Category Archives: Politics

Members of Congress respond to more than money – sometimes

Source: Jan Leighley, Jennifer Oser, The Conversation, February 9, 2018

Does citizen activism really affect the actions of elected officials?

Despite the ubiquitous role of money in campaigns, elections and policymaking, some citizens clearly still believe in the power of protest.

In the month of December 2017 alone, an organization called The Crowd Counting Consortiumtallied 796 protests, demonstrations, strikes, marches, sit-ins and rallies,” some of them featuring thousands of people, across the country. Over the past year, the offices of many members of Congress and other elected officials have been jammed with constituents voicing their opinions on the Affordable Care Act, the immigration program called DACA, abortion and sexual harassment, among others.

But does all of this sign waving and sitting in actually influence elected officials?

As social scientists, we have long been interested in political participation and online activism. We used this knowledge to design a study that looks at whether activism changes the votes of elected officials – and whether the effect is strong enough to mitigate the power of donated money.

What we found is that citizens can make their voices heard – at least some of the time….

As Conservative Group Grows In Influence, Financial Dealings Enrich Its Leaders

Source: Mick Dumke and Tina Sfondeles, ProPublica and Chicago Sun-Times, February 8, 2018

Illinois Policy Institute has called for government reform while channeling money to firms owned by insiders. ….

…. Through an often-dizzying series of transactions, Tillman and his associates have moved millions of dollars around five interconnected nonprofits they run, steering money to for-profit ventures in which they have a stake.

For example, in addition to his role as chief executive officer at the institute, Tillman is the board chairman and former president of Think Freely Media, another small-government nonprofit that once shared office space with the institute and received hundreds of thousands of dollars from it in grant money. ….

…..Tax records show that a handful of conservative, wealthy benefactors were key to the growth of the Illinois Policy Institute and its partner organizations.

Among them:
• The Rauner Family Foundation, created and led by Bruce Rauner, then the leader of a private equity firm. The Rauner foundation donated $625,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute between 2009 and 2013.
• A family foundation headed by Richard Uihlein, the leader of a packaging company who lives in Lake Forest. The Uihlein foundation has given $8.6 million to the institute since 2009 and another $2.4 million to the Liberty Justice Center and Think Freely Media.
• The Mercer Family Foundation, which has contributed $1.1 million since 2009. The family has been a major financial backer of President Donald Trump and, until a recent falling out, the far-right Breitbart website.
• Donors Trust, which distributes money to conservative groups around the country, including those led and funded by the industrialist Koch brothers. Donors Trust gave the institute and Think Freely Media $1.4 million from 2009 to 2015……

Will the Supreme Court deal a blow to trade unions?

Source: S. M., The Economist, Democracy in America blog, February 1, 2018

The court will consider whether unions can require non-member workers to help pay for collective bargaining.

OF ALL the blockbuster cases at the Supreme Court this year, Janus v American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is expected to hold the fewest surprises. Janus, which is due to be argued on February 26th, asks whether public employees who choose not to join their designated union may nevertheless be charged “agency fees” to support collective bargaining. Since 1977, when Abood v City of Detroit Board of Education was decided, it has been acceptable to require non-members to subsidise contract negotiations over their salary, benefits and working conditions, but a no-no to make them pay toward a union’s lobbying or political organising. This compromise was teetering on the edge in 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia died while a case raising the same question, Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, was pending. Bereft of a fifth vote to seal Abood’s demise, the justices split 4-to-4 in Friedrichs and put the 40-year precedent back on life support. 

The man everyone expects to help pull the plug this time is Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s pick to replace Justice Scalia. Observers think Justice Gorsuch will join his four conservative brethren to say that workers should not be compelled to subsidise union negotiations for higher wages any more than they are required to pay for efforts to elect candidates or advocate for political causes. Undoing that distinction may be how Janus is resolved. But a brief from two libertarian legal scholars, alongside a brief submitted by a bevy of eminent economists, supplies a strong case for preserving what unions call “fair-share fees”…..

Related:
The Eminent Libertarians Who Might Save Public Sector Unions
Source: Rachel M. Cohen, The Intercept, February 2, 2018

The Supreme Court will hear arguments this month in a case challenging the constitutionality of so-called agency fees, payments that workers represented by a union must pay if they do not wish to be dues-paying members. Conservatives have been crusading against these fees for years on First Amendment grounds, and with Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the labor movement’s odds seem grim.

