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Tag: in-depth article (page 2 of 5)

Who is stuffing the politicians’ pockets: Alabama and PAC-to-PAC contributions

by John Alford 

Alabama Legislatures are trying to clean up the state’s political landscape. The problem at hand is that money is being shifted around without a clear understanding of where the funds originated. Political action committees (“PACs“) are, essentially, groups that take in funds and redistribute contributions to candidates or to advocate particular issues. Prior to 2011, a PAC in Alabama could receive money from a donor and then transfer the funds to another PAC. The second PAC can then put funds into half a dozen other PACs, which use the money to help advocate issues. The identity of the individuals who originally donated the funds is lost in the mix. This means that people trying to influence, or even corrupt, politicians, can play this “shell game” and hide the money trail. Keep in mind, there are 859 PACs in Alabama.

An attempt to hide the money trail is exactly what happened when gambling interest groups began trying to increase their odds of success. The U.S. Justice Department wiretapped a session where this statement came to light:  “We’re gonna support who supports democracy. And the (expletive deleted) who doesn’t support democracy [should] get ready to get their (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted) busted.” Certainly this crass statement could be taken admirably, but chances are the gambling tycoon was not strictly supporting democracy given that statement is taken in the context of extortion, bribery, fraud, and conspiracy charges. Shifting money from PAC-to-PAC to hide the connection to gambling money, however, was perfectly legal. This confusion of contributions was an integral means of getting support for the gambling agenda since politicians did not need to fear disclosure. Continue reading

How city and county councils are handling redistricting in the first state

by Colleen Nichols

Hurricane Irene was not the only thing to shake up Delaware this year. The 2010 Census has sent County and City Councils scrambling to create redistricting plans that reflect the changes in their districts’ populations and comply with regulations. According to Antonio Prado, Staff Writer for the Dover Post, the Dover Election Board sent a redistricting plan to the Dover City Council that complies with a 1988 consent decree that requires “a minority district with at least 65 percent black voters 18 years old and older.”

This consent decree settled a lawsuit between the NAACP and the city of Dover, in which “the NAACP successfully argued that Dover’s at-large system of council elections was detrimental to the equal representation of the city’s minority voters.” Continue reading

Big commission for a small state

Q&A with John Marion of Common Cause on Redistricting in Rhode Island

1. Can you describe the work the Special Commission on Reapportionment has done?

“They’ve met, six times so far. Going around the state, taking testimony from people concerning what the map should look like. But the Commission has not publicly presented any maps. Starting next week it is expected that they will present three or more sets of maps and take them around the state seeking input from the public. They are required by law to choose a plan which is a set of maps and then the legislature has to vote.”

2. What could the Commission do to improve the quality of elections for Rhode Islanders?

“They could continue to do what they seem to be doing, which is taking public input. Besides the public hearings the Commission is allowing members of the public to use the computers that will be used to do the redistricting and draw their own maps and submit them.”

“The Commission should also be publicly debating and trying to rank the criteria that they plan to use and consider when drawing the plans. There are many different legal criteria that must be satisfied but also political criteria that may be taken into account including political competiveness considerations.”

3. What about the process by which the Commission was picked? Continue reading

Presidential primary suspended: Why doesn’t it matter?

by Eli Mackey

Washington State’s 2012 Presidential Primary is among the recent victims sacrificed at the altar of budgetary woes. The financial problems left in this listless economy granted no immunity to matters of seemingly great civic importance. Washington State has become the first in the nation to suspend its 2012 Presidential Primary election as a result of budgetary constraints.  Instead, Washington will rely on caucuses to determine which delegates to send to the convention. The caucuses, which measure the degree of support for a given candidate from a gathering of community members to determine the proportion of delegates, will be sponsored by the Republican and Democratic parties. The move is said to save nearly ten million dollars from Washington State’s budget.

While Secretary of State, Sam Reed, notes that this is a one-time resolution in response to the 5.2 billion dollar budget gap, he indicated that the primary has more than ten times the turnout than the caucuses. For example, in 2008 the primary drew approximately 1.4 million people while the caucuses included fewer than 100,000. This may be due in part to the fact that the primary system does not exclude overseas voters. Caucuses are typically attended by individuals closely affiliated with their respective parties. As a result, the caucus forum gives party activists greater voice in a candidate’s election than the common voter might otherwise have given a primary. The GOP’s 2012 caucus will be held on March 3, while the Democrats’, with no challenge to President Obama’s renomination, will be held on April 15.

