Summer Hiatus

April 30, 2015 | | Leave a Comment

The writers and editors of State of Elections are currently on our summer hiatus. We will return with new content soon.

By Staff Writer:

Five years ago, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and Speechnow v. FEC led to the creation of Super PACs, or independent expenditure-only political committees. Super PACs differ from candidate or political party committees in that they cannot contribute directly to candidates; they may only engage in independent spending on advertising, voter outreach, and the like. Furthermore, although Super PACs may support a particular candidacy, they are strictly prohibited from “coordinating” with candidate or political party committees. Read more

By Allison Davis

In March of 2015, two family-owned companies headquartered in Massachusetts filed suit in state court challenging certain provisions of Massachusetts’ campaign finance laws. The provisions in question prohibit corporations and corporate PACs from contributing to candidates or political party committees, but permit labor unions and their PACs to directly contribute up to $15,000 per calendar year to candidates or parties. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint (filed as 1A Auto, Inc. v. Sullivan), this law represents a “lopsided ban” that stifles First Amendment-protected speech and associational rights for corporations. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution by granting unions and their PACs a privilege that is forbidden to their corporate counterparts. Read more

By William & Mary Election Law Society

We are excited to announce that Allison Davis, one of this year’s co-presidents of the Election Law Society, has been accepted for publication in the William & Mary Business Law Review, Vol. 7 (2016). Davis’s note, “Presupposing Corruption:  Access, Influence, and the Future of the Pay-to-Play Legal Framework” examines the Court’s shifting views on corruption, applies it to various pay-to-play laws currently in effect, and ultimately concludes that the legal and constitutional framework for much of pay-to-play law as it currently stands rests on shaky ground.

See more from McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP: http://www.paytoplaylawblog.com/2015/04/articles/first-amendment/pay-to-play-law-blog-makes-the-law-review/

By Staff Writer:

After reported irregularity with voting machines during the recent 2014 general election, the Virginia State Board of Elections voted to replace the potentially faulty WINVote devices. See a more detailed outline of the decision at: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/electionacademy/2015/04/remarkable_virginia_it_agency.php

By Lance Woods:

Since 1970, no Pennsylvania Governor has lost a reelection bid, however Pennsylvania’s 2014 Governor’s race ended with Tom Wolf (D) defeating incumbent Gov. Corbett (R). The election is arguably Pennsylvania’s most expensive, with Governor-elect Wolf spending $27.9 million, including $10 million of his own money, and Gov. Corbett spending $23.8 million. This historic defeat was marred by accusations from both parties claiming campaign finance violations.  Regardless of the merits of these accusations, it is very unlikely that any changes will be made to Pennsylvania’s toothless campaign finance laws.

No One Has Clean Hands

In June 2014, reports surfaced that billionaire casino investor Sheldon Adelson donated $987, 844 to a political action committee (“PAC”) set up by Gov. Corbett to help his bid for reelection. Great for Gov. Corbett, right? No, because Pennsylvania’s law strictly prohibits casino owners in the state from making contributions to candidates for state office or political committees and Mr. Adelson owns a casino in the commonwealth. The penalties for violating this provision range from fines to the revocation of the contributor’s gaming license. This “illegal accidental” contribution was quickly remedied because the large contribution was moved from Gov. Corbett’s PAC to the Republican Governors’ Association PAC (“RGA”). Although the RGA was Corbett’s biggest donor when he ran for Governor in 2010 an RGA spokesman claims that none of Adelson’s money was included in Corbett’s 2014 spending.

August 2014, the GOP accused Tom Wolf and his treasurer of numerous violations of Pennsylvania’s Election Code. The central claim is that Wolf created “Campaign for a Fresh Start” (“CFS”) to circumvent the Election Code rules that govern an authorized candidates political committee and the required disclosures that apply to such a committee. Specifically, that despite Wolf’s active participation in the creation of CFS, he never disclosed that CFS was an Affiliated and Connected Organization of his Campaign pursuant to § 3244(b)(4). The GOP claims that Wolf’s explanation for the creation of CFS is merely pretext and that its primary purpose is to contribute to his campaign. This allegation is based on the fact that Campaign for a Fresh Start has made numerous public broadcasts and communications directly advocating for the election of Tom Wolf.

Toothless laws

Although the penalties for such violations appear to have teeth, these provisions have never actually been used. Once certified by the attorney general, a judgment of ouster from office can be entered against the candidate who has been found to knowingly and willfully accept contributions, or make expenditures in contravention of PA’s election code. Attorney General Kathleen Kane has not responded to any of these claims. Disclosure requirements are intended to ensure that voters are fully aware of who is funding campaigns, however it is easy to question the utility of these requirements because they are so easily circumvented without any serious consequences. In the wake of Tom Wolf’s historic victory, it appears that all of these allegations will soon be forgotten. Until investigation of these violations are expedited and candidates are held accountable Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws will continue to be ignored.

By Joe Castor:

This past August the United States District Court in New Jersey dismissed a complaint brought by voters and independent interest groups to open state primaries and prevent the state from funding closed primaries. The coalition, formed by Endpartisanship.org, is appealing to the Third Circuit to end state funded primaries for the two major parties. Their complaint alleges that the New Jersey statute impermissibly funds closed primaries to the detriment of unaffiliated candidates and voters generally. Endpartisanship.org is a coalition of various groups that believe the two party system has been unfairly supported by the states and that the taxpayer funds supporting the parties creates an unfair advantage to the detriment of independent candidates. This is their first lawsuit as a coalition and it seems that they may have hit a major roadblock. Read more

By Lance Woods:

Pennsylvania’s decision to continue to keep the press from entering polling stations draws an arbitrary line and leaves room for foul play by ensuring that the voting process is not as transparent as possible. Read more

By Ashley Eick:

Virginia is certainly no stranger to statewide recounts. It’s had two in the last ten years and the nail-biter senatorial race on November 4th almost increased that number to three. For a key swing state with a trend toward close elections, Virginia’s recount laws could become a deciding factor in national politics.   Read more

By August Johannsen

Laws affecting voter participation are a current hot topic in the news. Voter identification, early voting, or redistricting laws are all working their way through the legal system almost certainly on their way to the Supreme Court (if they have not reached the high court already). There are mixed opinions on what these laws do. Supporters insist that the laws protect the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud. Opponents vehemently argue that the laws are simply pretense for stopping poor and minority voters from exercising their rights at the polls. However, one group of minority voters, voters with disabilities, are severely impacted by election administration laws regarding the accessibility of elections. Their story has been largely ignored in the sound-byte thrusts and parries of the politicos and pundits. Read more


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