Category Archives: Elected Officials

What Do I Need to Vote? Bias in Information Provision by Local Election Officials

Source: Julie K. Faller, Noah L. Nathan and Ariel R. White, Harvard University, Preliminary draft, May 10, 2013

From the abstract:
The adoption of voter identification (ID) requirements has raised concerns that these laws differentially reduce turnout among minorities. We use a field experiment to investigate one mechanism by which these laws could reduce turnout: differential in- formation provision about voting requirements to minorities. We contact over 7,000 local election administrators in 48 states and observe that they provide different in- formation about ID requirements to voters of different putative ethnicities. Emails sent from Latino aliases are significantly less likely to receive any response from local election officials than non-Latino white aliases and receive responses of lower quality. This raises concerns about the effect of voter ID laws on access to the franchise and about bias in the provision of information by local bureaucrats more generally.

Poverty Scorecard 2012

Source: Shriver Center, March 2013

The Poverty Scorecard measures how every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives voted on what we have identified as the most significant poverty-related proposed legislation of 2012.

Key findings
• In 2012, Congress did virtually nothing to advance justice or opportunity for the 46 million people living in poverty in the U.S.
• While the significant poverty-related legislation voted on by Congress in 2012 spanned a wide range of subject areas, Congress passed only two pieces of significant poverty-related legislation, both of which were compromise measures related to extending tax cuts and credits and averting fiscal disaster.
• There were very few moderates in Congress in 2012. 95% of the Senators and 92% of the Representatives were at one extreme or the other, receiving a grade of A+ or A or D, F or F-. Only 5 Senators and 32 Representatives received a B or C grade.
• States with a lower poverty rate were more likely to have a Congressional delegation with a good recording in voting to fight poverty. 9 of the 10 states with A or A+ records had poverty rates below the national average of 15%.
• States with a higher poverty rate were more likely to have a Congressional delegation with a poor record in voting to fight poverty. 14 of the 20 states with D, F or F- records had poverty rates that were higher than the national average of 15%.
•There is at most only a very weak correlation between the poverty rate in a Congressional district and the voting record of the Member of the House of Representatives who represents that district.
See also:
Executive Summary
Methodology
Bill Summaries
Voting Records by State
Summary Analysis
Maps
Infographic: What Are Our Representatives Doing About Poverty?

State Policy Network (SPN): Aiding ALEC & Spinning Disinformation in the States

Source: Center for Media and Democracy, April 2013

In this new online resource, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD, the publisher of the award-winning ALECexposed.org investigation) documents the more than $80 million that right-wing billionaires and corporations are spending each year to fuel Tracie Sharp’s State Policy Network (SPN) and its 59 state “think tank” members, along with the controversial Heartland Institute, an SPN ally like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that tries to change both state and federal law. Read more in CMD’s special report on PRWatch.org.

CMD’s investigation uncloaks some of the major funders of these expanding operations in the states and raises major concerns over whose agenda these front groups are advancing in the states:
– Secretive Funds This investigation identifies hundreds of thousands of dollars, and perhaps much more than that, which Sharp distributes to these organizations but that is not disclosed to the IRS as passing through SPN’s books. See the SourceWatch article on SPN Funding for more.
– Even More Koch Money than Previously Known. This guide also flags that substantial funding has come from Koch Industries itself and not only the Koch family foundations. That is, hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least, has been spent by the privately held energy conglomerate controlled by two of the richest billionaires in the world, Charles and David Koch. See the SourceWatch article on SPN Funding for more.
– Trying to Change the Law, but Reporting Little or No Lobbying. Like ALEC, SPN and its affiliates seek to change state laws, but report little or no lobbying. That means that corporations and individuals (like Koch Industries and others) that fund their operations can get a tax write-off for funding SPN efforts. See the SourceWatch article on the SPN Agenda for more.
– SPN Funders Help Some Interests Get Multiple Votes on ALEC Bills. The relationship between SPN affiliates and ALEC is strong and is funded by some of the same donors. That means that some corporate interests like the Kochs get, in effect, multiple votes to change the law on ALEC task forces, where corporate lobbyists and special interest groups like SPN operations vote as equals with elected officials behind closed doors. See the SourceWatch article on SPN Ties to ALEC for more.
– SPN Funders Have Included Some of the Richest and Most Ideological Families in the Country. Fueling SPN-related efforts is a bevy of right-wing billionaires and foundations beyond the Koch brothers and including the Bradley Foundation, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund (large donor-directed funds), the Olin Foundation, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation (the Amway fortune), the Coors-related Castle Rock Foundation and the Adolph Coors Foundation, the McCamish Foundation, the JM Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Roe Foundation. See the SourceWatch article on SPN Funding for more.
– SPN’s Legislative Agenda Is Frequently Buttressed by Its Forays as “Press” and the Echoes of Its Allies in the Growing Right-Wing State “Press” Corps. As CMD was one of the first to document, SPN groups like the Goldwater Institute are hiring people to act as reporters, and the legislative agenda of SPN is increasingly echoed by the growing right-wing infrastructure of groups that pose as press. Some even get their stories or “reports” picked up as news and delivered to state newspapers as a “wire” service like the Associated Press, as with the Franklin Center’s Watchdog.org groups and the Ryun brothers-allied “American Majority” and “Media Trackers” operations. See the SourceWatch article on the SPN Agenda for more….

