Senator Udall to Introduce the EMPOWER Act of 2019

Senator Tom Udall’s office has issued a press release announcing that he will introduce into the Senate a new bill entitled the EMPOWER Act of 2019.  The act is not yet posted on www.congres.gov, but watch for it to come out sometime within the next couple of weeks.

Core Provisions of the Empowering Mass Participation to Offset the Wealthy’s Electoral Role (EMPOWER) Act:

– Eliminates spending limits on participating candidates: Candidate spending limits are no longer viable in the wake of Citizens United since outside groups can now make unlimited expenditures funded by unlimited contributions to oppose candidates. There would be a limit on the total amount of matching contributions available to a presidential candidate, to avoid draining public funds.

– Increases the amount of matching funds for participating candidates: The first $250 of contributions by individuals to presidential candidates would be matched with public funds at a 6:1 ratio, increased from the current 1:1 match. For example, a candidate participating in the system would receive $1,500 in public funds for a $250 contribution, and would end up with a total of $1,750. This would provide important new incentives for citizens to give and for candidates to seek small donations from supporters.

– Requires participating candidates to agree to accept contributions of no more than $1,000: The current individual contribution limit of $2,700 per donor, per election, would be reduced to $1,000 per donor, per election, for candidates who participate in the system. The present contribution limit would remain unchanged for candidates who do not participate in the system.

– Empowers national parties to compete alongside Super PAC dollars: In order to allow candidates to respond to a deluge of Super PAC dollars, national parties could make unlimited expenditures in coordination with candidates participating in the system, provided the unlimited expenditures were made from a pool of contributions raised by the party that was limited to $1,000 per donor, per year.

– Increases funding for the presidential campaign financing system: The bill would increase the current voluntary income tax “check-off” amount from $3 to $20 per individual and from $6 to $40 for a married couple, and index these amounts for inflation. Additionally, the bill would allow Americans, through their taxes, to donate to the public financing system fund.”

New SCOTUS Decision on Gerrymandering

Bethune-Hill v. Va. State Bd. of Elections

Today, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in favor of voters in Bethune-Hill v. Va. State Bd. of Elections, a case that challenged Virginia House of Delegates districts drawn in 2011 as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The Court dismissed the appeal for lack of standing. This case has been supported by the National Redistricting Foundation.

  • The Court’s decision in Bethune-Hill is an important victory for African-American voters in Virginia. Because of this case, Black voters in Virginia will, for the first time this decade, vote under a constitutional map.
  • Primary elections were already held under the new map just last week. With today’s decision, the Court ensures that the votes of all Virginians will continue to count equally.
  • History and Facts of the Case: In June 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia held that 11 of Virginia’s House of Delegates districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders and subsequently redrew the map.
  • Virginia’s attorney general did not appeal the district court’s holding, yet the Virginia House of Delegates endeavored–alone–to appeal the order calling for new maps.
  • Today, the Supreme Court dismissed that appeal, holding that the Virginia House of Delegates lacks standing–either on behalf of the State, or in its own right.
    • Under Virginia law, the authority and responsibility to represent the interests of the State in litigation rests exclusively with the Virginia attorney general. The House of Delegates may not stand in for the State.
    • The House of Delegates also lacks standing to appeal the district court’s order on its own right. As just one chamber of a bicameral legislature, the House cannot assert interests that belong to the legislature as a whole.
    • Notably, the Court held that the House of Delegates as an institution has no legal interest in the identity of its members, driving home that the House is “a representative body composed of members chosen by the people” and that the House itself is not injured by “[c]hanges to its membership brought about by the voting public.”
    • The Court leaves open the possibility that the House of Delegates might have standing in a redistricting case if it were to act together with the state Senate.