This Is the Future That Liberals: Want Say the Democrats win. Then what?

reprinted from The Atlantic, SEPTEMBER 17, 2020

By Elaine Godfrey

If democrats manage to hold the House of Representatives and win back the Senate and the White House in November, the party will have full control of the federal government for the first time in 11 years. Police reform, climate change, and health care are all on their agenda. But before newly empowered Democrats get to any of that, they will very likely pass a relief package to address the coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic crisis. Then, they will aim to fundamentally change how voting and government work in the United States by expanding voting rights, reducing the influence of money in politics, strengthening ethics rules, and maybe even ending the Senate filibuster—reforms they hope will make America’s democracy work better and the rest of their agenda easier to carry out.

“If there is any political capital to be spent, the concerns over democracy reform take a front seat to everything in the agenda,” a senior aide to a progressive senator told me (the aide requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the record). It “would mean so much just in terms of building long-term power,” a senior aide to a progressive House Democrat added.

By starting with these reforms, Democrats are taking a risk: They’ll likely have only a short window of time in the majority to accomplish their most pressing agenda items. Prioritizing one item could mean sacrificing another—and failing to deliver on key issues.

But the Democratic lawmakers, staffers, and activists that I spoke with view government and voting reform as a kind of precursor to accomplishing any of their other policy goals. “The first attention will be to the economic implosion, but there are a group of [other] issues on people’s minds,” Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon told me. “We are at that moment where we have to succeed now in restoring the integrity of the American vision.” Democrats have given these process changes, which they call “democracy reform,” top billing on their legislative docket before.

The For the People Act, more commonly known as H.R. 1, was the first piece of legislation the Democratic-controlled House passed in 2019. It contained a grab bag of reforms: establishing automatic voter registration for all Americans, making Election Day a national holiday, ending partisan gerrymandering, requiring presidents to disclose their tax returns, and creating a public-financing system for federal campaigns. These reforms would make it easier for most Americans to vote. They’d also, Democrats hope, make it easier for Democrats to win elections

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Despite no corporate money pledges, Democratic federal candidates keep taking it

Reprinted from New Mexico in Depth 

July 30, 2020

By Brian Metzger

 While every Democrat running for federal office in New Mexico this year pledged to not accept money from corporate political action committees, they still benefit from corporate giving.

Funneled to their campaigns from intermediary PACs that gather corporate money and then redirect it to candidates for office, the donations shine a light on the complications Democrats face when attempting to distance themselves from corporate special interests while still raising enough money to run winning campaigns.

Since the landmark Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling in 2010– which opened political campaigns to unrestricted outside spending in elections by corporations, nonprofits, unions, and other organizations—a movement to enact reforms that would limit corporate influence in elections has grown, and found a home within the Democratic Party.

One group, called End Citizens United, encourages candidates to pledge not to accept donations from corporate PACs. Federal rules already prohibit candidates from taking donations from corporations directly.

In New Mexico, Democratic Reps. Xochitl Torres Small in the southern 2nd congressional district, Deb Haaland in the Albuquerque metro area’s 1st district, and Democratic hopeful Teresa Fernandez Leger in the northern 3rd district, have all taken the pledge. Also forgoing corporate PAC donations is Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, who is giving up his seat in the House to run for the U.S. Senate.

But despite the pledges, hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporations are flowing into their campaign coffers through other types of PACs that raise corporate money. Some belong to their colleagues in the U.S. House or Senate, referred to as leadership PACs. Others are trade association PACs, some of which represent small businesses and professionals while others represent industries dominated by big corporations.

“Democrats criticize corporate political activity and often promise not to take donations from corporations. But that is where leadership PACs come in handy,” said Michael Rocca, professor of political science at the University of New Mexico. “Candidates can take the popular position against corporate money and against Citizens United, but then enjoy the benefit of generous corporate donations.”

