Report Quantifies Supreme Court’s Impact on 2016 Election Spending

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Demos released a new report titled Court Cash: 2016 Election Money Resulting Directly from Supreme Court Rulings.

The report quantifies for the first time the direct impact of four of the Supreme Court’s most significant money in politics cases on 2016 election spending.

Key findings include:

  • The Supreme Court’s rulings led to more than $3 billion in spending on the 2016 elections, which is equivalent to 45 percent of the total cost of the elections.
  • The Court’s rulings led to 77 percent of spending in competitive congressional races, and 49 percent of spending the presidential election can be attributed to the Court.
  • The Court’s rulings allowed 123 wealthy candidates to spend $161 million on their own campaigns.
  • 1724 wealthy donors contributed $274 million in “McCutcheon Money” in 2016—money that went beyond what would have been permitted by the previous “aggregate” contribution limit.
  • Buckley v. Valeo resulted in more 2016 campaign spending than Citizens United v. FEC.

This report demonstrates the profound impact of Supreme Court decisions on the role of big money in American politics. Given the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Judge Gorsuch’s pending nomination to the high court – and his record on this issue – the report speaks volumes about what is at stake for our democracy.

“By striking basic protections against big money dominating our elections, the Supreme Court has shifted the balance of power towards the wealthy and special interests and away from ordinary Americans,” said Adam Lioz, Demos Counsel and Senior Advisor, Policy & Outreach. “With the vacancy on the Supreme Court, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. The ninth justice will determine on whether wealthy donors continue to drive our major policy decisions, or whether we can instead build a democracy where the size of our wallets doesn’t determine the strength of our voices.”

Federal Judge: Texas Intentionally Discriminated When it Passed 2011 Voter ID Bill

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A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that Texas passed its 2011 voter ID law with the intent to discriminate against minority voters. This is a victory for civil rights groups and voting advocates who had been fighting the strict bill for years.

Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said in her decision that plaintiffs’ evidence establishes that discrimination was “at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage” of the bill. In its analysis, the court focused on how the Texas legislature rejected efforts to soften the “racial impact of SB 14,” such as reducing the costs of obtaining ID or allowing voters to use more forms of ID.

The court, like the appeals court before it, noted the “radical departures” that the legislature went through to “rush SB 14 through the legislative process without the usual committee analysis, debate, and substantive consideration of amendments.” And the court highlighted that the “evidence shows a tenuous relationship” between the stated goal of reducing “voter fraud” and the legislation ultimately passed, given the rarity of voter impersonation cases in Texas, and that other, more prevalent forms of voter fraud were not addressed by the bill.

Today’s ruling comes one week after Judge Ramos determined that a bill currently pending in the Texas Legislature had no bearing on whether or not the state purposefully discriminated when enacting SB 14. She also granted the Department of Justice’s request to withdraw its intent claim after years of arguing, alongside civil rights groups, that the law was enacted with a discriminatory purpose. The DOJ had made initial moves to switch sides on Inauguration Day, and filed to withdraw its support shortly before a February 28 hearing on the intent of the law.

Plaintiffs, including the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches (Texas NAACP) and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives (MALC) challenged the law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Texas’s strict ID requirement both has the effect of discriminating against minority voters and that the legislature passed the law with the intent to discriminate on the basis of race. Their claims were consolidated with those brought by other groups of plaintiffs, including the United States, and the case is now known as Veasey v. Abbott.

At a September 2014 trial, plaintiffs presented evidence showing the state’s ID requirement would erect discriminatory barriers to voting. At trial, experts testified that 1.2 million eligible Texas voters lack a form of government-issued photo ID that would have been accepted under the new law — and minorities would be hit the hardest.

The October 2014 opinion by Judge Ramos said the law had a discriminatory effect in that African American and Latino voters were less likely than Anglo voters to possess the few sorts of photo IDs allowed by the law, and more likely than Anglo voters to be burdened in getting the ID. Judge Ramos also ruled that the law was passed with a discriminatory intent.

