Senate Republican Leadership Continues to Block Electronic Filing of Campaign Finance Reports

Republicans who are in the majority in the US Senate and in the leadership continue to block electronic filing of Senate campaign finance reports required by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). US Senate candidates only file quarterly reports. Currently the US Senate reports are the only campaign finance reports on the Federal level not filed electronically with the FEC. They are first filed in paper copies with the US Senate, copied and then transferred to the FEC. This significantly delays by 2-3 weeks or more the public and media being able to get timely reporting of campaign contributions and spending.

Democrats joined by Republicans and Independents continue to try to get the US Senate to join the computer age and file copies electronically with the FEC.  Senator Jon Tester of Montana in February 2015  filed SB 366 – the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act. Some 45 Senators have signed on to date – 32 Democrats, 11 Republicans and 2 Independents.

This is not a new issue but Majority Rules wrote about this seven years ago, including “US Senators Still Trying to Figure out Computers and the Internet ” and “An Open Letter to Senator Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell“.  Senator Cantwell has since signed onto this legislation both in this Congressional session and the previous one. Senator Patty Murray for some reason has not. She should.

The Center for Public Integrity in a 2015 post entitled “Senators resist the internet, leave voters in the dark” noted that:

In a throwback to the age of typewriters and snail mail, Senate candidate must still, by law, submit their official campaign finance reports on paper.
A bipartisan bill — known as the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act — would force Senate candidates to file digitally, just as presidential candidates, U.S. House candidates and political action committees have done for nearly a generation.
Paper campaign finance records are more difficult to analyze and aren’t readily available to the public for days after being filed. Digital records are publicly accessible and easily searchable from the moment they’re submitted to FEC officials.

Some Senators have decided to voluntarily file electronically. In the same Center for Public Integrity post it was noted that 20 Senators were listed as also filing their second quarter 2015 reports digitally -16 Democrats, 2 Republicans and 2 Independents.

As GovTrack.us notes:

These reports are important because they list how much money candidates have raised and from which individuals/sources. This transparency in turn can help reveal potential conflicts of interest and indicate which issues an incumbent or potential politician may prioritize while in office. For example, on the presidential race, these numbers have revealed which candidates rely more on Super PACs versus individual donors, or which candidates billionaires have donated to.

The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that the bill would save approximately $500,000 per year through factors such as reduced printing costs.

If your Senator is not a supporter of SB 366 urge them to do so. The public has a right to campaign finance information in a timely manner. In fact while they are at it they really should be doing monthly reporting, not quarterly. Washington State has been doing monthly disclosure by candidates for years and it helps citizens see who is supporting candidates and where money is being spent.

More Democrats Vote In 2016 Washington State Presidential Primary Than Caucus

Washington State held a Presidential Primary on May 24, 2016. While Republicans used the Presidential Primary to determine the ratio of  their delegates for  specific  candidates, Democrats did not. The Democratic vote was purely a poll with no impact on the dividing up who got how many delegates. Democrats held an earlier caucus on Saturday March 26, 2016 to determine that.

The surprise was that more Democrats voted in the Presidential Primary than Republicans despite the Democratic vote not affecting the delegate count. According to the Washington State Secretary of State some 1,421,841 voters voted in the May 25, 2016 Presidential Primary. Of the 4,088.o29 registered voters at the time this represented a turnout of only 34.78%.

The results according to the Washington Secretary of State’s website were as follows:

Democratic vote:  Hillary Clinton ….. 421,461….. 52.38%                                                                               Bernie Sanders……382,393…..47.62%

Total Democratic vote …..802,753

Republican vote:  Ben Carson…………..23,849…….3.96%                                                                                 Ted Cruz………………65,172……10.81%                                                                               John Kasich………….58,954……9.78%                                                                                 Donald J Trump … 455,023…..75.46%

Total Republican vote ….602,998

The Democratic vote was 56.46% of the turnout and Republicans only represented 43.54% of the vote.

The actual division of delegates for the Democrats went through the caucus system where precinct delegates were elected in the following proportion at the March 26, 2016 caucus.  These results are as reported by the New York Times.

Bernie Sanders ……19,159 delegates = 72.7% = 74 delegates

Hillary Clinton ……..7,140 delegates = 27.1% = 27 delegates

other ………………………..46 delegates = .02%

The number of Democrats participating in the caucus was about 230,000 according to OPB . This was about 14,000 shy of the turnout for Democrats in 2008 when Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton ran.

Comparing the Democratic turnout in the Presidential Primary and the Caucus, the nonbinding Presidential Primary saw 3.9 times as many Democrats participate compared to the caucus.  Many voters found the caucus system frustrating and time consuming, particularly when Legislative District Caucuses were held on May 1, 2016 and went into late evening hours. Many people left in frustration and weren’t able to vote.