Washington voters passed an initiative establishing the primary system in 1989 reflecting the desire of ordinary people to be more engaged in the presidential electoral process. However, the delegate allocation has traditionally been left to caucus results. Even with the primary, the Democratic Party issues its delegates based on caucus results, while the Republican Party has allocated half of their delegates based on primary results with the other half on caucus results. Thus, some have rightfully pointed out that the primary system in Washington is largely symbolic as its results have only a partial impact. Given Washington State’s financial posture and the reality that the primary system has been largely ceremonial since its institution, it seems that it was a no–brainer for this legislation to be signed into law by the Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire. Continue reading

Appointee to DC Board of Elections and Ethics falls before questionable statute

by Neil Gibson

In Washington, DC, the end of September saw Mayor Vincent Gray rendered helpless before a provision of DC’s statutory code, which foiled Gray’s attempt to fill out membership of the city’s  Board of Elections and Ethics.

In short, “civic activist” Dorothy Brizill, DC’s unofficial “government watchdog,” exposed the failure of Gray’s appointee for Board Chair to meet the residency requirement of the Board of Elections and Ethics statute. The statute calls for all Elections Board members to have lived in the city for three consecutive years, but the appointee, Robert Mallett, only moved to DC from New York City in May, 2010. With Gray already enduring corruption allegations and a recent flap concerning improper vetting of an executive appointee, he cut ties with Mallett soon after the problem arose, and is currently searching for a replacement.

Though there is no arguing the letter of the residency law, the absurdity of its application here rivals the District government’s apparent ignorance of its own legislative code. True, Mallett lived in New York from 2001-2010. But before heading north, he had been a DC resident for seventeen years. While a DC resident, Mallet served as Deputy Mayor, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Commerce, an adjunct professor at the Georgetown Law Center… and the list of his high-profile DC-centric activities goes on. Continue reading

Vincent Gray’s campaign finance slip-ups

by Neil Gibson

In Washington, DC, embattled mayor Vincent Gray and several members of his 2010 mayoral campaign remain the subjects of a federal criminal investigation regarding the campaign’s alleged violations of city campaign finance laws. Among other things, Gray’s campaign faces a growing body of evidence suggesting attempts by staffers to circumvent the city’s $25 cap on an individual’s cash donations to local political campaigns. In particular, the Washington Post discovered this past July that members of Gray’s campaign had repeatedly sought to disguise solicited cash donations of over $25 by illegally using the donated cash to purchase money orders, whose per-individual contribution limit exceeds that of cash. With D.C. Municipal Regulations calling for the itemization and reporting of all campaign contributions exceeding $15, to surreptitiously transform cash into money orders would enable a campaign to report forbidden cash donations of over $25 as money orders, and thereby avoid statutory penalties for campaign finance violations. Continue reading

Terminating “gerrymander” ghouls with transparency: Massachusetts’s 2012 redistricting approach (Part II)

by Richard Clausi

In light of Massachusetts’ long and sordid history with the issue of gerrymandering, it came as no surprise when Democratic Representative Michael J. Moran predicted two months ago that certain residents would be skeptical of the state’s recently-released congressional redistricting plans for the 2012 election cycle. However, thanks to the Massachusetts Legislature’s commitment to governmental transparency over the last eight months, it appears that the majority of Bay State citizens are confident that fairness and equal voting rights will prevail next November.

Beginning in March of this year, the Massachusetts Legislature Redistricting Committee (the “MLRC”) was given the difficult task of creating nine new voting districts following the loss of one of the state’s congressional districts due to the 2010 Census results. In light of the state’s failed 2001 Redistricting Act (which was struck down, in part, due to its discriminatory effects on the voting rights of African-Americans), the MLRC took great steps over the spring and summer monthsto ensure that Massachusetts residents were given the opportunity to weigh in on how the district lines would be drawn for 2012. Through the use of multiple public meetings and an extremely informative and accessible website, MLRC Chairman Michael J. Moran and his colleagues hoped that their “open-forum” philosophy would promote the idea that the new 2012 congressional districts would be created with voting equality principles in mind (as opposed to mere incumbency protection in a Democratic-dominated state).  And for now, that philosophy seems to have accomplished its stated objective. Continue reading

Indiana’s confusing record of voter registration

by Shanna Reulbach

Indiana’s recent history with voter registration is somewhat baffling, to say the least.  The state seems to swing like a pendulum between liberal and conservative measures and priorities, and compliance and defiance of federal mandates that extend the availability of registration materials to new populations.  An illustrative juxtaposition would be that the rhetoric of voter fraud is often at the forefront of Indiana election debates, yet the legislature authorized online voter registration in 2009, when many viewed the use of computer technology as enabling fraud.

