A study by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that more than 3.2 million Americans contributed to federal candidates in the 2016 elections, but fewer than 16,000 of them provided half the total donations. Super PACs spent $1.1 billion in the 2016 elections, nearly 17 times more than such independent political committees put into federal races in 2010, the first year they came into existence, the report found.
“The system has completely transformed,” said Robert Bauer, a Democratic election law attorney who authored the report with GOP campaign-finance lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg and Stanford Law School professor Nathaniel Persily.
The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision did not result in the expected wave of independent corporate political spending. In 2012, corporations spent about $75 million from their treasuries on federal elections, roughly 1 percent of the overall spending that cycle, according to the report. In 2016, just 10 companies made independent expenditures, spending “relatively minuscule amounts,” possibly because corporations prefer lobbying on public policy to taking public political stances that may anger shareholders or customers.
The more significant change is that wealthy individuals and corporate leaders have made the largest donations to super PACs, accounting for 64 percent of the contributions to such groups in recent elections.
Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, a challenge to Ohio’s scheme for purging people who haven’t voted recently from the voter rolls. Under Ohio’s current law, if a person does not vote in a two-year period, they are mailed a notice to verify or correct their address. If they do not respond to the mailer, and don’t vote within the next four years, they are removed from the voter rolls. The process was adopted in 2012 after the state settled a lawsuit by conservative groups pushing Ohio to more aggressively purge its voter rolls. Voting rights advocates challenged the new scheme in court, and the Supreme Court is now taking it up after an appeals court ruled against Ohio.
Voting rights advocates fear that a ruling in favor of Ohio’s system will be used by voter fraud alarmists to pressure other states to more aggressively kick voters off the rolls. “They want the ability to use non-voting to remove people,” Demos senior counsel Stuart Naifeh, who is representing the Ohio challengers, told TPM. “And in these cases that they’ve brought or threatened to bring, they want counties or states to adopt that as a practice.” Four Republican commissioners from Trump’s now-defunct “voter fraud” commission are involved in legal briefs supporting Ohio in the case. Trump’s Justice Department is also backing Ohio, a reversal from the Obama administration’s position.
In an article in the New York Law Journal, Jerry Goldfeder and Myrna Pérez discuss recent progress on voting rights restoration for citizens with criminal records, and look forward to prospects for change in 2018. While 4.7 million Americans are still unable to participate fully in civic life because of restrictive voting rights restoration laws, Goldfeder and Perez point to a number of promising signs:
- In Alabama, the state legislature has passed the “Definition of Moral Turpitude Act” to finally comply with Chapman v. Gooden and define the term to eliminate the discretion that local elected officials used to disenfranchise voters. That case challenged the Alabama Secretary of State’s practice of denying voter registration to all citizens with felony convictions, despite state law being limited to crimes of “moral turpitude,” a vague term that had been problematic for decades. After the trial court in Gooden directed the state to develop a workable definition, they amended their practice in order to avoid further litigation, but it took 10 years, until this past May, for a clarifying law to be passed.
- In New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy has come out strongly in favor of expanding access to voting rights for persons with criminal convictions.
- In Florida, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition has gathered more than 900,000 signatures on a petition to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would restore voting rights to almost all of the 1.5 million people in that state who have completed their sentences.
- The Democracy Restoration Act has been introduced in every Congress since 2008. The Act would restore voting rights in federal elections to all Americans with a past conviction who are living in the community, including those released from prison and probationers who are never incarcerated, affecting about 4.7 million people. New Alabama Senator Doug Jones, who file an amicus brief in the Chapman case, has publicly stated his support for this Act.