Some 27,000 Precinct level Delegates were narrowed down to 1400 Legislative District Delegates in the legislative District caucus. The Legislative District Delegates then elected 67 National Delegates at Congressional District Caucuses on May 21, 2016. The Washington State Democratic Central Committee on June 19th elected an additional 34 National Delegates and appointed 17 Super Delegates.  On July 28th in Philadelphia the 118 Washington State Delegates will vote to nominate the 2016 Democratic Party Candidate for President of the United States.

36th District Senator Reuven Carlyle after the Presidential Primary echoed the view of many when he called for an end to the Caucus system. Carlyle in the Tacoma News Tribune said:

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said Tuesday’s results highlighted how Washington Democrats’ system of holding both caucuses and primaries needs to go.
Awarding delegates to candidates based on primary results would be less confusing and expand the number of voters who could participate in the nomination process, he said.
“I just think caucuses have a romantic image and play a meaningful role in terms of activism and energy, but that a primary is more Democratic and reflective of the broader values of the population,” Carlyle said.

If you agree the system needs to be changed, contact people in the State Democratic Party. The Washington State Democratic Central Committee can vote to support a Presidential Primary rather than a Caucus system in 2020. Let them know now so the system can be changed.

The current Presidential Primary in Washington State became law in March of 1989 after the State Legislature passed Initiative 99. I-99 had 202,872 people sign.

Time for Automatic Voter Registration in Washington State

Washington State is now the laggard in automatic voter registration on the west coast. Oregon took the first step setting up automatic voter registration when voters apply for a driver’s license. And now California has followed suit.  Two east coast states have also passed automatic voter registration in 2016 – Vermont and West Virginia.

Just over a year ago on March 17, 2015 Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed HB 2177 making Oregon the first state in the nation to automatically register Oregon residents to also be voters when they either renew or first apply for an Oregon driver’s license or state identification card.

As the LA Times noted:

“Those who are registered through the new process will be notified by mail and will be given three weeks to take themselves off the voting rolls. If they do not opt out, the secretary of state’s office will mail them a ballot automatically 20 days before any election.”

NPR reported that Governor Gerry Brown in October 2015 signed their “New  Motor Voter Act” joining Oregon to register voters automatically when they either renew or get a new driver’s license or California state identification card.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a press release stated that:

“In a free society, the right to vote is fundamental. …

“Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote,” Padilla added. “We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech or due process. The right to vote should be no different,” Padilla added.

“The New Motor Voter Act will make voter registration a seamless process and result in the largest sustained voter registration drive in our nation’s history. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the federal Voting Rights Act, Governor Brown has affirmed California’s commitment to strengthening voting rights. It is not lost on me that many states are restricting voting rights with the clear goal of preventing citizens from voting. I am proud that California is again demonstrating leadership and providing a shining example of how our nation can and should expand access to the polls,” Padilla added.”

Two legislative bills were introduced in Washington State in 2016.  As reported by the HeraldNet:

Two measures, SB 6379 and HB 2682, would automatically register people who aren’t on the voter rolls but already have or apply for an enhanced driver’s license or commercial driver’s licenses. Those who receive social services that verify citizenship or get health insurance through the state health exchange also would be automatically registered. The measure would take effect Jan. 1, 2017, and be retroactive so that unregistered voters who already have the specialized driver licenses or benefits would have their information sent to the Secretary of State’s Office, which would notify them that they can opt out. If the potential voter doesn’t respond, he or she will be automatically registered within 60 days.

Unfortunately the Washington State Legislature did not enact this legislation. HB 2682  passed in the House but died in the Senate Rules Committee. The Senate is controlled by the Republicans who do not support legislation to make it easier for people to vote. SB 6379 did not get voted out of the Senate Committee it originated in.
Inaction on bills like this is a reason for people to vote Democratic. Republicans are not interested in increasing voter participation but have a nationwide track record of voter suppression making it difficult for many people to vote. It is unfortunately no different in Washington State.

Surprise – US Court Rules Kids Have a Constitutional Stake in the Future

A Federal Judge in Eugene, Oregon has confirmed the right of a group of plaintiffs representing young people to sue the Federal Government over its climate change policy.

As noted in a press release from Our Children’s Trust   entitled “Federal Court Affirms Constitutional Rights of Kids in Landmark Climate Case” that was posted on the website Common Dreams:

On April 8, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the federal District Court in Eugene, OR, decided in favor of 21 young Plaintiffs, and Dr. James Hansen on behalf of future generations, in their landmark constitutional climate change case brought against the federal government and the fossil fuel industry. The Court’s ruling is a major victory for the 21 youth Plaintiffs, ages 8-19, from across the U.S. in what Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein call the “most important lawsuit on the planet right now.” These plaintiffs sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and their right to essential public trust resources, by permitting, encouraging, and otherwise enabling continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels.”

