“Ballot Harvesting” Explained (and Struck Down), Texas’ Ineffective Campaign Finance Fines, and More
This Week in 200 Words
This week in state updates, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed an executive order creating nonpartisan redistricting committees to fight gerrymandering. Oregon lawmakers are considering a “pay-to-play” law, limiting political donations from state contractors. In Texas, campaign finance reform is needed after reports revealed that lobbyists and politicians managed to avoid $800k in campaign finance violation fees. Two Arizona laws have come under scrutiny for violating voting rights – AZ’s so-called “ballot harvesting” law was struck down in court, but students are still fighting a law that would impact the student vote. Meanwhile, Ohio is considering automatic and same-day voter registration to increase ballot box access. And Washington was the latest state to act to restore voting rights to previously incarcerated residents.
In other news, federal lobbying hit a nine-year high of $3.47 billion last year. New data showed that big political donors are overwhelmingly white, which underscored the tie between big money in politics and racial inequity. And election officials in all 50 states are meeting in Washington this week to address election security concerns.
The Intelligencer – PRO/CON: Do we need voter ID laws? No
[…] Already, Kentucky Republican legislators introduced a new bill requiring voters to present a limited form of ID when they show up to the polls before casting a ballot. If passed, the voter ID law, which is supported by Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams, would be in place for November’s general elections.
A similar push is being made by Republican legislators in Nebraska, while implementation of North Carolina’s new voter ID law was recently blocked by a federal judge for being discriminatory. North Carolina’s new law was meant to replace a previous iteration struck down in 2016 for targeting African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
Despite claims by voter ID proponents, the goal of these laws is not to protect the integrity of our elections, but rather to tip elections in their favor. By making it harder for certain groups to vote, conservative lawmakers who promote voter IDs can insulate themselves from accountability and maintain political control. It is not a coincidence that groups disproportionately affected by voter ID laws passed by conservatives generally favor progressive-leaning candidates.
Federal lobbying spending surpassed $3.47 billion last year, a nine-year high, as influential industries tried to sway the Trump administration and Congress over policies that would hurt the bottom lines of some of the nation’s most powerful companies.
Not accounting for inflation, lobbying spending in 2019 falls just behind the record $3.51 billion spent in 2010 amid a lobbying bonanza around the Affordable Care Act.
The massive figure was driven by lobbying on President Donald Trump’s priorities, particularly the administration’s tariffs and trade deal with Mexico and Canada, as well as proposals in Congress to address rising drug prices and expensive surprise medical bills. As a result, several influential sectors reached all-time lobbying spending records last year.
[…] The tidal wave of money flooding into politics has strengthened the influence of a narrow elite in our democracy: the donor class. A series of studies in recent years show that, while the voters and population of the South and country are becoming increasingly racially diverse, the class of big donors that shapes politics and policy continues to be overwhelmingly white.
Data from the state and local level reveal similar racial disparities in the donor class. A 2015 Facing South/Institute for Southern Studies analysis of North Carolina donors to federal campaigns in 2014 and 2016 revealed that 95 percent of big donors to key races were white, in a state where non-Hispanic whites make up only 65 percent of the population. Another report by Demos found that even in Miami-Dade County in Florida, which has an established and successful Latinx community, only 12 of the 500 biggest donors in 2014 were people of color.
Who donates to elections has real consequences. Donors play a big role in picking and reinforcing which candidates run for office and get elected; a recent analysis found the better-funded candidate wins more than 90 percent of the time. But elite donors also push an agenda that often serves their interests, which is often out of step with the broader public. The 2016 Demos study, for example, found that while 53 percent of people who didn’t contribute to campaigns supported the Affordable Care Act, only 44 percent of elite donors did. “Male donors are less supportive of reproductive justice,” Demos found, “And white donors are less supportive of immigration reform and action on climate change.”
Top election officials from all 50 states are meeting in Washington this week to prepare for 2020 — a gathering amid widespread concern over whether the upcoming elections will be fair and accurate, as well as free of the kind of foreign interference that marred the 2016 campaign.
Despite major government efforts to upgrade security, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that about 41% of Americans surveyed do not think the country is prepared to protect the U.S. election system from another attack.
Voters also say their biggest concern is disinformation, followed by voter fraud and voter suppression. Forty-four percent think it’s likely that many votes will not actually be counted in 2020.