But last month, unions got a surprising lifeline from an unlikely friend: Two prominent conservative legal scholars filed an amicus brief in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31 — the case before the court — urging the justices to uphold a 1977 decision that ruled the agency fees constitutional…..

33 prominent economists, 3 Nobel laureates to the Supreme Court: The anti-union position in Janus is simply wrong as a matter of basic economics
Source: Dan Jackson, American Constitution Society blog, January 25, 2018

Thirty-six distinguished economists and professors of law and economics including three Nobel laureates, two recipients of the American Economic Association’s prestigious John Bates Clark Medal, and two past presidents of the American Economic Association filed an amici curiae brief to assist the Supreme Court in understanding the free-rider problem at issue in Janus v. AFSCME….

How protests can affect elections

Source: C.K., The Economist, Democracy in America blog, January 26, 2018

America is seeing a new era of female political activism.

….. Research suggests that protest movements can have a significant impact on elections. Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute and colleagues made a striking discovery when they studied the effect of rallies held by the Tea Party movement on April 15th 2009 against high taxes and government spending. …. Overall they estimated that a 0.1% increase in the share of the population protesting at a rally corresponded to a 1.9 percentage point increase in the share of Republican votes. From these results, they reckoned that the protests as a whole mobilised between 2.7m and 5.5m additional votes for the Republican Party in the 2010 House elections –or between 3% and 6% of all House votes cast that year.

…. Ms Chenoweth’s most conservative estimate of participants in the 2017 Women’s Marches (the biggest such rally that year) is five times Mr Veuger’s midpoint estimate of participants in the Tea Party rallies of 2009. If a similar relationship applied nationwide to Democratic Party vote share in the mid-terms after the women’s marches as to the Republican mid-term vote share after the Tea Party rally it would imply a Democratic landslide.  The impact is unlikely to be so dramatic, however. …..

From the Bargaining Table to the Ballot Box: Political Effects of Right to Work Laws

Source: James Feigenbaum, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, and Vanessa Williamson, National Bureau of Economic Research, January 20, 2018 (draft)

Labor unions play a central role in the Democratic party coalition, providing candidates with voters, volunteers, and contributions, as well as lobbying policymakers. Has the sustained decline of organized labor hurt Democrats in elections and shifted public policy? We use the enactment of right-to-work laws—which weaken unions by removing agency shop protections — to estimate the effect of unions on politics from 1980 to 2016. Comparing counties on either side of a state and right-to-work border to causally identify the effects of the state laws, we find that right-to-work laws reduce Democratic Presidential vote shares by 3.5 percentage points. We find similar effects in US Senate, US House, and Gubernatorial races, as well as on state legislative control. Turnout is also 2 to 3 percentage points lower in right-to-work counties after those laws pass. We next explore the mechanisms behind these effects, finding that right-to-work laws dampen organized labor campaign contributions to Democrats and that potential Democratic voters are less likely to be contacted to vote in right-to-work states. The weakening of unions also has large downstream effects both on who runs for office and on state legislative policy. Fewer working class candidates serve in state legislatures and Congress, and state policy moves in a more conservative direction following the passage of right-to-work laws.

Democrats Paid a Huge Price for Letting Unions Die

Source: Eric Levitz, New York, January 26, 2018

The GOP understands how important labor unions are to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, historically, has not. If you want a two-sentence explanation for why the Midwest is turning red (and thus, why Donald Trump is president), you could do worse than that.

With its financial contributions and grassroots organizing, the labor movement helped give Democrats full control of the federal government three times in the last four decades. And all three of those times — under Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama — Democrats failed to pass labor law reforms that would to bolster the union cause. In hindsight, it’s clear that the Democratic Party didn’t merely betray organized labor with these failures, but also, itself…..

