The People Power Newsletter - July 2015


The biggest political story of June and July has, of course, been Donald Trump.  Beyond his bombastic personality, his presence in the presidential race demonstrates many of the inherent problems of making our political system dependent on money.  Trump stormed into the race, quickly hired talent away from other conservative groups, and will have the money to make sure that everyone in the country hears his message.  Even if he doesn't win, his presence completely reshapes the race and drives up costs for other candidates.

At the same time, the grassroots movement to prevent corruption continues to build, with Presidential pitstop New Hampshire activists helping to lead the way.  After holding the second annual Revive Democracy Weekend, activists walked six miles from Granny D's backyard, while another group used LED lights to spell "Ayotte Won't Get Money Out" across a Manchester Bridge to pressure Senator Kelly Ayotte to support an amendment to overturn Citizens United.  Another activist leader, Doug Hughes, officially declined a 10-month plea bargain, meaning the gyrocopter pilot is headed to court, facing a sentence of up to 9 1/2 years - for an act of civil disobedience.  In Seattle, meanwhile, activists succeeded in a hard-fought effort to put a campaign finance reform measure on the ballot.


A fun and exciting way to participate this month is to join this video contest.  Democracy for All is offering thousands of dollars for short, creative videos about money in politics. Submit a video between August 12 and December 2 for a chance at a weekly prize of $1,000 and a variety of larger prizes at the end of the contest.

First Person Ever Sentenced to Jail over Coordination, While WI Supreme Court Dismantles Coordination Rules
Tyler Harber was sentenced to two years in jail for working as a campaign manager for a Virginia candidate while helping create a Super-PAC and directing it to spend $325,000 in attack ads. 

However, don't expect this to lead to convictions for 2016 campaigns despite blatant coordination, because two FEC commissioners had to petition their own agency to do its job.  Over in Wisconsin, the Supreme Court ended an investigation into whether Gov. Scott Walker illegally coordinated with outside groups, effectively making coordination limits in the state meaningless.  Notably, some of these groups also provided millions of dollars in campaigns supporting two of the justices involved in the decision.  Walker's support for a publicly-funded stadium owned by a major supporter of his presidential campaigns has also raised questions.

Low-Income, Minority Voters Dramatically Affected by Voting Challenges
A new report reinforces that low income and minority voters are greatly impacted by laws restricting voting.  The report also found that increased voter participation results in greater social spending.  Will this impact the ongoing arguments in court over North Carolina's voting changes that reduced voting opportunities?

LA County Explores Modern Voting Technology as Allegations of Past Voting Machine Tampering Spread
Los Angeles is working with a contractor to explore how to simplify voting and prevent hacking by utilizing simple technology voters are already familiar with. The system stops hacking by printing a copy of the ballot for voters to review and deposit. This feature is increasingly important in the wake of new evidence that voting machines in Wisconsin, Ohio and Kansas were likely tampered with in 2014.  For more information on voter tampering, watch our film Free For All.

FL Supreme Court Overturns Gerrymandered Districts
Enforcing the voter-passed Fair Districts Act that bans the use of partisanship to draw district lines, the Florida Supreme Court rejected gerrymandered Congressional maps drawn after the 2010 census.   Florida now has to redraw 22 districts.  In the wake of the recent Supreme Court redistricting decision, the fight to end gerrymandering is gaining moment and efforts to lead state-level reforms are underway in OhioMaryland and Pennsylvania.  We could start seeing real progress on this issue.

Appeals Court Upholds Ban on Contributions from Government Contractors
According to a Federal Appeals Court, the Citizens United ruling, despite loosening restrictions, still allows limits on contributions from companies with government contracts due to the possibility of quid pro quo corruption.  Let's hope President Obama is listening and also signs an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political spending.

Bush Calls for 6-Year Lobbying Ban on former Congressmembers 
Jeb Bush made the proposal as part of a broader plan to clean up corruption in D.C.

Democracy for All has 150 Co-Sponsors
Congressmember Sarbanes' Democracy for All bill, which would establish a system of public financing via matching funds to small donations, has garnered 150 co-sponsors to-date, an impressive number that is only possible because of the huge coalition of activists working on this issue.  Meanwhile, Maine activists are pushing to strengthen their public financing laws, even as Las Cruces and Tempe City Council consider establishing their first public financing programs.  

DE Broad Election Ad Disclosure Law Upheld
Delaware's law requiring any group that spends $500 or more on advertising that refers to a candidate to publicly reveal their donors was upheld by a federal appeals court.  This limit applies to online advertising, mailings and television.  Meanwhile, Alabama and Philadelphia have both strengthened their disclosure laws, with Alabama strengthening an independent ethics commission and Philadelphia by requiring disclosure more often.