Category Archives: Politics

The Ebb And Flow Of Money In Politics: It Will Find A Way

Source: Center for Responsive Politics, June 2014

It’s no secret that the landscape of campaign finance, and of money in politics in general, has shifted radically since our country was founded — and these changes have come fast and furious in recent years. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the need for candidates to have friends with money, and friends with friends with more money, in order to win.

Money often seems to be the biggest determinant of who gets elected to public office, and the price of winning a seat in Congress, let alone the presidency, has skyrocketed. The 2012 elections were the most expensive in history, with a price tag of about $6.3 billion. These days, the biggest contributions go to super PACs and politically active nonprofits that are supposed to act independently, but almost always are operating to benefit a political party or — increasingly — a single candidate.

In our timeline, we take a chronological look at how we got to this point in the financing of our electoral process, from the nation’s early days to the present. We begin at the beginning, with one unexpected fact.

2013 Poverty Scorecard

Source: Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, 2014

From the press release:
A deeply divided Congress made little progress on legislation that would help the 46.5 million people living in poverty in the United States in 2013, according to a report released today. At the same time, many bills and amendments that would have had a very negative effect on people living in poverty were ultimately defeated.

The 2013 Poverty Scorecard, published by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, is a comprehensive analysis of the voting records of every U.S. Senator and Representative on poverty-related issues. The votes used to evaluate the members cover a wide range of subject areas including budget and tax, food and nutrition, health care, immigrants, cash assistance, domestic violence, legal services, workforce, education, voting rights, and employment rights….

….The voting records reported in the Poverty Scorecard evidence a deep divide on poverty issues. The overwhelming majority of Senators (97%) and Representatives (95%) were graded at one extreme (A+, A) or the other (D, F, F-). As in past years, Congressional delegations from states with high poverty rates were more likely to have a poor score on poverty-related legislation than delegations from states with low poverty rates….

Political Ad Sleuth

Source: Sunlight Foundation, 2014

Search, Upload, Share Political Ad Information

Help us find out who’s trying to influence your vote.

Use this site to get the latest information on political ads purchased at television stations around the country. These files provide the only information we have on who’s behind some of the shadowy groups pouring money into the election. You can sort it by state and individual television market or search by date. This information is not complete but it is the most comprehensive data available. With your help, we’re trying to fill the gaps by getting paper files from TV stations and by entering data. For information on how you can help, check here.
Tracking political spending on television ads just got easier
Source: Al Tompkins, Poynter, July 1, 2014

…Using the tool

Let me walk you through how to use the political ad sleuth tool.

If we open the file on Charlotte, North Carolina TV station reports, we see that the network affiliated stations have written lots of contracts for political ads in the last week. To get details on each contract just click on the contract. Let’s open the first one listed on the page, an ad buy on WBTV. (The Click on the “open original document” file and you will see the actual $71,900 ad contract between the TV station and Waterfront Strategies, an ad buyer for super-PACs.)

But we want to know who is paying the ad buyer. I have marked up the contract to show you where to look for that information. Different invoices use slightly different formats, but you get the idea from this one. I have placed boxes over the ad agency and the advertiser/buyer….

Comments on Guidance for Tax-Exempt Social Welfare Organizations on Candidate-Related Political Activities

Source: Brian D. Galle, Donald B. Tobin, Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 321, February 22, 2014

From the abstract:
The Notice is a good first step. It creates bright-line standards that are easy to apply and that will eliminate much of the gray area regarding permissible political activity. Clearer lines will reduce the discretion on the part of the IRS. By decreasing the IRS’s discretion, the regulation will reduce the opportunity for the IRS to be used as a political tool in an Administration’s tool box.

However, the Notice does not go far enough. Congress has established a regulatory regime that has as its central purpose the disclosure of any significant campaign contributions by individuals or firms. In recent years many organizations have exploited the confidentiality rules of § 501(c)(4) to evade that regime, to the detriment not only of U.S. political discourse but also the non-profit sector. The Final Rule should ensure that groups with significant partisan political activity cannot obtain exemption under § 501(c)(4), or indeed under any parallel provision of § 501.

We believe, however, that groups carrying out “substantial” electioneering activities should generally be eligible for exemption under § 527, and that the IRS should make that clear in the Final Rule. The main consequence of any ruling denying § 501(c)(4) status based on the political activity of the organization, therefore, would simply be to require the disclosure of an organization’s donors, and to ensure that the organization’s political expenditures are disclosed contemporaneously with the election they seek to influence.

Accordingly, the Final Rule should be designed in a way that channels organizations with any substantial amount of undisclosed electioneering activity into § 527. For example, we propose a strong presumption that any group with candidate-related political activity of more than 10% of its budget, or of more than an overall cap of some amount, such as $1 million, whichever is lesser, should be recognized as a § 527 political organization and not as a § 501c(4) social welfare organization. The final rule should interpret “electioneering” broadly to include facially non-partisan activities that can be used to partisan advantage, including candidate-related advertising that falls outside the window immediately surrounding an election. Groups that voluntarily disclose their donors could retain c(4) status.

Additionally, we suggest that the IRS seriously consider developing rules to limit the use of for-profit entities to evade § 527. We urge the IRS to take a clearer stand on its enforcement plans and legally dubious Forms 990. And we argue that nothing in the Notice, or in what we additionally suggest here, would raise serious First Amendment concerns.

The Citizens Most Vocal in Local Government

Source: Mike Maciag, Governing, July 2014

View detailed demographic data from a national survey about the most and least likely people to speak up…. Nationwide, though, citizen participation in local government remains abysmally low. The National Research Center (NRC), a firm that conducts citizen surveys for more than 200 communities, compiled data for Governing shedding light on the types of residents who are most active. Overall, only 19 percent of Americans recently surveyed contacted their local elected officials over a 12-month period, while about a quarter reported attending a public meeting….