Leadership PACs

For decades, the Federal Election Commission has allowed current and former members of Congress to maintain PACs separate from their official campaign committees, often for the purpose of helping their colleagues. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the lawmakers behind these so-called leadership PACs typically have two primary goals: currying influence with other members of Congress through donations, and covering expenses that can’t be footed by their campaigns or congressional offices.

According to Issue One, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce the role of money in politics, over 85% of members of Congress maintain a leadership PAC.

“In most cases, the corporation, labor union or trade association is giving to one lawmaker and then that lawmaker gets to call the shots about where that money goes,” said Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One.

With significantly higher contribution limits– they’re able to give $5,000 per candidate versus $2,800 from individuals–leadership and other PACs act as significant conduits for money, and the influence that comes with it.

“[Members of Congress] have a lot to gain from raising this money for their party,” said Rocca. “They can use the money to ask for something in return from more junior colleagues, like their loyalty.”

In New Mexico, federal officeholders are Democrats, and several maintain leadership PACs.

Congressman Ben Ray Lujan has long been a major fundraiser, chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a fundraising organization for House Democrats, from 2014 until the party won its current majority in 2018. This year, he’s leaving the House in a bid to replace Sen. Tom Udall, who’s retiring. He took the End Citizens United pledge in May 2019 to not accept corporate PAC money, and his Turquoise PAC in 2020 is largely dominated by trade associations funds. But in the months prior to his pledge, he raked in about $150,000 in corporate PAC money which he did not return.

Sen. Tom Udall’s Southwest Leadership Fund continues to accept corporate donations, although in 2020 his PAC is smaller than years past, signaling his retirement. Most funds in Rep. Deb Haaland’s Fierce PAC originate from tribes.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small does not have a leadership PAC. Torres Small is defending her seat in southern New Mexico, largely considered a tossup by political analysts. While she’s taken the End Citizen United pledge, she’s still benefited from over $313,000 in donations from leadership PACs as well as campaign accounts from colleagues, many of which have accepted corporate PAC donations. She’s also received over $52,000 from corporate-aligned trade associations. Individual donations currently make up 69% of Torres Small’s contributions.

Then there’s Sen. Martin Heinrich, not up for re-election this year, whose Lobo PAC is a significant conduit this year for corporate PAC money to other candidates.

Lobo PAC has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in PAC donations from Comcast, Google, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and others. According to an analysis by New Mexico in Depth, Lobo PAC received 52% of its funding in the last two years from corporations.

A candidate who accepts money from a leadership PAC isn’t violating their pledge to not accept corporate donations, Patrick Burgwinkle, communications director for End Citizens United said.

That’s because the problem of corporate money has more to do with the influence and access gained with the person the money is actually given too. In the case of leadership PACs, that person is the owner of the PAC, not the candidates to which the PAC then redistributes the money.

“Leadership PACs give money to help elect more Democrats or Republicans to Congress and the decision on who to donate to resides solely with the member of Congress affiliated with the leadership PAC, not corporate lobbyists,” said Burgwinkle.

In the case of Lobo PAC, Heinrich has sole control over how the funds raised by the PAC are spent, confirmed Juan Sanchez, Heinrich’s state political director.

While Heinrich hasn’t pledged to reject corporate PAC money, he’s still earned End Citizens United’s endorsement through support of campaign finance reforms the group advocates, Sanchez said.

To date, Lobo PAC has contributed $10,000 apiece to the campaigns of Reps. Deb Haaland, Xochitl Torres Small, and Ben Ray Lujan, and a smaller amount to Teresa Leger Fernandez, the Democratic candidate for Lujan’s vacated House seat in northern New Mexico.

While corporate funded Leadership PACs are pervasive, not all are alike. Some rely on “ideologically-driven small dollar donors” instead of corporations, said Beckel.

“Someone like AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] is going to be raising money for a leadership PAC in a different way than a powerful committee chairman who’s been in Congress for decades,” he said.