While most voters have confidence in their state and local governments to run a fair election, 43% do not think those officials have done enough to make sure that there’s no foreign interference.
Wisconsin – The Badger Herald – Evers follows through on vow, signs executive order for nonpartisan redistricting commission
Governor Evers signed an executive order today establishing the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission to draw legislative maps, taking the first steps on his vow to end partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin.
Less than a week after revealing his plans to create the nonpartisan commission in his State of the State Address, Evers signed the executive order for the People’s Maps Commission, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
[…] “When elected officials can rely on the safety of their seat over the quality of their work, again, there’s something wrong there,” Evers said at the press conference. “People should be able to choose their elected officials, not the other way around.”
State lawmakers looking into campaign finance regulations say Oregon should consider limiting how much public officials can accept from people or firms seeking state contracts, following reporting from OPB that raised concerns about the practice.
In the last week, Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, and Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, have said the Legislature should research instituting a so-called “pay-to-play” law similar to other states. Such laws are designed to limit influence companies or individuals seeking work with a public agency can wield over officials with a say on who gets that work.
Arizona – AZ Central – Federal court says Arizona ‘ballot harvesting’ law discriminates against minority voters
Arizona violated the Voting Rights Act by barring voters from delivering the early ballots of neighbors, friends and others to polling places, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.
The policy against so-called “ballot harvesting” disproportionately affects American Indian, Hispanic and African American voters, a majority of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.
Republicans who control the Legislature enacted the policy with the intent of suppressing turnout among voters from minority groups, the court decided.
And in a victory for Democrats, who challenged the 2016 law, the court also said the state’s policy of discarding the provisional ballots of voters who turn up at the wrong precinct is illegal, too.
Texas – Houston Chronicle – Texas lobbyists and politicians dodged $800k in fines, thanks to weak campaign finance laws
Reynolds, D-Missouri City, is one of about a hundred candidates, lobbyists and political action committee treasurers each year who fail to file mandatory disclosures of their donors and expenses, racking up thousands of dollars in fines as a result, according to an analysis by Hearst Newspapers.
[…]“Campaign finance in Texas is basically a wild west, no rules system,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce the influence of money in politics. “Only in the most extreme circumstances do you see people being held accountable.”
[…] The state’s lack of enforcement could give candidates and politicians with unpaid fines little motivation to pay up or account for their fundraising in 2020, a competitive election that could tip the scales of power in Texas for years to come. The campaign finance reports are required by law because they reveal where candidates are getting their money in a state with few limits on contributions, which has meant some have received checks as high as $1 million from individual donors.
Washington – Seattle Times – State Senate Democrats advance bill to restore Washington felons’ voting rights faster
A bill that would make about 9,000 felons eligible to vote is moving ahead in the Washington state Legislature, as Democratic senators vow to expand democracy by removing a barrier they say is rooted in systemic racism.
Senate Bill 6228 would make felons automatically eligible to vote once they are released from state prison. Under current law, they are eligible once they have completed community custody — formerly known as probation — and that can take several years.
Arizona – News4 Tucson – House Bill takes aim at student voting
Proposed by Flagstaff Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe, HB-2461 bans the use of any address on a voter registration form if the person does not intend to be there throughout the year.
Rep. Thorpe wants those students to get an early mail-in ballot and vote in the communities in which they have a permanent address.
“It’s voter suppression,” Aguilar said. “That’s what it flat out is. You’re paying your bills in Tucson, you’re going to school in Tucson, your rent in Tucson. Everything is local. I’m more impacted here and I’m going to come here the next year for my next semester.”
Ohio – Cincinnati.com – Ohio measure to expand voting rights could be on ballot in November
A coalition led by the ACLU of Ohio filed initial paperwork and signatures for “The Secure and Fair Elections Amendment” with the Ohio attorney general on Wednesday. The step is the first in a months-long process that requires signatures from at least 442,958 registered voters to make it on the ballot.
The proposed amendment would allow Ohioans to register and cast a ballot on the same day during the early voting period, including on Election Day. It would also enact automatic voter registration. Eligible citizens would be registered to vote when applying for, renewing or updating an Ohio driver’s license, learner’s permit or state ID card at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles unless they opt out.