Tag Archives: campaign finance

Save Clean Elections: Let Your Voice Be Heard (video)

Clean ElectionsProgressives, we have a situation…

If you want to get big money out of politics and you like Arizona’s Clean Elections system, it’s time to speak up to save it. Irregularities in the 2016 election prompted proposed rule changes by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission. (There are three versions of R2-20-702 and a new rule R2-20-703.01 – here. You can send your comments to ccec@azcleanelections.gov or go to this link and submit comments by June 19, before the commission votes at its next meeting on June 22, 2017.)

Below is the back story and a detailed explanation of the proposed rule changes.

After collecting the requisite number of petition signatures and $5 qualifying donations from people who can vote for them, Clean Elections candidates (like me) receive lump sums of $16,000 for the primary and $24,000 for the general election– in exchange for vowing not to take big money donations. With seed money and family money, the total for a Clean Elections candidate is roughly $45,000 for a Legislative campaign. All unspent CE funds must be returned to the CE commission, and all unspent seed money or seed money overage must be returned to the individual donors.

During the 2016 election, two Democratic Party Clean Elections candidates turned over all or most of their CE funds in a lump sum to the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (ADLCC) of the Arizona Democratic Party (ADP) to run their campaigns, provide paid staff, and purchase/design/mail their printed materials. ADLCC provides these services to many traditionally funded candidates and offered them to CE candidates as well in 2016. A problem arose with at least two CE candidates because the party didn’t provide individual invoices for specific services rendered.

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Fun with Numbers: June 2016 Campaign Finance Reports

Campaign finance reporting

Southern Arizona Legislative candidates arranged by the total amount they raised by June 1, 2016. The percentage of PAC funds is given at the top of each column. Green bars are Clean Elections candidates. (Source data: SOS Campaign Finance system.)

June 30 was the deadline for statewide and legislative candidates to file their campaign finance reports. Data nerds like me love slogging through the Secretary of State’s website for Ah-Ha moments of discovery. And there are some.

Campaign finance reporting

Remaining funds for each Southern Arizona Legislative candidate, after reported expenses have been subtracted. Green bars are Clean Elections candidates. (Source data: SOS Campaign Finance system.)

My primary reason for looking at these data was, of course, to gauge my campaign against others in Southern Arizona. For nearly a year, people have been telling me not to run as a Clean Elections (CE) candidate because “it’s just not enough money.” These two graphics show a somewhat different picture.

The top graphic shows that Daniel Hernandez (D-LD2) blew the doors off the fundraising barn by gathering $60,437, but Hernandez spent $25,489 to get there, leaving him with $34,948 on July 1. (Yes, of course, he can keep dialing for dollars every day from now until November 8, but that is a lot of time and manpower.) Ana Henderson (R-LD9) with $21,345 is the Clean Elections candidate with the most funds on July 1; she has spent only $1,367. You can see how the difference between these two candidates flattened out when you take into consideration the money Hernandez had to spend to raise $60,000. (Since Clean Elections has strict rules on how much we can collect in seed money and family money and how we receive once we have qualified for public funds, all of the candidates who have qualified for CE have roughly the same amount. Note the green bars on both graphs. (Fun fact: all of the qualified CE candidates in Southern Arizona are women.)

Let’s compare Hernandez to the other two candidates in the LD2 Democratic Party primary.

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Distorting Democracy: How ultraweathy Plutocrats and their campaign donations counteract the policies that a majority of Americans want

The New York Times over the weekend had this must-read investigative report. The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election:

Just 158 families have provided nearly half of the early money for efforts to capture the White House.

Income-InequalityThey are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.

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Wisconsin Supreme Court to decide ‘John Doe’ investigations of Gov. Scott Walker

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition Monday morning from conservative groups seeking to throw out a multi-year “John Doe” probe into Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign, leaving the dispute to be sorted out in state court.

Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog reports, Court bypasses Wisconsin political fray:

TotalRecallThe denial of review in O’Keefe v. Chisholm, without comment, turned aside a plea by a conservative political activist to revive a civil rights lawsuit against a special prosecutor over an investigation of supporters for the governor’s anti-union efforts.

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 The Court’s refusal to get into the middle of a bitter, mostly partisan feud in Wisconsin was not a surprise, because the case is still undergoing review in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the groups complaining about the prosecutor have already been able to stop a series of investigations that had run on nearly five years.