Ocasio Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC has raised roughly $560,000, none of which came from corporate PACs. Teresa Leger Fernandez accepted $5,000 from Courage to Change during the recently-concluded primary.

Last year, Roll Call reported that corporate PACs may be donating more to party committees and leadership PACs as growing numbers of candidates refuse to take these donations directly.

But Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said there are other funding patterns that may warrant even more scrutiny.

“Business PAC contributions to leadership PACs have accelerated, but non-business PAC giving to leadership PACs has accelerated even faster,” Krumholz said.

Krumholz added that while PACs may be an important mechanism for corporate interests to spend money, it’s important to look at wider donation patterns, such as where high-ranking employees and executives may be giving.

“If a PAC can give $10,000 to a candidate, individual partners, executives, and vice presidents can pass that and raise tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single candidate,” said Krumholz. “Bottom line, there are lots of options available.”

Krumholz said corporations give funds not because of altruism but because they’re seeking to return a profit to their shareholders.

“The best way to do that is not to engage in electioneering,” she said, “but to give to the people who have the ability to help them now.”

One other avenue for corporate funds to make their way into campaign accounts is through trade associations. There are many of them, representing a wide range of industries, from small business sectors, community banks, to larger corporations.

One New Mexico Democratic lawmaker said donations from trade associations aren’t in the same category as corporate money.

“Our campaign has taken the End Citizens United pledge, we’ve been endorsed by them, and we don’t take corporate PAC money,” Haaland said in a statement. “Trade associations represent millions of hard-working Americans such as small businesses owners and farmers and we are proud to have their support.”

While that may be true of some of the trade associations that have donated to Haaland– including the National Association of Realtors PAC, which gave her $3000 last year– it is not true across the board.

Haaland has also accepted contributions from more corporate-aligned trade associations, including $1,000 apiece from the National Association of Broadcasters and the American Wind Energy Association.

And Haaland is not alone. Lujan has accepted $10,000 from the American Cable Association, while Torres Small has accepted $1,000 apiece from the American Bankers Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Because trade associations are widely varied in terms of the interests they represent, End Citizens United doesn’t encourage candidates to disavow donations from such groups as strongly as with corporate PACs. Statistics provided by End Citizens United indicate that corporate PACs comprised about 40% of all PAC contributions to candidates in 2018, versus just 19% from trade associations, not all of which represent large corporations.


The following charts show the various types of PACs that have contributed to the 2020 Democratic candidates for federal office in New Mexico. Only Ben Ray Lujan, who vacated his congressional House seat to run for the Senate, has received corporate PAC money. He accepted the funds before taking the End Citizens United pledge to not accept corporate PAC money. Most of the candidates have received leadership PAC funding, which is often fueled by corporate PACs. Teresa Leger Fernandez was still one among several primary candidates when these numbers were reported, in mid-May. At that time she did not have leadership PAC money

 

DISCLAIMER: RepresentUs New Mexico (RUNM) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. As such, we work on issues that are nonpartisan on a cross-partisan basis with persons of all political affiliations and ideological perspectives to accomplish our goals. The intent of any reference to a political person or party made by us in this email is to call attention to the statement or action made by such person or party that pertains to one of or more of RUNM’s goals, not to show favor or disfavor to such person or party. Statements made by other persons or sources reproduced here represent the perspective of the writers or publishers and not necessarily that of RUNM.

FACT CHECKER: We tackled all of Trump’s vote-by-mail falsehoods

Reprinted from  The Washington Post  

September 11 , 2020

by Salvador Rizzo

More than 100 times this year, President Trump has peddled false claims or imaginary threats about voting by mail.

As states prepare for the Nov. 3 general election, with some expanding vote-by-mail to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the polls, Trump is falsely accusing election officials of trying to rig the outcome. The president also has encouraged people to vote twice, which is illegal.

A mountain of evidence shows that mail voting has been almost entirely free of fraud through the decades, but Trump insists that it’s a recipe for disaster. For example, Trump claimed on Twitter that “mail-In Ballots will lead to massive electoral fraud and a rigged 2020 Election. Look at all of the cases and examples that are out there right now.”

