Abby Rapoport

Abby Rapoport is a freelance journalist, and former staff writer at The American Prospect. She was previously a political reporter for the Texas Observer

Recent Articles

Can Reformers Save Our Election System from the Supreme Court?

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Cornell Woolridge of Windsor Mill, Md., takes part in a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, as the court heard arguments on campaign finance. O ver the past few years, given the bad news that just keeps coming their way, America’s campaign-finance reformers have started to look like eternal optimists. They’ve pretty much had to be. Take the one-two wallop they suffered early this spring. First, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York state legislators killed reformers’ best chance of a breakthrough in 2014—a public-financing program in which small-dollar donations would be matched or multiplied by public funds. (New York City already runs its own “matching” program.) The idea was to give less-wealthy donors a bigger voice in legislative and gubernatorial races while decreasing the clout of those with deep pockets. Instead, reformers ended up with a microscopic pilot program for the state comptroller’s race. A few days later...

Pardon Me, Mr. President?

Flickr/Salticidae
Flickr/Victoria Pickering T his week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the start of a new initiative on clemency, encouraging thousands of inmates—particularly those convicted during the Drug War crackdown of the 1990s—to send in petitions to have their sentences commuted. The new initiative offers six new criteria by which petitioners will be judged, including the following: prisoners must have served 10 years of their sentence, must not have lengthy criminal records or gang convictions, and show that they would have gotten off with a lighter sentence had they been tried today. In his more than five years in office, Obama has been the stingiest president in history when it comes to granting pardons; the new program could make him one of the most generous. But the biggest news for criminal-justice reformers has been the administration’s appointment of a new pardon attorney to oversee the program: Deborah Leff , who spent her years at DOJ working on the Access to Justice...

Get Ready for the Datapalooza of Election Performance!

AP Images/Toby Talbot
D uring the brief time in the election cycle when the voting booths are actually open, we hear a lot how smoothly elections are going—where voters are waiting in long lines, where ballots are getting rejected, and the like. Elections expert Doug Chapin, who heads the University of Minnesota’s Elections Academy, calls it “anec-data”—anecdotes substituting for hard numbers. In a presidential election, we tend to hear all about problems in swing states, since the national press corps is already there, but we’re less likely to hear about issues in Montana or Connecticut, where the election outcome is almost a foregone conclusion. Good data would make it easy to compare states’ election performance, and more importantly, let us see how states are improving or declining from one election to the next. That’s why Pew’s 2012 Elections Performance Index is a big deal. Released this week, the index uses standardized data from the U.S. Census, the Elections Assistance Commission, and a major...

The Quality of Mercy

An evangelical Christian and former prosecutor, Mark Osler has become one of the country’s most effective advocates for criminal-justice reform. 

On a Sunday in September, a few minutes before the 10 A.M. worship service, Mark Osler stands in the lobby of the First Covenant Church in downtown Minneapolis. He’s just been fitted with a pencil-thin, flesh-colored microphone, the kind that pop stars wear so they can dance while belting out lyrics. Fifty-one years old and of average build, Osler is the opposite of imposing. As usual, his wiry hair is a mess. A strand flops over his forehead, giving him a slightly boyish air. With his mouth set in a straight line and his thick eyebrows knitted together, his expression tends to be serious or, if he’s lost in thought, dour. “I look like Britney Spears,” he says, a bit doubtful about the microphone.

Daily Meme: A Rough Week for Democracy

Once, long ago, lawmakers from both parties worked together to pass campaign finance reform legislation. It was a simpler time, albeit with terrorist attacks and wars in the Middle East and a presidential administration bent on giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, and in 2002, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold Republican Senator John McCain (remember him?) saw their efforts to decrease the role of money in politics turned into law, adding to an overall campaign finance regulations. But since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts on independent political advertising, and the rise of super PACS, the whole system has been wobbling. On Wednesday , another vestige of the system fell to First Amendment claims. McCutcheon v. FEC knocked down the total limits on individual campaign donations. While there are still caps on how much donors can give to a campaign or party, they can now give to as many...

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