Former Presidents: Pensions, Office Allowances, and Other Federal Benefits

Source: Wendy Ginsberg, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress, RL34631, March 21, 2013

The Former Presidents Act (FPA; 3 U.S.C. §102 note) charges the General Services Administration (GSA) with providing former Presidents a pension, support staff, office support, travel funds, and mailing privileges. The FPA was enacted to “maintain the dignity” of the Office of the President. The act provides the former President—and his or her spouse—certain benefits to help him respond to post-presidency mail and speaking requests, among other informal public duties often required of a former President. Prior to enactment of the FPA in 1958, former Presidents leaving office received no pension or other federal assistance. Former Presidents currently receive a pension that is equal to pay for Cabinet Secretaries (Executive Level I), which is $199,700 in 2013. In addition to benefits provided pursuant to the FPA, former Presidents are also provided Secret Service protection and financial “transition” benefits to assist their transition to post-presidential life. Pursuant to the FPA, former Presidents are eligible for benefits unless they hold “an appointive or elective office or position in or under the Federal Government or the government of the District of Columbia to which is attached a rate of pay other than a nominal rate…..

…This report provides a legislative and cultural history of the Former Presidents Act. It details the benefits provided to former Presidents and their costs. Congress has the authority to reduce, increase, or maintain the pension and benefits provided to former Presidents of the United States. This report considers the potential effects of maintaining the FPA or amending the FPA in ways that might reduce or otherwise modify a former President’s benefits. …

Election 2012 : Is a Second Term a Second Chance for Labor?

Source: Gordon Lafer, New Labor Forum, Vol. 22 no. 1, Winter 2013
(subscription required)

…So what can the election tell us about the voters, the parties, and the way forward for labor?…Why can’t the Democrats be the party we wish they were? The simple answer is that they are too dependent on big money….I do not believe anyone in the labor movement has a master plan for victory, and this is not one.
But the combination of polls, votes, and experience points to several steps unions can take to help move politics forward in 2013 and beyond.
Focus on the States
Put Workplace Organizing at the Center of Our Political Operation
Recruit Members to Serve as Public Ambassadors
Campaign against the Corporate Lobbies
Run Proactive Ballot Initiatives
Encourage Occupy

United States of ALEC

Source: Moyers & Company, September 28, 2012

From the summary:
Moyers & Company presents “United States of ALEC,” a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of — ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.

Using interviews, documents, and field reporting, the episode explores ALEC’s self-serving machine at work, acting in a way one Wisconsin politician describes as “a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests.”

In state houses around the country, hundreds of pieces of boilerplate ALEC legislation are proposed or enacted that would, among other things, dilute collective bargaining rights, make it harder for some Americans to vote, and limit corporate liability for harm caused to consumers — each accomplished without the public ever knowing who’s behind it.

Related:
Interactive Map: Is Your State Legislator a Member of ALEC?

ALEC Rock

Time for Democrats to Pay Their Dues

Source: James Thindwa, In These Times, February 6, 2013

For too long organized labor has failed to ask the Dems, ‘Which side are you on?’…Democratic leaders who think their party can survive without labor are grossly mistaken. Who will turn out the base—MoveOn.org?…The fact is, the success of the American labor movement has always depended upon a welcoming policy environment facilitated by an allied political party. While many forces are contributing to labor’s decline, we can no longer ignore a central one: The once-reliable Democratic Party has abandoned the cause. However, the party remains heavily dependent on labor for financial and organizational infrastructure….