Election season has arrived! While the general election won’t be held until November 4, most states will be holding primary elections in the next two months, beginning next week with Indiana, North Carolina, and Ohio. (You can find out the date of your state’s primary here.) Remember that voting in primaries is just as, if not more important, than voting in general elections! Especially in this era of polarized electoral districts, primary elections play a major role in determining the composition of federal, state and local legislative bodies—and low turnout means that your vote really counts. Read more…
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.”
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration released its final report in late January. President Obama established the Commission by Executive Order on March 28, 2013, after the 2012 elections were plagued by serious voting problems around the country. Co-chaired by the chief lawyers for the 2012 Obama and Romney campaigns, the mission of the Commission was to “identify best practices in election administration and to make recommendations to improve the voting experience.”
Last week, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United “celebrated” its fourth anniversary, and the flood of both undisclosed and independent spending in political campaigns continues to grow.
Citizens United struck down a longstanding ban on corporation and union spending in elections—and since the decision four years ago, money has flowed into elections through political action committees (PACs), which contribute money to candidates’ election campaigns. It is estimated that outside groups spent over $1 billion in the 2012 presidential election. More money was spent by outside organizations, often keeping their donor lists secret, than by either candidates’ own campaign. While the total amount of money spent by candidates increased only marginally from 2008, the amount from outside groups quadrupled – thanks largely to the doors opened by Citizens United.
Of this new money pouring into federal elections, over a third of it is undisclosed, meaning that the donors only know the name of the organization funding an ad, but not the donors behind it. Financial disclosure is the cornerstone of any law intended to prevent abuse of public office for personal financial gain. Additionally, disclosure is the one form of campaign finance regulation that the Supreme Court emphatically said does not violate the First Amendment but efforts to expand disclosure have stalled in Congress.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court seems poised to strike down another campaign finance limit. On October 9, 2013, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which concerns the “aggregate limit,”—or total amount of money—one person can donate to candidates for federal office and any political parties in one election cycle. The limit is currently set at $46,000 for individual candidates and $70,000 for political parties per cycle. If struck down, this law would provide another avenue for the wealthy to influence our politics and will further drown out the voices of millions of Americans who donate small amounts to their chosen candidates and causes.
Jewish tradition recognizes the distorting effect that money can have on a leader’s ability to govern fairly. Deuteronomy 16:19 commands, “You shall not judge unfairly: you shall know no partiality; you shall not take gifts, for gifts blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.” In a modern democracy, it is necessary for elected officials to be accountable to all citizens, not just wealthy and powerful moneyed interests. Please take a moment to tell your Members of Congress to support publically funded elections!
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.
When former Prime Minister Julia Gillard scheduled Australia’s elections for September 14, her decision to hold elections on Yom Kippur raised concerns throughout Australia’s Jewish community. Current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (who took over for Gillard after her ousting in June) listened to the complaints of Jews down under and announced on Sunday that elections would be held on September 7 in order to avoid a clash with the High Holidays, which he believed would be a “massive inconvenience.” Read more…
All eyes were on Iran last week as 36 million citizens went to the polls to vote for their next president. With 50.7% of the vote, Hasan Rowhani was declared the surprise victor.