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US Civil Liberties

US Elections, Voting, and Campaign Finance

Project: US Civil Liberties
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The US Senate Republican Policy Committee issues a report titled “Putting an End to Voter Fraud.” The report claims that voter fraud—individuals ineligible to vote casting illicit ballots—“continues to plague our nation’s federal elections, diluting and canceling out the lawful votes of the vast majority of Americans.” The report advises Congress to pass laws requiring “voters at the polls show photo identification.” [In These Times, 4/18/2007] A 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice will conclude that voters are more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud (see 2007).

Entity Tags: US Senate Republican Policy Committee

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

March 2005: Nebraska Lessens Ban on Felon Voting

The Nebraska legislature overturns the state’s lifetime ban on voting by convicted felons, replacing it with a two-year post-sentence ban. Governor Dave Heineman (R-NE) vetoes the bill, but is overridden by the legislature. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2008; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Nebraska State Legislature, David Eugene (“Dave”) Heineman

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

The Justice Department is sent a letter, apparently via surface mail, that, according to a department control sheet, “request[s] an investigation into the voting irregularities and the certification of the Washington State 2004 election” (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005, December 29-30, 2004, January 7, 2005, January 24-28, 2005, February 4, 2005, and March 5, 2005). The sender of the letter is redacted from the control sheet. The letter is marked as received on March 10. On March 15, the letter is referred to the Civil Rights Division “for component response,” and referred to several other bureaus within the department, including the Offices of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. The Civil Rights Division sends a reply on March 24, 2005. The reply is not included in the documents later released by the Justice Department. [US Department of Justice, 6/21/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2006 US Attorney Firings, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The Seattle Times reports that Washington State Democrats believe the White House is behind the efforts to force a recount in the November 2004 governor’s race. Christine Gregoire (D-WI) defeated Dino Rossi (R-WI) after a recount gave Gregoire a narrow victory (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Since then Rossi and Washington State Republicans have demanded new recounts or even a new election (see December 29-30, 2004). In January 2005, they filed a lawsuit to overturn the election results, alleging voter fraud tainted the vote (see January 7, 2005, January 24-28, 2005, and February 4, 2005). The FBI and US Attorney John McKay have investigated the allegations of voter fraud and found them groundless (see December 2004 and January 4, 2005), though state Republicans have been displeased with those findings (see Late 2004 or Early 2005, Late 2004, and January 4, 2005). As the lawsuit wends its way through the courts, Democrats tell reporters that the evidence being brought to bear by state Republicans in the lawsuit is worthless. One party attorney says their list of alleged illegal voters would end up as toilet paper “in an outhouse on Blewett Pass” on the mountain highway route that leads to the Chelan County courthouse, where the case will be heard. However, solicitations sent by Washington State Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt say the White House, led by deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, is pushing the GOP lawsuit. Berendt’s letter warns of “guerrilla tactics” by “right-wing attorneys” and “extremist operatives” who are “meticulously crafting a case to unseat Christine Gregoire.” Berendt stands behind the letter, saying: “[W]e believe this, too. We believe that Rove is in regular contact with people here.” Rossi spokesperson Mary Lane confirms that the Rossi campaign is regularly updating the White House on the case, saying: “They’re interested in what’s going on.… We talk to them about it.” However, “[t]here’s certainly no Karl Rove pulling strings.” White House spokesperson Ken Lisaius says no one in the Bush administration is involved in the lawsuit, telling a reporter: “As reluctant as I am to comment on an inflammatory fund-raising piece, those are just not the facts. The White House is not directing any sort of strategy for the Rossi campaign and to suggest otherwise is to suggest someone is not very well informed.” Berendt points to the Rossi campaign’s use of Washington, DC, attorney Mark Braden as chief counsel; Braden spent 10 years as chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. Berendt says his party uses local attorneys. He also cites Rove’s 1994 involvement in the case of an Alabama state Supreme Court election, in which Rove fought for a recount claiming that the election had been “stolen.” The Times writes: “There are parallels to the current dispute here over the governor’s election. In both cases, Republicans held a news conference with the parents of a military voter to question whether overseas ballots were handled properly. Republicans in both states filed a lawsuit that named a long list of public officials as respondents. Both held rallies; business groups financed media campaigns.” Rove’s candidate eventually won (see Early 1994 - October 1995). Berendt says that Rove was also behind failed attempts to force recalls of Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed and Democratic King County Councilman Dow Constantine. Berendt writes, “We know what they’re doing, and we’re going to tell the world that it’s the Bush team, with the Bush tactics, and Karl Rove pulling the strings that’s trying to defeat us.” [Seattle Times, 3/5/2005]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Dino Rossi, Christine O. Gregoire, Bush administration (43), Dow Constantine, John L. McKay, Mark Braden, Mary Lane, Seattle Times, Paul Berendt, Sam Reed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ken Lisaius

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2006 US Attorney Firings, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

FBI documents show that an unnamed political group supplies what it considers to be evidence of voter fraud—the forging of signatures on provisional ballots—to the office of US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington. The group may be the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), headed by Republican activist Tom McCabe, who has pressured McKay to pursue previous allegations of voter fraud in the recent gubernatorial election (see December 2004), evidence that was found to be groundless (see January 4, 2005). McCabe has already demanded that the White House fire McKay and replace him with someone friendlier to Republican interests (see Late 2004). McKay has received pressure on the voter fraud issue from several state Republicans aside from McCabe (see Late 2004 or Early 2005 and January 4, 2005). An Assistant US Attorney in McKay’s office will later confirm that even if the affidavits had been forged, the US Attorney’s office had no jurisdiction over the matter, as the allegations are about a state election and the US Attorney is a federal entity. The group later supplies the evidence to the Republican petitioners in a state case about the election, and its lawyers choose not to pursue the evidence, as the handwriting analysis “proving” the forgeries will be found to be unreliable. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Building Industry Association of Washington, Tom McCabe, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John L. McKay

Category Tags: 2006 US Attorney Firings, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative activist organization in Washington state, sends a three-page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urging the Justice Department to investigate US Attorney John McKay (see October 24, 2001) for misconduct. The foundation charges that McKay “has committed malfeasance by systematically refusing to act on evidence of election fraud delivered to his office.” The foundation, along with several Republican leaders in Washington state, say that McKay willfully ignored complaints of election fraud in the hotly contested 2004 governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay opened an investigation, but did not empanel a grand jury to investigate further (see January 4, 2005, Late 2004 or Early 2005 and Late 2004). McKay will later say that his office found no grounds for the voter fraud allegations: “We had lots of instances of incompetent handling of an election. What we didn’t find was a criminal act.” The director of that group’s voter integrity project, Jonathan Bechtle, later says that he believes his group’s complaint was forwarded to the Justice Department office that oversees US Attorneys, but will say, “I couldn’t get any information out of them as to the conclusion.” [Washington Post, 3/19/2007; Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: Christine O. Gregoire, Jonathan Bechtle, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, John L. McKay, Dino Rossi, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2006 US Attorney Firings, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Scott Jennings.Scott Jennings. [Source: Brendan Smialowski / New York Times]Scott Jennings, an aide in Karl Rove’s White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA), sends two emails to Rove’s deputy, veteran Republican political operative Timothy Griffin (see October 26, 2004), about the White House’s desire to fire US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001). The emails are part of a larger “chain” sent back and forth between Jennings, Griffin, and other officials. Jennings writes in the first email, sent on May 2: “[W]hat else I can do to move this process forward? Is it too early to formulate a list of extremely capable replacements? There are several I know personally and can recommend.” The email contains a synopsis of claims by Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White and several New Mexico Republicans that Iglesias did not aggressively pursue “hundreds” of voter fraud charges using evidence White and the Republican activists provided (see September 7 - October 6, 2004). The email also states that Iglesias went against the wishes of New Mexico Republicans in creating his “bogus” voter fraud task force (see August 17, 2004, September 7 - October 6, 2004, and September 23 - October 2004), and placed a New Mexico Democrat on the task force who reportedly stated that voter fraud violations were entirely imaginary. The second email, from June 28, reads in part: “I would really like to move forward with getting rid of NM USATTY. I was with CODEL [the New Mexico congressional delegation] this morning, and they are really angry over his lack of action on voter fraud stuff. Iglesias has done nothing. We are getting killed out there.” Griffin responds to the second email, saying: “I hear you. It may not be that easy, though. The president has to want to get rid of him. I will ask counsel’s office to see if it is even in contemplation.” Griffin is referring to the White House Counsel’s Office, headed by Harriet Miers. Leslie Fahrenkopf, a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office, tells Griffin: “He is on my radar screen. I raised it with Harriet a few weeks ago (see May 12 - June 9, 2005) and she would like to wait until his term is up in October 2005. If you think it merits another conversation with her, let me know.” Rove will later testify that he knows nothing of Jennings’s communications with Griffin, and will say: “Obviously, Scott had strong feelings about this, having been involved out there. And, from the review of the documents, he was freelancing a little bit here, apparently.… But it’s clear Scott, from reading this, ‘please let me know what else I can do to move this process forward,’ he’s clearly trying to get Iglesias out.” As for Griffin’s response, Rove will say: “I see this as a brushback. I see Tim Griffin telling a subordinate, I understand, not that easy, this is the president, not you, who is in charge, and I will check on this. I see this as a brushback pass.” Griffin is Jennings’s immediate supervisor in OPA. In 2004, Jennings served as the executive director of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in New Mexico. Rove will say that Jennings has been in touch with New Mexico Republicans who are unhappy with Iglesias’s purported failure to pursue voter fraud charges (see August 17, 2004, September 7 - October 6, 2004, September 15-19, 2004, September 23 - October 2004, and May 6, 2005 and After). [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 8/11/2009] Miers will deny ever seeing the email until years later, when Congress begins investigating the US Attorney firings (see December 7, 2006). She will refuse to speculate on what Jennings might mean by saying, “We are getting killed out there.” Her questioners will ask if he might be referring to a large number of Democratic voter registrations, and Miers will say he could be talking about massive voter fraud issues, though she will add, “I should say, I’m not suggesting I know whether there was voter fraud or not.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, J. Scott Jennings, Leslie Fahrenkauf Doland, David C. Iglesias, J. Timothy Griffin, Darren White, White House Office of Political Affairs, Harriet E. Miers

Category Tags: 2006 US Attorney Firings, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

New Mexico’s US Attorney, David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001), meets with state Republican Party chairman Allen Weh after he learns that Weh and the party are unhappy with the results of his 2004 election fraud task force (see [September 7 - October 6, 2004). Iglesias is aware that he cannot ethically respond directly to such complaints, and he cannot provide information about ongoing investigations. However, he wants to reassure his fellow Republicans that he will prosecute “provable” voter fraud cases, but will not bring a case if it does not stand a good chance of winning a conviction. He first passed that message along to New Mexico Republicans through a friend in the party, but when the message produced little positive results, he arranged to meet Weh for coffee near Weh’s home. At the meeting, Iglesias attempts to explain to Weh that he can only prosecute voter fraud cases if he has sufficient evidence to do so. Weh is unmoved by Iglesias’s explanations. He asks if Iglesias is “in trouble” with the New Mexico Republican Party. He will later claim that Iglesias tries to blame the FBI for the lack of voter fraud prosecutions. And he tells Iglesias that he needs to do something concrete about voter fraud, and should have already done so. Shortly after the meeting, Weh complains about Iglesias to Scott Jennings, a White House official working for White House political chief Karl Rove. A 2008 investigation of the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008) will find that Weh has been pressuring Iglesias since at least August 2004 to pursue voter fraud allegations (see September 23 - October 2004). Weh will tell the investigators that he was not convinced by Iglesias’s explanation, that he felt Iglesias was unqualified to be US Attorney, and had deliberately ignored credible evidence of voter fraud in New Mexico. He will say that many New Mexico Republicans feel the same way. These feelings are why he chose to complain to Jennings about Iglesias. He conveys his perceptions to Jennings and recommends that the Bush administration fire Iglesias. He will also send an email to Jennings about Iglesias and voter fraud in August 2005 (see August 9, 2005). Other Republicans in New Mexico will complain to the White House about Iglesias as well, including the chief of staff to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), Steve Bell. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Allen Weh, David C. Iglesias, Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Scott Jennings, Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, Steve Bell, New Mexico Republican Party

Category Tags: 2006 US Attorney Firings, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The civil trial brought by Washington State Republicans to try to “settle” the disputed 2004 governor’s race between Dino Rossi (R-WA) and Christine Gregoire (D-WA) opens. Gregoire won the recount to defeat Rossi by a slender 129-vote margin (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005), but Republicans, claiming an array of voter fraud and other inappropriate actions cost Rossi the vote (see December 29-30, 2004), filed a lawsuit to have the election results overturned (see January 7, 2005). The lawyer for the Republican plaintiffs, Dale Foreman, says in his opening statement that he has evidence of “ballot stuffing” in King County, the most populous county in Washington and a center of Gregoire’s Democratic voter strength. “This is not just a case of sloppy. This is a case of election fraud,” Foreman says. Up until today, Republican plaintiffs have insisted that they would not need to allege fraud in the race to win the lawsuit. “This election was stolen from the legal voters of the state by a bizarre combination of illegal voters and bumbling bureaucrats,” Foreman continues. “King County’s failure to track the absentee ballots was not only unlawful, but it opened the door for ballots to be subtracted or added.… The evidence will show partisan bias. And partisan bias is a very politically correct way of saying, ‘Somebody stuffed the ballot box.’ You know, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” (US Attorney John McKay will later say that he is amazed to hear Foreman make such a claim, telling a reporter in 2007: “I was shocked to see him use the words ‘ballot-stuffing’ because that is a crime. If you say that, you are ethically bound to prove that.” McKay launched an aggressive investigation into voter fraud after the election that bore no fruit—see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, January 4, 2005, April 28, 2005, and May 2005). Foreman tells the jury that “sinister” fraud and corruption “up the food chain” robbed Rossi of the governor’s office. Judge John Bridges quickly puts an end to Foreman’s claims, reminding him and the jury that he and his clients have not included such charges in their case up until now, and Foreman cannot add them at this point in the proceedings. Bridges will allow Foreman and the plaintiffs to introduce evidence against King County, but will not allow them to label it as fraud in the courtroom. The Seattle Times reports, “That matters because a fraud claim would not require Republicans to show that King County’s actions specifically cost Rossi votes or gave… Gregoire her winning margin of 129 votes.” Now, Republicans must show that specific actions by election workers, illegal votes by convicted felons, and other actions directly affected the candidates’ vote totals. “The judge will wait… to see if they connect the dots and show election fraud,” says Thomas Ahearne, an attorney representing Secretary of State Sam Reed (R-WA). The plaintiffs have scheduled no one to testify about allegations of fraud, including ballot stuffing. The plaintiffs want Bridges to subtract votes they consider to be “illegal” from each candidate based, not on demonstrable fraud or illegality, but on the statistical pattern of the overall vote in each precinct. Democrats consider this idea “bogus,” press reports say. [Seattle Times, 5/24/2005; National Journal, 5/24/2005; Seattle Times, 3/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Sam Reed, County of King (Washington), Christine O. Gregoire, Dale Foreman, Dino Rossi, Seattle Times, Thomas Ahearne, John Bridges, John L. McKay

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2006 US Attorney Firings, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Lawyers for the Washington Democratic Party celebrate after the court ruling certifying Christine Gregoire as governor.Lawyers for the Washington Democratic Party celebrate after the court ruling certifying Christine Gregoire as governor. [Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer]State Attorney General Christine Gregoire (D-WA) is certified the winner of the Washington State governor’s race against challenger Dino Rossi (R-WA). Rossi was initially declared the winner (see November 2-30, 2004), but the race was so close that Gregoire asked for a recount, as was her right under the law (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Republicans challenged the recount in court, citing 1,678 votes as “illegal” (see January 7, 2005 and January 24-28, 2005). Superior Court Judge John Bridges rules against the Republican plaintiffs. He finds that although some voting irregularities did occur in the largely Democratic King County, they were not the result of deliberate voter fraud or manipulation. “No evidence has been placed before the court to suggest fraud or intentional misconduct,” he says. “Elections officials attempted to perform their responsibilities in a fair and impartial manner.” In only five instances—five votes—was evidence presented that showed the intent of the voter in the 1,678 “illegal” votes cast. For the other 1,673, officials were unable to determine which candidate the voters in question selected on Election Day. None of those five votes were for Gregoire: Democrats presented evidence that four convicted felons had illegally voted for Rossi and a fifth for a third-party candidate. Bridges deducts those five votes from the final tally, giving Gregoire the final and official 133-vote margin of victory. Bridges refused Republicans’ demands to subtract what they called “invalid votes” from the statistical totals of vote tallies, and to statistically refigure the votes. Such an action would constitute the worst kind of judicial activism, Bridges says. As a result, “The court concludes that the election contest petition should be dismissed and the certification of Miss Gregoire as governor confirmed.” State Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt says: “It’s a huge victory. But the centerpiece was that the Republicans never had a case. They need to drop their case so the state can get on with its important business. They have shown that they will spend anything, they will say anything, and they will do anything to tear down Christine, and it’s time for that to stop.” Later in the day, Rossi says he will not appeal the ruling to the Washington Supreme Court: “With today’s decision, and because of the political makeup of the Washington State Supreme Court, which makes it almost impossible to overturn this ruling, I am ending the election contest,” he says. Bridges says that if the election process is flawed, it is up to the state legislature to fix it, not the courts. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 6/5/2005; Borders et al. v. King County et al., 6/6/2005; Washington Post, 6/7/2005; HistoryLink (.org), 6/7/2005]

Entity Tags: King County (Washington), Christine O. Gregoire, Dino Rossi, John Bridges, Washington Supreme Court, Paul Berendt

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (D-IA) announces that he will sign an order on July 4 that restores voting rights for all Iowa felons who have completed their prison sentences. Since 1846, Iowa has had what voting rights advocates call one of the most restrictive disenfranchisement laws in the nation (see 1802-1857). Felons should “re-engage” with society, Vilsack says, and restoring their right to vote will help in that process. Some 80,000 Iowans will be affected by the order. Voting rights advocates say that since Iowa and Nebraska (see March 2005) have moved to reinstate voting rights by convicted felons, other states should make similar efforts. Some 4.7 million Americans are ineligible to vote because of criminal convictions, including a half-million war veterans. 1.4 million of these ineligible voters are African-American males. Iowa was one of five states, including Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, that deny the vote to any citizen convicted of a felony or an aggravated misdemeanor. Previously, Iowa required convicted felons who wanted their right to vote reinstated to petition the governor’s office, which would then forward the application to the State Division of Criminal Investigation, which would in turn send the application to the parole board for a recommendation. The process could take up to six months to complete. About 600 ex-felons petitioned for restoration in 2004. After he signs the order, Vilsack says, about 600 felons will be restored to the voting rolls each month. The Iowa Department of Corrections must submit monthly lists of eligible ex-felons to Vilsack’s office. While blacks make up only 2 percent of Iowa’s population, 19 percent of those denied the vote are black, prompting many to say that the law is discriminatory. Catherine Weiss of the Brennan Center for Justice says, “This is a huge victory for voting rights and for civil rights.” Iowa was under tremendous pressure to overturn its ban after Nebraska ended its ban. Weiss says that Nebraska and Iowa were the only two states outside the former Confederate South to maintain such restrictive bans. Ryan King of the Sentencing Project, an organization working to reinstate the right to vote for felons across the nation, says: “The governor’s choice of doing this on July 4 is very symbolic. It’s a celebration of democracy.” Debra Breuklander, a former felon who joins Vilsack at the press conference, says the order goes beyond politics. Breuklander was convicted of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and was released from prison in June 2003. She now works as a nurse at a drug treatment center. “I have children that are still in school; I have a grandson that will be going to school,” she says. “Not even to be able to have a say-so in what goes on in the schools was driving me crazy.… If nobody hires you and you don’t feel like you’re a part of anything, all you will do is feel like you may as well go back to what you know, which is the drugs.” [New York Times, 6/18/2005; American Civil Liberties Union, 2008; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Ryan King, Catherine Weiss, Tom Vilsack, Debra Breuklander

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

John Tanner, the head of the civil rights division’s Voting Rights Section (VRS) in the Justice Department, writes a four-page letter to Nick A. Soulas, a civil prosecutor in Franklin County, Ohio. The letter is a notification that Tanner is ordering the closure of a VRS investigation into the unbalanced distribution of voting machines in Franklin County, which contains the large urban area of Columbus. Complaints had been filed alleging that districts with a predominance of white voters received a disparately larger number of voting machines than districts with a predominance of African-American voters. Although that disparity has been proven, Tanner writes that the disparity does not violate the Voting Rights Act (see August 6, 1965). The letter essentially defends the disparity, arguing that the use of such disparate numbers of machines is acceptable. It also praises the Franklin County Board of Elections for buying approximately 2,100 new voting machines. Sources, including a VRS staffer who left the section in late 2004, will later tell the citizen journalism project ePluribus Media (ePM) that many inside and outside the VRS found the letter “repugnant.” Moreover, they will tell the ePM researchers that the DOJ almost never writes such a letter: when it finishes an investigation it deems unworthy of pursuing, it merely sends a letter informing the involved parties that it is closing the investigation. For Tanner to write and send such a letter is highly unusual. And, Tanner’s is the only signature on the letter. No staff attorneys sign off on the letter. Sources will tell ePM that the lone signature apparently indicates that Tanner was the only person working the investigation. Section chiefs such as Tanner almost never handle investigations. ePM will say that the letter presents what it calls “convoluted excuses for why black voters didn’t have enough machines and white voters did.” [US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, 6/29/2005 pdf file; ePluribus Media, 5/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Nick A. Soulas, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), County of Franklin (Ohio), Franklin County Board of Elections (Ohio), John Tanner, Voting Rights Section (DOJ), ePluribus Media, Voting Rights Act of 1965

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

New Mexico Republican Party chairman Allen Weh, convinced that US Attorney David Iglesias is an incompetent who is deliberately refusing to prosecute voter fraud cases (see May 6, 2005 and After and May 12 - June 9, 2005), sends an email to Scott Jennings, an official in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA). He copies the email to Jennings’s supervisors Karl Rove and Sara Taylor (see Late January 2005), Republican National Committee official Timothy Griffin, and Steve Bell, the chief of staff to Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). Weh writes in part: “We discussed the need to replace the US Atty in NM several months ago. The brief on voter fraud at the RNC [Republican National Committee] meeting last week reminded me of how important this post is to this issue, and prompted this follow up. As you are aware the incumbent, David Iglesias, has failed miserably in his duty to prosecute voter fraud. To be perfectly candid, he was ‘missing in action’ during the last election, just as he was in the 2002 election cycle. I am advised his term expires, or is renewed, in October. It is respectfully requested that strong consideration be given to replacing him at this point.… If we can get a new US Atty that takes voter fraud seriously, combined with these other initiatives we’ll make some real progress in cleaning up a state notorious for crooked elections.” Griffin responds in an email to Rove and Taylor: “I have discussed this issue with counsel’s office [the White House counsel’s office, headed by Harriet Miers]. I will raise with them again. Last time I spoke with them they were aware of the issue, and they seemed to be considering a change on their own. I will mention again unless I am instructed otherwise.” Twenty minutes later, Rove responds by telling Griffin, “Talk to the counsel’s office.” Griffin replies, “Done,” and adds a bit about setting up a meeting with someone unrelated to the Iglesias-Weh discussion. Rove responds, “Great.” He will later testify that he may have been responding to Griffin about the unrelated meeting. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 pdf file] One of Weh’s Republican colleagues, lawyer Patrick Rogers, recommended that state and national Republicans use voter fraud as a “wedge issue” before the November 2004 elections, and has himself complained about Iglesias’s record on voter fraud investigations (see September 23 - October 2004).

