Category Archives: Elected Officials

ALEC v Kids: ALEC’s Assault on Public Education

Source: Progress Florida, Better Georgia, Progress Iowa, Progress Michigan, Progress Missouri, Progress Now Nevada, Progress Texas, Alliance for a Better Utah, Progress VA, 2013

From Progress Iowa’s summary:
Read the new report detailing the damaging influence the corporate front group ALEC has on public education policy. The report, ALEC v Kids, demonstrates the growing influence ALEC holds in Iowa and across the country, including its secretive access to elected officials and the drafting of ‘model’ education policy designed to benefit ALEC’s corporate funders which compliant lawmakers pass off as their own then push into law.

Among the key findings in ALEC v Kids:

Iowa enacted ALEC’s indirect voucher policy in 2006, a tax giveaway to defund public education and instead provide tax breaks for attending private schools

ALEC is attempting to expand charter schools across the country, including in Iowa. Governor Vilsack signed legislation in 2002 establishing a pilot program of charter schools, and although this year’s legislation did not pass, ALEC and its ally Students First appear to be gearing up for renewed legislative efforts in our state.

Bridgepoint Education, a corporate member of ALEC’s education task force, operates one of their two online universities in Iowa (Ashford University in Clinton). Bridgepoint has an abysmal track record, one of the worst of any of their competitors (84.4% of students seeking an associates degree withdraw from school).

ALEC v. Kids focuses on nine states, and analyzes the disastrous effect of ALEC’s education policy. The report details examples at the state level, specifically the negative effects of ALEC policies and the coordination between ALEC and its allies. By examining the real world effects of ALEC policies and coordination across a single issue, this report examines ALEC from a unique perspective.

Noel Canning, the NLRB, and Industry Campaign Contributions

Source: Public Campaign, July 1, 2013

From the summary:
In January, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia threw American labor law into chaos in its Noel Canning v. NLRB decision that rejected President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency in charge of conducting elections for labor union representation as well as investigating and remedying unfair labor practices.

The recess appointments, a practice that has been employed for decades by presidents from both major parties, were made after Senate Republicans blocked the nominees from going through the normal appointment process. As the Senate prepares to once again take up the NLRB appointments and other stalled nominations after the July 4th recess, it’s important to look at one factor that often looms large in voting decisions by certain senators—campaign cash.

Since the January ruling, many companies have used the Noel Canning decision to challenge NLRB rulings relating to their labor practices. According to analysis of campaign finance data, at least 38 of these have donated to Senate Republicans opposing an operable NLRB.

In fact, the 45 Senate Republicans who signed a “friend of the court” brief in the Noel Canning case1 and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) have received a combined $6 million in campaign contributions over the years from the owners, executives and PACs of companies and trade groups that have used the ruling to dispute NLRB decisions and organizations that have been players in the litigation.

Top 15 Contributors Among Companies/Litigants:
US Chamber of Commerce
General Motors
Target Corp
Caterpillar Inc.
DirecTV Group
GEO Group
Sanderson Farms
Nestle USA
Embarq Corp
Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Meredith Corp
Laboratory Corp of America
Murphy Oil
National Assn. of Manufacturers

See also:
National Labor Relations Board Uncertainty Benefits Big Corporate Donors: Report
Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, July 2, 2013

Are the 1% of the 1% pulling politics in a conservative direction?

Source: Lee Drutman, Sunlight Foundation blog, June 26, 2013

The more conservative the Republican, the more dependent that Republican is likely to be on the nation’s biggest individual donors, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis of campaign finance data finds. By “biggest individual donors,” we are referring to a group we named “the 1% of the 1%” after the share of the U.S. population that they represent.

These wealthy donors may be pulling Republicans to the political right, acting as a force for a more polarized Congress. The polarizing effect for Democrats, meanwhile, is unclear. If anything, more liberal Democrats depend a little less on 1% of the 1% donors than conservative Democrats.

As we explored in our big-picture look at the 1% of the 1%, the biggest donors in American politics tend to give big sums of money because they want one party to win. Approximately 85 percent of the top individual donors in U.S. politics contributed at least 90 percent of their money to one party or the other. By contrast, less than four percent of these donors spread their money roughly equally between the two parties (a 60-40 split or less).
See also:
The Political 1% of the 1% in 2012
Source: Lee Drutman, Sunlight Foundation blog, June 24, 2013

The 1% of the 1% by state

Source: Amy Cesal and Ben Chartoff and Lee Drutman, Sunlight Foundation blog, June 24, 2013

Legislators and special interests are making sure we get the state court judges they want

Source: L. Jay Jackson, ABA Journal, July 2013

Not content that Iowa Supreme Court justices have been sufficiently chastised for legalizing gay marriage, a group of conservative state legislators tried to cut the salaries of the four remaining justices who were part of the 2009 decision. In April the lawmakers filed an amendment to slash their annual pay from $163,200 to $25,000. Voters had already removed the other three justices who voted for same-sex marriage in a 2010 retention election after activists campaigned against them….Although Iowa legislators dropped the pay cut amendment in May, experts nevertheless expect more such efforts. They say these measures reflect a broad trend of attacks on impartial arbiters who vote in ways that anger certain groups. It is part of a national war on state courts fought mostly by legislators and special interests who are targeting judges with negative campaign ads, and by legislators attempting to pack or unpack higher courts with like-minded jurists. Judges are battling from the bench, often with their hands tied by ethics rules that require them to take the high road, despite low blows. Legal observers say the judiciary is under attack as never before, jeopardizing the American tradition of impartial jurisprudence….