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part I)

Source: Victoria L. Killion, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10042, December 4, 2017

The Supreme Court long ago described the First Amendment’s protection against compelled speech as a “fixed star in our constitutional constellation.” This Term, the Court may decide whether it has steered too far from that shining precept in the area of public employee union dues (or agency fees) in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Specifically, the Court will consider whether to overrule its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, in which the Court announced the basic test for determining the validity of “agency shop” arrangements between a union and a government employer. Agency shop arrangements (sometimes called “fair share” provisions) require employees to pay a fee to the union designated to represent their bargaining unit even if the employees are not members of that union. The Abood Court held that these arrangements do not violate the First Amendment insofar as the union uses the fees for “collective bargaining activities” and not “ideological activities unrelated to collective bargaining.” In its October 2015 Term, the full Court heard oral argument on whether to overrule Abood, but ultimately divided four-to-four on this question following the death of Justice Scalia. Now that Justice Gorsuch has joined the bench, it remains to be seen whether a majority of the Court will reaffirm Abood or chart a new course. Part I of this two-part Sidebar provides general background on Abood and the case law leading up to Janus. Part II then discusses the perspectives Justice Gorsuch may bring to Janus and the potential implications of the decision for public sector collective bargaining and compulsory fees more broadly.

Public Sector Union Dues: Grappling with Fixed Stars and Stare Decisis (Part II)
Source: Victoria L. Killion, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10041, December 4, 2017

As discussed in Part I of this two-part Sidebar, on March 29, 2016, an eight-member Supreme Court divided equally over whether to overrule its 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education and hold that public sector agency fees violate core First Amendment principles (the Court’s “fixed star”). Earlier this Term, the Court agreed to consider the question again in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. Part II of this Sidebar begins with a brief summary of the parties’ arguments in Janus. It then highlights some key statements from the prior decisions of Justice Gorsuch, who is likely to be a critical voice in deciding whether to overturn Abood. The post concludes by exploring the potential implications of the Janus decision.

Flippable

Source: Flippable, 2018

We’re aiming to flip 100 seats across the country.

We can’t flip Congress without the states.
State governments often draw the district maps for national elections—and controlling that process has given the GOP an unfair advantage. States control voting methods and set voting requirements. When the GOP suppresses votes, Dems lose.

From healthcare to racial justice, the laws that impact our lives the most are often passed by states—not by the federal government.
States chip away at access to reproductive health care and LGBTQIA rights.
– From 2010 to 2016, states passed 338 laws restricting the right to choose.
– In 2016 alone, GOP state politicians introduced 200+ anti-LGBTQIA bills.

States are leading—or standing in the way—of efforts to fight climate change.
– Scientists have found that air pollution is a whole lot worse in states with GOP governors.
– In 2008, nine northeastern states pledged to cut their emissions by 40%—and they followed through. Now they’re working to cut another 30%.

Serving at the state level gets inspiring progressive Dems ready to run for national office.
– Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, and Maxine Waters all made their way to the national stage via state governments. 
– State offices are a great way for young people, women and people of color, and non-wealthy people to get involved.

Compared to national races, state races are cheap.
Investing in these races is an extremely effective use of our dollars—that’s one big reason the GOP has been doing it for years.

What we’ll do:

Tip the Balance:
What We’ll Do
We’ll target states where winning just a few seats can flip a whole chamber of the state legislature.

Why We’ll Do It
By investing where we can flip a state house, we can enact progressive policies across the country.

Potential 2018 States
Colorado
Maine
Minnesota

Change the Game:
What We’ll Do
We’ll target states with histories of gerrymandering or voter suppression.

Why We’ll Do It
States write the rules of our national elections and control voting requirements. By flipping seats in these states, we can start to restore democracy at both the state and national levels.

Potential 2018 States
Pennsylvania
Michigan
Iowa
Wisconsin
Florida
North Carolina

Turn The Tide:
What We’ll Do
We’ll target states where we can reverse Republican gains and lay the groundwork for future progressive victories.

Why We’ll Do It
We see opportunities in traditionally deep-red states where we can flip seats, make Democratic inroads, and break veto-proof majorities.

Potential 2018 States
Texas
Utah
Arizona

Defend Our Progress:
What We’ll Do
We’ll target states where the state legislatures or governors’ seats are blue, but are at risk of flipping red in 2018.

Why We’ll Do It
Democrats will face threats from GOP challengers in 2018, and we are prepared to help hold on to blue seats.

Potential 2018 States
Washington
Delaware
Oregon