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, David C. Iglesias, Allen Weh, Harriet E. Miers, J. Timothy Griffin, Sara Taylor, Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, White House Office of Political Affairs, J. Scott Jennings, Republican National Committee, New Mexico Republican Party, Steve Bell

Category Tags: 2006 US Attorney Firings, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

US Attorneys David Iglesias of New Mexico and Steven M. Biskupic of Wisconsin are chosen by the Justice Department to teach other federal prosecutors how to pursue voter fraud and other election crimes at a symposium hosted by the department’s public integrity and civil rights sections. The symposium is attended by over 100 prosecutors from around the country. Iglesias will later say that he and Biskupic were chosen because they are the only two US Attorneys to have created task forces to examine allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 elections (see September 7 - October 6, 2004 and Early 2005). The two-day seminar features a luncheon speech by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. [Washington Post, 3/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Steven M. Biskupic, Alberto R. Gonzales, David C. Iglesias, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: 2006 US Attorney Firings, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Congressional Republicans jump-start the process to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) in what media and political observers believe is an effort to outflank Democrats, who are traditionally the most staunch supporters of the bill. Key portions of the bill are set to expire in 2007, including Section 5, which requires that states, districts, and other locales with a history of racial discrimination in their electoral processes get Justice Department approval before making any changes to voting procedures. Section 5 is intended to ensure that minorities are not disenfranchised due to their race. Observers believe Republicans want to avoid a showdown over the bill in light of the upcoming midterm elections in 2006. In 1982, the Reagan administration fought Congressional Democrats over an expansion of the law, and Republicans want to make sure that scenario does not play itself out again as the midterm elections approach. Republicans also want to reach out to African-American voters, traditionally a strong Democratic voting bloc. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a veteran of the civil rights struggle, says, “I’m not surprised at all” that Republicans want to renew the VRA and reach out to black voters. “The Republicans are reaching out to the African-American voters.… They want to make a dent with the black electorate, take some of those voters away from the Democratic side.” Lewis intends to insert language into the renewal bill that would invalidate a recent Georgia law requiring photo identification for prospective voters, a requirement he and many others say would discriminate against the poor and the elderly. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) broke with recent Republican tradition by calling on Congress to renew Section 5 and other portions of the VRA at the NAACP’s annual convention in July. “I am here to tell you publicly what I have told others privately, including the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Mel Watt,” Sensenbrenner told the assemblage. “During this Congress we are going to extend the Voting Rights Act. We cannot let discriminatory practices of the past resurface to threaten future gains. The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist—and exist in its current form.” Sensenbrenner said at the convention that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) considers renewal of the VRA “high on his list of issues the House will address this Congress.” A representative for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) says Frist is “fired up” over renewal of Section 5. Only a few months ago, Bush appeals court nominee William Pryor, a Republican from Alabama, called Section 5 “an affront to federalism and an expensive burden that has far outlived its usefulness,” a controversial characterization that Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and other Republicans defended. In May, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested that the Bush administration is not fully behind reauthorization of Section 5. Political observers say that Democrats intend to use any further Republican opposition to the VRA to claim that Republicans are insensitive to black voters, even as senior Republican strategists like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman say they want the party to appeal to that demographic. Mehlman told the NAACP convention in July that Republican leaders had tried over the past 40 years “to benefit politically from racial polarization.” He then said, “We were wrong” to do so. [MSNBC, 10/4/2005]

Entity Tags: James Sensenbrenner, William Pryor, Bill Frist, Alberto R. Gonzales, Dennis Hastert, US Department of Justice, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Saxby Chambliss, John Lewis, Ken Mehlman, US Congress, Mel Watt, Bush administration (43), Reagan administration

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights

Bradley Schlozman, the head of the voting rights section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division (CRD), writes an op-ed published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution alleging that the newspaper is guilty of “confus[ing] and misrepresent[ing]” the facts surrounding his office’s approval of a controversial Georgia voter identification statute (see 2005). The voter ID law has been criticized as being discriminatory against minorities and being designed to suppress minority voting. Schlozman says that the newspaper’s publication of a leaked internal memorandum from his office was unfair, as it “was merely a draft that did not incorporate the analytical work and extensive research conducted by all the attorneys assigned to the matter.” He goes on to accuse the paper of failing to report that the memo “did not represent the recommendation of the veteran career chief of the Civil Rights Division’s voting section, to whom preclearance approval decisions are expressly delegated by federal regulation.” Schlozman says that the voter ID law is “clearly not racially retrogressive within the limited scope of the Voting Rights Act,” and denies that demanding a number of identification papers from minority voters has ever been shown to have “any adverse impact on minority voters.” Data in the leaked memo showed that a significant proportion of African-American voters would be prevented from voting by the voter ID law; Schlozman writes that “corrected data… not incorporated in the leaked memo… indicate that African-American citizens are actually slightly more likely than white citizens to possess one of the necessary forms of identification.” He concludes: “Attorneys of the voting section have worked diligently to enforce voting laws and have achieved concrete, measurable advances for a record number of minority voters. We are enormously proud of this accomplishment.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/25/2005] The Georgia voter identification law will be overturned by a federal court as illegal and discriminatory (see September 19, 2006).

Entity Tags: Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Bradley J. Schlozman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The Washington Post reports that the controversial Texas congressional redistricting plan headed by Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004) was found to be illegal by Justice Department lawyers, but their judgment was overruled by senior political appointees at the Department of Justice (DOJ) who approved the plan. The information comes from a previously undisclosed memo written in December 2003 (see December 12, 2003) and provided to the Post by, the Post writes, “a person connected to the case who is critical of the adopted redistricting map.” Six lawyers and two analysts at the DOJ found that the DeLay plan violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) by illegally diluting African-American and Hispanic voting power in two Congressional districts. Texas Republicans knew the plan would likely be found to be discriminatory, the lawyers wrote in the memo, but went ahead with the plan anyway because it would maximize the number of Republicans the state would send to Congress. In the 2004 federal elections, Texas sent five additional Republicans to the US House, helping to solidify GOP control of that body. A lawyer for the Texas Democrats and minority groups who are challenging the redistricting in court, J. Gerald Hebert, says of the DOJ memo: “We always felt that the process… wouldn’t be corrupt, but it was.… The staff didn’t see this as a close call or a mixed bag or anything like that. This should have been a very clear-cut case.” DOJ spokesman Eric W. Holland, defending the decision by senior DOJ officials to approve the plan, points to a lower-court decision in the case that affirmed the plan’s legality. “The court ruled that, in fact, the new congressional plan created a sufficient number of safe minority districts given the demographics of the state and the requirements of the law,” he says, and notes that Texas now has three African-Americans in Congress whereas in the years before redistricting, it had only two. Hebert says the DOJ’s approval of the redistricting plan was a critical factor in the court’s decision to affirm the plan. DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden accuses Hebert of engaging in what he calls “nonsensical political babble,” and says the DOJ is correct to have found that the plan has no discriminatory effects. Under both the older plan (see 2000-2002) and the DeLay plan, minority-led districts number 11, but under the DeLay plan, Texas gained two more Congressional districts, both represented by Republicans. Recently, a similar case was reported in which DOJ lawyers found a Georgia redistricting plan to be illegal, but senior political appointees overruled the legal judgment and approved the plan. A court later found the plan to be illegal. [Washington Post, 12/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Kevin Madden, Eric W. Holland, J. Gerald Hebert, US Department of Justice, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Washington Post, Tom DeLay

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Mark Posner, a law professor at American University who served in the civil rights division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for 23 years and supervised the DOJ’s “Section 5” reviews under the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989) for 10 years, writes an article for the prestigious legal information Web site FindLaw that says the DOJ found the controversial Texas redistricting plan (see 2002-2004) legal for purely partisan political reasons. Posner’s article is spurred by the recent revelation of a 2003 DOJ memo (see December 12, 2003 and December 2, 2005) that found the redistricting plan to be illegal, and the Washington Post’s finding that the memo was rejected by political appointees at the DOJ, who saw to it that the plan was approved by the civil rights division. Posner is more specific than the Post article, writing: “A Republican appointee overrode the staff recommendation and granted approval, allowing the plan to go into effect for the 2004 Congressional elections. In so doing, the official sided with his political party and with one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington.” Posner notes that the Bush administration has defended the decision, claiming that it was merely the result of what he calls “an honest disagreement between the career and political staff about how to apply the law to a complex set of facts.” In spite of the defense, including a statement by the attorney general, Posner writes that “this is not a case of an honest disagreement between lawyers. Rather, there is strong objective evidence that politics prevailed over the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.” The civil rights division of the DOJ is required under the VRA to “pre-clear,” or approve, any redistricting plan that might result in the unwarranted dilution of minority voting strength in particular districts. Texas, as a state with a history of discriminating against its minority citizens, is one of a number of states required to obtain DOJ approval for new redistricting plans. The DOJ has examined some 435,000 election changes since 1965, Posner writes, and thusly must “follow procedures which… ensure that preclearance decisions are based on the law and the facts, and not on extraneous factors. Among other things, these procedures must guard against the temptation that some political appointees can have to decide matters based on what would benefit their political party.” The DOJ career staff play a key role in such procedures, though the assistant attorney general (AAG) for civil rights makes the final decision. Until the Texas redistricting plan, Posner writes, AAGs have generally relied on the opinions and findings of their staff to help them craft a final decision. “When the career staff unanimously recommends that preclearance be denied, the AAG almost never overrides that recommendation and approves the change. On the flip side, the staff’s unanimous preclearance recommendation always results in the change being approved.” But the Texas redistricting approval upended the usual procedure. Despite the unanimous recommendation from the staff that the DOJ block Texas from implementing the plan due to its discriminatory effect, the AAG granted approval to the plan. “The influence of politics is evident,” Posner concludes. The DOJ “significantly and substantially deviated from the decisional practice which, for nearly four decades, has served the department well in enforcing Section 5 in a fair and nonpartisan manner.… [T]he evidence points to a single conclusion: the Justice Department did not serve the interests of minority citizens in this case, but, instead, served the political interests of the Republican Party.” [FindLaw, 12/6/2005]

Entity Tags: Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Texas State Legislature, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Mark Posner

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

The Washington Post learns that the Justice Department has barred staff attorneys from offering recommendations in major Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965) cases, a drastic change from the earlier policy, which was designed to insulate such decision from political considerations. The decision comes amid what the Post calls “growing public criticism of Justice Department decisions to approve Republican-engineered plans in Texas (see December 12, 2003, December 2, 2005, and December 5, 2005) and Georgia (see 2005, November 25, 2005, and September 19, 2006) that were found to hurt minority voters by career staff attorneys who analyzed the plans. Political appointees overruled staff findings in both cases.” In the Georgia redistricting case, a staff memo advised rejecting the Georgia plan because it required voters to show photo ID at the polls, a policy that the memo said would disenfranchise some African-American voters. Under the new policy, that recommendation was removed from the memo and was not forwarded to higher officials in the civil rights division (CRD). The DOJ has claimed the August 25 memo was “an early draft,” even though the DOJ gave “preclearance” for the Georgia plan to be adopted on August 26. A federal judge blocked the law’s implementation, calling it a return to Jim Crow-era policies. The policy was adopted by John Tanner, the head of the CRD’s voting rights section (VRS). DOJ spokesperson Eric Holland says, “The opinions and expertise of the career lawyers are valued and respected and continue to be an integral part of the internal deliberation process upon which the department heavily relies when making litigation decisions.” Tanner has recently lambasted the quality of work by the VRS staff, some of whom have been in the section for decades. Some of the staff members boycotted the staff Christmas party because they were too angry to attend, sources within the section say. Experts like Jon Greenbaum, a VRS veteran who now directs the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says that stopping staff members from making such recommendations is a significant departure and runs the risk of making the process appear more political. “It’s an attempt by the political hierarchy to insulate themselves from any accountability by essentially leaving it up to a chief, who’s there at their whim,” he says. “To me, it shows a fear of dealing with the legal issues in these cases.” Congressional Democrats are critical of the new policy and are joined by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), who is considering holding hearings on the Texas redistricting case. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says, “America deserves better than a civil rights division that puts the political agenda of those in power over the interests of the people its serves.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other DOJ officials have disagreed with the criticism, and asserted that politics play no role in civil rights decisions. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella has recently written to Specter, criticizing the Post’s coverage and claiming that the department is aggressively enforcing a range of civil rights laws. “From fair housing opportunities, equal access to the ballot box, and criminal civil rights prosecutions to desegregation in America’s schools and protection of the rights of the disabled, the division continues its noble mission with vigor,” he wrote. [Washington Post, 12/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Washington Post, William E. Moschella, Jon Greenbaum, Eric W. Holland, US Department of Justice, Arlen Specter, John Tanner

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The Senate learns that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collected information on the political party affiliations of taxpayers in 20 states during extensive investigations into tax dodgers. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a member of an appropriations subcommittee that oversees the IRS, calls the practice “an outrageous violation of the public trust.” The IRS blames the information collection on a third-party vendor who has been told to screen out the information, and claims that it never used the party information it did collect. IRS spokesman John Lipold says, “The bottom line is that we have never used this information. There are strict laws in place that forbid it.” Murray says she learned of the practice from the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). The IRS is part of the US Treasury Department. Colleen Kelly of the NTEU says that several IRS employees had complained to the NTEU about the collection of party identification, but that the IRS officials she informed about the practice claimed not to know anything about it. Deputy IRS Commissioner John Dalrymple told Kelly that the party identification information was automatically collected through a “database platform” supplied by an outside contractor that used voter registration rolls, among other information sources, to find tax dodgers. “This information is appropriately used to locate information on taxpayers whose accounts are delinquent,” Dalrymple claimed. But Murray and Kelly are skeptical. “This agency should not have that type of information,” Murray says. “No one should question whether they are being audited because of party affiliation.” Kelly worries that such improper information collection will continue, especially in light of the fact that the IRS will soon begin using private collection agencies to go after US citizens delinquent on their tax bills. “We think Congress should suspend IRS plans to use private collections agencies until these questions have been resolved,” Kelly says. Murray says that the twenty states in which the IRS collected party affiliation information were Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. [Tacoma NewsTribune, 1/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Internal Revenue Service, Colleen Kelly, John Dalrymple, John Lipold, National Treasury Employees Union, Patty Murray, US Department of the Treasury

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Acting in Secret, Other Surveillance, Taxation, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

US District Court Judge William C. O’Kelley finds that Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, a Democrat currently running for governor, violated voter rights by unlawfully working to block voter registration drives. Cox is also facing criticism of her handling of the state’s electronic voting contract with voting machine manufacturer Diebold. O’Kelley finds that Cox’s “rejection of voter registration applications on the ground that they were submitted in a bundle, or by someone who was not a registrar or deputy registrar, violated the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act, often called the Motor Voter law—see May 20, 1993].” Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a fellow Democrat who has been critical of Cox’s actions, has introduced legislation that would codify the rights of private groups to conduct voter registration in Georgia, even though private groups already have that right. Butler recently told reporters, “These volunteers drive our voter registration in this state and we should make it easier, not harder, on them to help Georgia citizens complete the voter registration process.” She tells another reporter, “Strong voter registration rolls are the very foundation of our democracy and I will continue to fight for the rights of registered Georgians throughout the state.” Many critics say that Cox’s efforts to impede voter registration may have had what the Atlanta Progressive News calls “a disproportionate impact on outreach efforts to low-income individuals, working families, and the homeless, who often need advice about, and assistance with, registering to vote.” Cox was sued by the Wesley Foundation, the nonprofit charitable affiliate of a local chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, an African-American fraternal organization that ran a voter registration drive on June 12, 2004. Cox rejected all 63 voter registration applications submitted to her office from the fraternity, claiming that the fraternity representatives failed to follow proper procedures, including obtaining pre-clearance from her office to conduct the drive. Under the NVRA, the fraternity and other private organizations have the right to conduct voter registration drives without the presence or permission of state or local election officials. O’Kelley’s ruling requires Cox to notify all 159 of Georgia’s county boards of registrars that they are not authorized to reject applications submitted by private voter registration organizers in the future for reasons previously delineated by Cox, and for her to acknowledge to the plaintiffs that they did not engage in improper conduct. [Atlanta Progressive News, 3/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Diebold Systems, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Atlanta Progressive News, Gloria Butler, Cathy Cox, Wesley Foundation, National Voter Registration Act, William C. O’Kelley

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore interviews reclusive billionaire Charles Koch, the head of the Koch Brothers oil empire. Among the items of interest in the interview is Koch’s admission that he, along with his brother David (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, and Late 2004), coordinates the funding of the conservative infrastructure of some of the most influential front groups, political campaigns, think tanks, media outlets, and other such efforts through a semiannual meeting with wealthy conservative donors. (Moore himself receives Koch funding for his work, according to a Think Progress report published four years later. In return, Moore is quite laudatory in the interview, writing that Koch is a “creative forward-thinking… professorial CEO” who “is immersed in the ideas of liberty and free markets.”) Koch tells Moore that his basic goal is to strengthen what he calls the “culture of prosperity” by eliminating “90 percent” of all laws and government regulations. Moore writes of the twice-yearly conference: “Mr. Koch’s latest crusade to spread the ideas of liberty has been his sponsorship of a twice-yearly conference that gathers together many of the most successful American entrepreneurs, from T. Boone Pickens to former Circuit City CEO Rick Sharp. The objective is to encourage these captains of industry to help fund free-market groups devoted to protecting the fragile infrastructure of liberty. That task seems especially critical given that so many of the global superrich, like George Soros and Warren Buffett, finance institutions that undermine the very system of capitalism that made their success possible (see January - November 2004). Isn’t this just the usual rich liberal guilt, I ask. ‘No,’ he says, ‘I think they simply haven’t been sufficiently exposed to the ideas of liberty.’” [Wall Street Journal, 5/6/2006; Think Progress, 10/20/2010]

Entity Tags: Think Progress (.org), Charles Koch, Wall Street Journal, David Koch, Stephen Moore

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA).Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA). [Source: That's My Congress (.com)]The House Republican leadership cancels a vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) after a number of House Republicans declare their opposition to renewing key portions of the legislation concerning the requirement of bilingual ballots and continued federal oversight of voting practices in some Southern states. Eight months ago, Congressional Republicans announced they intended to take the lead in renewing the VRA (see October 4, 2005). The press reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken off-guard by the vehemence of the opposition within his party; he and other senior House Republicans believed that renewal of the VRA was on track. President Bush has said he supports renewing the VRA. In early May, House Republicans and Democrats joined on the steps of the Capitol to announce bipartisan support for the renewal of the law. However, some Southern Republicans argue that the law has served its purpose and is no longer necessary. They are now joined by Republicans from other states who resist providing ballots in languages other than English. Hastert says the Republican leadership “is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible,” while some House Republicans say it is unclear whether the issue will be resolved before the Independence Day recess. Hastert and other House Republican leaders apparently did not anticipate the surge of anti-immigrant sentiment among their colleagues, which fuels the opposition to bilingual ballots. A previous attempt by Senate Republicans to include a provision in the VRA proclaiming English the “national language” failed. Seventy-nine House Republicans, led by Steve King (R-IA), an outspoken opponent of immigration, signed a letter written by King objecting to the VRA’s provision for bilingual ballots in precincts with large Hispanic and Asian populations. The requirement is costly and unnecessary, King wrote, adding, “The multilingual ballot mandate encourages the linguistic division of our nation and contradicts the ‘Melting Pot’ ideal that has made us the most successful multi-ethnic nation on earth.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) says: “A lot of it looks as if these are some old boys from the South who are trying to do away with it. But these old boys are trying to make it constitutional enough that it will withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.” King said in committee, “There is no need to print ballots in any language other than English.” When King’s provision to end multilingual requirements was removed in committee, King and his fellow anti-immigration Republicans publicly withdrew their support for the VRA. Charles Whitlow Norwood (R-GA) says flatly: “What people are really upset about is bilingual ballots. The American people want this to be an English-speaking nation.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says: “Clearly, there are some on the Republican side who object to this legislation, and they forced the leadership’s hand today. House Democrats stand in virtual unanimous support for this important bill.” Mel Watt (D-NC), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, says, “We fear that pulling the bill could send the wrong message about whether the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and that delaying consideration until after the July 4 recess could give those with partisan intentions space and time to politicize the issue.” Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights says in a statement, “We are extremely disappointed that the House did not vote today to renew and restore the Voting Rights Act because a small band of miscreants, at the last moment, hijacked this bipartisan, bicameral bill.” Henderson’s colleague Nancy Zirkin agrees, saying: “The fact of the matter is that you have a small group of members who have hijacked this bill, and many of these individuals represent states that have been in violation for a long time. We believe these individuals do not want the Voting Rights Act reauthorized.” [King, 1/28/2006; New York Times, 6/22/2006; Washington Post, 6/22/2006]
Opposition Letter Written by Far-Right Anti-Immigration Advocate? - Citizen investigators later demonstrate that many portions of the King letter may not have been written by King or his staffers, but by a representative of two far-right anti-immigration groups, NumbersUSA and ProEnglish. Both organizations belong to a network of groups operated by anti-immigration leader John Tanton (see February 2009). The provisions in the King letter were apparently written by K.C. McAlpin, a member of NumbersUSA and the executive director of ProEnglish. The latter group proclaims itself “the nation’s leading advocate of official English,” working “through the courts and in the court of public opinion to defend English’s historic role as the common, unifying language of the United States of America, and to persuade lawmakers to adopt English as the official language at all levels of government.” The investigators will be unable to prove McAlpin’s authorship beyond dispute, but through comparison of the King letter with McAlpin’s written testimony to Congress in November 2005, they find significant conceptual and linguistic similarities. The investigators will posit: “Given that the King letter posted at [the US House Web site, before being removed] was authored by McAlpin on software registered to NumbersUSA, coupled with its striking similarities to McAlpin’s testimony, only one of two possible causes seem plausible. Either King copied his letter from ProEnglish literature almost word for word, and then asked McAlpin, or someone using his computer, to type up a copy to post at the House of Representatives Web site, or McAlpin authored the letter himself. Either way, the letter that 79 Representatives signed to force the cancellation of the renewal of the VRA came from ProEnglish.” [King, 1/28/2006; Duke Falconer, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Nancy Zirkin, John Tanton, George W. Bush, Dennis Hastert, Charles Whitlow Norwood, K.C. McAlpin, Mel Watt, US Supreme Court, Lynn Westmoreland, Wade Henderson, Steny Hoyer, US House of Representatives, ProEnglish (.com), Voting Rights Act of 1965, NumbersUSA, Steve King