The rate of double voting, or impersonating another voter, is so low researchers describe it as insignificant, a statistical blip. A Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states found 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent. Other studies and databases show similar, vanishingly low rates.

We fact-checked 23 of the most frequent or outlandish claims on mail voting from Trump and his allies, including Attorney General William Barr. All of them got Four Pinocchios.

For the full fact check, go here.

DISCLAIMER: RepresentUs New Mexico (RUNM) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. As such, we work on issues that are nonpartisan on a cross-partisan basis with persons of all political affiliations and ideological perspectives to accomplish our goals. The intent of any reference to a political person or party made by us in this email is to call attention to the statement or action made by such person or party that pertains to one of or more of RUNM’s goals, not to show favor or disfavor to such person or party. Statements made by other persons or sources reproduced here represent the perspective of the writers or publishers and not necessarily that of RUNM.

 

Santa Fe Save the Post Office Rally a Big Success

There were over 1,000 rallies held nationwide on Saturday, August 22, 2020, as people gathered peacefully to show support for the United States Postal Service. Public outrage has grown about revelations about how the new postmaster general’s decisions have slowed down the mail. The American people are frustrated that yet one more stalemate in the U.S. Senate is blocking funding to the post office it desperately needs to be able to fulfill its duties around election time.

In Santa Fe, around 50 people carrying signs gathered in front of the main post office located at 120 S. Federal Place (see photos above) and there were around 25 to 30 protestors also at the 120 S. Pacheco Street location.

Several national organizations including MoveOn and our Declaration for American Democracy coalition partner, People’s Action, had called for people across the country to get out and show their support. Here, in Santa Fe, citizen Roxanne Darling answered MoveOn’s call and RUNM and Indivisible Santa Fe joined her in getting out the word and bringing people together.

The events across the country brought national attention to the harm that was being caused by delivery slowdowns for thousands of Americans and the looming threat to the right to vote of persons who will choose to vote by mail or vote absentee during the current Covid-19 pandemic. How about a shout out to those who turned out on that day!

 

John House

Where Will We Be Three Months from Now?

August, 21, 2020

by John House

 What will the country look like three months from now? Will we be at home with our loved ones and friends peacefully celebrating or, alternatively, reluctantly accepting, the results of a fair and uncontested election? Or will we be marching in the streets in Washington, D.C.,, instead, protesting against election results either tainted with doubt or obviously manipulated, false? Will we have a president who refuses to leave office despite losing the election? Will Washington look like Minsk, the capital of Belarus, weeks ago, with its streets filled with tens of thousands of peaceful protestors demonstrating their just outrage against false election results? Or could Washington more resemble Bamako, the capital of the West African country, Mali, earlier this week, with the streets full of demonstrators joyfully celebrating the resignation, forced by a coup, of its detested, autocratic president? Or will it  look more like the streets of Minneapolis, Atlanta, Portland and Seattle multiplied a thousand fold, with demonstrators facing off against squads, or even battalions, of national guard and military soldiers dressed in full battle gear and wielding deadly military weapons?

I hope the nation will be at rest, getting back to normal as much as we will be able to, with the elections behind us. But the fact that I can realistically posit these other, post-election possibilities deeply underscores the fact that the 2020 elections will be like no other in American history. The very foundation of the republic, our system of representative government, is built upon is the right of eligible citizens of the United States to cast their votes and empower the persons they want to represent them in government. But the ground underneath that government has been weakened, unsettled, like after an earthquake, by very real and threatened efforts to make it difficult to vote. The closure of voting places and the reduction of open hours of others and have been announced. The security and reliability of absentee and mail-in voting that has been used by the military as far back as the Revolutionary War and by the citizens in most states since the early 20th century is being discredited. The United States Postal Service has been hobbled by the removal of essential equipment and the lowering of postal worker hours at a time when absentee and mail-in voting has become crucial for persons facing the choice of either endangering their lives to vote in person or not vote at all. As a result of these and other actions by some in power at the federal and state levels, the voting process so much that it has discouraged some from voting because they have cynically concluded that their vote won’t matter.

