Category Archives: Politics

2012 National Survey of County Elected Officials: Opinions from the Front Lines of Local Government

Source: National Association of Counties, July 2012

In this ninth iteration of the National Survey of County Elected Officials a random sample of 501 county elected officials was polled on issues related to the economy, budgets, and politics. This report explores the viewpoints of county elected officials today to understand how these leaders feel about the changing circumstances.

Some of the major findings from the 2012 survey include the following:
• Two thirds of county elected officials believe that the political direction of the United States is generally on the wrong track.
• Although a plurality of county elected officials does not believe that fees ‐for‐service is an appropriate model for funding county services, a larger majority favors providing services through contracts with private sector firms.
• County officials seem generally upbeat about careers in county government. While they are divided about how concerned they are that they will be able to replace the skills of retiring county employees, a vast majority say that they would encourage young adults to seek careers in local government.
• County elected officials have become more Republican over the past 5 years, from 40 percent in 2007 to 52 percent in 2012.

Early Education for Success: Early Childhood Education's Impact on the Economy

Source: National Journal, July 31, 2012
(subscription required)

Politicians from both sides of the aisle agree: early childhood education plays a crucial role in ensuring America’s global competitiveness. Even amid challenging fiscal climates, states have advanced innovative approaches to early learning policies, and new federal initiatives are trying to sustain their momentum and expand their reach. What’s next for early learning, and what can the White House and Congress do to support it?

This National Journal policy summit featured a panel of experts exploring how the two presidential candidates’ visions for early education might translate into policy and the impact these policies might have on the nation’s long term economic health. The discussion also examined the current early childhood education policies at work in the states and offered a range of policy solutions to guarantee American children have the tools they need to succeed in a global economy.

Early Childhood Education’s Impact on the Economy from National Journal and National Journal on FORA.tv

Million-Dollar Megaphones: Super PACs and Unlimited Outside Spending in the 2012 Elections

Source: Adam Lioz, Blair Bowie, Dēmos & U.S. PIRG Education Fund, August 2, 2012

From the summary:
Although each major party presidential candidate will likely break previous fundraising records, the big story of the 2012 election has been the role of Super PACs, nonprofits and outside spending generally.

Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC fundraising for the first two quarters of the 2012 election cycle reveals:

Outside spending by organizations that aggregate unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals and institutions is playing a significant role in the 2012 election cycle, and much of it is not disclosed.
– Outside spending organizations reported $167.5 million in spending to the FEC. Of this, $12.7 million (7.6% of the total) was “secret money” that cannot be traced back to an original source.
– But, because of gaps in reporting requirements, spending reported to the FEC is only part of the picture. When all types of outside spending on television ads related to the presidential race are taken into account, just over 50% of the spending has been by “dark money” groups that do not disclose their donors. According to Kantar CMAG data, the top four 501(c)(4) spenders on the presidential race have spent $43.3 million through July 1st on advertising in the presidential race alone, but our analysis shows these same groups have only reported $418,920 in spending collectively on all races to the FEC through June 30th. This means that these groups are currently reporting less than 1% of their total spending.

– The Top 5 outside spending groups have accounted for 58.5% of all outside reported spending in the 2012 cycle.

Super PACs continue to be tools used by a small number of wealthy individuals and institutions to dominate the political process.
– Just over 57% of the $230 million raised by Super PACs from individuals came from just 47 people giving at least $1 million. Just over 1,000 donors giving $10,000 or more were responsible for 94% of this fundraising.
– Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have given a combined $36.3 million to Super PACs in the 2012 cycle. It would take more than 321,000 average American families donating an equivalent share of their wealth to match the Adelsons’ giving.
– For-profit businesses contributed $34.2 million to Super PACs, accounting for 11.0% of their fundraising. There are reasons to suspect business are contributing much more to nonprofit organizations and trade associations that do not disclose their donors.
See also:
Charts & Graphs
Auctioning Democracy: The Rise of Super PACs and the 2012 Election

Hatch Act Modernization Act of 2012 – cost estimate S. 2170

Source: Congressional Budget Office, July 11, 2012

From the summary:
As ordered reported by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on June 29, 2012

S. 2170 would amend the Hatch Act, which covers the political activities of public employees. The legislation would remove some restrictions on the political activities of most District of Columbia government employees and many other state and local officials. In addition, S. 2170 would establish civil penalties for federal employees that violate the Hatch Act.

Under current law, state and local government employees are prohibited from running for a partisan political office if their employment relates to an activity at least partly financed with federal funds. Under S. 2170, many state and local employees, including those from the District of Columbia, could run for partisan office. Based on information from the Office of Special Counsel, CBO estimates that implementing those provisions would have no significant impact on the federal budget.