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

The Supreme Court upholds most of Texas’s far-reaching redistricting plan as engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004). The case is League of United Latin American Citizens et al v. Perry et al. The Court rejects one element of the plan, saying that some of the new boundaries fail to protect minority voting rights. Some district boundaries will need to be redrawn, particularly one “oddly shaped” district, District 23, in the Associated Press’s description, that saw the shift of 100,000 Hispanics out of a district represented by a Republican incumbent and into the unusually crafted district. Critics called District 23 the result of illegal gerrymandering, and said it violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the majority opinion, says that under the plan, Hispanics have no chance to elect a candidate of their choosing. Democrats and minority groups have accused Republicans of unconstitutionally redrawing Texas’s electoral districts to ensure that the state’s legislature is controlled by Republicans. In the 2004 elections, the first with the new districts, Republicans took control of Texas’s legislature and four Democratic incumbents lost their seats. The Court upholds the contention that states can redraw district maps when they choose, not just once a decade as claimed by Texas Democrats. In essence, this means that any time a political party takes power in a state legislature, it can redraw maps to suit its purposes. The Constitution mandates the redrawing of state congressional district boundaries once a decade to account for population shifts; the Court says such redrawings can be more frequent if desired. The 2003-2004 redrawing of the Texas district map cost DeLay his position; he has resigned from Congress in the face of money laundering charges in relation to his fundraising activities for legislative candidates. While two other states, Colorado and Georgia, have undertaken similar redistricting efforts, law professor Richard Hasen says he does not believe many more states will move in the same direction. “Some people are predicting a rash of mid-decade redistricting. I am skeptical,” he says. “It would be seen as a power grab in a lot of places.” The 5-4 Court majority is not along ideological lines. While Kennedy, who usually joins the other conservatives, writes the majority opinion, the four liberals of the Court—Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter—write their own concurrences in conjunction with his opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts dissents, and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas join his dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia writes his own dissent. [Associated Press, 6/28/2006; FindLaw, 6/28/2006; Oyez (.org), 2012]

Entity Tags: John G. Roberts, Jr, Associated Press, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Samuel Alito, Tom DeLay, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Richard L. Hasen, John Paul Stevens, US Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

A Washington State district court dismisses the case of Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a 2003 lawsuit which contended that Washington’s felon disenfranchisement laws and restoration policies were discriminatory against racial minorities and thusly violated the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). The court writes that it is “compelled to find that there is discrimination in Washington’s criminal justice system on account of race,” and that such discrimination “clearly hinders the ability of racial minorities to participate effectively in the political process.” Even in the face of its own finding, the court dismisses the case, citing a “remarkable absence of any history of official discrimination” in the state’s electoral procedures and felon disenfranchisement policies. “Washington’s history, or lack thereof, of racial bias in its electoral process and in its decision to enact the felon disenfranchisement provisions, counterbalance the contemporary discriminatory effects that result from the day-to-day functioning of Washington’s criminal justice system,” the court finds. The case will continue in the court system, and the district court’s findings will ultimately be upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will cite the state’s lack of “intentional discrimination” (see October 7, 2010). [Brennan Center for Justice, 1/5/2010; Equal Justice Society, 10/14/2010; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The US House of Representatives overcomes challenges by conservative Republicans and votes overwhelmingly in favor of renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Congressional Republicans originally voiced strong support for renewing the landmark voting rights legislation (see October 4, 2005) but some 80 House Republicans have worked for weeks to block renewal of the bill over objections to providing bilingual ballots in some areas, and over continued oversight by the Justice Department in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination at the voting booth (see June 22, 2006). The renewal bill, officially entitled the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act” after a number of prominent civil rights figures, passes the House on a 390-33 vote. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), an African-American veteran who was beaten by white police officers during the civil rights struggle, gives an impassioned speech on the House floor before the vote is cast. Lewis reminds the House that “I gave blood” to ensure that blacks and other minorities had the right to vote without discrimination. “Some of my colleagues gave their very lives. Yes, we’ve made some progress; we have come a distance. The sad truth is, discrimination still exists. That’s why we still need the Voting Rights Act, and we must not go back to the dark past.” Lewis and other supporters took part in over a dozen House hearings where, according to Lewis, proof of voter discrimination was highlighted. Some conservative lawmakers have argued that such discrimination is a thing of the past, and therefore the VRA is obsolete and need not be renewed. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is one of those making that argument, telling the House: “A lot has changed in 40-plus years. We should have a law that fits the world in 2006.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) agrees: “Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven. That Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents.… We have repented and we have reformed.” Westmoreland says many people are “prejudiced” against Southern states. David Scott (D-GA) accuses House Republicans such as Gingrey and Westmoreland of working “to kill the Voting Rights Act” both through opposition and through the attempted addition of a number of unpalatable amendments that would strongly water down the law, such as an amendment by Steve King (R-IA) that would have removed the provision for bilingual ballots and forced naturalized citizens to prove their fluency in English before being allowed to vote. The bill moves to the Senate, where Democrats are urging quick passage and accusing House Republicans of unjustly delaying the bill’s passage. “For two months, we have wasted precious time as the Republican leadership played to its conservative base,” says Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “There are only 21 legislative days left in this Congress, and the time to act is now.” [New York Times, 7/13/2006; Associated Press, 7/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Steve King, David Scott, Harry Reid, John Lewis, Lynn Westmoreland, Phil Gingrey, US House of Representatives, Voting Rights Act of 1965

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

The US Senate votes 98-0 to reauthorize the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Many Republicans in the House have attempted to thwart the law’s renewal, citing their opposition to providing bilingual ballots in some areas, and over continued oversight by the Justice Department in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination at the voting booth (see June 22, 2006). However, that opposition was overcome by a bipartisan effort when the House voted to reauthorize the law (see July 13, 2006). Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledge that racial discrimination and efforts to disenfranchise minority voters still exist: “Despite the progress [some] states have made in upholding the right to vote, it is clear the problems still exist,” says Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). On the same day that the Senate votes to approve the bill, President Bush, on a visit to the annual NAACP convention, promises to sign the bill into law. One senator voicing his objection to the bill is Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who says: “Other states with much less impressive minority progress and less impressive minority participation are not covered, while Georgia still is. This seems both unfair as well as unwise.” Chambliss is not joined in his opposition by fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), whose home state of South Carolina is, like Georgia, subject to Justice Department oversight for any changes to its voting procedures. “South Carolinians, you have come a long way,” he says. But we, just like every other part of this country, still have a long way to go.” [New York Times, 7/21/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Voting Rights Act of 1965, US Senate, Saxby Chambliss, Lindsey Graham

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

President Bush signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) reauthorization into law. The extension, called the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act,” makes the VRA the law until 2031. It also overturns the decision rendered in Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board (see May 12, 1997) by outlawing electoral redistricting for discriminatory purposes, and invalidates the decision rendered in Georgia v. Ashcroft by declaring that Section 5 protects the ability of minorities “to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” [MSNBC, 10/4/2005; White House, 6/27/2006; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012] In October 2005, Congressional Republicans declared that they intended to lead the way towards renewing the VRA, particularly Section 5 (see October 4, 2005). But in June 2006, House Republicans balked at renewing Section 5 and another provision mandating bilingual ballots in many areas (see June 22, 2006). The bill survived a number of attempts to derail or weaken it by those House Republicans (see July 13, 2006), and was upheld 98-0 in the Senate (see July 20, 2006).

Entity Tags: Voting Rights Act of 1965, George W. Bush, US House of Representatives, US Senate

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

Georgia’s controversial state voter identification law, which was touted by Bradley J. Schlozman, the Justice Department’s head of the voting rights section, as not being discriminatory towards minority voters (see November 25, 2005), is declared unconstitutional by Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr., who said this law “cannot be.” The law, pushed through the Georgia legislature by Governor Sonny Perdue (R-GA) and state Republicans in order to fight what they call persistent voter fraud (see 2005), says that forcing citizens to pay money for a state voter identification card disenfranchises citizens who are otherwise qualified to vote. The state voter ID would require what the law calls “proof of citizenship.” Many poor and minority voters lack birth certificates, some because they lack the financial means to obtain them and others because they were born in a time and area in which birth certificates were not routinely issued. Rosalind Lake, an elderly and visually disabled voter, brought a lawsuit against the state because she says she is unable to drive and would not easily be able to obtain such an ID. Even though the state offered to deliver an ID to Lake’s home, her lawyer, former Governor Roy Barnes (D-GA), says others in her position would not be given such an offer. “We have a low voter participation,” he says. “We’re going to make it more difficult?” Under earlier law, Georgia voters could submit any of 17 types of identification to prove their identity. The new law poses one voter ID that would require a birth certificate. Perdue and others have cited information showing that 5,000 dead people “voted” in the eight elections preceding the 2000 elections, but Barnes notes that those votes were all cast by absentee ballots, which would not be affected by the new law. Barnes says, “This is the most sinister scheme I’ve ever seen, and it’s going on nationwide.” The law was already rejected by US District Judge Harold L. Murphy, who likened it to Jim Crow-era legal restrictions designed to stop African-Americans from voting. The Georgia General Assembly rewrote the law to remove the $20 fee for its acquisition, but Murphy refused to lift his injunction against the law. Bedford rules that the law places an unwarranted burden of proof on voters. “Any attempt by the legislature to require more than what is required by the express language of our Constitution cannot withstand judicial scrutiny,” he says. [Washington Post, 9/20/2006]

Entity Tags: T. Jackson Bedford, Jr., Bradley J. Schlozman, Roy Barnes, Harold L. Murphy, Sonny Perdue, Rosalind Lake

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law issues an in-depth report entitled “The Truth about Voter Fraud.” The report is written and overseen by Justin Levitt, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. Levitt’s study analyzes reports over the last 10 years from around the nation, and finds that real instances of voter fraud are a vanishingly small number, usually less than a tenth or even a hundredth of a percent. Voter fraud of the sort that is usually alleged, he writes, is “more rare than death by lightning.… It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
'Voter Fraud' Usually Conflated with Other Kinds of Election Irregularities - Levitt continues: “‘[V]oter fraud’ occurs when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system. This sounds straightforward. And yet, voter fraud is often conflated, intentionally or unintentionally, with other forms of election misconduct or irregularities.”
Allegations Almost Always Exaggerated - Levitt writes that the allegations often stem from dramatic and unverified stories from bygone days, and those stories “make… a popular scapegoat” for other, non-criminal issues such as a vote not going the way someone wishes it had gone. “In the aftermath of a close election, losing candidates are often quick to blame voter fraud for the results,” Levitt writes. “Legislators cite voter fraud as justification for various new restrictions on the exercise of the franchise. And pundits trot out the same few anecdotes time and again as proof that a wave of fraud is imminent.” However, he finds: “Allegations of widespread voter fraud, however, often prove greatly exaggerated. It is easy to grab headlines with a lurid claim (‘Tens of thousands may be voting illegally!’); the follow-up—when any exists—is not usually deemed newsworthy. Yet on closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.”
Allegations Used to Justify Restrictive Voter Requirements - The false allegations, he writes, have provided, and will continue to provide, justifications for restrictive policies such as heightened requirements for voter registration, voter identification requirements, enhanced demands for proof of residency, and others that actively restrict the ability of many legal voters to participate in the democratic process. [Levitt, 2007 pdf file; Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 2012]

Entity Tags: Justin Levitt, Brennan Center for Justice

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) announces that he is amending the state’s Rules of Executive Clemency, in concert with the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, to permit convicted felons who have lost their right to vote to have their votes automatically restored once they have completed their full sentences and subsequent sentencing requirements such as parole, probation, and/or restitution. Previously, the law required that a convicted felon must demonstrate five “crime-free” years after release before such restoration could take place. The new law applies mainly to non-violent offenders; some citizens convicted of violent crimes must still submit to a hearing before the Clemency Board before reinstatement can take place. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2008; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Florida Board of Executive Clemency, Charles Joseph (“Charlie”) Crist, Jr

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

After five years of cracking down on voter fraud, the Department of Justice under the Bush administration produces what the New York Times describes as “virtually no” evidence of massive organized voter fraud, despite repeated Republican claims that it is widespread and has cost the party elections. Assistant US attorney Richard G. Frohling of Milwaukee says, “There was nothing that we uncovered that suggested some sort of concerted effort to tilt the election.” Election law expert Richard L. Hasen adds, “What we see is isolated, small-scale activities that often have not shown any kind of criminal intent.” [New York Times, 4/12/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Richard G. Frohling, Richard L. Hasen

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The Maryland legislature repeals the state’s lifetime voting ban for convicted criminals, including the three-year waiting period that ensues after completion of sentence for some offenders. The new policy automatically restores voting rights for all convicted criminals when their sentences are complete. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2008; ProCon, 10/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Maryland General Assembly

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

Daniel Kopelman (l) poses with conservative activist David Horowitz (r) at a 2004 Young Republicans function in Arapahoe County.Daniel Kopelman (l) poses with conservative activist David Horowitz (r) at a 2004 Young Republicans function in Arapahoe County. [Source: Denver Metro Young Republicans]The press learns that Daniel J. Kopelman, a technology manager for the elections division of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, was caught selling Colorado voter data to Republican political candidates. Kopelman is responsible for oversight and maintenance of Colorado’s master voter registration database. He was found to be offering “GOP campaign help” on the Web site of his privately-owned company, Political Live Wires. Kopelman’s help was comprised of voter and fundraising lists drawn from the master voter database. Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman (R-CO) issues a statement saying that his office had no knowledge of Kopelman’s activities, which Coffman calls Kopelman’s “side business,” and says Kopelman’s activities constitute a “conflict of interest” with his job. Coffman spokesperson Dana Williams says Coffman feels it was “inappropriate for an employee to be both overseeing and selling voter lists.” After learning of Kopelman’s Web site, Deputy Secretary of State William A. Hobbs directs Kopelman to take the site down. The office is opening a formal investigation into Kopelman’s activities. However, Coffman’s claims of being unaware of Kopelman’s “side business” are in doubt. Coffman’s campaign expenditure reports from the fall of 2006, when Coffman was running for the office, show multiple expenditures to Political Live Wires and to Kopelman for services including “consulting” and “software expenses.” In 2006, Kopelman apparently worked for Coffman, then the state treasurer, as a systems analyst, and provided both political consulting and software engineering for him, both personally and through his firm. Kopelman also mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Arapahoe County treasurer that year; Coffman supported that campaign, as did US Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and former Senator Bill Armstrong (R-CO). After the story breaks in the press, Political Live Wires, registered as a trade name since January 1, 2004, is no longer available on the Web. And after the press begins reporting on the incident, Coffman releases a second statement that reads: “Dan Kopelman took a leave of absence last fall from his job at Treasury to help with my secretary of state’s campaign. He asked to be paid for his time under the name of the entity in question [Political Live Wires]. I was not aware that he was engaged in soliciting the sale of voter lists or that he maintained a Web site. The voter lists for my secretary of state’s campaign were purchased from Tactical Data Solutions.” [ePluribus Media, 5/4/2007; Crooks and Liars, 5/6/2007] According to a personnel letter to Kopelman from Hobbs, the investigation will conclude without finding evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and Kopelman will retain his job pursuant to his following all relevant state laws, terminating outside employment without the State Department’s authorization, and continuing to keep the Political Live Wires Web site inactive. [William A. Hobbs, 5/30/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Tom Tancredo, Mike Coffman, William A. Hobbs, Daniel J. Kopelman, Tactical Data Solutions, William L. Armstrong, Political Live Wires, Office of the Colorado Secretary of State Election Division

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voting Rights

The Supreme Court, ruling in the Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission case, finds that some political advertisements can be exempted from the “electioneering communications” provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act (see March 27, 2002). The case stems from attempts by an anti-abortion advocacy group, Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL), to run ads asking viewers to contact their senators and urge them to oppose filibusters of judicial nominees. WRTL tried to run its ads during the 30 and 60-day “blackout” periods before the upcoming 2004 elections, but because it accepted corporate contributions and was itself incorporated, the McCain-Feingold restrictions prevented the ads from running. WRTL argued that the ads were not targeting candidates, but were strictly issue-related (see Mid-2004 and After). The case was initially dismissed, but the Supreme Court reversed that decision and remanded the case back to the lower courts. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) argued that the ads were intended to influence US Senate elections in Wisconsin, and thusly should be regulated by McCain-Feingold. A district court disagreed, ruling against the FEC and finding that the ads were “protected speech” (see January 30, 1976), though it limited its findings solely to the WRTL ads and specified that its ruling was not to apply to other cases. The FEC appealed the case to the US Supreme Court, which in a 5-4 decision finds that the district court’s ruling is valid. Chief Justice John Roberts writes the majority opinion, which establishes broad exemptions for advertisements that could be “reasonably” interpreted as being about legislative issues and not directed on behalf of, or against, a particular candidate. As long as “issue ads” do not contain the “functional equivalent” of express advocacy for or against a candidate, the Roberts opinion holds, and the advertisements are legal. The ads involve “core political speech” that is protected by the First Amendment, Roberts finds: “We give the benefit of the doubt to speech, not censorship.” Justice David Souter writes the dissenting opinion. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas write a concurring opinion that joins them with Roberts and the other two conservative justices, but in their concurrence, they say they would overturn the McCain-Feingold law in its entirety. [Connecticut Network, 2006 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 6/26/2007; FindLaw, 2011; National Public Radio, 2012; Oyez (.org), 7/1/2012] Roberts is careful in the language of his majority opinion, writing that “the First Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it.” He does not directly advocate for the overturning of the McCain-Feingold law, but referring to the 2003 McConnell decision that upheld the law (see December 10, 2003), he writes, “We have no occasion to revisit that determination today.” In 2012, reporter Jeffrey Toobin will write of Roberts’s use of the word “today,” “To those who know the language of the Court, the Chief Justice was all but announcing that five justices would soon declare the McCain-Feingold law unconstitutional.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Toobin is referring to the 2010 Citizens United decision that will overturn most of the law (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: John G. Roberts, Jr, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, Antonin Scalia, Federal Election Commission, Wisconsin Right to Life, US Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Brennan Center for Justice logo.Brennan Center for Justice logo. [Source: Red Alert Politics (,com)]A coalition of civil rights groups files a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Florida’s new voting registration law blocks tens of thousands of legitimate would-be voters. The Voter Registration Verification Law, passed in 2005, is sometimes called the “No Match, No Vote” law because it forces first-time voters to provide identification numbers—driver’s license, official state ID, or Social Security numbers—to match those on their voter ID cards. If the numbers do not match, the citizens are not allowed to vote. Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center for Justice, one of the groups filing the lawsuit, says of the law, “Any number of things can go wrong in that process, and the fact that they do is why we’re in court.” The Brennan Center for Justice is joined in the lawsuit by the Florida branch of the NAACP and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. Levitt says Florida’s State Department has provided files showing some 20,000 voter registration cards were rejected in 2006 because of the law. The lawsuit shows evidence that after California passed a similar law, rejection rates reached as high as 44 percent. Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning says in a statement, “While it is not my policy to comment on pending litigation, I will reiterate that it is the intention of the Department of State to make sure that every eligible voter in the state of Florida has the means and the opportunity to register to vote and to cast a ballot.” The law merely works to comply with federal verification requirements, Browning says, and is “supported” by the US Department of Justice, which is reviewing Florida’s amended registration laws. The Brennan Center for Justice is also involved in another lawsuit challenging state rules which make it more difficult for independent organizations such as the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Levitt says the new law will only exacerbate an already-difficult situation for voters in 2008. “Given the way that registration picks up heavily in an election year, we really fear it’s going to pick up in 2008. As forms flood in before the deadline, there will be less time to deal with them,” Levitt says. [WTSP-TV, 9/17/2007; Florida Independent, 10/22/2010] The lawsuit will not succeed. [Tampa Bay Times, 10/28/2008] In 2008, the law will effectively disenfranchise almost 8,000 voters, the majority of whom are African-Americans and Hispanics, and over three-quarters of whom are registered Democrats. [Florida Independent, 10/22/2010]

Entity Tags: Brennan Center for Justice, (Florida) Voter Registration Verification Law of 2005, Justin Levitt, Kurt Browning, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, League of Women Voters, Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, Florida Department of State

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’ [Source: New York Times]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see May 1998 and (May 11, 2004)) releases a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. The film is a lengthy diatribe attacking the character and career of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Large portions of the film are comprised of conservative critics launching attacks against the personalities and character of Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he based his film on a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released in 2004 by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (see August 6, 2004), and calls it “a rigorously researched critical biography” comparable to the material presented on political talk shows such as Meet the Press. [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Bossie intended for the film to be released in late 2007 and impact the 2008 race in the same way that he believes Fahrenheit 9/11 impacted the 2004 race. A cable company made the film, at a cost of $1.2 million, available for free to viewers on “video on demand.” Bossie also scheduled a small theater run for the film, but his primary focus was always cable television and the accompanying television advertisements. Knowing the film will probably run afoul of campaign law, he hired lawyers, first James Bopp Jr. (a former member of the far-right Young Americans for Freedom—YAF—and the former general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee—see November 1980 and After) [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] and later Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under the Bush administration. Olson will later say the film is “a critical biographical assessment” that provides “historical information about the candidate and, perhaps, some measure of entertainment as well.” The New York Times calls it “a scathingly hostile look at Mrs. Clinton” replete with “ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments, and spooky mood music.” The film also contains interviews and material from mainstream media reporters, and interviews with figures such as former CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a “tell-all” book about the Clinton administration, and with Kathleen Willey, who has claimed that Bill Clinton once made an unwelcome sexual advance towards her. Reviewer Megan Carpentier of Radar Online will trounce the movie, saying that it “scrolls through more than a decade of press clippings and a treasure trove of unflattering pictures in its one-sided romp” and will advise potential viewers to watch it “while inebriated in the manner of your choosing, and only if you don’t pay $10 for the privilege.” [New York Times, 3/5/2009] Bossie claims the movie has nothing to do with the impending primary elections. CU intends to show the movie in a small number of theaters but primarily on “video on demand” cable broadcasts, with accompanying television advertisements. In return for a $1.2 million fee, a cable television consortium has agreed to make the movie freely available to its customers as part of what CU calls its “Election ‘08” series. (CU has another negative documentary on Clinton’s Democratic challenger Barack Obama in the works—see October 28-30, 2008—but apparently has no plans to air any documentaries on Republican candidate John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidates.) However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the film to be aired on cable channels, or advertised for theater release, because the FEC considers the film “electioneering” and thus subject to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) restrictions. Moreover, the film and its planned distribution are funded by corporate donations. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Bossie claims the film takes no position on Clinton’s candidacy, and says that if he had to vote between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he would vote for Clinton. [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Court Fight - Bopp, CU’s original lawyer, decides to pursue the same general aggressive course that he took in a recent successful Supreme Court campaign finance case, the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) decision (see Mid-2004 and After). The Hillary film was envisioned from the outset to serve multiple purposes: to advance conservative ideology, damage Clinton’s presidential chances (despite Bossie’s claims), and generate profits. Bopp knows that the FEC would likely classify the film as a political advertisement and not a work of journalism or entertainment (see August 6, 2004), and therefore would fall under campaign law restrictions. Before the film is officially released, Bopp takes the film to the FEC for a ruling, and when the FEC, as expected, rules the film to be “electioneering communication” that comes under campaign law restrictions, Bopp files a lawsuit with the Washington, DC, federal district court. The court rules in favor of the FEC judgment, denying CU its request for a preliminary injunction against the FEC’s ruling. The court specifically finds that the WRTL decision does not apply in this case. “[I]f the speech cannot be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote for or against a candidate, it will not be considered genuine issue speech even if it does not expressly advocate the candidate’s election or defeat,” the court states. The court also questions CU’s statement that the film “does not focus on legislative issues.… The movie references the election and Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and it takes a position on her character, qualifications, and fitness for office.” Film commentator Dick Morris has said of the film that it will “give people the flavor and an understanding of why she should not be president.” The court rules, “The movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” (During arguments, Bopp says that the film is much like what a viewer would see on CBS’s evening news show 60 Minutes, and Judge Royce Lamberth laughs aloud, saying: “You can’t compare this to 60 Minutes. Did you read this transcript?” Other judges find it problematic that one of the film’s central “issues” is its assertion that Clinton is, in Bopp’s words, “a European socialist,” but still claims not to be overtly partisan.) [Mother Jones, 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Supreme Court Appeal - CU appeals the court’s decision directly to the Supreme Court. Bossie soon decides to replace Bopp with Olson, a far more prominent figure in conservative legal circles. Toobin will write: “Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the justices. He knew how to win.” [Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Previous Attempt - In September 2004, Bossie and CU attempted, without success, to release a similar “documentary” supporting President Bush and attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on television, just weeks before the presidential election. The FEC turned down the group’s request. The FEC did allow the film to be shown in theaters (see September 8, 2004 and September 27-30, 2004).
'Ten-Year Plan' - Bopp will later reveal that the lawsuit is part of what he will call a “10-year plan” to push the boundaries of campaign finance law, and that he urged Bossie and other CU officials to use the documentary as a “test case” for overturning the body of law (see January 25, 2010).

