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Tag: election laws

Karl Rove Signals GOP Donors To Push Rewrite Of Election Laws

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute

Hours after President Biden declared that "democracy has prevailed" during his inaugural address, longtime Republican strategist Karl Rove urged Republicans to pressure GOP election officials to create "a model election code" and change the two voting options that led to the 2020 presidential election's record turnout.

"Republicans should...encourage GOP secretaries of state and state lawmakers to develop a model election code," Rove wrote in a January 20 commentary for the Wall Street Journal titled "The Republican Future Starts Now."

"The job of proposing electoral reforms shouldn't be based on the unsupported claims of widespread fraud peddled by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell," Rove continued. "Instead, the goal should be to suggest measures that restore public confidence in our democracy. How do states with extensive mail-in and early voting like Florida and Texas get it right?"

Rove's commentary comes as Republican-majority legislatures in battleground states such as Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona have proposed bills or convened hearings to review the laws that allowed people to vote early in person or with mailed-out ballots in 2020.

"Whenever Karl Rove writes a piece in the Wall Street Journal, the history of it suggests that Democrats should pay careful attention," said David Daley, author of Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy. "Because the Wall Street Journal is where Republicans can signal to their donor class their key projects."

In March 2010, Rove penned a Journal commentary openly discussing the GOP's REDMAP project, which targeted 107 state legislative seats that "would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats." REDMAP succeeded, creating GOP majority legislatures and congressional delegations in the otherwise purple states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Alabama.

The website of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which drafts model bills for social conservatives and economic libertarians, has not yet promoted election reforms on its website. However, ALEC linked to the Conservative Action project, which posted a defense of the GOP lawmakers who opposed certifying the Electoral College slates from Arizona and Pennsylvania. The expanded use of voting via mailed-out ballots and early voting must be examined, it said.

"The 2020 election was conducted in an unprecedented manner: largely by mail, and in a way that overwhelmed the capacities of many states. It is not at all unreasonable to review the manner in which votes were counted," said the Conservative Action Project memo, which was signed by more than 100 activists and organizations. "Indeed, if the goal is to restore faith in future elections, then a comprehensive review and analysis to determine what went wrong, what went right, and what is in need of reform should be a critical next step."

Daley, whose prior book, Ratf*cked, profiled REDMAP and its impacts on the past decade's political battles and extreme politics, said Rove's commentary was a warning sign.

"Whenever Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal, it not to be a public intellectual but to put ideas in front of the Republican donor class," he said. "It fits perfectly with much of the Republican strategy on voter suppression."

"So much of it sounds reasonable," Daley continued, referring to the suggestion that a model election code be developed and embraced. "How can you be opposed to a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission that is going to step back and ensure that our elections are free, fair, and secure? Except, that's not actually their intention, because we just had an election that was free, fair, and secure. And [Sens.] Hawley and Cruz and 130-plus Republicans in the House voted to decertify [the popular vote results and Electoral College slates from] Pennsylvania and Arizona—even after a Republican governor [in Arizona] signed off on certification."

Already, Republican legislators in 2020 battleground states held hearings where they are badgering statewide election officials —some elected Democrats, some career civil servants — about decisions they took last fall that made it easier to vote with absentee ballots.

For example, on Thursday in Pennsylvania, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, was pressed by Republican representatives for advising county election officials to count the returned mailed-out ballots of people who forgot to put their ballots in a secrecy sleeve. The state's Supreme Court subsequently ruled that the "naked" ballots should be disqualified.

"You disagree with the decision that was rendered by the Supreme Court?" Rep. Ryan McKenzie, a Republican, asked Boockvar.

"It doesn't matter whether I disagree with a decision rendered by the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court's rule governs," she replied. "But what I would say is, and maybe this is part of your question, do I think that is the right approach for voters for making sure that every eligible voter's vote counts? No, I'd love to see the legislature change that law and say, 'Look, if a voter makes a mistake that does not have anything to do with their eligibility or their qualifications, such as a naked ballot, that vote should still count."

The Thursday legislative hearing was one of 14 that are slated in Pennsylvania to review voting laws and administrative rules that were in effect during the 2020 election. A separate GOP-sponsored proposal would create districts for electing state Supreme Court judges. If put into effect, it could become a judicial gerrymander to recast Pennsylvania's appellate courts—including the Supreme Court.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Signature-Drive Sponsors Can Remain Anonymous, Appeals Court Says

By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court struck down California election requirements that require backers of proposed ballot measures to reveal their identities on signature-gathering petitions.

In a 2-1 decision, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Monday that the First Amendment permits initiative sponsors to remain anonymous while contacting voters.

“Voters who wish to know the identities of official proponents need only make a trip to the City Clerk’s office or search for the publication of the petition in their newspapers of general circulation,” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, a Reagan appointee, wrote for the majority.