In July 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country, agreed with the effect argument, becoming the fourth court in four years to find the law racially discriminated against African American and Latino voters. It sent the intent portion of the claim back to the lower court for further review.

Attorneys representing Texas NAACP and MALC include the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the national office of the NAACP, Dechert LLP, The Bledsoe Law Firm, the Law Offices of Jose Garza, the Law Office of Robert S. Notzon, and the Covich Law Firm, P.C.

Federal Court Denies Motion to Dismiss NAACP LDF’s Lawsuit Against Alabama Voter ID Law

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A federal court has denied a motion to dismiss a challenge to Alabama’s discriminatory voter ID law brought by plaintiffs represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. The ruling comes in the case of Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill, which LDF filed in the Northern District of Alabama in December of 2015 on behalf of Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Alabama NAACP, Giovana Ambrosio, Shameka Harris, Debra Silvers, and Elizabeth Ware.

In 2011, Alabama passed a law requiring voters to present photo identification before casting their ballots. LDF’s suit contends that the law violates the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by intentionally placing disproportionate burdens on African American and Latino voters.  Expert reports estimate that more than 100,000 registered Alabama voters do not have a photo ID that complies with the law, and that Black and Latino voters in the state are about twice as likely as white voters to lack such forms of identification.

“Discriminatory voter ID laws do not protect our democracy – they damage it,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “Alabama’s photo ID law is no exception, robbing thousands of citizens of the right to vote under the false pretext of preventing voter fraud, an all but nonexistent problem. Today’s ruling brings us a step closer to ensuring that all eligible voters can make their voices heard at the ballot box without obstruction or discrimination. LDF is confident in the strength of our case as we go forward, and we will continue to defend the franchise wherever it is threatened.”

“Alabama’s photo ID law has done real damage, erecting steep barriers to the polling place for African American and Latino voters,” said LDF Assistant Counsel Deuel Ross. “One of the plaintiffs in our case, Debra Silvers, went to great lengths to obtain a photo ID, but was prevented from voting in the March 2016 primary election because of this discriminatory statute. Sadly, after being robbed of one of her last opportunities to vote, she passed away in January. Although she will not live to see the outcome of this case, we are hopeful that as result of our ongoing fight to overturn this law, other Alabamians will soon be able to enjoy the basic right that she was denied.”

LDF is litigating this case with Covington & Burling, LLP, and local attorney Herman Johnson, Jr. Trial is scheduled for December 2017.

Common Cause Adds Four to Development Team as Citizen Engagement & Membership Surge

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Amidst a huge surge in membership and citizen engagement, today Common Cause announced the addition three new development team members and the move of Rey López-Calderón to the post of Interim Vice President of Development from his role as Director of State Organizational Development. The moves come at a time when Americans are exhibiting a growing concern with the health of American democracy as a result are turning to Common Cause to lead in the struggle to hold power accountable. The organization is seeing unprecedented growth in its membership – surging to 750,000 up from just 450,000 a year ago.

The new development team members come to Common Cause from a variety of backgrounds ranging from government watchdogs groups to political campaigns. LaShanda Jackson and Grant Hallmark join Common Cause as Engagement & Fundraising Specialists and Max Wolfson comes aboard as the organization’s Development Manager.

“In this moment, when many Americans feel that our democracy is under siege, people are eager to join the fight to strengthen democracy,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause president. “The talents and varied backgrounds of these new members of our team allow us to meet growing demands as a new generation of Americans discovers that we the people decide our future together. All Americans, regardless of background, want a voice and a vote in deciding our families’ future and we want a government that serves all the people. We know politics and government is about more than who wins or loses, so people are paying more attention to how we select our leaders and how they operate in office.”

More detailed bios of the new development team members follows below.