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kathleen Willey, Megan Carpentier, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, New York Times, Michael Moore, John McCain, Royce Lamberth, James Bopp, Jr, Dick Morris, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Hillary Clinton, Citizens United, David Bossie, Federal Election Commission, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Freedom of Speech / Religion

Republican political strategist Dick Morris falsely claims that “Clinton appointees” on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) are preventing the advocacy group Citizens United (CU) from airing its new documentary, Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). However, the head of CU, David Bossie (see May 1998), says that the organization can indeed show the documentary. Morris, appearing as a guest on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes, tells co-host Alan Colmes that the FEC “won’t let us run” the film “in movie theaters.” He explains, “The Clinton appointees [on the FEC] are blocking it.” However, Bossie tells a Washington Times reporter, “I can put it in theaters, I just can’t let anybody know it’s there.” The FEC requires CU to comply with disclosure requirements under campaign finance law if it wishes to advertise the movie, a requirement the organization is unwilling to meet. (The day after Morris’s appearance, a court rules that CU must disclose its donors in order to advertise the film—see January 15, 2008.) Morris was originally a producer of the film before stepping away from the project, but has said that he appears in the film as a commentator. [Media Matters, 1/16/2008] CU will release the film in theaters the next day (see January 10-16, 2008).

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Alan Colmes, Citizens United, Washington Times, David Bossie, Dick Morris

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

A three-judge panel rules that the conservative advocacy group Citizens United (CU) must agree to reveal the identities of the donors that made its documentary on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton possible, if it intends to advertise the film. The film, entitled Hillary: The Movie, is considered by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to be “electioneering,” or the communication of partisan political views, as opposed to a more objective documentary as CU claims. CU challenged the FEC in court in a December 2007 filing, claiming that “issue-oriented television ads are protected by the First Amendment and should not be subject to disclosure requirements under McCain-Feingold campaign finance law,” referring to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Under the BCRA, partisan political communications such as the CU film are subject to blackout periods in a specific period before elections. The Supreme Court ruled that so-called “issue ads” can be run by partisan political groups such as CU (see Mid-2004 and After), but the FEC has ruled that such “issue ads” must include disclaimers, and the producers of the ads must file reports that name the ads’ contributors. CU is challenging such disclosure requirements, saying that advertisements for the Clinton film are commercial in nature and not political, and therefore protected under the First Amendment from being forced to disclose donor information. The court rules otherwise. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008 pdf file; Washington Times, 1/16/2008; Media Matters, 1/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Federal Election Commission, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

The Supreme Court dismisses an appeal by the political advocacy group Citizens United (CU) that argued the group’s First Amendment rights had been violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The Court had agreed to hear CU’s case that it should be allowed to broadcast a partisan political documentary about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hillary: The Movie, on cable television networks in the days before critical primary elections (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court did not rule on the merits of the case, but instead ruled that CU should have filed its case first with the federal appeals court in Washington. The ruling does not dismiss the case entirely, but makes it unlikely that the Court will rule on the campaign law issues surrounding the case (see March 27, 2002) before the November 2008 elections. Lawyer James Bopp, representing CU, says, “It is our intention to get the case expeditiously resolved on the merits in the district court, and then if we are unsuccessful there, to appeal” again to the Court. Bopp accuses Justice Department lawyers of trying to slow down the case to prevent it being resolved before the election. CU also wants to release a similar documentary about the other leading Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008), in a similar fashion to its planned widespread release of the Clinton film. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Court’s more liberal members, says in the order dismissing the appeal that had the case been taken up, he would have affirmed the previous decision in favor of the FEC. None of the other justices made any public statement about the case. The case will be heard by the Washington, DC, federal appeals court. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/24/2008] The appeals court will find against CU, and the organization will reapply to the Court for a hearing, an application which will be granted (see March 15, 2009).

Entity Tags: James Bopp, Jr, Barack Obama, Citizens United, Federal Election Commission, Hillary Clinton, US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

In a 6-3 decision, the US Supreme Court upholds a 2005 Indiana law requiring voters to show photo identification before voting, despite concerns that it will effectively disenfranchise thousands of voters who have no such ID. Writing for the majority of judges, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “The state interests identified as justifications for [the law] are both neutral and sufficiently strong to require us to reject” the lawsuit challenging the law. In a dissenting opinion, Justice David Souter wrote “Indiana has made no such justification” for the law. Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita concedes that the state did not present a case of voter impersonation, which the law was designed to safeguard against. [CNN, 4/28/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Todd Rokita, David Souter, US Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

In response to a Supreme Court decision allowing states to require photo ID for voting, Fox News states as fact the theory that photo ID requirements would have prevented a case of voter registration fraud in Washington State, in which seven ACORN workers were convicted. Fox News writes, “But if photo ID requirements had been the law in Washington State, the voter fraud scandal involving ACORN in 2006 would never have happened.” [Fox News, 5/2/2008] The report continues: “According to Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, the incident ‘was the worst case of election fraud in our state’s history. It was an outrage’.” Reed is both misquoted and quoted out of context. He was not referring to photo ID. The Seattle Times version of the same quote reads: “‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the worst case of voter-registration fraud in the history of the state of Washington. There has been nothing comparable to this,’ state Secretary of State Sam Reed said at a news conference.” [Seattle Times, 7/6/2007; Fox News, 5/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, US Supreme Court, Fox News, Sam Reed

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The Supreme Court finds in the case of Davis v. Federal Election Commission that part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act (see March 27, 2002) is unconstitutional. Jack Davis (D-NY), a millionaire who has run repeatedly and unsuccessfully as a candidate of both parties to represent New York’s 26th District in the US House of Representatives, has complained in a lawsuit that the so-called “millionaire’s amendment” is unconstitutional. Davis wants to be able to pour his money into the race without his opponents being able to spend more money to counter his donations, as the law enables them to do. The lower courts found against Davis, and under McCain-Feingold the case was expedited directly to the Supreme Court. The Court finds 5-4 in favor of Davis, ruling that the contribution limits unduly restrict Davis’s freedom of speech. Justice Samuel Alito writes the majority opinion, joined by his fellow Court conservatives. Justice John Paul Stevens writes the dissent for the four Court liberals, though Stevens and the others do agree with some aspects of Alito’s majority opinion. Alito’s decision flows directly from an earlier Court precedent (see January 30, 1976). [Oyez (.org), 2011; Moneyocracy, 2/2012]

Entity Tags: John (“Jack”) Davis, Federal Election Commission, Samuel Alito, US Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Republican National Committee communications director Danny Diaz says in a press teleconference that ACORN’s hiring of former felons will put Wisconsin voters at risk of identity theft: “This is a group that hires convicted criminals, delinquents, puts them on the street so that they can obtain personal information about voters. We have seen certainly numerous instances where that information is misused and, you know, citizens are negatively impacted and affected.” However, pressed to substantiate this claim on the same call, Diaz admits, “No, I can’t tell you an instance of identity theft.” [Huffington Post, 10/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Danny Diaz, Republican National Committee

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The Washington Post reports on a raid on an ACORN office in Nevada stating that ACORN “had hired 59 felons through a work release program as canvassers.” [Washington Post, 10/7/2008] However, it does not mention that the program is perfectly legal and arranged in part through the Nevada State Department of Corrections. In fact, according to Mike Slater, the executive director of Project Vote, which partnered with ACORN in its voter registration work in Nevada, the Nevada State Department of Corrections actually approached ACORN to propose it employ inmates. [Huffington Post, 10/7/2008] According to the investigation affidavit, the inmates worked under “constant supervision” and with “no access to telephones or internet.” [Clark County District Court, 10/6/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Slater, Washington Post, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Agents of the Nevada secretary of state and attorney general raid the Nevada office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) on suspicions that ACORN is submitting fraudulent voter registrations, based on an investigation launched by a joint task force between the state’s US Attorney’s office and the FBI. No arrests are made and no charges are laid. [Clark County District Court, 10/6/2008 pdf file] Due to the seizure of computers and files, the office is effectively shut down less than a month before the election. ACORN officials are concerned that the confiscation of their computers will hinder their get-out-the-vote efforts in a key swing state. [Huffington Post, 10/7/2008] ACORN interim Chief Organizer Bertha Lewis responds: “We have zero tolerance for fraudulent registrations. We immediately dismiss employees we suspect of submitting fraudulent registrations.… ACORN met with Clark County [in Las Vegas] elections officials and a representative of the [Nevada] secretary of state on July 17th. ACORN pleaded with them to take our concerns about fraudulent applications seriously.” [ACORN, 10/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Bertha Lewis, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) defends itself against allegations of voter fraud and attempting to overthrow America’s democratic system, allegations stemming largely from Republicans, conservative news organizations, and right-wing talk show hosts. The Associated Press reports that Republican lawmakers are calling for a federal investigation into ACORN’s practices of registering Americans to vote, and cites examples of ACORN filing questionable voter registration forms (see October 14, 2008). Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the Democratic presidential contender, says Republicans should not use any issues with ACORN as an excuse to stop people from voting on Election Day. ACORN has registered some 1.3 million voters, many of them young, minority, or poor citizens, and all of whom tend to vote Democratic. Elections officials in at least eight states are looking into voter fraud allegations leveled against the organization. ACORN spokesperson Kevin Whelan tells reporters that the organization is proud of “the vast, vast majority” of its over 13,000 paid canvassers who worked in 21 states to register voters. “They did something remarkable in bringing all these new voters,” he says. The group has acknowledged that some of its employees may have turned in questionable forms in order to meet their registration goals and continue working with the group, but says it has worked to weed out such problematic forms and has alerted county election officials to potential problems. Whelan says ACORN does not hesitate to fire employees who turn in fraudulent registration forms. Most states require third-party registration organizations such as ACORN to turn in even blatantly fraudulent forms under penalty of law. House Republicans have written to Attorney General Michael Mukasey demanding a Justice Department investigation, and requesting Justice Department help in making sure ballots by what they call “ineligible or fraudulent voters” are not counted on Election Day. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s Republican opponent, says the Obama campaign should take action to rein in ACORN’s registration efforts in order to combat what he calls “voter fraud,” and notes that Obama represented ACORN in a 1995 lawsuit in Illinois. McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), says, “Obama has a responsibility to rein in ACORN and prove that he’s willing to fight voter fraud.” McCain has joined his House Republican colleagues in demanding a federal investigation. Obama says his campaign has no ties to ACORN, and says, “This is another one of those distractions that get stirred up during the campaign.” Recently a conservative Ohio think tank, the Buckeye Institute, filed a lawsuit against ACORN, charging it with criminal corruption under a civil provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which is usually employed against alleged members of organized crime. [Associated Press, 10/14/2008] The liberal media watchdog Media Matters notes that the Associated Press and CNN have both failed to report that Obama was joined by the Justice Department, the League of Women Voters, and the League of United Latin American Citizens in the 1995 lawsuit. The lawsuit was intended to force Illinois to implement the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA—see May 20, 1993), and was found in favor of ACORN and the other plaintiffs. [Media Matters, 10/15/2008] Recently, officials raided the Nevada offices of ACORN in a fruitless attempt to find evidence of voters being fraudulently registered (see October 7, 2008). Independent fact-checkers will soon find allegations of voter registration fraud leveled against ACORN to be entirely baseless (see October 18, 2008).

Entity Tags: Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Buckeye Institute, John McCain, Kevin Whelan, Media Matters, Michael Mukasey

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The press reports that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) recently submitted a voter registration form filed under the name “Mickey Mouse” to the Orange County, Florida, board of elections. Fox News co-anchors Megyn Kelly and Bill Hemmer, hosting the “straight news” program America’s Newsroom, mock ACORN for filing the form. Under Florida law, ACORN is required to submit all voter registration forms even if it suspects they are bogus: failure to submit a voter registration form is punishable by a $1,000 fine. Kelly reports the form submission, and Hemmer reports that the form was rejected, saying, “ACORN says they are required to turn in every application that is filled out, even if it says Mickey Mouse.” Kelly then says: “I love that, they’ve got the obligation to submit it no matter what it says. Mickey Mouse, Jive Turkey, which we saw yesterday. How are we to know?” ACORN official Brian Kettenring tells a Tampa Bay Times reporter, “We must turn in every voter registration card by Florida law, even Mickey Mouse.” The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters cites the pertinent Florida statute: “A third-party voter registration organization that collects voter registration applications serves as a fiduciary to the applicant, ensuring that any voter registration application entrusted to the third-party voter registration organization, irrespective of party affiliation, race, ethnicity, or gender shall be promptly delivered to the division or the supervisor of elections.” If a third-party voter registration organization such as ACORN fails to submit any voter registration form, it is liable for a “fine in the amount of $1,000 for any application not submitted if the third-party registration organization or person, entity, or agency acting on its behalf acted willfully.” Kettenring says he is not sure the “Mickey Mouse” voter registration form came through ACORN, though it bore a stamp indicating that it was collected by someone affiliated with the organization. ACORN has come under fire for problems with some of the forms submitted by its employees, including 35 voter registration forms submitted in Pinellas County, Florida, that the Pinellas Board of Elections considered questionable. Recent forms submitted by the organization in Las Vegas listed the names of the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys. Republicans are claiming that the “Mickey Mouse” submission and others are part of a nationwide conspiracy by ACORN to subvert the electoral process; Republican National Committee (RNC) counsel Sean Cairncross says that ACORN is a “quasicriminal organization” engaged in “a widespread and systemic effort… to undermine the election process.” Kettenring says that a few of ACORN’s paid voter registrars are attempting to get paid by submitting forms that are clearly not legitimate. ACORN says it fires canvassers who forge applications, citing a recent firing in Broward County of one worker who turned in applications with similar handwriting. The organization alerted the county’s election supervisor to the problem. ACORN pays $8/hour for canvassers to register votes, and does not pay bonuses for volume or a specific number of signatures. The organization says officials call each name on the forms to confirm their legitimacy, but under Florida law must submit even problematic forms. [Tampa Bay Times, 10/14/2008; Media Matters, 10/14/2008] In March 2008, Fox reporters misquoted a Washington state official regarding allegations of ACORN-driven voter fraud (see May 2, 2008). Seven days before the Fox News report, officials raided the Nevada offices of ACORN in a fruitless attempt to find evidence of voters being fraudulently registered (see October 7, 2008). Four days after the report, independent factcheckers will find allegations of voter registration fraud leveled against ACORN to be entirely baseless (see October 18, 2008). Five days after the report, a Fox News guest will accuse ACORN of causing the subprime mortgage crisis (see October 19, 2008). And in 2009, Fox News host Glenn Beck will accuse ACORN and President Obama of working together to create a “slave state” within the US (see July 23, 2009).

Entity Tags: Megyn Kelly, Bill Hemmer, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Brian Kettenring, Republican National Committee, Fox News, Sean Cairncross, Media Matters

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, runs an article that discusses the ACORN “voter fraud” issue in depth. It states that there is no evidence of the “democracy-destroying fraud” that Republican presidential candidate John McCain accused ACORN of, draws a distinction between voter registration fraud and voter fraud, and acknowledges that true voter fraud is relatively rare, citing a five-year investigation by the Bush administration Department of Justice that found no evidence of organized voter fraud. Dan Satterberg, the Republican prosecutor who handled the largest ACORN voter registration case in the nation, in King County, Washington, in 2006, is quoted saying “this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting,” and “ACORN is a victim of employee theft.” In its headline and lede, however, the FactCheck article says that McCain’s Democratic rival Barack Obama is “soft-pedal[ing]” his ties with ACORN, placing this on the same level as John McCain’s statement that ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” [Annenberg Political FactCheck, 10/18/2008] The article is also run by Newsweek. [Newsweek, 10/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Dan Satterberg, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, FactCheck (.org), Barack Obama, John McCain

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

John Fund.John Fund. [Source: Rightsideva]Fox News runs an interview with right-wing journalist and Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund, author of the book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, in which Fund claims that ACORN was “at the heart of the subprime mortgage crisis,” and is planning to “overload the election system, to make it so there’s such chaos at the polls that they can bring a lot of voters there.” He also calls Barack Obama “radical” and suggests that he is working in concert with ACORN on a hidden agenda to expand government and “dramatically change American society,” in ways he does not specify. On the Fox website the video is posted under the headline, “Author of book on voter fraud explains how ACORN’s actions are detrimental to Democracy.” [Fox News, 10/19/2008]

Entity Tags: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, John Fund, Barack Obama, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises, Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Other, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that conservative radio host Jim Quinn, of the syndicated show Quinn & Rose, says that the US should go back to a time where only landowners could vote. Quinn says: “Originally, if you didn’t own land, you didn’t vote, and there was a good reason for it: because those without property will always vote away the property of other people unto themselves, and that’s the beginning of the end.… Now—I mean, I can hear the appeal to the masses: ‘It’s not fair, it’s not the American way that you don’t get to vote,’ but let me ask you a question: If I don’t own anything, what kind of a problem do I have with voting for a measure—a tax, a law—that takes somebody else’s property and gives it to me? I have no stake in personal property ownership ‘cause I don’t have any. Now, back in the day, when this was the law of the land, anybody who wanted to vote needed to step up to the plate, achieve, get a stake in America, and then vote.” Quinn equates non-landowners’ right to vote with what he calls “organized theft from the wealthy by the democratic masses.” [Media Matters, 10/21/2008] A day later, radio host Michael Savage says that public assistance recipients should lose the right to vote (see October 22, 2008).

Entity Tags: Michael Savage, Media Matters, Jim Quinn

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage tells his audience that Americans who receive public assistance should not be able to vote. “Do you think a person on welfare has the right to vote?” he asks. “I don’t. Why should a person who is on public assistance maintain the right to vote? Tell me why. Where is it written that they should have the right to vote?… I support them, and they should have the same vote I do? That would be like saying an infant has the right to vote or an insane person has the right to vote. Why should a welfare recipient have the right to vote? They’re only gonna vote themselves a raise.” Savage then brings up Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama: “So if you get a demagogue like Obama coming along, and he says to the welfare recipient, elect me, and I’ll make sure that we have trickle-up poverty, and the rich—so-called, that is anyone who works for a living—will give you more money, more welfare, of course you’re gonna vote for the demagogue Obama. See, if I was in charge, I’d pass a law which says, OK, you can’t support yourself for whatever reason, you’re on welfare, you lose the right to vote.… You get back on the self-sufficiency, you get the right to vote. Then we’ll have a fair election in America. Otherwise, it’s all over. We have a communist nation either now or in the very near future.” [Media Matters, 10/23/2008] A day before, radio host Jim Quinn said that only landowners should be allowed to vote (see October 21, 2008).

Entity Tags: Jim Quinn, Media Matters, Michael Savage, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

As the November 4 elections approach, data shows that 12,165 first-time Florida voters are on a list that may bar them from voting. The list has swelled from over 8,000 names on a list released on October 16. The so-called “no match” list contains names of first-time voters whose identification numbers—driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, and official state ID cards—apparently do not match their numbers as listed on their voter identification cards. The so-called “no match no vote” law (see September 17, 2007) is considered by many to be deeply flawed and prejudicial towards minority voters. If the individual voter cannot resolve the discrepancy, he will be forced to cast provisional ballots, which are likely not to be counted. The list, as did its earlier iteration, contains a disproportionate number of African-American, Hispanic, and Democratic voters, and South Florida residents. Fifty-five percent of the previous list was made up of African-Americans and Hispanics, and three-quarters of the people on the list were registered Democrats. Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark says her staff is trying to rectify mismatched voter information by calling people at night and sending up to three letters. “We don’t want to have them in pending status when they show up to vote,” she says. Some of the forms show invalid phone numbers, she adds. Republican Secretary of State Kurt Browning says the “no match” lists are necessary to ensure the integrity of the voter rolls. Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice, whose group tried and failed to challenge the law in court (see September 17, 2007), says the figure is far too high, and the law “places an unacceptable burden on thousands of voters.” The voters having trouble matching the numbers are those without drivers’ licenses. Many of those people do not have state-issued ID cards, and they often do not carry their Social Security cards in public. He also notes that a number of newly enrolled Alachua County voters who are University of Florida students are on the “no match” list. [Tampa Bay Times, 10/28/2008]

Entity Tags: Adam Skaggs, (Florida) Voter Registration Verification Law of 2005, Deborah Clark, County of Alachua (Florida), Kurt Browning

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Cover illustration of the ‘Hype’ DVD.Cover illustration of the ‘Hype’ DVD. [Source: Amazon (.com)]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” [New York Times, 7/22/2008; Associated Press, 10/28/2008; Media Matters, 10/29/2008]
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” [Palm Beach Post, 10/31/2008]
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). [Media Matters, 10/30/2008]

