The People Power Newsletter - May 2015


It’s a crazy time for those of us who care about cleaning up our government.  The Race for Money on the campaign trail is dominating the conversation for the 2016 elections, as our current system proves increasingly unable to enforce or create any coherent restrictions.  Candidates can't stop talking about the role of money in politics, but they also can't stop driving sixteen wheelers through our campaign finance law loopholes, raising record amounts, developing new ways around coordination limits and, as Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's points out, haven't really proposed any significant reforms.

Courts say we can't restrict corporate spending, but when one of us speaks out with a dramatic act of civil disobedience, he is threatened with NINE YEARS in jail.  The FEC is completely stalemated, unable to pursue most enforcement actions.  There are even stories about foreign porn companies trying to influence our elections – legally!  What is going on?!?!

Fortunately a lot of us are working to fight back.  So here's a rundown of the latest.

Hawaii Ban on Contributions from Government Contractors Upheld

As if there weren’t enough reasons to want to live in Hawaii, a federal appeals court ruled that, even in the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions, the danger of pay to play with government contractors is a sufficient reason to ban contributions from them. 

EMPOWER ACT Introduced to Fix Presidential Public Financing System

The proposal would create a system of 6-1 matching funds for qualified candidates, eliminate spending limits to make the candidate’s more competitive and make it easier for Americans to fund the system through their existing tax payments.

Bipartisan Proposal would Freeze Districts if Court Throws Out Voter-Created Commissions

In an exciting moment of bipartisan agreement, Congress members of both parties, citing the right of voters to govern elections, want to freeze districts that might be affected by an upcoming Supreme Court decision until the next census.  If the Supreme Court agrees with the (utterly ridiculous) argument that voter-created commissions are unconstitutional because voters are not legislators, independent commissions created by voter initiatives will be declared invalid, opening the door for partisan redrawing of districts in Arizona, California and other states.

Former Justice Stevens Speaks on the Importance of Pursuing Constitutional Amendment

Even if a particular amendment is not adopted, I think putting it before the country as a whole and increasing attention to an issue, and debating it on the merits, may actually help change the law even if the amendment should not be adopted."

Senator Proposes National Voter Registration Web Site

Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York has proposed legislation that would set up a national web site for voter registration which all states must use.  Simple potential solution to a lot of problems!

(Some) States Pushing Ethics Reforms in Wake of Scandal

Indiana is the latest state to pass a series of ethics reforms in the wake of a scandal, this time addressing conflicts of interest and financial disclosure.  An Oregon committee strongly pushed the new governor’s ethics proposals to deal with the previous governor’s lapses.  At the same time, however, the New York Senate has (again) failed to take action on a loophole recently allegedly exploited by the Senate majority leader that allows wealthy individuals to create an infinite number of dummy corporations that contribute up to $150,000 each.

MN Governor Vows to Protect Public Financing, Caps on Lobbyists & PAC Contributions

The proposal, already passed the state House but unlikely to survive the Senate, would eliminate the current rules that place an aggregate cap on how much individuals can raise from lobbyists and PACs as well as the state’s program that provides funding for qualified individuals who agree to other limits.

SEC Pushed from All Sides to Require Disclosure of Political Spending

Following a NY comic strip campaign portraying the SEC chair as a superhero saving investors from undisclosed contributions, 80 activist groups and 70 active investor foundations spoke up in support of forcing disclosure.  Even former SEC commissioners chimed in with a letter saying that failure to act on political spending disclosure “offends” them.  To top it off, the Campaign for Accountability has filed suit against the SEC for failing to follow the rule-making process when deciding not to pursue a proposed disclosure rule in 2013.

TX Considers Major Ethics Overhaul: Fights over Disclosure, Revolving Door Rules Loom

Even as they approach a major legislative deadline, Texas leaders are fighting over a major ethics law with differing versions from each house over nonprofit disclosure requirements, ethics rules regarding governor appointees and a two-year ban on lobbying for elected officials.

Laws Restricting Voting in the Courts

As an appeals court reviews what a lower court has found to be a “poll-tax” (Texas’ restrictive voter id law), a lawsuit has been filed in Ohio for making changes to voting law designed to make it harder for blacks, Latinos and the young to vote.


Stay tuned for more updates next month!