The case is significant in that the judge ruled that the young plaintiffs had standing to sue and that the outcome of the case would involve climate science. The central question will be a presentation of climate changes impacts  on the future of the young people and the responsibility of the Federal Government to act on behalf the public trust doctrine.

As Our Children’s Future noted:

 “In denying the motions of the federal government and the fossil fuel industry, the Court’s decision framed the issue as follows: “Plaintiffs are suing the United States … because the government has known for decades that carbon dioxide (C02) pollution has been causing catastrophic climate change and has failed to take necessary action to curtail fossil fuel emissions. Moreover, plaintiffs allege that the government and its agencies have taken action or failed to take action that has resulted in increased carbon pollution through fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation, and exportation. Plaintiffs allege the current actions and omissions of defendants make it extremely difficult for plaintiffs to protect their vital natural systems and a livable world. Plaintiffs assert the actions and omissions of defendants that increased C02 emissions ‘shock the conscience,’ and are infringing the plaintiffs’ right to life and liberty in violation of their substantive due process rights.”  The Court’s decision also upheld the youth Plaintiffs’ claims in the Fifth and Ninth Amendments “by denying them protections afforded to previous generations and by favoring short term economic interests of certain citizens.” Finally, Judge Coffin upheld Plaintiffs’ assertion of violations under the public trust doctrine, ruling that there is a federal public trust and plaintiffs’ claim can proceed.”

You can click on this link to read Judge Thomas Coffins’ “ORDER and FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATION “

See also:

“Sorry, Feds: Kids Can Sue Over Climate Negligence, Judge Says”  Nation of Change

Judge greenlights Oregon climate change lawsuit against Federal government”  – Oregonlive.com

 

 

Federal Elections Commission dysfunctional and not doing its job

The Federal Elections Commission is clearly dysfunctional and not able to do its job. It is helping to foster public cynicism and disgust with the current political process. Comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats it is gridlocked in partisan politics and seems like a deer caught in the headlights – unable to move or respond. It’s decisions are repeated tie votes or no action.

One of the recent glaring examples is their continued non response to what are called “ghost corporations” funneling money into political campaigns and skirting public disclosure of donors and public accountability. The Washington Post in several recent articles has focused light on the issue arising out of the 2011 US Supreme Court corporate “Citizens United” decision which opened the floodgates on money in elections.

A March 11, 2016 Washington Post article entitled “How ‘ghost corporations’ are funding the 2016 election” by Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswany  outlines the situation:

“The 2016 campaign has already seen the highest rate of corporate donations since the Supreme Court unleashed such spending with its 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision.
One out of every eight dollars collected by super PACs this election cycle have come from corporate coffers, including millions flowing from opaque and hard-to-trace entities, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign finance filings.
So far, 680 companies have given at least $10,000 to a super PAC this cycle, together contributing nearly $68 million through Jan. 31, The Post found. Their donations made up 12 percent of the $549 million raised by such groups, which can accept unlimited donations.

The main problem is that many of these PAC donations are untraceable and allow donors to be anonymous while making multi-million dollar donations. The ghost corporations in question making the donations  only list a corporate name and an agent, leaving the public with no idea who is trying to influence the election.

This is a reason why the US Supreme Court’s corporate Citizens United decision needs to be overturned. Sixteen states so far have urged Congress to amend the US Constitution to say that money is not free speech, corporations do not have the sames rights as people and all campaign money must be regulated and disclosed.

Washington State this November is voting on Initiative 735 to become the 17th state to urge Congress to amend the US Constitution to overturn the corporate Citizens United and othed decisions which have opened the anonymous floodgate of corporate and other dark money in elections.

Two recent cases provide clear evidence that the Federal Elections Commission is broken

Two recent decisions by the Federal Elections Commission provide clear evidence that the Commission is broken and nonfunctional just like Congress. On split partisan votes it took no action on two separate cases.

As the Washington Post reported in an article entitled, “FEC deadlocked on allegations that Gingrich used 2012 campaign to sell books“:

“Former House speaker Newt Gingrich will not face a Federal Election Commission investigation into allegations that he broke federal law by using his 2012 presidential campaign to promote books that he and his wife wrote, documents released Friday show.

…The FEC’s top attorney recommended in 2013 that the agency investigate Gingrich, but the case languished and the six-member commission eventually deadlocked along partisan lines in June, with the three Republican commissioners voting against an inquiry.

The general counsel’s initial review found evidence of seven violations of campaign finance laws, the FEC documents show. Among the findings: Gingrich’s campaign staff and the employees of his production company at times swapped duties as the then-candidate was holding concurrent campaign rallies and book-signing events….