  • Rey López-Calderón is Interim Vice President of Development for Common Cause.  López-Calderón’s career as an activist started with work as a volunteer organizer for the United Farm Workers of America in Orange County, CA and has since worked for over 20 years in faith, labor, education, political organizing, and fundraising. He has helped found and raise money for several organizations in Illinois including the Academy for Urban School Leadership, Latino Union, Alliance of the Southeast. He was the re-launch director for Common Cause in Illinois where he launched one of Common Cause’s two flagship fundraising galas. Rey currently manages several donors and one of our six-figure regional grants. He is an alumni award winner from The University of Chicago, where he was graduated with general honors. He also has a Juris Doctor from Depaul College of Law.
  • LaShanda Jackson is an Engagement & Fundraising Specialist. She most recently worked as a Manager of Gift Accounting at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund where she oversaw financial management of an $80 million capital campaign to build the first-ever law enforcement museum.  Prior to that, LaShanda cultivated and provided stewardship for members and major donors as the Membership and Major Gifts Coordinator at the Public Justice Foundation. She began her nonprofit career with the Library of Congress, primarily raising capital campaign funds for the Capital Visitors Center and sponsorship funding for the National Book Festival.  LaShanda holds a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies from the University of Maryland.
  • Grant Hallmark is Engagement & Fundraising Specialist. He is a master political fundraiser. Before joining Common Cause, Grant raised money and managed dozens of political and issue-focused campaigns over the past seven years. Most recently, Grant managed the fundraising operation of the Foster Campbell for US Senate campaign. Grant received his Bachelors from Birmingham Southern College in 2008 with a major in Political Science and a minor in History.
  • Max Wolfson is Common Cause’s incoming Development Manager. Prior to joining Common Cause, Max was Development & Planned Giving Coordinator for People For the American Way, managing major donor relationships, creating proposals for foundations and partner groups, and spearheading PFAW’s political giving efforts, especially around the Latinos Vote! campaign. He also served as the lead and point of contact on the organization’s planned giving outreach and to its legacy society. Prior to joining PFAW, Max worked in recruitment and marketing for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, for the George Mason University Office of Admissions, and as an Organizing Fellow with Obama For America in 2008. Max received his Bachelors from George Mason in 2011, with a major in Government & International Politics, and minors in History and Religious Studies.

Understanding Reapportionment vs. Redistricting

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Editor’s Note: In our ongoing effort to educate our readers on issues related to gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, we wanted to share some information from Fair Districts PA regarding the difference between reapportionment and redistricting. From the nonprofit’s website:

The terms “reapportionment” and “redistricting” are often used interchangeably, but while the two are related they refer to different processes.

As used in the U.S. political system, reapportionment refers to the once-per-decade reallocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on the relative population of each state to the total population of the country as determined by the decennial census.

Because the number of seats is fixed at no more than 435, the number of seats must be reapportioned according to population changes determined by the decennial census.

Some states gain seats while others lose seats. After the 2010 census Pennsylvania lost one seat, reducing its representation in the House from 19 to 18. Even though the commonwealth’s overall population increased, it did not increase as much as that of several other states in the south and west.  Their representation in Congress increased.

Redistricting refers to changing the boundaries of representative districts in a legislative body. Pennsylvania currently has 18 congressional districts, 203 state House districts and 50 state Senate districts.

 Want to learn more? Information and more resources are available FREE.

 

Former West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant Joins Brennan Center

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Natalie E. Tennant, former West Virginia Secretary of State, has joined the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law as Manager of State Advocacy on voting rights and elections.

Tennant served as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2017 and was instrumental in passing automatic voter registration in West Virginia last year. She will use that experience and expertise at the Brennan Center to help advance automatic registration legislation and policy initiatives in the states, as well as other reforms to improve the voter registration and voting process.

West Virginia is one of six states, and the District of Columbia, to approve automatic registration, a transformative policy that saves money, increases accuracy and participation, and curbs the potential for fraud.

“The Brennan Center is thrilled to welcome Natalie,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center. “She was a strong champion of voters’ rights as West Virginia’s Secretary of State. Her insight and experience will be an invaluable addition to our team as we work to increase access to voting across the country.”

“Natalie brings a deep understanding of election administration, voting, and the political process to our work to improve voting in America. Her skills are especially needed at a time when our voting systems are in critical need of an upgrade,” added Wendy Weiser, director of the Center’s Democracy Program.