State Judicial Threat Assessment
Some state courts are feeling the pressure more than others. Here is a look at what’s going on around the country, where threats against the judiciary are high, low or somewhere in between.

Last year, California passed disqualification rules that go into effect if a judge received contributions of $5,000 or more in support of a campaign during the last six years (or in support of an upcoming campaign) from a lawyer or party involved in a case. The rules require judges to disclose campaign contributions of $100 or more from a party, lawyer or law office involved in a case and to complete a campaign ethics course before the election.

Supreme court justices are appointed for 12-year terms through a rigorous merit selection process where a nominating commission sends three names to the governor.

Three supreme court justices were voted out during the 2010 retention elections for ruling in favor of gay marriage. And this year, legislators sought to reduce the salaries of certain remaining justices by more than three-quarters. The measure was later withdrawn by sponsors after widespread condemnation.

This year, state legislators scrapped merit selection and gave the governor authority to name Kansas Court of Appeals judges, subject to Senate confirmation.

In 2008, outside groups lobbied to reduce the size of the supreme court by two justices, reportedly to remove two Republicans on the court. The next year, the supreme court enacted strong recusal rules allowing the full court to determine whether a challenged judge should be removed from a case.

Big business and the insurance industry give generously to stack the bench with pro-corporate candidates, resulting in the high court issuing a disproportionate amount of rulings abridging injured plaintiffs’ rights.

Earlier this year, legislators proposed recusal of judges who have accepted more than $2,500 from a party or law firm arguing before them. And a former Texas Supreme Court chief justice recently said the state has “one of the worst systems” for judicial elections.

United States of ALEC

Source: Bill Moyers, June 21, 2013
(video & transcript)

From the summary:
A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — 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.

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. 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.”…

….Following up on a 2012 report, this update includes new examples of corporate influence on state legislation and lawmakers, the growing public protest against ALEC’s big business-serving agenda, and internal tactics ALEC is instituting to further shroud its actions and intentions….

The impact of unions on municipal elections and urban fiscal policies

Source: Holger Siega, Yu Wanga, Journal of Monetary Economics, Available online 7 May 2013
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The efficient decentralized provision of public goods requires that special interest groups, such as municipal unions, do not exercise undue influence on the outcome of municipal elections and local fiscal policies. We develop a new political economy model in which a union can endorse one of the candidates in a local election. A politician that prefers an inefficiently large public sector can, therefore, win an election if the union can provide sufficiently strong support during the campaign. We have assembled a unique data set that is based on union endorsements that are published in leading local newspapers. Our empirical analysis focuses on municipal elections in the 150 largest cities in the U.S. between 1990 and 2012. We find that challengers strongly benefit from endorsements in competitive elections. Challengers that receive union endorsements and successfully defeat an incumbent also tend to adopt more union friendly fiscal policies.
Comment on “The Impact of Unions on Municipal Elections and Urban Fiscal Policies” by Holger Sieg and Yu Wang
Source: Laura Feiveson, Journal of Monetary Economics, Available online 9 May 2013
(subscription required)

Beyond the Right: Anti-Unionism and Reform

Source: Chad Pearson, LaborOnline blog, June 11, 2013

A clear-eyed assessment of current attacks against organized labor reveal that the “right”—the Republican Party and its electoral, financial, and ideological supporters—is not the exclusive source of labor’s problem. This is certainly the case in the public sector. School teachers throughout the nation, for instance, are currently facing numerous challenges from politicians, and Democrats have been especially problematic….

…We can also point to examples of anti-union activities on the part of “progressive” managers in the private sector. While a number of scholars have deepened our understanding of the high level of exploitation and intimidation experienced by Wal-Mart workers, we do not need to look far to find evidence of worker abuse and union-busting at some of the nation’s more civilized workplaces, including Costco and Whole Foods. Indeed, managers at these companies, including individuals who have strongly endorsed Democratic Party politicians, have repeatedly demonstrated a mastery of the craft of union-avoidance. In 2009, both Costco and Whole Foods lobbied against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)…

Do Unions Promote Members’ Electoral Office Holding? Evidence from Correlates of State Legislatures’ Occupational Shares

Source: Aaron J. Sojourner, Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 66, No. 2, April 2013
(subscription required)

Controversies over the promise and the perils of union political influence have erupted around the United States. The author develops the first evidence on the degree to which labor unions develop members’ political leadership in the broader community by studying the relationship between state legislators’ occupations and the unionization rates of occupations across U.S. states. The fraction of legislators of a given occupation in a state increases with the occupation’s rate of unionization in that state compared with the fraction of legislators of the same occupation in other states with lower unionization rates. This pattern shows up to varying degrees among the three public-sector and one private-sector occupations considered: K-12 teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and construction workers. The pattern holds conditional on differences in observable state characteristics and when using state fixed effects. Although much research has described the role of unions in influencing economic outcomes and in politics through lobbying, campaign contributions, and voter mobilization, the author adds a new perspective on the role of unions in society. They promote elected political leadership by individuals from working- and middle-class jobs. Arguments over the social value of this role of unions are explored.

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
Bill Summaries
Voting Records by State
Summary Analysis
Infographic: What Are Our Representatives Doing About Poverty?