The case stemmed from attempts by the construction industry to put a measure on the Chula Vista ballot prohibiting the city from using funds for projects that required union labor. The initiative eventually made the ballot and passed, but the litigation over earlier technical violations continued.

Backers of the proposal argued they should not have been required to disclose their names on petitions, as required by California law. An initial attempt by the proponents to obtain signatures was thrown out because the petitions did not contain the sponsors’ names.

The majority said that by requiring sponsors to disclose their identities, the government was unconstitutionally regulating their speech.

In the context of political speech, it is important that a writer be permitted to be anonymous to prevent others from prejudging the writer’s message based on personal dislike, the majority said.

Judge Susan Graber, a Clinton appointee, dissented.

“The government has an essential interest in preserving an electoral process that allows voters to know to whom they are delegating lawmaking power when signing a particular petition,” she wrote.

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

Lifting Donation Caps Will Boost Political Establishment, Experts Say

By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s decision to lift the cap on the amount donors can contribute in a congressional election cycle promises to shift power to the political party’s established leaders, who had lost ground to outside groups.

With the demise of the $123,200 limit for the two-year election cycle, party stalwarts such as House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will be able to raise multimillion-dollar checks from wealthy contributors for new campaign committees. With control of such ventures, they will have substantial influence over the direction and ideology of their parties.

For Boehner, who has been contending with a tea party insurgency for years, the chance to wield a larger campaign war chest could help him sharpen his edge against his GOP rivals. And although Democrats condemned the ruling, their leadership also stands to gain more control over congressional campaigns.

“Look at whoever is most powerful in Congress right now — and you magnify their power,” said Lisa Rosenberg, a lobbyist for the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog organization that denounced the ruling. “Think back to the Robber Baron age — there were no restrictions; it was just kind of a free-for-all. That’s where we’re heading.”

Experts predict that the parties and their leaders will quickly set up committees to solicit multimillion-dollar contributions from single donors and spread the money around to their candidates.

Already on Thursday, a day after the decision, party officials were planning mega-fundraising opportunities for 2014 midterm election candidates. Republicans envisioned a gala headlined by party superstars, say Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, that could burst earlier fundraising caps. Say goodbye to the $1,000 a-plate-dinner and hello to $10,000 tickets.

“We want to take advantage of this opportunity now, as quickly as we can,” said Andrea Bozek, communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is working to maintain Boehner’s majority.

Party leaders have long used their stature to raise money from rich supporters and hand the bounty to rank-and-file lawmakers — or candidates seeking to join them in Congress.

These so-called Leadership PACs often have catchy names, such as the Every Republican Is Crucial PAC, which was started by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) Cantor’s PAC has spent $1.4 million so far this campaign cycle, more than any other in Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But a decision by the Supreme Court four years ago dramatically diminished the power of party leaders and lawmakers. In the Citizens United decision, the court freed corporations, unions and the very wealthy to spend unlimited sums on independent election campaigns.

Outside groups such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the Democratic-aligned Emily’s List became the most well-financed players in the elections.

The swift ascent of these often single-issue organizations shifted the playing field, especially with the rise of the conservative tea-party-style organizations that have pushed the Republican Party — and Congress — rightward.

The once-dominant party committees — the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee, and their House and Senate counterparts — fell to a lesser role.

But the court’s decision in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission turned the tables once again in a way that could bolster the party establishment — and its leaders.

“Right now, these candidates in the House, they’re worried about super PACs coming down on them, but if more money comes in the system through the political parties, they might feel safer,” said Ray La Raja, an associate professor of political science who studies campaigns and parties at the University of Massachusetts.

For Boehner, he added, “if this gives him more control over more money, then this gives him more influence.” And, he noted, “you see that on the Democratic side too.”

The court’s decision threw out the $74,600 limit for donations to political parties and the $48,600 limit for House or Senate candidates in a two-year campaign season. Donors still cannot contribute more than $5,200 to a candidate per election.

But without the overall caps, those who can afford to give to many candidates will have enormous influence. Donors could support their party by giving to all 435 House candidates and the 33 candidates for Senate seats up for election, as well as each party’s national committees.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, dissenting in the 5-4 ruling, said the parties could establish new joint committees that could solicit checks from wealthy donors for $3.6 million — the amount that can be contributed to 468 candidates and all the political parties. Under current election laws, he said, the parties could redistribute the money, possibly even using the entire amount to benefit one candidate.

He warned that this could lead to a consolidation of political power to the wealthy few, as well as the party’s leaders, resulting in improper influence on Capitol Hill.

“Will party officials and candidates solicit these large contributions from wealthy donors? Absolutely. Such contributions will help increase the party’s power, as well as the candidate’s standing among his colleagues,” Breyer wrote. “Will elected officials be particularly grateful to the large donor, feeling obliged to provide him special access and influence, and perhaps even a quid pro quo legislative favor? That is what we have previously believed.”

Photo: Carol H. Feeley via Flickr Creative Commons