The New Soft Money: Outside Spending in Congressional Elections

Source: Daniel P. Tokaji & Renata E. B. Strause, Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law, Election Law @ Moritz, 2014

From the summary:
In the years since Citizens United, there has been a torrent of outside money flood election campaigns. While there has been considerable attention to raw numbers, much less was known about the real-world effects of such spending — until now.

Tokaji and Strause have written the most comprehensive report to date on the impact of independent spending, as told by those in the best position to know. Based on over 40 interviews with political players across the ideological spectrum, their report The New Soft Money: Outside Spending in Congressional Elections, paints a vivid picture of how outside spending affects contemporary elections and politics.

The New Soft Money addresses these questions:
– What kinds of outside groups engage in outside spending, and what are their objectives?
– How has outside spending changed congressional campaigns, including candidates’ attempt to maintain message discipline?
– Is independent spending used or perceived as a threat to congressional candidates who refuse to toe the line of outside groups?
– Do outside groups and candidate campaigns cooperate? Do they engage in illegal coordination?
Sparking a Conversation about The New Soft Money

As Good As It Gets? Hard Lessons from NYC Contracts

Source: Mark Brenner, Labor Notes, June 25, 2014

Train and bus operators with Transit Workers Local 100 did better than expected, but no union was able to escape the political box created by Democrats who refuse to tax the rich. New York City teachers and transit workers just ratified contracts that will define what’s possible for the 250,000 city workers still in negotiations. The deals show how little juice is left for public sector unions trying to deliver using traditional tools at the bargaining table or in the political arena. If these are the limits in a union stronghold like New York—where one in four workers is a union member and 70 percent of the public sector is organized—the news isn’t good for conventional strategies elsewhere. What can be done better? To avoid a collision course with taxpayers, public sector unions need to upend the bipartisan consensus and put raising taxes back on the table. To achieve that, they’ll have to make an aggressive case to voters that strong public services, and the workers who provide them, are worth it—and that corporations and the super-rich should pay the tab. They’ll also have to challenge politicians, especially Democrats, who’ve made their peace with austerity….

Union Strength, Neoliberalism, and Inequality: Contingent Political Analyses of U.S. Income Differences since 1950

Source: David Jacobs, Lindsey Myers, American Sociological Review, Published online before print, June 9, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Do historically contingent political accounts help explain the growth in family income inequality in the United States? We use time-series regressions based on 60 years to detect such relationships by assessing interactive associations between the neoliberal departure coincident with Ronald Reagan’s election and the acceleration in inequality that began soon after Reagan took office. We find evidence for this and for a second contingent relationship: stronger unions could successfully resist policies that enhanced economic inequality only before Reagan’s presidency and before the neoliberal anti-union administrations from both parties that followed Reagan. Politically inspired reductions in union membership, and labor’s diminished political opportunities during and after Reagan’s presidency, meant unions no longer could slow the growth in U.S. inequality. Coefficients on these two historically contingent interactions remain significant after many additional determinants are held constant. These findings indicate that political determinants should not be neglected when researchers investigate the determinants of U.S. inequality.

Comparing the Policy Preferences of Unions & Corporations

Source: Sean McElwee, Dēmos, Policy Shop Blog, June 12, 2014

…It’s important to note that the “mass based interest groups” include groups like the National Rifle Association and American Israel Public Affairs Committee which do not share the interests of average citizens. At the same time, one corporate lobbying organization, the American Hospital Association, is actually slightly correlated with the interests of average Americans. To parse out which groups are aligned with the preferences of Americans and which are positively malign, I used data from Gilens’s book Affluence and Influence. I stuck to groups which had at least one statistically significant correlation (either positive or negative) with one group of voters (10th percentile, 50th percentile and 90th percentile). This comparison yields some interesting results. First, we can see that most unions actually take positions that strongly correlate with the preferences of all Americans, although the correlation is stronger for the lower and middle class….


Second, we can see that corporate lobbying groups do not, with one exception.

corporate lobbying groups

…To illustrate these differences, I’ve put the organizations on a scatter plot, divided into four quadrants. The y-axis shows where an organization aligns with the the top 90th percentile. The x-axis shows an organization’s correlation with the bottom 10th percentile. An organization in the upper right quadrant shares the preferences of the wealthy and the poor. An organization in the lower left does is working against the interests of Americans. Here we see that unions are all in the top right quadrant. No corporations are in the right half of the chart, indicating that none share the preferences of the poor….
scatter plot
Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens
Source: Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, Perspectives on Politics (forthcoming), March 7, 2014

How partisan are your state’s legislators?

Source: Thom Neale, Sunlight Foundation, June 11, 2014

Since the release of the Open States project, we’ve seen a lot of interesting analyses of its data. But we think that only the surface of what’s possible has been scratched. Using voting records from the Open States project, I calculated how liberal or conservative (almost) every state lawmaker is, then wrangled the scores into a d3.js visualization along with several other variables.

The methodology is explained in more detail below (and all my source code is on GitHub), but the chart is a scatter plot that positions each legislator on a liberal-conservative spectrum relative to their peers. It also plots the success of their proposed legislation relative to their peers and shows the extent to which other legislators agree to cosponsor their legislation. Go ahead and mouse over some of the bubbles to see each legislator’s picture and effectiveness scores, then read on to learn about the methodology behind the numbers. You can view a different jurisdiction or legislative session by choosing it from the drop-down menu above the chart.