favor of the wealthy and powerful.

In polling conducted before Gorsuch’s nomination was announced, a majority of voters across political parties said it was “very important” to them that Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court would limit the influence of big money in politics. More than three-fourths of voters agreed the Senate should reject a nominee who would give the wealthy more influence in politics.

The letter was delivered today to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein.

To read the full letter, click here.

Spotlight: FBI Investigation of GA Election Systems Breach Should Mean Use of Paper Ballots in Upcoming Special Election

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Common Cause is urging Georgia election officials to use paper ballots to safeguard the integrity of next month’s congressional special election in light of the cyberattack on Kennesaw State University Elections Center. In a letter to Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Common Cause emphasized the need to use both paper ballots and paper poll books.

The FBI is currently investigating the cyber breach at the KSU facility responsible for both pre-election testing and programming of all of the state’s voting machines. If cyber attackers accessed the system responsible for programming and testing voting machines, they could have infected that device with malicious software (malware) designed to manipulate vote totals. The malware could then be silently transferred to the voting machines as they are programmed from the KSU central programming device.

“In order to preserve public faith in the results and the integrity of the special election, it is imperative that the Secretary of State’s office use paper ballots in the wake of the cyber breach at the Election Center,” said Jon Sinton Chair of Common Cause Georgia. “The Kennesaw State University Election Center is a crime scene and until a full investigation of the breach is completed it would be irresponsible to rely exclusively on machines programmed at the facility which could have been infected by malicious software. We should not use the paperless computer based voting systems in this election cycle. Citizens should vote on paper. If ballots are tallied by computers – those tallies should be checked by a manual risk limiting audit.  If the Dutch government can count over 11 million ballots by hand to ensure the integrity of the ballot, we can vote on paper here and at least manually audit the outcome.”

The public has not been informed about the extent of the breach. Indeed, the FBI and other investigative bodies may not fully know at this time which areas were affected. Computer security experts and candidates have asked a number of important questions about the intrusion and its possible impact on Georgia’s election systems, but no detailed answers have been forthcoming.

The special election to fill the seat of Rep. Tom Price will be held on April 18 and early voting is scheduled to begin March 27.

Common Cause is urging the Secretary of State’s office to act with utmost care and caution to protect the integrity of the vote by taking the following precautions:

1)      Electronic systems that Georgia regularly uses should not be used in the upcoming congressional race.

2)      Citizens should check into polling stations using paper poll books.

3)      Citizens should cast votes on paper ballots.

4)      Those ballots should be tallied by hand. Or, if scanners are used to tally the ballots, they should be subject to a risk limiting audit which uses statistical methods to confirm that the outcome is correct.

In this way, Georgia voters of the 6th Congressional district can be assured that their votes were counted as cast. The candidates will know that no foreign intervention occurred and that the results are accurate.

Unless every ballot is counted as cast, Georgians will not have faith in the elections system.  Georgia – and all states – must have protocols in place to ensure that voters’ ballots are accurately counted.  Our democracy is at stake, but we have the tools to remedy this problem.  Georgia’s officials must take action.

To read the letter to Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, click here.