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None Dare Call It Bribery

* If this corrupt, selfish, and destructive behavior is not already illegal, what do we have to do to make it illegal?
* If/when it is illegal, how to we remove the barriers to enforcement, so as to make sure the laws are enforced in practice?

Posted by John Denker:

Let’s talk about government corruption, especially the system whereby powerful interests make huge “campaign donations” and then “coincidentally” benefit from special provisions in the laws. This system is spectacularly corrupt and harmful to public policy. Although it has gotten worse lately, it has been a problem for more than 100 years. For example, Teddy Roosevelt – a Republican – sounded the alarm in 1910, in his famous “New Nationalism” speech.

A good discussion of the current situation can be found the recent book Republic, Lost by Lawrence Lessig. If you can’t get your hands on the book, you can get much of the same information by watching Lessig’s lectures, which are available online for free. Our esteemed blogmeister, Michael Bryan, has posted a review in this forum.

I agree with almost everything Lessig has to say … except for the main conclusion and main theme of the book! He says over and over again that even though the system is corrupt and ill-serves the public interest, virtually all of it remains technically legal. I’m not convinced.

As a point of logic, of course it is possible for something to be contrary to the public interest yet still be legal, and surely some of what goes on in Washington falls into this category … but not all of it. It seems to me that a great deal of it is illegal, just structured in such a way that the perpetrators cannot easily be caught.

Lessig seems to underestimate the breadth of the exiting bribery laws. He seems to imply, over and over again, that the statute applies only to cash-on-the-barrelhead transactions, quid-pro-quo, where the quid is explicitly, directly, and instantly connected to one particular quo. He talks about “bags of cash”, as if that were the only way to make payment for a bribe. I am not a lawyer, but to my eyes, the statute seems much broader than that. You can check for yourself: 18 USC 201 – Bribery of public officials and witnesses.

  • The statute clearly says “directly or indirectly” … not just directly.
  • It clearly speaks of “anything of value” … not just “bags of cash”.
  • It clearly speaks of “influence” … not just immediate, single-factor causation.

To convict someone of bribery, you have to prove intent. This is as it should be.  Lessig emphasizes this point, and I agree.  Furthermore, I agree that if you limit attention to the congressmen themselves, proving intent might be tricky in some cases. However, in other cases, including some of the examples Lessig cites, the politicians demonstrate clear intent, e.g. as discussed here and here.

Furthermore, Lessig overlooks the fact that giving a bribe is just as illegal as receiving a bribe. In most cases, the lobbyist has obvious intent, since influencing legislation is the lobbyist’s advertised business plan and raison d’être. Similarly, the the big-money “contributors” have blazingly obvious intent. Big corporations spend billions of dollars on lobbying. They would not do this if they did not expect to get something in return. Lessig calls it “return on investment”.

If planning to get a big return on investment is not “intent” within the meaning of the bribery statute, I don’t understand why not. Can somebody explain this?

I reckon that prosecuting a corrupt lobbyist is about as hard as prosecuting a mafia don. It requires years of effort, and even then is not always successful.

This leaves us with two questions:

  1. If this corrupt, selfish, and destructive behavior is not already illegal, what do we have to do to make it illegal?
  2. If/when it is illegal, how to we remove the barriers to enforcement, so as to make sure the laws are enforced in practice?

Lessig suggests some partial solutions, although he recognizes that his suggestions are not entirely practical, and “the prognosis is not good”. I have some additional suggestions about this.

Lessig argues that corruption defeats the goals of the Left … and defeats the goals of the Right. It drains hundreds of billions of dollars per year from the treasury, to no good purpose. I would add that it defeats the purpose of the Constitution, insofar as it bypasses all the checks and balances and gives virtually unlimited power to large corporations. It defeats the purpose of having elections, insofar as both parties are in the pocket of the special interests. This infuriates the Tea Party guys, infuriates the Occupy guys, and infuriates a lot of people in between.

When power becomes so vast and so corrupt that laws cannot be enforced and elections cannot solve the problem, some people start talking about secession and/or armed insurrection. The very name of the Tea Party is an allusion to insurrection. Sharron Angle, while a Republican candidate for US Senate, spoke openly of “second amendment remedies”. Rick Perry, the Republican governor of the largest state, spoke openly about secession.

It’s hard to imagine anything more important than this. The cost of inaction is extraordinarily high, and could get even higher. All this is discussed in more detail, with examples and footnotes et cetera, at http://www.av8n.com/politics/republic-lost.htm.

Comments, anyone?