The 'Voter Fraud' Myth Debunked

Source: Rolling Stone, June 12, 2012

As we’ve reported at Rolling Stone, over the past few years Republicans in more than a dozen states have been knocking themselves out passing laws that make it harder for people to vote. It hasn’t escaped notice that the voters most affected by these measures – from voter ID laws to restrictions on early voting – are Democrats…. But here’s the thing: Not only is voter fraud not rampant – it’s virtually nonexistent…. We’ve used the Brennan findings to put together this quick-and-dirty guide to voter fraud claims. Click through to find out about the most commonly cited voter fraud allegations – and why they almost never pan out….
See also:
The GOP War on Voting
Source: Ari Berman, Rolling Stone, August 30, 2011
The Truth About Voter Fraud
Source: Justin Levitt, Brennan Center for Justice, 2007

How Labor Won in Ohio

Source: Rachel Burstein, Dissent, Vol. 59 no. 3, Summer 2012
(subscription required)

…We Are Ohio was successful because is assembled a true coalition of Democrats and Republicans, unionists and nonunionized workers, those hailing from union strongholds like Toledo and conservative regions like Butler county in Ohio’s southwest corner, and those from both rural and urban areas of the state. It framed workers’ rights as a common good and a service to the community, not a budget line or the prerogative of special interests. We Are Ohio focused on cultivating television and press coverage throughout the state and drew on social media to publicize its campaign and develop a cohesive network….

Can This Election Save the Unions?

Source: Nelson Lichtenstein, Dissent, Vol. 59 no. 3, Summer 2012
(subscription required)

It now seems like ancient history: the few weeks between Barack Obama’s election in November 2008 and the onset, after the inauguration, of intransigent, increasingly successful Republican opposition to his entire program. That was a moment in which hostility to the banks and the bailout worked in the left’s favor, legitimating insurgencies such as the sit-in strike at Chicago Windows and Doors, even as the president’s transformative legislative agenda, the most ambitious in more than forty years, put a significant stimulus package, universal health insurance, and a substantial reform of the labor law within sight.

All that is now gone, with even Obama’s genuinely progressive health care law up for electoral and judicial grabs….For half a century, labor has gotten an opportunity to reform the labor law and strengthen its own institutional power about once every dozen years or so, during those rare moments when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency….Whatever the details, a political and policy pattern now seems well embedded: during those brief windows of liberal legislative opportunity, organized labor often plays a key role in electing Democrats and in advancing reforms, such as financial regulation, a more progressive tax regime, and health care innovations that nudge the polity in a social democratic direction. But during those same moments of Democratic Party power, labor itself has repeatedly failed to win any federal legislation that would strengthen its institutional capacity for growth or for the exercise of what economic and political leverage it still commands….

Social Movements and Election Campaigns

Source: Michael Walzer, Dissent, Vol. 59 no. 3, Summer 2012
(subscription required)

Social movements can be very grand. Years ago, Richard Rorty wrote an article in Dissent describing Christianity and Marxism as prototypical social movements (“Movements and Campaigns,” Winter 1995)–they aimed to transform the world and to create “new” men and women. Rorty set himself against this kind of grandiosity. He urged us to enlist instead in what he called “campaigns,” which avoided totalizing ambition and the radical coercion that so often follows. But his campaigns were strangely like the more familiar social movements of our time. I want to continue his argument, defending those movements and asking how their militants should relate to what most of us mean when we talk about campaigns: the efforts of political parties to win elections.

The social movements I mean to focus on are driven by moral or ideological passion but also by collective self-interest. They have a purpose, often narrowly conceived–votes for women, unions for workers, civil rights for black…

Supreme Court Increases Regulation on Unions

Source: Mike Elk, In These Times, Working in These Times blog, June 28, 2012

A recent Supreme Court ruling in Knox v. SEIU Local 1000 has some labor advocates howling that the Court is beginning to come after workers. The 7-2 ruling last week states that public sector employees must opt in to have their money spent on political action, instead of opting out as had been previously mandated in the case Beck v. CWA. The ruling could dramatically decrease the amount of money that public-sector unions, whose members currently compose 37 percent of all union members, have to spend on political action. Many public-sector union members are already financially strapped and may choose not to give their money to political campaigns.

Unions, Corporations, and Political Opt-Out Rights after Citizens United

Source: Benjamin I. Sachs, Columbia Law Review, Vol. 112, No. 4, May 2012

From the abstract:
Citizens United upends much of campaign finance law, but it maintains at least one feature of that legal regime: the equal treatment of corporations and unions. Prior to Citizens United, that is, corporations and unions were equally constrained in their ability to spend general treasury funds on federal electoral politics. After the decision, campaign finance law leaves both equally unconstrained and free to use their general treasuries to finance political spending. But the symmetrical treatment that Citizens United leaves in place masks a less visible, but equally significant, way in which the law treats union and corporate political spending differently. Namely, federal law prohibits a union from spending its general treasury funds on politics if individual employees object to such use – employees, in short, enjoy a federally protected right to opt out of funding union political activity. In contrast, corporations are free to spend their general treasuries on politics even if individual shareholders object – shareholders enjoy no right to opt out of financing corporate political activity. This article assesses whether the asymmetric rule of political opt-out rights is justified. The article first offers an affirmative case for symmetry grounded in the principle that the power to control access to economic opportunities – whether employment or investment-based – should not be used to secure compliance with or support for the economic actor’s political agenda. It then addresses three arguments in favor of asymmetry. Given the relative weakness of these arguments, the article suggests that the current asymmetry in opt-out rules may be unjustified. The article concludes by pointing to constitutional questions raised by this asymmetry, and by arguing that lawmakers would be justified in correcting it.