The general counsel also found evidence that the campaign’s resources benefited Gingrich personally, noting that his campaign website included more than 80 links to the Gingrich Productions website, along with blog entries promoting book signings and movie screenings. Many of the links went to pages urging supporters to buy books written by Newt and Callista Gingrich.”

The second case also was decided on a split partisan vote, meaning no action was taken on what clearly appeared to be political action and avoidance of reporting of campaign donations. As the Washington Post reported “How a film about Obama’s communist ‘real father’ won at the FEC “ was also won because of a partisan split. It is a revisit of the Hillary Clinton case that was decided in the so called “Citizens United” decision by the US Supreme Court which opened the floodgates on money in elections since then. The film in that case mailed also right before the election was  “Hillary:  the movie”

As the Washington Post post reported:

“Four years ago, voters in Ohio and a few other swing states opened their mailboxes to discover a documentary they’d never ordered. “Dreams From My Real Father” posited that the president of the United States was not the son of Barack Obama Sr., but of Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist activist and poet who moved to Hawaii late in life ….

In 2014, a progressive activist named Loren Collins filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Gilbert, arguing that the filmmaker had a responsibility to disclose his donors. The FEC finally weighed in last month, and in a typical 3-3 split decision — by law, the FEC is perpetually split between Democratic and Republican commissioners — Gilbert’s DVD mailing was considered “press,” not subject to donor disclosure, comparable to any political documentary.

“With the right framing, even the most dishonest, smear-mongering attacks can skirt FEC regulations under our current regulations,” said Collins. “His mailing cost at least $1 million, and that could’ve been paid for by Mitt Romney or Donald Trump, and there’s no way to know. Taken together with [the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision], this could have very serious negative ramifications. The general counsel’s report might as well be an instruction manual on how to avoid the transparency that comes with public disclosure of financiers.”

Asking a Commission composed of partisan politicians divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats in a clearly highly charged partisan Washington DC atmosphere is a sure way to have more gridlock. If anything the decisions need to be made by those without a direct stake in a partisan outcome. Time to restructure the FEC to  enable it to make decisions. The simplest  solution is to add a fifth member chosen by the other four members. Another alternative is to remove partisan politicians  and to have the issues decided by a panel of judges. Clearly the current  system is broken.

 

Naomi Klein – “On why young people see radical action as practical”

Author and activist Naomi Klein has some perceptive comments in an interview in the Tyee – the independent British Columbia journal on why young people are more ready for drastic change to address continuing problems like climate change where progress has been slow or not much at all.

The full article is entitled, “We Faces a Series of Radical OptionsContinue reading

Comparing Signature Gathering Costs on Initiatives 732 and 735

In Washington State in 2015, two different initiative campaigns are gathering signatures for initiatives to the legislature in 2016. The two campaigns are Initiative 732 by Carbon Washington for a carbon tax and Initiative 735 by WAmend to amend the US Constitution to overturn the corporate “Citizens United” decision by the US Supreme Court. Both campaigns started in 2015 collecting signatures in April and May.  The final deadline to file all signatures is December 31, 2015. This report details initial costs for getting signatures through Sept 30, 2015 and an update comparison as of Dec 1 for both campaigns. A final analysis will be done in Jan 2016. Continue reading

Press Release – Initiative 735 Passes 254,000 Signatures, Moves Closer to Qualifying

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Contact Gabe Meyer                                                                                              Campaign Director, WAmend
gabemeyer@wamend.org                                                                                                   or Steve Zemke
Field Director, WAmend
stevezemke@wamend.org

SEATTLE — WAmend, the sponsor of Initiative 735, announced today that supporters have now collected over 254,000 signatures to get on the 2016 ballot in Washington State. A minimum of 246,273 signatures are required by December 31st to file with the Secretary of State. WAmend is aiming to submit 320,000 signatures to cover duplicate and invalid signatures and assure success in qualifying. Continue reading

Press Release – Initiative 735 Passes 239,000 Signatures 12/1/2015

For immediate release:
For more information:
Gabe Meyer – Campaign Director
GabeMeyer@WAmend.org
Steve Zemke – State Field Director
 SteveZemke@WAmend.org
Campaign phone – 206-547-9961
Initiative 735 Passes 239,000 Signatures

 Supporters of Initiative 735 in Washington State have now collected over 239,000 signatures on Initiative 735. A minimum of 246,273 valid signatures is required to file with the Secretary of State by December 31, 2015. WAmend (Washington Coalition to Amend the Constitution), the sponsor of Initiative 735, is targeting to get 320,000 signatures to cover duplicate and invalid signatures.

Continue reading