Norm Coleman (l) and Al Franken (r) are locked in a recount battle for a US Senate seat representing Minnesota.Norm Coleman (l) and Al Franken (r) are locked in a recount battle for a US Senate seat representing Minnesota. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]The US Senate race in Minnesota, between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN), concludes with Coleman enjoying a razor-thin margin of victory and declaring himself the victor. However, Franken (running as the candidate for the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” party, or DFL, Minnesota’s version of the state Democratic Party) says he will ask for a recount, as is his right under Minnesota law. Minnesota officials say the recount could delay the final result of the race until December. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune characterizes the race between Coleman and Franken as “one of the most bitter… in Minnesota history.” The initial results show Coleman in the lead by 215 votes, though he was adjudged to lead by as much as 725 votes in early estimates. The Associated Press previously called Coleman the winner, but has now withdrawn that call, labeling the race as too close to judge. Franken says his campaign is investigating alleged voting irregularities at a number of polling places, and adds: “[A] recount could change the outcome significantly.… Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) says a recount would not begin until the middle of the month and would likely stretch into December. “No matter how fast people would like it, the emphasis is on accuracy,” he says. The vote is split three ways, with Coleman and Franken each having 42 percent of the vote and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley having 15 percent. Exit polls show Franken rode a wave of Democrats voting for Barack Obama (D-IL) as president, including a large number of first-time voters. Minnesota delivered its electoral votes for Obama. However, Barkley drained a significant amount of votes away from Franken. Franken had trouble convincing some voters of his credibility, in light of his career as an overtly liberal comedian and author, while Coleman was hurt by being connected with the poorly performing US economy under President Bush. Franken caught up with Coleman in polling after the stock market almost collapsed in September. Franken says that like the just-elected Obama, “I believe we’re going to celebrate a victory in this race, too.” Coleman tells supporters that he “feels good” about the ultimate results. Both Franken and Coleman engaged in harshly negative campaign advertising, which drove a large number of voters to choose Barkley in the race. National Republicans called Franken “unfit for office” because of his liberalism, while Franken attacked Coleman by pairing him with Bush, telling voters that Coleman helped Bush “drive the economy right into the ditch.” The two campaigns together spent almost $50 million, making it by far the most expensive Senate race in the country. Franken was dogged by allegations that he did not pay the proper income taxes, and embarrassed by examples of “lewd” humor from his past comedy engagements, leading him to apologize for some of his humor to his supporters. Coleman dealt with questions about his payment of artificially low rent on an exclusive Capitol Hill rowhouse, and questionable contributions from wealthy benefactors. Coleman asks Franken to waive the recount in the interest of saving Minnesota taxpayers the cost of the procedure, and so that “healing” from the hotly contested race can begin. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/5/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008; Associated Press, 1/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Al Franken, Associated Press, George W. Bush, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Norm Coleman, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Two days after the US Senate election in Minnesota failed to produce a clear winner (see November 4-5, 2008), Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) demands that his challenger, Al Franken (D-MN), concede. Franken has asked that the votes be recounted, as Coleman originally led with a razor-thin 725-vote margin of victory. (A recount is automatic under the law with a margin of victory of less than 0.5 percent, as this one is.) As ballot totals have shifted with the addition of absentee and other ballots, Coleman’s margin has shrunk even further, to 438 votes. Franken says that “a recount could change the outcome significantly,” and adds: “Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Coleman has requested that the recount not take place, and has declared himself the winner of the election. Coleman also says that a recount would cost some $86,000 to Minnesota taxpayers, a cost he describes as prohibitively high considering that he would almost certainly win the recount. Franken does not concede. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) says that “improbable shifts” in vote tallies are improperly favoring Coleman’s opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), in Minnesota’s Senate race. The accusation implies that Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) is exhibiting partisan bias in the Senate race recount. Franken requested a recount after Coleman was declared the winner by a margin narrow enough to legally support such a request (see November 4-5, 2008). Ritchie won the office two years ago after accusing his Republican predecessor of partisan bias. He promises that his oversight of the Senate recount will be fair, transparent, and impartial. “Minnesotans have an expectation of a nonpartisan election recount,” he has said. Coleman’s initial estimate of a 725-vote margin of victory has dwindled to some 200 votes, prompting Coleman to complain of “improbable shifts” in the vote tallies that are unfairly benefiting Franken. One of Coleman’s lawyers tells a reporter, “We’re not going to sit idly by while mysterious, statistically dubious changes in vote totals take place after official government offices close.” Ritchie responds by accusing the Coleman campaign of trying “to create a cloud” over the recount and “denigrating the election process,” and says that such shifts are normal when votes are retallied after any election, when county officials verify election night tabulations reported to his office. Ritchie says the Coleman campaign is mounting “a well-known political strategy,” adding, “If people want to accuse county elections officials of partisan activity, they better be ready to back it up.” Ritchie oversaw a recent Supreme Court election that was praised by both sides as being fairly handled. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/10/2008; TPM Muckraker, 11/11/2008] According to Ritchie’s office, small vote shifts after an election is called are normal. After an election, the office says: “[E]lection officials proof their work and make corrections, as necessary. It is routine for election officials to discover a number of small errors, including improper data entry, transposition of digits (e.g. entering the number 48 instead of 84), and other items that affect the reported outcome.” [Huffington Post, 11/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Al Franken, Norm Coleman

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) launches attacks on Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) in an attempt to throw the Minnesota Senate race recount into doubt. Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN) ran for Coleman’s seat in the US Senate, and the results, narrowly favoring Coleman, were challenged by Franken (see November 4-5, 2008). The NRSC distributes a three-page “backgrounder” on Ritchie to reporters that implies Ritchie is letting his political background affect his conduct in administering the recount. Among Ritchie’s “suspicious” activities are his speech at the Democratic convention during the summer, and his having “led a voter registration coalition that included ACORN,” the much-vilified Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). The NRSC even attempts to imply that Ritchie is a Communist sympathizer in a piece entitled “Communist Party USA Wrote Encouragingly Of His Candidacy.” (On November 19, Fox News’s Andrew Napolitano will call Ritchie a “former Communist” and a “former member of the Communist Party,” but without advancing any proof of the allegations.) According to a report by TPM Muckraker’s Zachary Roth, “there’s no evidence that Ritchie has ever used his role as the state’s top elections administrator to advantage Democrats.” Roth writes that “the point of the GOP gambit… appears to be to cast public doubt on the integrity of the recount process, thereby bolstering Coleman’s claim that’s he’s the rightful winner and that a recount is unnecessary—just the strategy pursued by George Bush’s campaign in Florida in 2000.” [TPM Muckraker, 11/11/2008; Media Matters, 11/20/2008]

Entity Tags: National Republican Senatorial Committee, Al Franken, Andrew Napolitano, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Norm Coleman, Zachary Roth, Communist Party USA, Mark Ritchie

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

An unsigned op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accuses the Senate campaign of Al Franken (D-MN) of voter fraud. Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) are locked in a race that was too close to call, and are awaiting the results of a recount (see November 4-5, 2008). Since then, the Coleman campaign (see November 10, 2008) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC—see November 11, 2008) have implied a variety of wrongdoings, including underhanded ballot tally manipulation, partisan bias, and even shadowy connections to the Communist Party. Some Democrats, the Journal states, are engaged in “stealing a Senate seat for left-wing joker Al Franken.” The Journal reiterates a claim by Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak that the director of the Minneapolis Board of Elections forgot to count 32 absentee ballots that she had left in her car. The Coleman campaign attempted to get a judge to stop those ballots from being added to the total, the Journal states, but the judge refused to do so. The Journal also records a number of statistically “unusual” or “improbable” vote tally shifts that have combined to shave Coleman’s initial 725-vote lead to just over 200. The Journal joins Coleman and the NRSC in attacking Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN), whose office is overseeing the upcoming recount. It cites Ritchie’s own run for office in 2006, which was supported by, among others, liberal activist group MoveOn.org, and says Ritchie is “an ally” of “the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, of fraudulent voter-registration fame” (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). Ritchie’s “relationship” with ACORN, the Journal states, “might explain why prior to the election Mr. Ritchie waved off evidence of thousands of irregularities on Minnesota voter rolls, claiming that accusations of fraud were nothing more than ‘desperateness’ from Republicans.” The Journal expands its accusations to include the Franken campaign, which it says is “mau-mauing election officials into accepting tossed ballots.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2008; MinnPost, 11/12/2008] The same day as the Journal op-ed is published, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) repeats the allegation about the absentee ballots being left overnight in an election official’s car, telling a Fox News reporter: “As I understand it, and this is based on news accounts, he claims that even though they were in his car, that they were never outside of his security or area of control, so the courts allowed that. It seems a little loose to me.” Asked by a Fox reporter, “What were they doing in his car?” Pawlenty replies: “There has not been a good explanation for that, Kelly. That’s a very good question, but they’ve been included in the count pile which is concerning.” Pawlenty mischaracterizes the gender of the Minneapolis Elections Director, Cindy Reichert. Reichert also says the entire story is “just not true.” The story comes from Knaak, who initially told reporters, “We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions.” By the day’s end, Knaak backs away from the claim of impropriety. A local outlet reports, “Knaak said he feels assured that what was going on with the 32 ballots was neither wrong nor unfair.” Reichert says that Knaak’s story is entirely false. No ballots were ever left in her car, nor were they left unattended in anyone else’s car. They were secured between Election Night and when they were counted. They were briefly in an election official’s car, along with every other absentee ballot, as they were all driven from individual precincts to polling places as mandated by Minnesota election law. “What I find ludicrous is that this goes on all around the state,” Reichert says. “If we could process them [at City Hall] we’d love to do that.” The absentee ballots were transported, sorted, and counted according to standard elections procedures, Reichert says. The 32 ballots in question were not counted until November 8, and both the Coleman and Franken campaigns were informed that the ballots were not included in the initial Minneapolis tallies. The tally for those 32 ballots: Franken 18, Coleman seven, and seven for other candidates or for no one. [MinnPost, 11/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Tim Pawlenty, Fox News, Cindy Reichert, Al Franken, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman, Mark Ritchie, Wall Street Journal, National Republican Senatorial Committee

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) says that Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie (D-MN), has displayed partisan behavior on behalf of challenger Al Franken (D-MN) by announcing that his office would consider counting some absentee ballots that were not counted during the initial vote tallies. Approximately 1,000 absentee ballots were not counted in the initial tallies, and Franken’s legal team contends that most of them were wrongly rejected by election judges. The initial election results triggered a recount (see November 6, 2008); Coleman has already implied that efforts are underway to manipulate the vote in favor of Franken (see November 10, 2008), implications previously made by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (see November 11, 2008 and November 12, 2008). Coleman’s lead campaign lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the Franken campaign is engaging in “Florida-like tactics” in the absentee ballot issue (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). For its part, the Franken campaign is accusing the Coleman campaign of resorting to “baseless charges and innuendo.” Franken’s campaign is attempting to ascertain the names of the voters whose absentee ballots were rejected, with an eye to having them reconsidered. Studies have shown that rejected ballots tend to favor Democrats, leading elections expert Larry Jacobs to observe, “With the voter who tends to pull the lever for Democrats, there’s a little less dexterity.” One voter whose absentee ballot was rejected, Mark Jeranek, says his vote was set aside because he did not sign the envelope into which he placed his ballot. Jeranek voted for Franken, and has received an affidavit from the Franken campaign, which he is considering signing. “I don’t want to be a cause for revolution, but at the same time I want my vote to count,” he says. “It’s kind of neat—at least for a senatorial race—that it really does come down to every individual vote.” [Time, 11/17/2008; Weiner, 2010, pp. xviii]

Entity Tags: Mark Jeranek, Al Franken, Fritz Knaak, Mark Ritchie, Larry Jacobs, Norm Coleman, National Republican Senatorial Committee

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) issues a press release claiming that Coleman’s victory is “confirmed.” Coleman’s press release is erroneous. Coleman’s campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, issues a similarly erroneous statement that says: “Senator Coleman has, for the third time, been named the winner of the 2008 election. We look forward to the beginning of tomorrow’s recount, and to what we believe to be the ultimate conclusion of the final chapter of this year’s election—the re-election of Senator Norm Coleman.” Far from being confirmed, the recount procedure involving Coleman and his opponent Al Franken (D-MN) has not officially begun (see November 4-5, 2008). It is unclear what basis Coleman has for claiming victory, and no official entity has confirmed Coleman’s victory in the race. Franken’s campaign also issues a release announcing that the recount procedure is about to commence, noting accurately that the State Canvassing Board has refused to certify a winner and stating the campaign’s intention to support the recount. [Minnesota Independent, 11/18/2008; New York Times, 11/18/2008] MSNBC reports that Coleman “is trying to look the part of the winner [in order to be able to] call into question any lead taken by Franken in the recount.” [MSNBC, 11/19/2008] Three days later, liberal reporter Eric Hananoki will write that Coleman is going beyond taking “premature victory laps” by demanding a halt to the recount, “float[ing] false voter fraud stories,” and “smear[ing] election officials” (see November 10, 2008, November 11, 2008, and November 12, 2008). [Huffington Post, 11/21/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Eric Hananoki, Al Franken, Cullen Sheehan, MSNBC

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The recount process to determine the winner of the US Senate race in Minnesota begins. Incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) has a narrow lead over challenger Al Franken (D-MN), who requested the recount as permitted in Minnesota law when the results of a race are so close. The state Canvassing Board met on November 18 to certify the unofficial results, thus allowing the recounts to begin at almost 100 county and city election offices throughout the state. The procedure entails an appointed recount auditor examining each ballot by hand to determine the voter’s intent, monitored by representatives from each candidate’s campaign. Auditors will sort each ballot into the appropriate stacks. According to the 2008 Recount Guide issued by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, “a ballot or vote must not be rejected for a technicality if it is possible to decide what the voter intended, even though the voter may have made a mistake or the ballot is damaged.” Ballots that are in dispute will be sent to the five-member Canvassing Board, which includes Ritchie, two state Supreme Court justices, and two Ramsey County district court judges, who will make final decisions as to the validity of disputed ballots. KARE-TV has reported that as many as 6,000 ballots may have been missed by the optical-scan machines because of improper markings. Ramsey County elections head Joe Mansky says that around 2 percent of ballots are mismarked in each election. If the intention of the voter is clear, he says, those votes will be counted. Law professor David Schultz says the process reminds the observer of the election debacle in Florida during the 2000 presidential election (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and notes that Minnesota has a long tradition of not penalizing voters for failing to fill out ballots properly if their intent can be determined. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008] The Canvassing Board says it will not make a decision just yet on whether to count disputed absentee ballots. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, one of the five members of the board, says of the decision to table the absentee ballot issue: “I reference particularly the blizzard of paperwork that we have seen and whether or not there might be some additional time necessary to consider all of it. Is there anything about an additional period of time that will impact the rights of the parties to make election challenges or take other steps under the law?” Franken wants the absentee ballots in dispute to be counted; Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug tells the board: “These people are real people who did everything right. They wanted to participate in our democracy. They wanted to vote and have their vote counted. Can’t we all agree that they shouldn’t have to start a lawsuit, or have somebody else start a lawsuit before their votes are counted?” Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak calls Lillehaug’s arguments “bothersome,” and says the board should not consider and count rejected absentee ballots. [Minnesota Public Radio, 11/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Joe Mansky, David Lillehaug, Al Franken, David Schultz, G. Barry Anderson, Mark Ritchie, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman

Category Tags: Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

US Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) denies saying that US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN), currently locked in a recount with Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN—see November 4-5, 2008), “stuff[ed] the ballot box” to stay abreast of Coleman in the Senate race. Bachmann made the comments on MSNBC’s Hardball just before the election. Fox News co-host Alan Colmes of Hannity and Colmes offers to show Bachmann a video clip of her making the statement, but Fox terminates the segment with Bachmann before the clip can be aired. In the same appearance, Bachmann accused President-elect Obama and some Democrats in Congress of being “anti-American,” and suggested the media investigate her claim. She denied making that statement also (see October 17-22, 2008). On Hannity and Colmes, Bachmann says that Franken “wants to stuff the ballot box with rejected ballots,” and this “calls into question what the record is and who’s watching the books.” Bachmann now says that Hardball host Chris Matthews baited and trapped her into making her remarks, and an “urban legend” about what she said quickly sprang up. “What I said was, ‘Do your job,’” she tells Colmes. “That’s what I said.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Al Franken, Alan Colmes, Norm Coleman, Chris Matthews, Fox News, Michele Bachmann

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

As the recount in the US Senate race in Minnesota (see November 19, 2008) wears on, incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) gains a number of votes in the preliminary results, widening his lead to 180 votes from a previous total of 120. Coleman’s campaign observers are challenging many of the ballots granted to challenger Al Franken (D-MN) during the recount, forcing those ballots to be set aside and considered by the state Canvassing Board at a later date. Some mistakes were made in Duluth precincts, slowing the results from St. Louis County, including the discovery that several duplicate ballots were missing from one precinct. In Minneapolis, over 100 people are working in a warehouse building to count votes. Franken is leading Coleman by wide margins in almost all Minneapolis precincts. Coleman campaign observer Corlyss Affeldt says she is volunteering as an observer because “I want to make sure it’s right.… That seems to be the prevailing motivation right now.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Corlyss Affeldt, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Al Franken

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights

One hundred and thirty-three ballots, stored in a single envelope, are missing from the warehouse containing the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in Minnesota during the November elections. The ballots are part of a statewide recount (see November 19, 2008) to determine the winner of the US Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN—see November 4-5, 2008). Minneapolis officials are diligently searching for the missing ballots, according to Mayor R.T. Rybak (D-MN). The recounts are supposed to be finished today, but Minneapolis has been granted an extension to find the ballots. Franken’s lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, issues the following statement: “Find the ballots.… The outcome of this election might be at stake.” The Coleman campaign is alleging ballot tampering. “We do not know that there are any ballots missing, and it is premature and simply irresponsible to suggest that they are,” says Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak. He goes on to say that because Rybak, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and many Minneapolis city officials are Democrats, there could be some kind of orchestrated effort to suppress votes to favor Franken. However, “It is critical that there be no effort to make this matter a partisan issue,” he adds. Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert says there is no evidence of any sort of “foul play” concerning the missing ballots (see November 12, 2008). Official recount tallies show Coleman with a 205-vote lead, but this number is not current and Franken is expected to gain votes, especially if the missing ballots are found and tallied. The missing ballots are from a precinct largely populated by college students, considered a group that generally favors Franken. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/5/2008] Four days later, Minneapolis declares the ballots to be irretrievably missing, ending the state’s counting of ballots and moving the recount process into the next phase—canvassing the results and considering ballots challenged by the two campaigns. Ritchie says that the canvassed and audited election-night results from the precinct can be counted in lieu of the missing ballots, though it takes four more days for the Canvassing Board to come to the same conclusion. Counting the ballots adds 36 (later reported as 46) to Franken’s total. Coleman’s campaign says that there may be other reasons for the ballot issue, with a spokesman saying, “We would hope further review of these other scenarios will be conducted, rather than just accepting the political spin of the Franken campaign.” The Coleman campaign is also protesting some counties’ decision to review initially rejected absentee ballots. Franken is expected to gain votes if the absentee ballots in question are counted. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/9/2008; TPM Election Central, 12/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Cindy Reichert, Al Franken, Fritz Knaak, Marc Elias, R.T. Rybak, Mark Ritchie, Minnesota State Canvassing Board

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejects a lawsuit by Minnesota Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN), who argued that absentee ballots should not be counted in the vote tallies that are giving his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), an edge in the recount for the Senate seat both are vying for (see November 4-5, 2008). The Coleman campaign, alleging that many of the votes were counted twice, has asked that vote tallies in 25 selected precincts should be reverted to their Election Night totals, which would blot out Franken’s lead in the vote count. The Minnesota high court rules that a question such as this should be reserved for post-recount proceedings, and says that the Coleman campaign’s theory of double-counted ballots is not supported by evidence. Currently, Franken leads by a narrow 47-vote margin. According to press reports, the lawsuit was Coleman’s last, best shot at winning the seat; with the high court’s decision, a Franken victory is “nearly a foregone conclusion when this recount finishes up in early January.” Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the decision “virtually guarantees that this will be decided in an election contest,” indicating that the Coleman campaign is not yet ready to concede defeat and may well be planning further litigation. “[I]t’s highly unlikely that one senator will be seated on January 6th,” Knaak says. Franken campaign spokesperson Andy Barr says: “We win in Supreme Court. The process can move forward despite attempts to halt its progress and cast doubt on the result.” [TPM Election Central, 12/24/2008; MPR News, 12/24/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/24/2008]

Entity Tags: Minnesota Supreme Court, Al Franken, Andy Barr, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voting Rights

US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) is confirmed as the winner of the Minnesota Senate race over incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) after over a month of vote recounting and legal maneuvering by both sides. Coleman was initially declared the winner, but Franken immediately requested a recount, as the vote margin was very close (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken is declared the winner by 225 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The final totals: Franken with 1,212,431 votes and Coleman with 1,212,206 votes. Third-party candidate Dean Barkley also garnered a significant number of votes. Coleman says he intends to file a lawsuit challenging the results, blocking Franken from being seated in the Senate. Coleman’s attorney Tony Trimble says: “This process isn’t at an end. It is now just at the beginning.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The race in Minnesota is not over.” Franken says, “After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand-inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers around the state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.” Both sides mounted an aggressive challenge to votes, with campaign officials challenging thousands of ballots during the recounts. Franken made headway when election officials opened and counted some 900 ballots that had erroneously been disqualified on Election Day. Coleman says some ballots were mishandled and others were wrongly excluded from the recount, thus denying him the victory. His loss was made certain when the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to change the totals of the recount (see December 24, 2008). The state Canvassing Board, the entity in charge of the recounts, votes unanimously to accept the totals as final. Franken’s lawyer Mark Elias says of Coleman’s promised court fight: “Former Senator Coleman has to make a decision. And it is a profound decision, one that he has to look into his heart to make: Whether or not he wants to be the roadblock to the state moving forward and play the role of a spoiler or sore loser or whether he wants to accept what was a very close election.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says, “The race in Minnesota is over,” and calls Republican efforts to continue challenging the result “only a little finger pointing.” However, a spokesperson for Reid says Franken will not be seated when Congress convenes later in the week. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) warns that any attempt to seat Franken would result in “chaos.” Trimble says that the recount was handled poorly, and there “can be no confidence” in the result. The seat will remain unfilled until Coleman’s legal challenge is settled. [Bloomberg, 1/5/2009; Associated Press, 1/6/2009; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Republicans in the Minnesota legislature have speculated on the possibility of Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) appointing someone, presumably a Republican, to take the Senate seat on a temporary basis while the recount plays out, but Democrats, who hold the majority in the legislature, say they will block any such efforts. Legal experts say Pawlenty’s legal authority to make such an appointment is dubious at best. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Later press reports will state that Franken’s margin of victory was 312 votes, after a judicial panel reviews the recount totals. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009] Coleman files a lawsuit to block Franken’s victory (see January 7, 2009).

