The upcoming midterm elections promise to break records. The Senate race between incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) is on track to be the most expensive Senate contest in American history. For more than a year, experts have predicted that the Kentucky race could be the first for a Senate seat to total more than $100 million in campaign expenditures; spending from both parties suggests these predictions will prove correct. If that is the case, the Grimes-McConnell race will shatter the current record of $82 million set by the high-profile 2012 contest between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown for a Massachusetts Senate seat. Read more…
Campaign finance reform is an immense and complex issue, but the principles behind it are simple: one voice, one vote. In the wake of two major Supreme Court cases, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010) and McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission (2014), advocates for fair elections are seeking to reverse the effects of these decisions by enacting new laws to limit campaign contributions and expenditures.
In 2011, months after the Citizens United decision, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced a Senate joint resolution to propose a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to limit campaign contributions and expenditures. The resolution saw little action until recently, when the Senate voted to block the amendment, a move that demonstrates continued disregard for the core principle of equality that should guide our elections and civic participation. Constitutional amendments are a long, slow process in the United States; recall the ongoing fight for the Equal Rights Amendment. But the process has not discouraged legislators and advocates from seeking lasting solutions and permanent reform.
As Jews, we must heed the warnings of our ancient texts that speak to the dangers of mixing money and politics (Deuteronomy 16:19). We are also commanded to stand up for the widow, the poor, the orphan and the stranger. In the words of former Commission on Social Action director Leonard Fein, of blessed memory, Jews have always acted on the belief that both our moral obligations and our self-interest require “a politics that speaks to the needs of those who have been left out or left behind, a politics of inclusion.” It is the poor and the immigrant who are ignored in a system where the currency that matters most is money rather than ideas. It is the poor who suffer when policy decisions are made by those who are dependent on the small percentage of the population that supplies the largest percentage of campaign contributions. Looking ahead to the November elections and beyond, it is imperative that we ensure every voter’s voice is truly equal, neither amplified nor silenced by outsized campaign contributions.
In light of recent Supreme Court decisions, and more opinions expected to come down this morning, it feels like an appropriate time to recap what the nine justices have been working and opining on.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, upholding a constitutional ban on affirmative action in public university admissions in Michigan 6-2 (Justice Kagan recused herself). Interestingly, Justice Stephen Breyer concurred with the conservative wing of the Court. The New York Times notes that “justices in the majority, with varying degrees of vehemence, said that policies affecting minorities that do not involve intentional discrimination should ordinarily be decided at the ballot box rather than in the courtroom.”
Early last week, the Supreme Court announced its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, the most recent court challenge to the campaign finance system in the United States. In the decision, the Court struck down a ban on aggregate limits on donations directly to candidates’ campaigns and political parties. An aggregate limit is (or was) a limit on the overall amount any one person could give to candidates and parties in any two year campaign cycle. While anyone was and still is limited to $2,500 for one particular candidate, they can now give that amount to as many candidates as they like, while previously it was limited to 18 different candidates. Read more…
We’re nearly halfway through a busy Supreme Court term in which many important cases ranging from affirmative action to recess appointments and from campaign finance to buffer zones at abortion clinics have been heard by the nine justices. More than ever, this term affirms the importance of the Supreme Court in adjudicating the most important social, political (and of course, constitutional!) issues of today.
Today the five Eisendrath Legislative Assistants say goodbye after an amazing year representing the Union for Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C. We have worked on nearly 70 different legislative issues, represented the RAC in countless coalitions, seen some bills signed into law and others tragically defeated, said goodbye to one Congress and welcomed the next. All in all it has been an incredible year.
It was an anti-climactic ending for this session in the New York State legislature; the Assembly passed an omnibus Women’s Equality Act (which, among other items, would have protected women’s access to reproductive health care services) but the Senate decided to take up the agenda as individual bills. New Yorkers were highly anticipating debate on fair elections reform based partly on a successful New York City model of public financing for campaigns, but that too was left on the cutting room floor.
So, which bills garnered a vote? What high profile issues got precious debate time? What did the legislature not take up or refuse to consider? Here is Reform Jewish Voice of New York State’s legislative session roundup: Read more…
In Exodus 30, we read that the Israelites must take a census by contributing one half shekel to the Mishkan, or tabernacle. The text tells us explicitly that the rich are not to contribute more, nor the poor less (30:15), for the entire community has an equal stake in supporting and maintaining this national institution (the Mishkan). This census provides us with an important insight into what our Jewish texts tell us about the construction of a political system. The text did not accept that a single voice would be excluded, nor did it accept that one’s voice would have more power, for the dignity of every member of the community had to be upheld.