The first subject that comes to any election law junkie’s mind in discussing Indiana’s election code is the state’s voter ID requirement and the U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding of the law in its 2008 decision, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.  In that case, Indiana asserted a governmental interest in preventing voter fraud at the polls, pointing to its “unusually inflated list of registered voters” as a major source of concern.  While Crawford was not centered on voter registration, the state’s arguments reveal a lack of confidence in the voter registration process’ ability to prevent fraud.

Fast-forwarding to this past year, two other events mark the voter registration debate.  First, in March, a grand jury indicted Secretary of State Charlie White with three counts of voter fraud: “filing [a] fictitious registration,” “voting where not registered,” and “fraudulent registration.”  White was registered at his ex-wife’s home and voted in that district, even though he had moved away.  Ironically, the Secretary of State serves as the chief election officer.  The Indiana Recount Commission determined that White was eligible to run for that office, but he is still awaiting his criminal trial.  This scandal has shined a spotlight on registration issues, but fraud has not been the rallying point.  All of the parties involved with the accusations, White, his Democrat opponents, and the Commission, agree that registration residency requirements have to be liberalized to account for nontraditional living configurations. Continue reading

Attempts to shine light on the dark side of politics

by Jamel Rowe

Corruption—the dark side of politics— is a problem that legislatures and the general public have been battling since the creation of the United States government. Recently, Pennsylvania made the eradication of corruption in judicial elections its primary goal by introducing House Bill 1815 and House Bill 1816 to the General Assembly.

In Pennsylvania, candidates for the appellate and trial court must run in partisan elections and, consequently, must affiliate themselves with a particular party. Then they must be elected by popular vote. Proponents of judicial elections support the system because they believe it promotes accountability. They argue that judges, who routinely make policy decisions, are in essence legislators.  As a result, judges should be held accountable to the public just like legislators; if they fail to live up to their campaign promises, the public should have the ability to oust them from office. Continue reading

A new generation of poll workers

by Brooks C. Braun

On election day, November 8th, 2011, more than 30 students from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) worked as Officers of Election in Henrico County, VA on behalf of the Tidewater Roots Poll Project (TRPP). TRPP is a project organized by William & Mary students to inspire college students to make a commitment to civic duty and participatory democracy by becoming the next generation of Virginia poll volunteers. We sat down to talk with three of these students to hear what they had to say about their experience.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you heard about TRPP.

TEREZA: My name is Tereza McInnes, I’m an international studies major at VCU and I heard about the Tidewater Roots Poll Project through a VCU e-mail. I was really interested in it because all I’ve heard is that it’s something that ‘old people do’ and I kinda wanted to see what exactly it was about. And I guess I also heard that, you know, there was money involved.

DAVID: My name is David, I’m a 28 year old full time student at VCU. I’m in my fifth year. I have a dual degree in criminal justice and psychology with a concentration in pre-physical therapy. I got an e-mail from VCU saying that they were recruiting. I get 15 to 20 e-mails a day so I just breezed through it and moved on to the next e-mail. Later, one of my other friends, Thomas Kidwell, said that he had spoken to you on campus. He mentioned the e-mail, at which point I went back to read it again. My interest was piqued so I went ahead and put my name in the pool.

GABRIELA: My name is Maria Gabriela Ochoa Perez. I’m a freshman at VCU and I’m studying communication arts. I’m 18. I was born in Venezuela and I became a citizen 2 years ago. I’m really interested in the governmental system here in America because I experienced firsthand in Venezuela what it was like under a less democratic system. I was introduced to the project by this interesting looking gentleman standing in the cold in front of the VCU commons one day. I had already tried to figuring out how to do that kind of thing; poll work. I remember having talked to my government teacher in high school about doing it. I just hadn’t yet taken the time to contact the Montgomery county registrar’s office to sign up. So I was really interested when that nice gentleman told me what TRPP was doing. I mean this is something totally different than just voting. Working at the polls puts you right in the middle of the process and enables you to learn more about it. Continue reading

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