Entity Tags: Dean Barkley, Harry Reid, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Al Franken, John Cornyn, Minnesota Supreme Court, Tony Trimble, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty, Mark Elias

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights

Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), who was recently declared the loser in a hotly contested US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), rejects the findings of the Canvassing Board that reported his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), as the winner, and files a lawsuit challenging the results. “Not every valid vote has been counted and some have been counted twice,” Coleman says. “Let’s take the time right now in this contested race to get it right.” The suit is filed in the District Court of Ramsey County, where Coleman hopes to convince a three-judge panel that votes were improperly excluded and included in the recount. Franken’s attorney Marc Elias calls Coleman’s lawsuit “an uphill battle to overturn the will of the people” and adds, “It is essentially the same thin gruel, warmed-over leftovers… that they have been serving the last few weeks.” Elias says the Franken campaign has its own questions about uncounted ballots. The lawsuit blocks Franken from being seated in the US Senate until it is resolved. Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson (R-MN) says Coleman should concede the election and bow out gracefully. “I don’t think it’s winnable,” Carlson says, and warns that Coleman risks damaging his reputation by pursuing such a lawsuit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says Coleman is “entitled to the opportunity to proceed however he sees fit. But for someone who’s been in the trenches on a number of these elections, graciously conceding… would be the right step. This can’t drag on forever.” Coleman says the issue is not about his winning or losing, but about fairness and accuracy in vote counting. Coleman’s suit will contend that the Canvassing Board did not apply consistent standards to challenged ballots, and both local election officials and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) counted ballots unfairly to the advantage of Franken. Coleman’s lawyer Fritz Knaak says the campaign’s lawyers are conducting their own “very real investigation” into the election, and promises that the campaign will present testimony about “double voting” in some precincts. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Arne Carlson, Mark Ritchie, Fritz Knaak, Marc Elias, Harry Reid, Minnesota State Canvassing Board

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Liberal author and columnist Joe Conason says that conservatives accusing Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) of stealing the election from opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) should show genuine evidence of voter fraud “or shut up.” Franken was recently declared the winner of the US Senate race by a narrow margin of votes (see January 5, 2009). Conason cites a raft of radio and television talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and conservative billionaires such as Richard Mellon Scaife, who have been “scream[ing] that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving, and cheating his way to victory” without advancing any proof, and “in plain contradiction of the available facts.” Conason writes, “Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign ‘cheated’ in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced, and free from partisan taint.” Conason cites claims by Limbaugh on January 5 that Franken “stole the race,” and quotes Limbaugh as saying on that same broadcast: “They are stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody’s nose. They are counting absentee ballots [which election officials are required to do by law].… They’re counting votes twice—votes that were rejected, all kinds of things [which election officials ordered after determining that some votes were rejected wrongly]. That’s just—the Democrats are stealing the election up there.” (The material in brackets is inserted by Conason.) Conason goes on to quote Republican political consultant Dick Morris, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show on January 7 and claimed: “I think there’s funny business—funny business going on in Franken’s thing. Sure, he’s cheating, and sure that Minnesota’s doing it for him. I mean, there’s no question that there’s cheating going on.… This is outright larceny. This is just a total theft.” Conason calls Morris’s accusations “incendiary,” and notes that like Limbaugh, Morris advanced no evidence to support his claims. As for O’Reilly, he has written columns on Newsmax asking readers to donate to the Republican National Lawyers Association to “stop Franken from stealing the election”; that organization is raising money to assist in Coleman’s election lawsuit (see January 7, 2009). Conason writes that the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan entity that decided the race in Franken’s favor, was “impeccably nonpartisan,” and continues, “Nobody in their right mind in Minnesota believes that the board was biased.” He cites conservative blogger Scott Johnson as saying: “There was no noticeable partisan division among the board. Minnesotans are justifiably proud of the transparency and fairness of their work.” Conason concludes: “In essence, [the right-wing pundits] have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don’t, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.” [Salon, 1/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Bill O’Reilly, Dick Morris, Joe Conason, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Scott Johnson, Rush Limbaugh, Richard Mellon Scaife

Category Tags: Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Al Franken (D-MN), declared the winner of the disputed US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to order Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue a signed certificate to allow him to take his seat in the Senate. Both Pawlenty and Ritchie have refused requests from Franken to issue the certificate, saying that Minnesota law requires them to wait until a lawsuit by Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) is resolved (see January 7, 2009). Franken’s petition to the Minnesota high court contends that one part of Minnesota law requiring the issuance of a certificate holds sway over the portion of law Pawlenty and Ritchie have cited. Part of Franken’s argument cites a court precedence saying that the US Senate, and not an individual state, must choose whether to seat an elected official. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009] The Coleman campaign issues the following statement regarding Franken’s request: “Al Franken knows he can’t win this election contest based on the major inconsistencies and discrepancies that were part of the recount, and his attempted power play today is evidence of that. He can’t and won’t be seated in a seat he didn’t win, so he is trying this underhanded attempt to blatantly ignore the will of Minnesotans and the laws of the state. The totals certified by the state Canvassing Board include double-counted votes, inconsistencies regarding rejected absentee ballots, and inconsistent handling of newly discovered and missing ballots. These are serious issues that both the canvassing board and the Minnesota Supreme Court directed be handled in an election contest, and that will go forward as required.” Coleman’s lead recount attorney, Fritz Knaak, adds to the heat generated by the Coleman campaign by calling the request an “incredible and rather astonishing” power play, “an unprecedented and futile charade,” an “arrogant move,” and “an insult to the process.” He continues: “Al Franken is not the winner. There is no winner, and there won’t be a winner until the process stipulated in Minnesota election law has been completed.” When the process is complete, Knaak says, “Norm Coleman will be back on top and back to the United States Senate. No one, not Al Franken, not [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, not the national Democrats can declare a winner in Minnesota before there’s an actual legal winner.… Today’s move by Al Franken signals his desperation.… Our voters and our laws matter too much to let politics try to influence the outcome of this election.” The Minnesota high court will refuse to issue the order. [MinnPost, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009]

Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Fritz Knaak, Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Supreme Court, Mark Ritchie

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voting Rights

The lawsuit filed by former Senator Norm Coleman to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) is scheduled to begin on January 26. A three-judge panel will consider Coleman’s case and whether to reverse the findings of the state Canvassing Board, which declared Franken the winner (see January 5, 2009). [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Minnesota State Canvassing Board

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

The lawsuit filed by former US Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) begins badly for Coleman, with the three-judge panel stopping Coleman’s lawyers from reading off the names, counties, and categories from some 5,500 rejected absentee ballots that they say were improperly rejected. The copies of ballot envelopes the Coleman campaign wanted to admit into evidence weren’t clear enough to be considered proper evidence, the panel rules. Many of the copies were of poor quality and had markings and notes from Coleman campaign officials written on them. Judge Denise Reilly asks one witness, “If I look at these exhibits, how do I know what was put on there by the voter… or the election judge or someone else?” If the Coleman campaign wants to enter the ballots into evidence, it will have to secure the originals from 87 counties, a difficult task. The ruling leaves Coleman’s lawyers at ends for the remainder of the day, with one lawyer saying the team had no plans to go forward without the facsimiles being admitted into evidence. The rejected absentee ballots are a critical element of the Coleman case, which states that thousands of absentee ballots were improperly rejected or were considered with stricter standards than ballots that were counted. One hundred and seventy-six votes out of Franken’s 225-vote margin of victory came from recounted absentee ballots, and the Coleman campaign wants more absentee ballots counted, contending that the rejected ballots would give Coleman the victory. Franken’s attorneys say Coleman is merely fishing for votes, and producing arbitrary reasons to get more ballots into the count. Coleman’s lawyers also contend that some ballots, mostly for Franken, were “double-counted,” and cite results from the town of Eagan as “proof.” Eagan election officials say they have gone through their ballot counts and have found no evidence of any double-counting. Eagan City Clerk Maria Petersen says: “We’re confident, based on the information available to us, that no votes were counted twice. They were counted only once.” [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Maria Petersen, Denise Reilly

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

By a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court narrows the provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and July 27, 2006), ruling in Bartlett v. Strickland that the VRA does not require state governments to draw electoral districts favorable to minority candidates in places where minorities make up less than half the population. The Court rules that race must be considered only in drawing boundaries where a “geographically compact group of minority voters” make up at least 50 percent of a single-member district. Law professor Richard Hasen says that because of the Court’s ruling, 50 percent is now a “magic number.” The decision makes it more difficult for minorities to challenge redistricting efforts that they believe may dilute voting rights after the upcoming 2010 census. Writing for the plurality opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes: “There is an underlying principle of fundamental importance: We must be most cautious before interpreting a statute to require courts to make inquiries based on racial classifications and race-based predictions.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito join with Kennedy’s opinion; Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas file a concurring opinion that claims no minorities should ever be able to go to court with complaints about minority vote dilution. The four moderate/liberal justices on the Court dissent. Hasen says that Kennedy’s opinion makes it likely that he will join the Court’s right wing to further limit the VRA in upcoming cases: Hasen says Kennedy seems open to interpreting the VRA “in ever stingier ways.” However, Kennedy also writes: “Racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions.” The case hinges on a decision by the North Carolina legislature to enhance minority representation by creating a voting district that crosses county lines; the Court strikes down the district and rejects arguments that the district is needed for North Carolina to comply with the VRA. Instead, Kennedy writes, only districts where minorities made up more than 50 percent are protected under the VRA. Justice David Souter, writing the four-justice dissent, says that such “crossover districts” are sometimes needed to fulfill the goals of the VRA, and that the Court’s finding will “force the states to perpetuate racially concentrated districts, the quintessential manifestations of race consciousness in American politics.” It will require states “to pack black voters” into districts in which minorities make up the majority, Souter writes, “contracting the number of districts where racial minorities are having success in transcending racial divisions.” [New York Times, 3/9/2009; Washington Post, 3/10/2009]

Entity Tags: David Souter, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Richard L. Hasen, Samuel Alito, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement

The US Supreme Court hears the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refused to let the conservative lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) air a film entitled Hillary: The Movie during the 2008 presidential primary season (see January 10-16, 2008). The FEC ruled that H:TM, as some have shortened the name, was not a film, but a 90-minute campaign ad with no other purpose than to smear and attack Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as being unfit to hold office. A panel of appeals judges agreed with the FEC’s ruling, which found the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” As a campaign ad, the film’s airing on national network television came under campaign finance laws, particularly since the film was financed by corporate political donations. CU was allowed to air the film in theaters and sell it in DVD and other formats, but CU wanted to pay $1.2 million to have the movie aired on broadcast cable channels and video-on-demand (pay per view) services, and to advertise its broadcast. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) hired former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bossie denies that he chose Olson because of their shared loathing of the Clintons—they worked together to foment the “Arkansas Project,” a Clinton smear effort that resulted in Congress unsuccessfully impeaching President Clinton—but because Olson gave “us the best chance to win.” Bossie dedicated the Clinton film to Barbara Olson, Olson’s late wife, who died in the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] “I just don’t see how the Federal Election Commission has the authority to use campaign-finance rules to regulate advertising that is not related to campaigns,” Bossie told reporters last year. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/1/2008]
Uphold or Cut Back McCain-Feingold? - Observers, unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations, believe the case gives the Court the opportunity to either uphold or cut back the body of law stemming from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold) campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002), which limits the ability of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising before elections. CU is arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional, having argued before a previous court that the the BCRA law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against its film. In its brief to the Court, CU denies the film is any sort of “electioneering,” claiming: “Citizens United’s documentary engages in precisely the political debate the First Amendment was written to protect… The government’s position is so far-reaching that it would logically extend to corporate or union use of a microphone, printing press, or the Internet to express opinions—or articulate facts—pertinent to a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.” The Justice Department, siding with the FEC, calls the film an “unmistakable” political appeal, stating, “Every element of the film, including the narration, the visual images and audio track, and the selection of clips, advances the clear message that Senator Clinton lacked both the integrity and the qualifications to be president of the United States.” The film is closer to a political “infomercial” than a legitimate documentary, the Justice Department argues. The film’s “unmistakable message is that Senator Clinton’s character, beliefs, qualifications, and personal history make her unsuited to the office of the President of the United States,” according to a Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, who filed a brief on behalf of the FEC. The Justice Department wants the Court to uphold FEC disclosure requirements triggered by promotional ads, while Olson and CU want the Court to strike down the requirements. Olson says financial backers of films such as H:TM may be reluctant to back a film if their support becomes publicly known. Kneedler, however, writes that such disclosure is in the public interest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is joining CU in its court fight, stating in a brief, “By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film as if it were nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies.” Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which supports the BCRA, disagrees with RCFP’s stance, saying, “The idea that [the law] threatens legitimate journalism and people who are out creating documentaries, I think, is a stretch.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] The RCFP has said that the movie “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.” And a lawyer with the RCFP, Gregg P. Leslie, asked, “Who is the FEC to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?” [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Filled with False Information - The movie was relentlessly panned by critics, who found much of its “information” either misrepresentative of Clinton or outright false. CU made several other films along with the Clinton documentary, which included attacks on filmmaker Michael Moore, the American Civil Liberties Union, illegal immigrants, and Clinton’s fellow presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009]
Arguments Presented - Olson and his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, present arguments in the case to the assembled Court. Traditionally, lawyers with the Solicitor General (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin later writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and is a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative justice with a penchant for asking tough questions that often hide their true intentions behind carefully neutral wording, is interested in seeing how far he can push Stewart’s argument. Does the BCRA apply only to television commercials, he asks, or might it regulate other means of communication during a federal campaign? “Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth?” Could the law limit a corporation from “providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all those as well?” Stewart says that the BCRA indeed imposes such restrictions, stating, “Those could have been applied to additional media as well.” Could the government regulate the content of a book? Alito asks. “That’s pretty incredible. You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?” Stewart, who tardily realizes where Alito was going, attempts to recover. “I’m not saying it could be banned,” he responds. “I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its—” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a “swing” justice in some areas but a reliable conservative vote in campaign-spending cases, interrupts Stewart. “Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book,” Kennedy says. “Your position is that, under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60- and 30-day periods?” Stewart gives what Toobin later calls “a reluctant, qualified yes.” At this point, Roberts speaks up. According to Toobin, Roberts intends to paint Stewart into something of a corner. “If it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name, it would be covered, correct?” Roberts asks. Stewart responds, “That’s correct.” Roberts then asks, “If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, ‘And so vote for X,’ the government could ban that?” Stewart responds, “Well, if it says ‘vote for X,’ it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the preexisting Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980) provisions.” Toobin later writes that with their “artful questioning, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts ha[ve] turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship.” Unwittingly, Stewart has argued that the government has the right to censor books because of a single line. Toobin later writes that Stewart is incorrect, that the government could not ban or censor books because of McCain-Feingold. The law applies to television advertisements, and stems from, as Toobin will write, “the pervasive influence of television advertising on electoral politics, the idea that commercials are somehow unavoidable in contemporary American life. The influence of books operates in a completely different way. Individuals have to make an affirmative choice to acquire and read a book. Congress would have no reason, and no justification, to ban a book under the First Amendment.” Legal scholars and pundits will later argue about Stewart’s answers to the three justices’ questions, but, as Toobin will later write, “the damage to the government’s case had been profound.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Behind the Scenes - Unbeknownst to the lawyers and the media, the Court initially renders a 5-4 verdict in favor of CU, and strikes down decades of campaign finance law, before withdrawing its verdict and agreeing to hear rearguments in the fall (see June 29, 2009). Toobin will write that the entire case is orchestrated behind the scenes, by Roberts and his fellow majority conservatives. Toobin will write of “a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case” that “reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court.” Toobin will write that although the five conservatives are involved in broadening the scope of the case, and Kennedy actually writes the majority decision, “the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.” The initial vote on the case is 5-4, with the five conservative justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—taking the majority.
Expansive Concurrence Becomes the Majority Opinion - At the outset, the case is decided on the basis of Olson’s narrow arguments, regarding the issue of a documentary being made available on demand by a nonprofit organization (CU). Roberts takes the majority opinion onto himself. The four liberals in the minority are confident Roberts’s opinion would be as narrow as Olson’s arguments. Roberts’s draft opinion is indeed that narrow. Kennedy writes a concurrence opining that the Court should go further and overturn McCain-Feingold, the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), and end the ban on corporate donations to campaigns (see 1907). When the draft opinions circulates, the other three conservatives begin rallying towards Kennedy’s more expansive concurrence. Roberts then withdraws his draft and lets Kennedy write the majority opinion in line with his concurrence. Toobin later writes: “The new majority opinion transformed Citizens United into a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues. Roberts’s approach to Citizens United conflicted with the position he had taken earlier in the term.” During arguments in a different case, Roberts had “berated at length” a lawyer “for his temerity in raising an issue that had not been addressed in the petition. Now Roberts was doing nearly the same thing to upset decades of settled expectations.”
Dissent - The senior Justice in the minority, John Paul Stevens, initially assigns the main dissent to Justice David Souter. Souter, who is in the process of retiring from the Court, writes a stinging dissent that documents some of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the case, including an accusation that Roberts violated the Court’s procedures to get the outcome he wanted. Toobin will call Souter’s planned dissent “an extraordinary, bridge-burning farewell to the Court” that Roberts feels “could damage the Court’s credibility.” Roberts offers a compromise: Souter will withdraw his dissent if the Court schedules a reargument of the case in the fall of 2009 (see June 29, 2009). The second argument would feature different “Questions Presented,” and the stakes of the case would be far clearer. The four minority justices find themselves in something of a conundrum. They feel that to offer the Kennedy opinion as it stands would be to “sandbag” them and the entire case, while a reargument would at least present the issues that the opinion was written to reflect. And there is already a 5-4 majority in favor of Kennedy’s expansive opinion. The liberals, with little hope of actually winning the case, agree to the reargument. The June 29, 2009 announcement will inform the parties that the Court is considering overturning two key decisions regarding campaign finance restrictions, including a decision rendered by the Roberts court (see March 27, 1990 and December 10, 2003) and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Court observers will understand that the Court is not in the habit of publicly asking whether a previous Court decision should be overruled unless a majority is already prepared to do just that. Toobin will call Roberts and his four colleagues “impatient” to make the decision, in part because an early decision would allow the ruling to impact the 2010 midterm elections. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Created to Give Courts Shot at McCain-Feingold - Critics, as yet unaware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, will later say that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign will say: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” Bossie himself will later confirm that contention, saying: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010] CU’s original lawyer on the case, James Bopp, will later verify that the case was brought specifically to give the Court a chance to cut back or overturn campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010). The Court will indeed overturn McCain-Feingold in the CU decision (see January 21, 2010).

The New York Times, in an unsigned editorial, warns of the possible ramifications of an upcoming Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case was argued on March 15, eight days before the Web publication date of the editorial (see March 15, 2009) and nine days before the editorial is published in print; it is unclear in retrospect why the editorial is written as if the arguments have not yet taken place, or whether the dates of the published version are accurate. The Times sums up the case—a conservative nonprofit organization, Citizens United (CU), planned to air a 90-minute film that was highly critical of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the days before 2008 presidential primary elections, in violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or “McCain-Feingold”—see March 27, 2002) that bans “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary election. CU was aware of the law, and filed a suit claiming that the law unconstitutionally violated its First Amendment rights. “The Supreme Court should affirm that ruling,” the Times states. The CU briefs “mak[e] a wide array of claims,” the “most dangerous” of which is a request to overturn the 1990 Austin Court decision (see March 27, 1990) that banned corporations from using monies from their general treasuries. The Times states: “If Citizens United prevails, it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” [New York Times, 3/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Citizens United, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, US Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton, New York Times

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

A three-judge panel rules that Al Franken (D-MN) is the legitimate winner of Minnesota’s hotly contested US senate seat (see November 4-5, 2008), ruling against Franken’s opponent, former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN—see January 26, 2009). Ironically, when the judges reviewed the ballots under consideration, Franken was awarded almost 100 more votes, setting his margin of victory at 312 votes. Coleman says he will appeal the decision, which will continue to block Franken from taking his seat in the Senate. [Associated Press, 4/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voting Rights

Al Franken (D-MN), who won the recount to become the junior US senator from Minnesota but who has been blocked from taking his seat by a legal challenge filed by his opponent, Norm Coleman (R-MN—see January 5, 2009 and January 7, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to expedite Coleman’s legal challenge to the recount. Coleman is appealing the recent decision by a lower court to uphold the recount findings and declare Franken the winner of the race (see April 13, 2009). Franken won the recount by 312 votes. Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug says in a court filing, “Because of the important public policy concern of ensuring that the interests of the citizens of Minnesota are properly represented in Congress, this appeal should be expedited.” Lillehaug is echoing concerns made by Franken and his campaign that Minnesota is suffering by having only one, and not two, sitting US senators. Coleman’s campaign says through a spokesperson that it will comply with a Supreme Court ruling; Coleman himself has said he wishes the process to move as quickly as possible. Franken wants oral arguments before the Minnesota high court to begin in early May, but Coleman’s lawyer James Langdon says those arguments probably will not begin until late May or early June. Minnesota’s version of the Democratic Party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), has begun a “Give It Up, Norm” campaign prodding Coleman to concede the election. DFL official Brian Melendez says of Coleman, “If he fights this through to its bitter conclusion, he’ll be not only a sore loser but a permanent loser.” Minnesota Republican Party spokesperson Gina Countryman says, “The number that matters in this whole scenario is the number of voters that remain disenfranchised,” continuing Coleman’s argument that if the ballots were properly counted, he would have won the recount. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Norm Coleman, Al Franken, Brian Melendez, David Lillehaug, Gina Countryman, James Langdon, Minnesota Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

In an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court refuses to rule against one of the main components of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Many conservatives had seen the case as an opportunity for the Court conservatives to either drastically narrow or entirely gut the VRA, and were hopeful of that outcome in light of a recent Court decision narrowing the VRA’s effect on districting (see March 9, 2009). Instead, the Court chooses not to rule on the central tenet of the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, which is that the VRA is largely unconstitutional. The case was brought by a Texas utility district that claimed in arguments that the VRA was unconstitutional and unnecessary in a time when the nation has elected a black president. The plaintiff argued that districts and other governmental entities should be allowed to “bail out” from being covered by the VRA. [New York Times, 6/22/2009; New York Times, 6/22/2009] Many observers were concerned that the conservative wing of the Court would use the case to overturn large portions of the VRA, especially in earlier questioning, when Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “Congress has made a finding that the sovereignty of Georgia is less than the sovereign dignity of Ohio. The sovereignty of Alabama is less than the sovereign dignity of Michigan. And the governments in one are to be trusted less than the governments in the other.… No one questions the validity, the urgency, the essentiality of the Voting Rights Act. The question is whether or not it should be continued with this differentiation between the states. And that is for Congress to show.” [New York Times, 4/29/2009] Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the majority opinion, says that the Court should avoid tackling large constitutional questions when it can. “We are now a very different nation” than the one that first passed the Voting Rights Act, he writes. “Whether conditions continue to justify such legislation is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today.” Roberts’s opinion says that “a broader reading” of the VRA’s bailout provision should be implemented. Moreover, he writes, the federal oversight of states and areas with a history of discrimination may have served its purpose and may need to be phased out, a position supported by the lone dissenter, Justice Clarence Thomas, who writes that the oversight provision of Section 5 of the VRA should be overturned entirely. It is possible that others will take advantage of the Court’s hesitation to file other “opt out” or “bailout” challenges to the VRA. Some legal experts found the basis of the case to be lacking. Ellen Katz, a law professor at the University of Michigan, calls the Court’s ruling “improbable,” and Richard Hasen of Loyola Law School says “virtually no lawyer” sees the Court’s interpretation as reasonable. NAACP lawyer Debo P. Adegbile says that regardless of questions surrounding the Court’s verdict, the ruling is one to celebrate: “This case was brought to tear the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, and today that effort failed.” [New York Times, 6/22/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Richard L. Hasen, Ellen Katz, Debo P. Adegbile, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, John G. Roberts, Jr, Voting Rights Act of 1965

Category Tags: Voting Rights, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Election, Voting Laws and Issues

The US Supreme Court says it will schedule a hearing on the controversial “Citizens United” case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (see March 15, 2009), for September 2009, in an unusual second presentation before the Court (see September 9, 2009). According to the justices, the lawyers for both Citizens United (CU) and the federal government should argue whether previous Court rulings upholding federal election law should be overturned based on First Amendment grounds. Both sides are asked to argue whether the Court should overrule the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), which upheld restrictions on corporate spending on political campaigns, and/or the 2003 McConnell decision (see December 10, 2003), which upheld the bulk of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Law professor Nathaniel Persily says of the directive: “The Court is poised to reverse longstanding precedents concerning the rights of corporations to participate in politics. The only reason to ask for reargument on this is if they’re going to overturn Austin and McConnell.” The New York Times observes, “The Roberts court [referring to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts] has struck down every campaign finance regulation to reach it, and it seems to have a majority prepared to do more.” Previous lower court rulings have found that CU’s attempt to air a film attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was an attempt to engage in “electioneering,” and thus came under the restrictions of the McCain-Feingold campaign law (see March 27, 2002). The film was financed in part by donations from corporations and individuals whom CU has refused to identify. [United Press International, 6/29/2009; New York Times, 6/29/2009] CU previously attempted to have its case heard by the Court, but the Court sent the case back to a federal appeals court, which ruled in favor of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and against CU (see March 24, 2008). Law professor Richard Hasen agrees with Persily and the Times that the decision to reargue the case a second time indicates that the Court’s conservative majority is prepared to overturn both Austin and McConnell, and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Hasen writes that if the Court does indeed rule in favor of unlimited corporate spending, it will be in response to the fundraising advantage currently enjoyed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) over his Republican counterpart, John McCain (R-AZ). [Slate, 6/29/2009] The decision will indeed overturn both Austin and McConnell, and gut most of the BCRA (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Federal Election Commission, US Supreme Court, New York Times, John G. Roberts, Jr, Richard L. Hasen, Nathaniel Persily, John McCain, Citizens United