The answer to the question–what will the country look like after the elections?–depends entirely on us. Each of us. All of us. What we do between now and November 3rd will determine where we will be and what this nation will look like not just in the weeks and months following the elections but for many years to come. It may very well determine if the American democratic experiment will continue or end. This country already has been moved off the solid ground of true representative democracy and has slipped down the slope towards plutocracy and oligarchy. In the presidential election, with an incumbent president who believes that presidential authority is total and has totally disregarded the rule of law, and an attorney general who shares his beliefs and helps him violate our constitutional system of checks and balances almost on a daily basis, it teeters on the brink of falling into the abyss of autocracy.

Make a Voting Plan and Follow It

You can best ensure your own participation in the election process by making and following your own individual voting plan. Here’s how:

  • Verify if you are registered to vote by going here. If you are not registered, you can register online by going here.
  • Decide whether you will vote absentee by mail or at the ballot box.
  • If you decide to vote absentee and haven’t already received a request for an absentee ballot in the mail (if you have not requested one, you may receive a request for an absentee ballot in the mail before September 14), you will need to request an absentee ballot. You can print out a request for an absentee ballot here and mail it in or deliver it to your county clerk’s office. NOTE: IMPORTANT DEADLINE: your request for your absentee ballot must be received on or before Tuesday, October 20th.
  • Set the date on your calendar that you will either 1) go to the polling place to vote in person or 2) send in your absentee ballot by mail or deposit your envelope containing your ballot in a drop box that will be available at your county clerk’s office or at other designated If you use a “Reminders”, “Tasks” or a similar app, set the date and time in it as well.
  • VOTE EARLY!!! You can put your absentee ballot in mail in your absentee ballot anytime before Tuesday, October 27. Note: it must be received by the post office on that date. Don’t make the mistake of depositing it in a mail box after the time of the last pickup; your vote will not be counted!
  • Early voting in person starts Tuesday, October 6th, at your county clerk’s office and on Saturday, October 17th, at other locations. Early voting in person ends on October 31. Check with your county clerk’s office for those locations and hours of operation.
  • If you choose to vote in person but don’t have your own transportation, please arrange it in advance and confirm it with the person or service that will transport you to and from the voting location prior to the day and time you chose.
  • If you decide to vote absentee, fill out your ballot carefully, making sure to input all the required information correctly and legibly and either deliver it to the post office, your county clerk’s office, or deposit into a special drop box available at any polling place during its hours of operation. NOTE: All absentee ballots must be mailed out to voters by the County Clerk’s office by  on Wednesday, October 21.

How to Know if Your Absentee Vote is Received

We in New Mexico can help to ensure that our vote will be counted by voting early and verifying the results prior to the November 3rd election.

We can personally keep track of our mail-in ballots. The bar code on the return envelope for each absentee ballot is individual to each absentee voter.  Early voters can check their absentee ballot status by going here.

For more information about voting and how your vote is protected you can go here.

How to Help to Ensure Safe and Secure Elections

You can help to make sure that our polling places function properly by applying to be a poll worker. To learn how, go here.

Organizations like Common Cause New Mexico have programs to secure the integrity of our elections. If you are interested in volunteering to serve as an independent poll water with CCNM, go here. You can also go to that site to report any suspicious election irregularities.

Tell Your Friends and Loved Ones

Go the extra mile to make sure that the people you know exercise their right and citizen’s obligation to vote and share with them the information set forth here with them. It will be featured on our website and on our Facebook page.

A representative democracy can only work properly if its citizenry is informed and votes! So please, familiarize yourself with the issues and the candidates and make sure you vote early and encourage everyone you know to do the same.

John House is President of RepresentUs New Mexico.