A Dark Money IOU

Campaign Finance, Policy

This is an article I co-authored on the latest project I’ve working on at the Center for Responsive Politics:

  • In Oklahoma, a dark money group tried to get the state’s GOP House speaker, T.W. Shannon, elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014. Though it claimed to be a social welfare nonprofit, Oklahomans for a Conservative Future spent most of its money that year on pro-Shannon political advocacy.
  • Along the way, at least one of those running the group also worked for consulting firms paid by the Shannon campaign itself. And an affidavit given in connection with drug charges against OCF’s co-founder suggested the group may have been acting as an extension of Shannon’s campaign.
  • OCF owned up to overspending on politics in a letter to the IRS — but told the agency not to worry, because in 2015 it made up for the transgression.
  • Even if that kind of accounting were allowed — which it’s not, experts say — the group appears to have done little more since Shannon’s defeat than run ads made by a trade group of independent oil and gas producers.
  • The link between the trade group and the nonprofit? Former Rep. J.C. Watts, lobbyist for the trade group and former employer of several of the nonprofit’s board members.

Read the full article on OpenSecrets.orgNonprofit cops to too much politicking, sends IRS an IOU

Political nonprofit spent nearly 100 percent of funds to elect Tillis in ’14

Campaign Finance

An article about a project to which I contributed research for the Center for Responsive Politics‘ OpensSecrets blog:

Political nonprofit spent nearly 100 percent of funds to elect Tillis in ’14

The Center for Responsive Politics’ op-ed in the New York Times has more about how the case of Carolina Rising challenges the IRS and the FEC to enforce the law.

My own take on Carolina Rising and using criminal complaints against dark money groups in the Center for Responsive Politics‘ OpensSecrets blog.

Strength and weakness of the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014

Law, Policy, Voting

My op-ed for The Hill’s Congress Blog:

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which includes a provision mandating that specified states “preclear” any changes in election regulations with the federal government. The court upheld other provisions of the Vot­ing Rights Act intact, including Section 2, a permanent provision that prohibits racially discriminatory voting laws nationwide, but determined that Section 4(b) is unconstitutional. Section 4(b) constitutes the “coverage formula” used to apply Section 5. As enacted, Section 4 requires certain states and jurisdictions that were determined by the formula to have a history of racially unbalanced voting to preclear any changes in election regulation with the federal government, even changes as minor as moving a polling station from one building to another.

The Court in Shelby found that the provision was unconstitutional because it was based on outmoded data from voter turnout in 1964, 1968, or 1972 elections. Further, many states and vicinities subject to preclearance no longer correspond to the same incidence of racial discrimination in voting. In fact, the Census Bureau has reported that black voters voted at substantially higher rates than whites in seven of the states covered by Section 5, a rate higher than many other states that remain unaffected by Section 5.

A main qualm that many proponents of the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014 have with the holding in Shelby is not its invalidation of Section 4 itself, but the consequential rendering of Section 5 as toothless.  What many liberals overlook is that Section 5 is a temporary, emergency provision passed in 1965 that was originally supposed to expire after five years. In fact, the emergency provision was enacted for the purpose of providing temporary federal receivership of state elections. However, Congress renewed the so-called emergency provision for the fourth time in 2006.

I couldn’t agree more with proponents of the bill who contend that individuals should not have to jump through hoops to register to vote and locate their proper voting locations. However, I also believe that state officials should not have to overcome significant obstacles to manage insignificant changes to elections and placing the burden of proving that voting change “neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color” on each jurisdiction every time the voting location changes from one building to another.

Requiring federal preclearance with the Justice Department or a federal court of any minuscule change to voting laws is essentially putting these states into the equivalent of federal receivership. The few benefits of the bill are simply not worth the far-reaching political intrusion that this version of the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 would permit.

In addition to the fundamentally intrusive nature of the bill, the protections provided for are sorely inadequate. Two glaring example of essential weakness of the current version of the bill is the exceptions for voter identification laws and the increased reliance on federal litigation as the only means of enforcing the provisions.

How, then, has a bill that flagrantly infringes upon state rights and arbitrarily imposes obstacles on local election boards based on outmoded data without even touching on one of the most controversial modern voting restrictions gained such wide bipartisan support?

Perhaps the answer can be found in a nonpartisan common goal shared by legislators across America: reelection. Politicians can enact gerrymanders that, depending on the composition of the legislature, give incumbents or one party a substantial electoral advantage while more easily attributing the structure of districts on Section 5.
The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 oversteps its mark by a longshot and would be a substantial step back for the freedom of voters across the county. In Shelby, Chief Justice John Roberts invited Congress to “draft another formula based on current conditions.” I strongly encourage Congress to keep drafting.

Source: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/judicial/198922-strengths-and-weakness-of-the-voting-rights-amendment-act-of