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) acknowledges his victory in front of his Minneapolis home. His wife Franni Franken looks on.Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) acknowledges his victory in front of his Minneapolis home. His wife Franni Franken looks on. [Source: Jeffrey Thompson / Getty Images / Zimbio]The Minnesota Supreme Court rejects Senate candidate Norm Coleman’s motion to reconsider the vote recount that found his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), the winner of the November 2008 Senate race (see January 5, 2009). Coleman, a Republican and the incumbent, concedes the election in a brief appearance after the ruling. Hours later, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) signs the election certificate for Franken, clearing the way for Franken to take his seat in the US Senate. “I can’t wait to get started,” Franken says. “I won by 312 votes, so I really have to earn the trust of the people who didn’t vote for me.” Coleman says he chose not to appeal to federal courts given the likelihood that the results would not have gone his way, and says he respects the high court’s decision. The court rejects Coleman’s contention that hundreds of absentee ballots ruled invalid should be counted, ruling that voters have the expectation of filling out the ballots properly and should understand that improperly completed ballots will be rejected. Franken’s seating gives Democrats a 60-vote majority in the Senate, theoretically giving them a “filibuster-proof majority” that would overcome Republican efforts to block legislation by refusing to allow cloture votes. However, Democrats rarely vote in unified “blocs” as Republicans often do, and two Senate Democrats, Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV), are hospitalized and unable to cast votes. Franken will be seated after Congress’s July 4 recess. [Associated Press, 6/30/2009; Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 7/1/2009] Politico describes the ruling as “remarkably decisive, picking apart and rejecting one Coleman legal claim after another.” Law professor Larry Jacobs says, “Norm Coleman has gotten shellacked in the court room—by judges who were appointed by Pawlenty.” The Minnesota Republican Party protests the ruling, claiming that it “wrongly disenfranchised thousands of Minnesotans who deserve to have their votes counted,” but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he accepts the decision, stating: “While I am very disappointed in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision today, I respect Norm’s decision not to pursue his case any further. After having more votes on Election Day, he made a great personal sacrifice to pursue an accurate account of the vote for Minnesotans. For that, and his dedicated service on behalf of Minnesota, he should be commended.” [Politico, 6/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Politico, Larry Jacobs, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Al Franken, Minnesota Republican Party, Minnesota Supreme Court, Robert C. Byrd, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Voter Fraud/Disenfranchisement, Voting Rights

Lewin Group logo.Lewin Group logo. [Source: WNY Media]The Republican National Committee plans to spend a million dollars in August on television ads opposing health care reform. One of the key elements of the ad campaign is a study released today by the Lewin Group that finds 119 million Americans would lose the coverage they currently have under the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal. MSNBC’s progressive talk show host Rachel Maddow airs video clips of Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Tom Price (R-GA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) all citing the Lewin study as evidence that health care reform is bad for Americans. The Lewin Group is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, a health insurance provider. United Health operates a subsidiary called Ingenix, which in turn operates a consulting firm, the Lewin Group. Maddow notes that Republicans call the Lewin Group “nonpartisan and independent” when in fact it is a branch of a health care insurer. In January 2009, United Health agreed to pay $400 million to the State of New York after being charged with defrauding customers—manipulating data in order to shift medical expenses onto consumers. Former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, himself a doctor, says the issue is “not… about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the health insurance agency versus the American people.” [Ingenix, 7/27/2009; MSNBC, 7/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, Tom Price, UnitedHealth Group, Rachel Maddow, Lewin Group, Obama administration, Paul Ryan, Ingenix, John Boehner, Howard Dean, MSNBC, Newt Gingrich, Charles Grassley, John Barrasso

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

Gregg Jarrett, guest host of Fox News’s “straight news” broadcast The Live Desk (see October 13, 2009), tells viewers that the Obama Justice Department “thinks it’s okay to intimidate white people, not okay to intimidate black people at the polls.” Jarrett and others are discussing the Justice Department’s decision to dismiss a case against the New Black Panthers, who had been accused of intimidating white voters during the November 2008 elections. Jarrett interviews Washington Times editor John Solomon, whose paper implied, without proof, that the decision to drop the case may have come from “senior elected or politically appointed” White House officials and not from career prosecutors who felt the case lacked merit, as the Justice Department says. Solomon says that during the Bush administration, Congressional Democrats “very strongly raised questions about the politicization of the Justice Department—political people, or career people answering to political people, overruling the front lines of the Justice Department, and this fits that debate right now in the Justice Department. And I think Congress, the Republicans and some Democrats, are asking questions now about whether career people got their say here and whether they were really listened to, or whether some other agenda had been carried out.” Jarrett then notes: “Well, the other message may be that this is a Department of Justice who thinks it’s okay to intimidate white people, not okay to intimidate black people at the polls. That could be one conclusion that people may reach here by their decision.” [Media Matters, 7/30/2009]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, New Black Panthers, John Solomon, Gregg Jarrett

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections, 2010 Elections

Category Tags: Voting Rights

Conservatives for Patients’ Rights logo.Conservatives for Patients’ Rights logo. [Source: Conservatives for Patients? Rights]An organization called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR) publicly takes credit for orchestrating the disruptive and sometimes-violent protests against the White House’s health care reform proposals (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009). Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent says the admission “rais[es] questions about [the protests’] spontaneity.” CPR is headed by Rick Scott, a former health industry CEO who once ran Columbia/HCA before being ousted for malfeasance in 1997. (Columbia/HCA subsequently paid the US government $1.7 billion dollars in fines due to fraud that occured during Scott’s tenure.) Scott, who was once a part owner of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush, now owns an investment firm that primarily traffics in health care, and owns a chain of Florida urgent care clinics called Solantic. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009] (Solantic also boasts former Bush administration official Thomas Scully as a member of its board. In 2004, Scully deliberately withheld information from Congress that the Bush administration’s Medicare reforms would cost $200 billion more than acknowledged.) [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
Contracting with 'Swift Boat' PR Firm - Scott is spending millions on CPR’s public relations effort, and has contracted with CRC Public Relations, the group that masterminded the “swift boat” attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. He is also coordinating his efforts with Grover Norquist, the conservative advocate and influential Washington insider. CPR spokesman Brian Burgess confirms that CPR is e-mailing “town hall alert” flyers and schedules of town hall meetings to its mailing list. CPR is also actively recruiting members for the “tea party,” a loosely organized group of conservative protesters (see April 8, 2009). Scott says, “We have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources into educating Americans over the past several months about the dangers of government-run health care and I think we’re seeing some of the fruits of that campaign.” Doug Thornell, a House Democratic staff member, says: “The more you dig the more you learn that this is a carefully orchestrated effort by special interest lobbyists and the Republican Party, who are using fringe elements on the right to protect insurance company profits and defeat health care reform. The anger at these events looks very similar to what we saw at McCain/Palin rallies in the fall.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009]
Group Interested in Protecting Industry Profits, Critics Say - Richard Kirsch of Health Care for America Now, a pro-reform group, says of Scott: “Those attacking reform are really looking to protect their own profits, and he’s a perfect messenger for that. His history of making a fortune by destroying quality in the health care system and ripping off the government is a great example of what’s really going on.” CPR plans on spending over $1 million a month in anti-reform television and radio ads. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009] White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, learning of CPR’s admission, says the organization is led by a “CEO that used to run a health care company that was fined by the federal government $1.7 billion for fraud. I think that’s a lot of what you need to know about the motives of that group.” Scott retorts, “It is a shame that Mr. Gibbs chooses to dismiss these Americans and their very real concerns, instead opting to level personal attacks.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Greg Sargent, Doug Thornell, Columbia/HCA, CRC Public Relations, Brian Burgess, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, Solantic, Thomas A. Scully, Rick Scott, Richard Kirsch, Obama administration, Robert Gibbs, Grover Norquist, Republican Party, Medicare

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

The second round of arguments in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, and June 29, 2009) is heard by the US Supreme Court. The first round of arguments, which unexpectedly focused on an unplanned examination of government censorship, ended in a 5-4 split, with the majority of conservative justices readying a decision to essentially gut the entire body of federal campaign finance law in the name of the First Amendment (see March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), but an angry dissent by Justice David Souter that accused Chief Justice John Roberts of failing to follow the procedures of the Court in rendering the opinion prompted Roberts to temporarily withdraw the opinion and offer a rare second argument (see May 14, 2012). Newly appointed Solicitor General Elena Kagan argues her first case before the Court. Citizens United, the plaintiff, is represented by former Bush administration Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, a veteran of Court arguments, quickly discerns from the new round of “Questions Presented” that the Court is prepared to not only find in the plaintiff’s favor, but to use the case to render a broad verdict against campaign finance law as a whole. Olson argues cautiously, not wanting to extend the case farther than the Court may desire. The four minority liberal justices, knowing the case is lost, try their best in their questioning to raise awareness in the public once news reports of the arguments are made public. One of those justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, asks: “Mr. Olson, are you taking the position that there is no difference” between the First Amendment rights of a corporation and those of an individual? “A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights. So is there any distinction that Congress could draw between corporations and natural human beings for purposes of campaign finance?” Olson replies, “What the Court has said in the First Amendment context… over and over again is that corporations are persons entitled to protection under the First Amendment” (see January 30, 1976, April 26, 1978, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). Ginsburg follows up by asking, “Would that include today’s mega-corporations, where many of the investors may be foreign individuals or entities?” Olson replies, “The Court in the past has made no distinction based upon the nature of the entity that might own a share of a corporation.” Kagan then takes her turn, and begins: “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, I have three very quick points to make about the government position. The first is that this issue has a long history. For over a hundred years, Congress has made a judgment that corporations must be subject to special rules when they participate in elections, and this Court has never questioned that judgment.” She begins to make her second point before Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the conservative majority, interrupts her. In 2012, author and reporter Jeffrey Toobin will write that Kagan almost certainly knows hers is a legal “suicide mission,” and can only hope that her arguments may sway the Court to narrow its decision and leave some of the existing body of campaign finance law intact. She tells Roberts later in the questioning period, “Mr. Chief Justice, as to whether the government has a preference as to the way in which it loses, if it has to lose, the answer is yes.” Justice John Paul Stevens, the most senior of the liberal minority, attempts to assist Kagan in making her argument, suggesting that the Court should content itself with a narrow ruling, perhaps creating an exception in the McCain-Feingold law (see March 27, 2002) for the plaintiff’s documentary (see January 10-16, 2008) or for “ads that are financed exclusively by individuals even though they are sponsored by a corporation.” Kagan agrees with Stevens’s proposal. Stevens then says: “Nobody has explained why that wouldn’t be a proper solution, not nearly as drastic. Why is that not the wisest narrow solution of the problem before us?” Kagan, with help from Ginsburg, undoes some of the damage done by Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart during the first argument, where he inadvertently gave the conservative justices the “censorship” argument by which they could justify a broader verdict. Ginsburg asks: “May I ask you one question that was highlighted in the prior argument, and that was if Congress could say no TV and radio ads, could it also say no newspaper ads, no campaign biographies? Last time, the answer was yes, Congress could, but it didn’t. Is that still the government’s answer?” Kagan replies: “The government’s answer has changed, Justice Ginsburg. We took the Court’s own reaction to some of those other hypotheticals very seriously. We went back, we considered the matter carefully.” Unlike Stewart, Kagan specifically says that the government cannot ban books. But the censorship argument remains. After the arguments, the justices render the same verdict: a 5-4 split favoring Citizens United. Roberts, Scalia, and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas vote in the majority, while Ginsburg, Stevens, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor vote in the minority. The second round of questioning, with its much broader scope, gives Roberts and his conservative colleagues the justification they need to render a broad verdict that would gut existing campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Elena Kagan, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David Souter, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, Sonia Sotomayor, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malcolm Stewart, Clarence Thomas

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

President Obama sharply criticizes the controversial Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010), which allows corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. Obama says: “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington—while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That’s why I am instructing my administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.” [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Barack Obama, Obama administration, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

The Sunlight Foundation’s Ellen Miller posts a scathing criticism of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision (see January 21, 2010) on the Foundation’s blog. Miller writes that the implications of the decision “are breathtaking—opening the floodgates of political money such as we have never seen before. If you thought Congress was ‘for sale’ to the highest bidder, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Nothing less than a fundamental rethinking of our campaign finance laws is demanded as a result of today’s decision.” Miller writes that transparency in donations and funding is not “a panacea for the horrific consequences of today’s decision, it is critically important as the shredded system is rebuilt. Today’s decision underscores the necessity of creating comprehensive real-time disclosure for all election spending—across the board—from when and how often candidates, individuals, and PACs report their contributions and expenditures to those involved in independent expenditures, issue ads, or direct election advocacy.” Miller focuses on the portion of the majority opinion that claimed Internet-based disclosure is sufficient to keep the public informed about campaign finance practices. The opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.… This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.… [M]odern technology makes disclosures rapid and informative.… A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today.” Miller agrees, but notes that “the disclosure system [Kennedy] describe[s] doesn’t yet exist. The current disclosure system is insufficiently ‘rapid and informative’ and does not make effective use of modern technology.” Miller predicts a “tidal wave of corporate campaign expenditures” that will not be exposed or held accountable by the current disclosure system. “The quarterly reporting system now in place is outdated and ineffective—ridiculous, in a word.” Miller concludes: “[T]his decision should trigger momentum toward ensuring that all election-related information is available online in real-time. Disclosure remains a crucial antiseptic to the corrupting influence of money in politics. We should ensure our system is as transparent as possible.” [Ellen Miller, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: Anthony Kennedy, US Supreme Court, Sunlight Foundation, Ellen Miller

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Ian Millhiser, a constitutional policy analyst and lawyer for the liberal Center for American Progress, writes of what he considers the disastrous effect that the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010) will have on American politics. Millhiser says the majority ruling in the Citizens United decision is plainly wrong, and that the case presented to the Court had nothing to do with the First Amendment right to free speech. “Prior to Citizens United, no law prohibited anyone from saying anything they wanted,” he writes. “Corporate CEOs and other wealthy individuals could spend their own massive salaries to run political ads on TV. People who are less rich than corporate CEOs could pool their money together via organizations. The only thing that wasn’t permitted before Citizens United is that the CEO of Bank of America could not tap into Bank of America’s massive, multi-billion dollar treasury to defeat” a candidate he or she does not support. The decision not only “provide[s] Fortune 500 companies with a massive megaphone to blast their political views to the masses,” but “it also empowers them to drown out any voices that disagree with them.” Millhiser notes that the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns spent a combined total of $1.1 billion in 2008, a record-breaking sum. However, he goes on to note that because of the Citizens United decision, corporate donors could easily spend 100 times that amount if they wanted. ”$1.1 billion is nothing, however, compared to the billions of dollars in tax subsidies given to the oil industry every year, or the $117 billion fee President Obama wants to impose on the Wall Street bankers who created the Great Recession. Indeed, with hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate profits at stake every time Congress begins a session, wealthy corporations would be foolish not to spend tens of billions of dollars every election cycle to make sure that their interests are protected. No one, including the candidates themselves, have the ability to compete with such giant expenditures.” Until Congress can rein in what Millhiser views as the excesses of the Citizens United decision, “many extremely well-moneyed corporations will still succeed in unleashing their treasuries on the electorate, and drowning out opposing voices.” [Think Progress, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Barack Obama, Ian Millhiser

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Loyola Law School Professor Richard Hasen writes that the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010) is a “bad day for American democracy.” The Court as headed by Chief Justice John Roberts is a conservative activist court, Hasen writes, determined to recraft “constitutional law in its image.” The Citizens United ruling opens up the American political system “to a money free-for-all.” Hasen originally thought the Court would make a narrow ruling in the Citizens United case, perhaps finding that the campaign finance law often referred to as McCain-Feingold (see March 27, 2002) does not apply to video-on-demand broadcasts. “That would be in line with some of the past decisions of the Roberts Court, when it had preferred to chip away at existing precedent rather than dramatically move the law rightward.” But during questioning, it became clear that the conservatives on the Court were ready to dismantle McCain-Feingold as opposed to merely chipping away at it. The Court struck down limitations on corporate spending entirely (see March 27, 1990) and much of the legal limitations on so-called “soft money” campaign funding (see December 10, 2003). Hasen says that the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy equates funding limitations with censorship. Hasen writes: “There are many responses to Justice Kennedy’s reasoning. He wrongly assumes that corporations or unions can throw money at public officials without corrupting them. Could a candidate for judicial office, for example, be swayed to rule in favor of a contributor who donated $3 million to an independent campaign to get the candidate elected to the State Supreme Court? Justice Kennedy himself thought so in [a previous case]. And yet he runs away from that decision in today’s ruling. Justice Kennedy acknowledges that with the ‘soft money’ limits on political parties still in place, third-party groups (which tend to run more negative and irresponsible ads) will increase in strength relative to political parties. And that possibility raises the real chance Congress will repeal the ‘soft money’ limits, thereby increasing the risks of quid pro quo corruption.” Hasen believes that Kennedy is enshrining a fundamental principle of financial inequality—that wealthy individuals and corporations now have the legal right to unduly influence elections via their money. Money, Hasen writes, should not be equated with speech, as Kennedy has found. Instead of doing what the Court traditionally does, Hasen writes, and taking a narrow view of a constitutional issue as it has in a recent case (see June 22, 2009)—the time-honored principle of “constitutional avoidance”—this time the Court has gone to the extreme to transform the constitutional interpretation of electoral procedures. “[T]he Court went out of its way to overturn its own precedent, in violation of its usual rule of stare decisis, which calls for respecting past rulings for the good of reliable law-making. And it did so violating its usual rule, which it cited even yesterday, that it does not generally reach issues not raised in the initial petition to the Court. In short, the Court did not have to do what it did today.… This is a Court that has taken a giant leap toward deregulation of the electoral process.” [Slate, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: Anthony Kennedy, US Supreme Court, Richard L. Hasen, John G. Roberts, Jr

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy.Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that corporate spending in political elections may not be banned by the federal government. The case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205. The Court is divided among ideological lines, with the five conservatives voting against the four moderates and liberals on the bench. The decision overrules two precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, and rules that corporate financial support for a party or candidate qualifies as “freedom of speech” (see March 11, 1957, January 30, 1976, May 11, 1976, April 26, 1978, January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, June 26, 1996, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). The majority rules that the government may not regulate “political speech,” while the dissenters hold that allowing corporate money to, in the New York Times’s words, “flood the political marketplace,” would corrupt the democratic process. The ramifications of the decision will be vast, say election specialists. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010] In essence, the ruling overturns much of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). The ruling leaves the 1907 ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates and national party committees intact (see 1907). The ban on corporate and union donors coordinating their efforts directly with political parties or candidates’ campaigns remains in place; they must maintain “independence.” Any corporation spending more than $10,000 a year on electioneering efforts must publicly disclose the names of individual contributors. And the ruling retains some disclosure and disclaimer requirements, particularly for ads airing within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The Los Angeles Times writes: “The decision is probably the most sweeping and consequential handed down under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. And the outcome may well have an immediate impact on this year’s mid-term elections to Congress.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; OMB Watch, 1/27/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010; National Public Radio, 2012]
Unregulated Money Impacts Midterm Elections - The decision’s effects will be felt first on a national level in the 2010 midterm elections, when unregulated corporate spending will funnel millions of dollars from corporate donors into Congressional and other races. President Obama calls the decision “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising, says the Court “took what had been a revolving door and took the door away altogether. There was something there that slowed the money down. Now it’s gone.” [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010]
Broadening in Scope - According to reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin, CU lawyer Theodore Olson had originally wanted to present the case as narrowly as possible, to ensure a relatively painless victory that would not ask the Court to drastically revise campaign finance law. But according to Toobin, the conservative justices, and particularly Chief Justice Roberts, want to use the case as a means of overturning much if not all of McCain-Feingold (see May 14, 2012). In the original argument of the case in March 2009 (see March 15, 2009), Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart unwittingly changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation, and gave Roberts and the other conservative justices the opportunity they may have been seeking. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Majority Opinion Grants Corporations Rights of Citizens - The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, reads in part: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.… The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.” In essence, Kennedy’s ruling finds, corporations are citizens. The ruling overturns two precedents: 1990’s Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates (see March 27, 1990) in its entirety, and large portions of 2003’s McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (see December 10, 2003), which upheld a portion of the BCRA that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. Before today’s ruling, the BCRA banned the broadcast, cable, or satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The law was restricted in 2007 by a Court decision to apply only to communications “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate” (see June 25, 2007).
Encroachment on Protected Free Speech - Eight of the nine justices agree that Congress can require corporations to disclose their spending and to run disclaimers with their advertisements; Justice Clarence Thomas is the only dissenter on this point. Kennedy writes, “Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.” Kennedy’s opinion states that if the restrictions remain in place, Congress could construe them to suppress political speech in newspapers, on television news programs, in books, and on the Internet. Kennedy writes: “When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
Fiery Dissent - Justice John Paul Stevens, the oldest member of the court, submits a fiery 90-page dissent that is joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Kennedy is joined by Roberts and fellow Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Thomas, though Roberts and Alito submit a concurring opinion instead of signing on with Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas. “The difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind,” Stevens writes in his dissent. “And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf.” Stevens writes that the Court has long recognized the First Amendment rights of corporations, but the restrictions struck down by the decision are moderate and fair. “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Speaking from the bench, Stevens calls the ruling “a radical change in the law… that dramatically enhances the role of corporations and unions—and the narrow interests they represent—in determining who will hold public office.… Corporations are not human beings. They can’t vote and can’t run for office,” and should be restricted under election law. “Essentially, five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
Case Originated with 2008 Political Documentary - The case originated in a 2008 documentary by the right-wing advocacy group Citizens United (CU), called Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). The film, a caustic attack on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Democrats in general, was released for public viewing during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. When the Federal Election Commission (FEC) won a lawsuit against CU, based on the FEC’s contention that broadcasting the film violated McCain-Feingold, the group abandoned plans to release the film on a cable video-on-demand service and to broadcast television advertisements for it. CU appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and most observers believed the Court would decide the case on narrow grounds, not use the case to rewrite election law and First Amendment coverage. [Legal Information Institute, 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 1/21/2010 pdf file; New York Times, 1/21/2010; Los Angeles Times, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/21/2010; Associated Press, 1/21/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 2/2/2010]
Case Brought in Order to Attack Campaign Finance Law - Critics have said that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, an opponent of the decision, says: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” CU head David Bossie confirms this contention, saying after the decision: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Citizens United, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, New York Times, Nick Nyhart, Evan Tracey, David Bossie, Hillary Clinton, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, John Paul Stevens, Malcolm Stewart, John G. Roberts, Jr, Los Angeles Times

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

OMB Watch, a nonprofit government accountability organization, issues a press release blasting the controversial Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010), which allows corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. OMB Watch calls itself “disappointed” in the decision, and writes that it “fears [the decision] will lead to moneyed interests drowning out the voices of citizens and smaller advocacy organizations.” OMB Watch contends that the decision was wrong in stating that corporations and unions were denied access to campaigns and the election process—denied free-speech protections—by previous campaign finance law. “[P]rior to today’s decision, corporations were not stripped from political speech entirely during campaigns,” the organization says. “Rather, corporations and unions could pay for federal election spending through political action committees. The ruling will certainly alter corporate and union spending on future elections. This decision will have a profound impact on the 2010 midterm elections and 2012 presidential election.” The release quotes Lateefah Williams, a nonprofit speech rights policy analyst at OMB Watch who specializes in nonprofit voter engagement issues, as saying: “It will allow corporate interests to significantly impact those races by funneling massive amounts of money to support or oppose candidates.… Our fear is that the voices of large portions of our citizenry and the charities that advocate on their behalf will be drowned out in the process.” OMB Watch calls on Congress and the White House to pass legislation that would curtail the effect of the decision. [Brian Gumm, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Lateefah Williams, OMB Watch