“We have come to know and work with Natalie because of her strong advocacy for automatic voter registration,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program. “We couldn’t be more excited that she will bring her skills in election administration, campaigning, and coalition-building to our efforts to pass automatic voter registration in the states.”

“The Brennan Center is at the center of the fight to preserve and expand the right to vote for every eligible citizen. I’m extremely honored to join the Center in advancing that mission,” added Tennant. “Improving our voter registration system will help millions of Americans sign up and participate in our great democracy. That’s what I helped achieve in West Virginia, and I’m excited to work with the Brennan Center to transform voter registration nationwide.”

As Secretary of State, Tennant was a fierce advocate for voting rights, expanding voting locations to rural outlying counties in West Virginia. Tennant was appointed as a co-chair of the Standing Committee on Voter Participation, where she worked to improve communications between states regarding their voting practices. Before taking office, Tennant ran a small business and was a news anchor for more than 12 years. She is a graduate of West Virginia University where she received both her B.A. and Master’s degrees.

Federal Judge Denies State’s Motion to Dismiss in “Motor Voter” Case

Editor’s Note: We wanted to keep you posted on this case out of Texas.

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Chief Judge Orlando Garcia of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas denied the state’s motion to dismiss Stringer v. Pablos, TCRP’s “motor voter” case.

This decision provides critical validation of the arguments advanced by the plaintiffs — disenfranchised Texas voters — who challenge voter registration processes at the Department of Public Safety under the National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, and the U.S. Constitution.

One by one, Judge Garcia considered the state’s arguments for dismissal and rejected them. Judge Garcia found the state’s current procedures “inconsistent with the plain language of the NVRA,” refusing to adopt “circular and self-defeating” interpretations of the NVRA offered by the defendants. Instead, the Judge expressly found that the NVRA applies to the thousands of online transactions Texans initiated through DPS.gov every day.  This ruling means that the Secretary of State should be registering and updating voter registrations for all of these individuals as a matter of course unless they opt out. Moreover, any alleged interest in avoiding the upfront expense in creating a modern system cannot justify “the burden imposed on voters” under the Equal Protection Clause.

From the beginning, TCRP has argued that “motor voter” failures have excluded countless eligible voters from the Texas electorate. The judge acknowledged the systemic nature of the state’s actions, noting that the plaintiffs had “produced evidence that thousands of Texans submitted complaints to the state that related in some way to DPS’s processing of voter registration information through its website.”

Judge Garcia’s decision comes on the heels of sanctions imposed against Texas on February 17th for causing undue delay and for repeatedly, and without justification, ignoring court orders to provide the necessary documents to move forward with the case. TCRP represents the plaintiffs with co-counsel at Waters Kraus LLP.

Mimi Marziani, executive director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:

“Today’s opinion is a resounding victory for the countless Texas voters who have been disenfranchised by the state’s failure to adhere with federal law. With this decision, we are hopeful that we can resolve the case before the 2018 election so that every eligible voter can cast a ballot that counts.”

Campaign Finance Spotlight: Did Koch Brothers Attempt to Buy Votes on Healthcare?

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In an attempt to block the ‘American Health Care Act’ from passing the House of Representatives, well-funded special interests promised to raise millions for Freedom Caucus members who vote no, according to the League of Women Voters.

“The Koch Brothers’ offer to make huge contributions to those conservative members of the House who vote against the leadership’s healthcare legislation shows once again the deeply corrupting influence of big money in politics,” said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters said in late March.

“The American people have long believed that campaign contributions from big money and special interests are bribery, and today’s action shows how true it is.  ‘You give me your vote, and we’ll give you the money.’  That’s just not right,” said Carson.

“This shows once again that the Supreme Court made a tragic and long-lasting mistake in Citizens United when they ruled in favor of  the role of big money in American politics,” she said. “That case changed the landscape of modern politics by ushering in this era of powerful SuperPACS.”

The League opposed the American Health Care Act, though for different reasons than the Koch Brothers.

The League is deeply committed to reforming our nation’s campaign finance system to ensure the public’s right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office and allow maximum citizen participation in the political process.