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Liberal MSNBC commentator and talk show host Keith Olbermann devotes one of his “special comments” to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate donations in elections (see January 21, 2010). Olbermann starts by reminding his viewers of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott ruling by the Court that found no African-American could ever be considered a US citizen (see March 6, 1857). Olbermann compares Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the Citizens United decision, unfavorably to the much-maligned chief justice who wrote the Dred Scott ruling; Olbermann says that the Citizens United decision “might actually have more dire implications than” the 1857 finding. Olbermann says: “In short, the First Amendment—free speech for persons—which went into affect in 1791, applies to corporations, which were not recognized as the equivalents of persons until 1886. In short, there are now no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections. None. They can spend all the money they want. And if they can spend all the money they want—sooner, rather than later—they will implant the legislators of their choice in every office from president to head of the Visiting Nurse Service. And if senators and congressmen and governors and mayors and councilmen and everyone in between are entirely beholden to the corporations for election and re-election to office, soon they will erase whatever checks there might still exist to just slow down the ability of corporations to decide the laws.” Corporations can, in essence, buy and sell politicians at will, Olbermann says, and those politicians can change laws as their corporate donors dictate. “[A]ny legal defense you can structure now, can be undone by the politicians who will be bought and sold into office this November, or two years from now. And any legal defense which honest politicians can somehow wedge up against them this November, or two years from now, can be undone by the next even larger set of politicians who will be bought and sold into office in 2014, or 2016, or 2018.… Unless this mortal blow is somehow undone, within 10 years every politician in this country will be a prostitute.” Labor unions, Olbermann says, will quickly be “strangled” by corporations “so they pose no further threat to the corporations’ total control of our political system.” Taxes on the wealthy and on corporations will be slashed, and social programs will be eliminated, “because money spent on the poor means less money left for the corporations.” Wars that benefit the military-industrial complex will become the norm. Racial and religious profiling will become commonplace, because the corporations will want to shift blame from their own machinations onto someone else, and people of different religions or ethnicities are easy targets for such blame. The “poor dumb manipulated b_stards” of the “tea parties” will “have a glorious few years as the front men as the corporations that bankroll them slowly unroll their total control of our political system,” until they are “banished, maybe outlawed, when a few of the brighter ones suddenly realize that the corporations have made them the Judas Goats of American freedom.” The Obama administration’s bank reforms will be eliminated by “his successor purchased by the banks.” Corporations will buy and control government entities from federal agencies to town councils. Billionaires will “buy and install their own city governments.” The mainstream media as we know it will disappear, because the corporate-owned government will require media outlets to reassure the populace that “everything’s great” and no one is needed to speak out against the government. The Internet, currently a venue that allows the most disparate of opinions to be voiced and shared, will be corralled and brought to heel. Olbermann concludes by saying: “The right wing won’t even tell their constituents that they are being sold into bondage alongside the rest of us. And why should they? For them, the start of this will be wonderful.” [MSNBC, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John G. Roberts, Jr, Keith Olbermann

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Media Involvement and Responses, Campaign Finance

Liberal MSNBC commentator and talk show host Keith Olbermann devotes one of his “special comments” to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate donations in elections (see January 21, 2010). Olbermann starts by reminding his viewers of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott ruling by the Court that found no African-American could be considered a US citizen (see March 6, 1857). Olbermann compares Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the Citizens United decision, unfavorably to the much-maligned chief justice who wrote the Dred Scott ruling; Olbermann says that the Citizens United decision “might actually have more dire implications than” the 1857 finding. Olbermann says: “In short, the First Amendment—free speech for persons—which went into affect in 1791, applies to corporations, which were not recognized as the equivalents of persons until 1886. In short, there are now no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections. None. They can spend all the money they want. And if they can spend all the money they want—sooner, rather than later—they will implant the legislators of their choice in every office from president to head of the Visiting Nurse Service. And if senators and congressmen and governors and mayors and councilmen and everyone in between are entirely beholden to the corporations for election and re-election to office soon they will erase whatever checks there might still exist to just slow down the ability of corporations to decide the laws.” Corporations can, in essence, buy and sell politicians at will, Olbermann says, and those politicians can change laws as their corporate donors dictate. “[A]ny legal defense you can structure now, can be undone by the politicians who will be bought and sold into office this November, or two years from now. And any legal defense which honest politicians can somehow wedge up against them this November, or two years from now, can be undone by the next even larger set of politicians who will be bought and sold into office in 2014, or 2016, or 2018.… Unless this mortal blow is somehow undone, within 10 years, every politician in this country will be a prostitute.” Labor unions, Olbermann says, will quickly be “strangled” by corporations “so they pose no further threat to the corporations’ total control of our political system.” Taxes on the wealthy and on corporations will be slashed, and social programs will be eliminated, “because money spent on the poor means less money left for the corporations.” Wars that benefit the military-industrial complex will become the norm. Racial and religious profiling will become commonplace, because the corporations will want to shift blame from their own machinations onto someone else, and people of different religions or ethnicities are easy targets for such blame. The “poor dumb manipulated b_stards” of the “tea parties” will “have a glorious few years as the front men as the corporations that bankroll them slowly unroll their total control of our political system,” until they are “banished, maybe outlawed, when a few of the brighter ones suddenly realize that the corporations have made them the Judas Goats of American freedom.” The Obama administration’s bank reforms will be eliminated by “his successor purchased by the banks.” Corporations will buy and control government entities from federal agencies to town councils. Billionaires will “buy and install their own city governments.” The mainstream media as we know it will disappear, because the corporate-owned government will require media outlets to reassure the populace that “everything’s great” and no one is needed to speak out against the government. The Internet, currently a venue that allows the most disparate of opinions to be voiced and shared, will be corralled and brought to heel. Olbermann concludes by saying: “The right wing won’t even tell their constituents that they are being sold into bondage alongside the rest of us. And why should they? For them, the start of this will be wonderful.” [MSNBC, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: Keith Olbermann, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Media Involvement and Responses, Campaign Finance

Many Republican lawmakers and their supporters celebrate the controversial Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010), which allows corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. Most observers believe that Republicans will benefit from the ruling, as large corporations who can now spend large amounts on influencing elections tend to support more conservative candidates and causes (see January 21-22, 2010). Most Republicans who praise the decision do not mention the presumed financial advantage they may now enjoy, but instead focus on the issue as one of freedom of speech. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) says of the decision: “It is about a nonprofit group’s ability to speak about the public issue. I can’t think of a more fundamental First Amendment issue. [The ruling could] open up resources that have not previously been available [for Republicans].” Representative Steve King (R-IA) says: “The Constitution protects the rights of citizens and employers to express their viewpoints on political issues. Today’s Supreme Court decision affirms the Bill of Rights and is a victory for liberty and free speech.” Fellow Republican House member Mike Pence (R-IN) agrees: “If the freedom of speech means anything, it means protecting the right of private citizens to voice opposition or support for their elected representatives. The fact that the Court overturned a 20-year precedent speaks volumes about the importance of this issue.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says the ruling is a big step towards “restoring the First Amendment rights [of corporations and unions].… By previously denying this right, the government was picking winners and losers.” Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Michael Steele says: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC serves as an affirmation of the constitutional rights provided to Americans under the first amendment. Free speech strengthens our democracy.” And US Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) says, “Today’s SCOTUS decision on McCain-Feingold is a victory for free speech.” One of the few Republicans to speak against the decision is Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who calls it “regrettable” and “disappointing.” Snowe is joined in her criticism by fellow Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the co-author of the legislation partially overturned by the ruling (see March 27, 2002), who also says he is “disappointed” by the decision. [Associated Press, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: Mike Pence, John Cornyn, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Michael Steele, Olympia Snowe, Steve King, Mitch McConnell

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

The New York Times calls today’s ruling in the Citizens United case (see January 21, 2010) “disastrous,” saying that “the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century.” The Court has used the excuse of the First Amendment (see January 21, 2010) to “pave… the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.” The Times recommends that Congress should “act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.” In essence, the Times writes, lobbyists for corporate, labor, and special interests now have the power to sway elections in the directions they prefer. And the ruling gives those same interests the power to intimidate and even coerce candidates. “If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest,” the Times writes, “its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We’ll spend whatever it takes to defeat you.” The Times notes that since the inception of the nation, its founders have “warned about the dangers of corporate influence. The Constitution they wrote mentions many things and assigns them rights and protections—the people, militias, the press, religions. But it does not mention corporations.” Corporate money has been banned from elections since 1907 (see 1907), and that ban has been in place, in one form or another (see June 25, 1910, 1925, 1935, 1940, June 25, 1943, June 23, 1947, March 11, 1957, February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, January 30, 1976, January 8, 1980, March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), until today. The Times accuses the Court of “overreach[ing],” using “a case involving a narrower, technical question involving the broadcast of a movie that attacked Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court elevated that case to a forum for striking down the entire ban on corporate spending and then rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed. It gave lawyers a month to prepare briefs on an issue of enormous complexity (see June 29, 2009), and it scheduled arguments during its vacation” (see September 9, 2009). The Times says the ruling is “deeply wrong on the law,” particularly in declaring corporations as equivalent to people, with the same First Amendment rights. “It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.” And the Times derides the statement in the Court’s majority opinion that says independent corporate expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” citing Senator John McCain (R-AZ)‘s characterization of the Court’s reasoning as being plagued by “extreme naivete.” The Citizens United case is, the Times writes, “likely to be viewed as a shameful bookend to Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). With one 5-to-4 decision, the Court’s conservative majority stopped valid votes from being counted to ensure the election of a conservative president. Now a similar conservative majority has distorted the political system to ensure that Republican candidates will be at an enormous advantage in future elections.” The only two ways to rectify the situation, the Times concludes, are to overturn the ruling via Congressional legislation and have a future Court—with a different makeup—overturn the decision itself. [New York Times, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: John McCain, Hillary Clinton, US Congress, New York Times, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Media Involvement and Responses

The press reports that the US Chamber of Commerce and other lobbying organizations are the biggest winners in the controversial Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010), which allows corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. The Chamber of Commerce spends more on promoting Republican and conservative candidates than almost any other organization outside of the Republican Party itself. Other trade organizations, which tend to support Republicans, will almost certainly up their spending on behalf of their candidates, or in opposition to Democrats, according to experts interviewed by reporters, as will most corporations.
Unrestrained Spending to Favor Republicans - Democratic lawyer Marc Elias says: “It is a sweeping decision. In one opinion, the Court struck down all bans on corporate independent spending.” GOP lawyer Robert Kelner says that the ruling “will reflect a huge sea-change in campaign finance law. The Court went all the way. It really relieves any restrictions on corporate spending on independent advertising.” Another GOP lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, says: “It’s going to be the Wild Wild West. If corporations and unions can give unlimited amounts… it means that the public debate is significantly changed with a lot more voices, and it means that the loudest voices are going to be corporations and unions.” Former Federal Elections Commission member Brad Smith says, “This case will lead to more spending, I think, in political elections.” Lawrence M. Noble, the former general counsel for the FEC, says a lobbyist can tell a candidate, “We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you—whichever one you want.” Political science professor Robert Watson, who has consulted with Democratic campaigns, says: “It’s a game changer. And the last thing we need is for major corporations and nonprofits to have unlimited access to buy their members of Congress.” The New York Times writes: “It is expected to unleash a torrent of attack advertisements from outside groups aiming to sway voters, without any candidate having to take the criticism for dirty campaigning. The biggest beneficiaries might be well-placed incumbents whose favor companies and interests groups are eager to court. It could also have a big impact on state and local governments, where a few million dollars can have more influence on elections.” The National Journal states: “Over the long run, the ruling is likely to favor GOPers more than it does Dems. While it does apply to unions and corporations equally, Elias said the presumption is that corporations have more money to spend.” Major corporations will not openly run their own advertising, Kelner says, but they will funnel millions into trade associations such as the Chamber of Commerce. “If people think that individual companies are going to go out and buy ads, there may be some of that, but for the most part companies are going to flow this money through trade groups and other outside groups,” Kelner says. “This will open the floodgates for money flowing through groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and other associations [that] spend money on political advertising.… There was always a cloud of doubt around outside groups and trade associations, and this lifts those clouds of doubt and leaves behind clear skies.” Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) general counsel Joe Sandler says the ruling may open the door for more attacks on incumbents by corporate and other entities eager to spend money to ease them out. “You will see more sharp-edged, candidate-specific ads on the air closer to the election,” Sandler says. “That could make it more difficult for incumbents to take tough votes in an election year.” [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010; New York Times, 1/21/2010] Think Progress, the liberal news Web site affiliated with the Center for American Progress, writes, “The ruling is a giant win for the US Chamber of Commerce and the big corporations, which tend to donate heavily to Republicans.” [Think Progress, 1/22/2010]
Citizens the Real Losers? - Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center calls the ruling a complete loss for citizens, saying: “[T]he Supreme Court majority declared that corporate speech trumps the rights of American voters to government free of corporate corruption. The Court has nominally upheld campaign finance disclosure requirements applicable to corporations, but I think time will prove that those disclosure requirements are largely ineffective when dealing with contributions.” Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group calls the ruling a “shocking burst of judicial activism.” Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls the ruling “a terrible mistake,” and says the Court “chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns.” Feingold and other Congressional Democrats want to pass legislation that would curb the decision as soon as feasible. [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010; New York Times, 1/21/2010]
Republicans Celebrate Victory for Free Speech, Say Decision Will 'Level Out' Spending - But Marco Rubio (R-FL), running for Florida’s open Senate seat, says, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for those who truly value the freedoms outlined in our First Amendment.” And Republican consultant Ed Brookover, who represents Republican House candidate Allen West (R-FL), says he believes spending from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org will equal spending by corporations, and “level out” spending for the two parties. [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010]
President Critical of Decision - President Obama speaks out against the decision (see January 21, 2010).

Entity Tags: Joseph Sandler, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, US Supreme Court, Ed Brookover, Brad Ashwell, Ben Ginsberg, Barack Obama, Think Progress (.org), Russell D. Feingold, US Chamber of Commerce, Robert Kelner, Robert Watson, New York Times, Marc Elias, Lawrence M. Noble, Republican Party, Marco Rubio, National Journal, Paul S. Ryan

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” overturning of corporate campaign finance restrictions (see January 21, 2010) a disaster. Schumer says, “With a stroke of a pen, the court decided to overrule the 100-year-old ban on corporate expenditures and override the will of millions of Americans who want their voices heard in our democracy.” Other Democrats agree. When questioned about Schumer’s comments by reporters from the Tampa Bay Times’s PolitiFact investigative arm, Schumer’s office says that the “100-year-old” reference refers to the 1907 Tillman Act (see 1907), and cites Justice John Paul Stevens’s dissent, which stated: “The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907.” PolitiFact finds that Schumer’s characterization is “a stretch” because of the differences between independent expenditures and direct contributions. Independent expenditures are monies spent by corporations to support or oppose an issue or a candidate. Direct contributions are donations to a candidate’s campaign. Corporations may not make direct contributions to campaigns; they have to form political action committees (PACs) for that purpose. The Citizens United decision does not affect that portion of the law. According to PolitiFact, the Tillman Act applies more to independent expenditures than to direct contributions, as does the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (see June 23, 1947). Schumer’s characterization, PolitiFact finds, is not entirely accurate. “[H]e ignores the fact that the ban on direct donations from corporations to campaigns still exists,” PolitiFact writes. “And the oldest law that specifically banned independent expenditures dated to 1947. You could also argue that we should be dating this from the 1970s campaign finance laws, or even the 1990 Austin case (see March 27, 1990). So he’s exaggerating the scope of the ruling and how long the laws have been on the books.” [Tampa Bay Times, 1/22/2010] Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) joins Schumer and other Democrats in criticizing the ruling, calling it the “worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case” (see March 6, 1857). [Think Progress, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: PolitiFact (.org ), Alan Grayson, Charles Schumer, Tillman Act, John Paul Stevens, US Supreme Court

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Media Involvement and Responses

The Wall Street Journal celebrates the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) as a victory for “free speech” (see January 21, 2010). In an unsigned editorial, the Journal celebrates the decision by stating that the Court used the Constitution to “rescue” the political system from “marauding government” elements, particularly a “reckless Congress.” The Journal claims that the Citizens United case rested on the Federal Election Commission (FEC)‘s refusal to allow the airing of a 90-minute political attack documentary on presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) because the film was “less than complimentary” of her. In reality, the FEC considered the film “electioneering” by the organization that released the film, Citizens United, and prohibited it from being shown on pay-per-view cable access (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court rejected campaign finance law’s limitation on corporate spending, prompting the Journal to state, “Corporations are entitled to the same right that individuals have to spend money on political speech for or against a candidate.” Any other state of affairs, the Journal writes, constitutes censorship. The Journal criticizes President Obama for speaking out against the decision (see January 21, 2010), saying that Obama put “on his new populist facade to call it ‘a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies,’ and other ‘special interests.’ Mr. Obama didn’t mention his union friends as one of those interests, but their political spending will also be protected by the logic of this ruling. The reality is that free speech is no one’s special interest.” The Journal dismisses promises by Congressional Democrats to pass legislation or even bring forth a constitutional amendment limiting corporate donations by stating, “Liberalism’s bullying tendencies are never more on display than when its denizens are at war with the speech rights of its opponents.” The Journal concludes by advocating that the Court overturn its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision (see January 30, 1976) that placed modest limits on corporate spending, in essence advocating the complete deregulation of campaign financing. “The Court did yesterday uphold disclosure rules, so a sensible step now would be for Congress to remove all campaign-finance limits subject only to immediate disclosure on the Internet,” the Journal states. “Citizens United is in any event a bracing declaration that Congress’s long and misbegotten campaign-finance crusade has reached a constitutional dead end.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/22/2010]

Entity Tags: Citizens United, Barack Obama, Wall Street Journal, US Supreme Court, Hillary Clinton, Federal Election Commission

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts, Media Involvement and Responses

In his weekly radio and Internet address, President Obama denounces the recent Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that lets corporations and labor unions spend unlimited amounts on political campaign activities (see January 21, 2010). “This ruling strikes at our democracy itself,” he says. “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.… This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way—or to punish those who don’t.… The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.” The decision, Obama says, will make it harder to enact financial reform, close tax loopholes, promote energy independence, and protect patients from health insurance abuses. “We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” Obama says. “And we don’t intend to.” He says he is asking Congress to work with the White House to “fight for the American people” and develop a “forceful bipartisan response” to the decision. “It will be a priority for us until we repair the damage that has been done.” Norm Eisen, Obama’s special counsel for ethics and government reform, has already met with Democratic Congressional leaders Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to begin talks on how Congress might respond. [New York Times, 1/24/2010; Associated Press, 1/25/2010]

Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Barack Obama, Norm Eisen, US Supreme Court, Chris Van Hollen

Category Tags: Campaign Finance, Court Procedures and Verdicts

Jan Witold Baran.Jan Witold Baran. [Source: Metropolitan Corporate Counsel]Author and law professor Jan Witold Baran cheers the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court that allows virtually unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions in political campaigns (see January 21, 2010). Baran, who alerts readers that he filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court in favor of plaintiff Citizens United, characterizes the ruling as allowing “corporations and unions [to] spend money on political advertising that urges the election or defeat of a candidate for public office.” He cites President Obama’s warning that the decision will unleash a “stampede of special-interest money in our politics” (see January 24, 2010), and derides that warning. He reminds readers that the decision retains the ban on direct contributions by corporations and unions, and that corporations and unions may not “spend money in cahoots with political parties,” but must remain “independent” and not coordinate with candidates or their campaigns. He also tells readers that the decision mandates disclosure, saying that the ruling “upheld the laws that require any corporate or union spender to file reports with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours of spending the first dime.” Because of these retentions, Baran writes, there will be no “stampede of special-interest money.” The ruling will put an end to so-called “issue ads,” Baran predicts (see March 27, 1990 and June 25, 2007), the ads that either support or attack an issue and then urge the viewer to contact their congressperson. Because of the new ruling, the ads can now exhort viewers to vote for one candidate or against another because of the issues. Baran goes on to write, “There is also no factual basis to predict that there will be a ‘stampede’ of additional spending.” Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia already have laws permitting some corporate and union spending, he says, and notes: “There have been no stampedes in those states’ elections. Having a constitutional right is not the same as requiring one to exercise it, and there are many reasons businesses and unions may not spend much more on politics than they already do. As such, the effect of Citizens United on the 2010 campaigns is debatable.” He says that the ruling is primarily a blowback against Congress’s meddlesome penchant to restrict “campaign speech.… Congress interpreted its power to regulate campaigns as a license to limit, restrict, burden, and confuse anyone who wished to engage in political campaigns.” Now, he says, the Court has reminded Congress that the First Amendment trumps its ability to regulate (see January 21, 2010 and January 22, 2010). The ruling is “a breath of fresh air” for everyone except Washington lawyers, Baran says, and concludes: “The history of campaign finance reform is the history of incumbent politicians seeking to muzzle speakers, any speakers, particularly those who might publicly criticize them and their legislation. It is a lot easier to legislate against unions, gun owners, ‘fat cat’ bankers, health insurance companies, and any other industry or ‘special interest’ group when they can’t talk back.” [New York Times, 1/25/2010; Wiley Rein LLP, 2012] Many observers besides Obama predict dire consequences as a result of the Court ruling (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, and January 26, 2010). And unfortunately for Baran’s predictions, a March 2010 appeals court verdict (see March 26, 2010) will join with the Citizens United ruling, particularly a loophole in the ruling (see February 27, 2010), to unleash just the kind of corporate spending that Baran says would never happen.

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Barack Obama, Jan Witold Baran, Federal Election Commission

Category Tags: Court Procedures and Verdicts, Campaign Finance

James Bopp Jr.James Bopp Jr. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]A former lawyer for Citizens United (CU), James Bopp Jr., confirms that the organization had a “10-year plan” that culminated in the recent Citizens United ruling that overturned most of US campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). Bopp has been battling government restrictions on abortion (see November 1980 and After) and campaign finance (see Mid-2004 and After, January 10-16, 2008, and March 24, 2008) for much of his 35-year career. He calls his opponents, including President Obama, “socialists,” and justifies his views by citing the First Amendment. Bopp did not argue the case before the Supreme Court; Citizens United replaced him with what the New York Times calls “a less ideological and more experienced Washington lawyer” (see March 15, 2009). But Bopp is the lawyer who advised CU to use its documentary about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY—see January 10-16, 2008) as a test case to push the limits of corporate spending. He says his strategy continues, with the ultimate goal of deregulating campaign finance completely. “We had a 10-year plan to take all this down,” Bopp says. “And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.… We have been awfully successful, and we are not done yet.” Law professor and campaign finance law expert Richard Hasen says the CU case “was really Jim’s brainchild.” Hasen explains: “He has manufactured these cases to present certain questions to the Supreme Court in a certain order and achieve a certain result. He is a litigation machine.” Bopp has other cases on appeal with various courts, all designed to do what the Times says “chip away at some of the disclosure laws left intact by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case.” One of Bopp’s main goals is to end the ban on direct donations by corporations to candidates, a goal law professor Nathaniel Persily says is logical in light of Bopp’s earlier efforts: “If you cannot ban corporate spending on ads, how is it that you are allowed to ban corporate contributions to candidates? That is the next shoe to drop.” He also wants to end all disclosure requirements, explaining, “Groups have to be relieved of reporting their donors if lifting the prohibition on their political speech is going to have any meaning.” Forcing groups who buy political commercials to disclose their donors is nearly as punitive, he says, “as an outright criminal go-to-jail-time prohibition.” Bopp says he harbors no ill will towards CU from replacing him with another lawyer to argue the case before the Court. “I understand that law is art,” he says. “Picasso, Van Gogh, Michelangelo—they are all very different, but all create masterpieces.” [New York Times, 1/25/2010]

Entity Tags: Nathaniel Persily, Barack Obama, Citizens United, New York Times, Hillary Clinton, US Supreme Court, James Bopp, Jr, Richard L. Hasen

Category Tags: Campaign Finance

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