The Clean-Election State

While officials in other states struggled to balance their budgets in 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly closed a deficit of historic proportions one month early, agreeing on a mix of tax hikes and union concessions. That topped a list of unmatched legislative accomplishments: Connecticut passed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, a transgender-rights bill, a major genetic research initiative, a bipartisan job-growth package, and the nation’s first paid sick-leave mandate.

The Wrath of Newt

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Concord, New Hampshire—As the wrath of Achilles was kindled by the slaying of his best friend Patroclus, so the wrath of Newt Gingrich has been set ablaze by the slaying of his own best friend—his ego. Finishing a distant fourth not just to Mitt Romney but also to Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, after Romney’s Super PAC had run a brutal ad campaign against him, Gingrich was fairly blazing in his concession speech last night in Iowa. He not only declined to congratulate Romney but attacked him and his ads, making clear that he’d hang in the race if only to bring Romney down.

Bye Bye Bachmann

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

WEST DES MOINES, IOWA—Less than 12 hours ago, Michele Bachmann seemed determined to prove all the haters wrong and vowed to waste the next several weeks of her life in South Carolina. Turns out it was all a ruse to gather the media for one last headline-grabbing event.

Party Crasher

Rick Santorum supporters marked their candidate's surprise Iowa finish with a subdued celebration.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

JOHNSTON, IOWA—The conference room at the Stony Creek Inn in this suburb of Des Moines isn't your typical setting for a winner's party. Then again, Rick Santorum isn't your typical successful politician. The candidate, who had languished at the bottom of the polls for most the year, rose meteorically over the last week before the Iowa caucuses and finished eight votes shy of first place last night.

Minimizing Special-Interest Power by Maximizing Participation

Fighting back against restrictive voting-rights laws and empowering small donors can help reclaim elections.

This is a dark time for those who worry about big money’s outsized role in American politics. Radical Supreme Court rulings, a comatose Federal Elections Commission, and ever more shameless political operatives have obliterated the campaign-law edifice that stood shakily for four decades. The 2012 race will be dominated by secret funds, unlimited special-interest gifts, and massive independent expenditures. Expect corruption not seen since Watergate.

Will all this stir a backlash? Perhaps. I am more skeptical than many that the current mood of disquiet will translate into a reform moment. What can we do to tip toward positive change?

Calling for a Convention

Amending the Constitution is our best bet for fixing Congress.

To keep money from corrupting our democratic politics, we need constitutional change. No doubt lots can be done by statute alone—meaningful transparency rules, such as the Disclose Act, and small-dollar public funding, such as the Fair Elections Now Act. The Supreme Court, however, has all but guaranteed that these won’t be enough. Transparency by itself won’t build trust; public funding can only be voluntary; and independent expenditures are all but certain to swamp even the best reforms tolerated by the Court. If we’re ever going to get a Congress “dependent,” as James Madison put it in Federalist Paper No. 52, “upon the People alone,” and not “the Funders,” it is clear that Congress will need new constitutional authority.

Toppling the Money Empire

Grassroots movements can lead the way in taking big money out of politics.

Election Day 2012 looks like it is going to be Groundhog Day 2012. Another election dominated by money. Another series of promises made on the campaign trail, broken as soon as donors and lobbyists come calling when legislatures convene.

Paul on Track to Win Iowa

GRINNELL, IOWA—It looks as though we can safely dismiss a Santorum surge or a Perry reboot. For Romney, the polls hang steady just under a week before the Iowa caucuses, according to Public Policy Polling. Ron Paul maintains his lead over Mitt Romney by a 24-20 margin, statistically unchanged from the 23-20 percent gap last week. But Newt Gingrich's support has disappeared. The former House Speaker held a lead in the Midwestern state two weeks ago, but has now dropped down to third place at 13 percent, only slightly above Michele Bachmann at 11 percent and the two Ricks at 10 percent.

Could Santorum Be the Next Boom?

Rick Santorum secured the most coveted Iowa endorsement earlier today when Bob Vander Plaats lent his support to the former senator's presidential bid. Howeve,r the Family Leader—the organization he created at the start of the year—will remain neutral after the group's board members could not come to a consensus. Chuck Hurley, president of the anti-same-sex marriage Iowa Family Policy Center, also endorsed Santorum this morning. Since his group folded into the Family Leader at the start of the year, the combo's announcement operates as a de facto group endorsement.

Gingrich's Campaign Finance Hypocrisy

Newt Gingrich returned to Iowa yesterday with a newfound distaste for Citizens United. Tapping into his inner Lawrence Lessig, Gingrich stumped against his opponents' Super PACs—primarily Romney's even if he doesn't recognize the name—for blitzing Iowa with a barrage of negative ads, such as this one:

Gingrich's Judicial Attack Wins Over Religious Right

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA—Newt Gingrich's redefinition of separation of powers from the understanding of the past few centuries continues to come under fire from his fellow conservatives. "His comments about the justices and the Congress, sending the Capitol police to bring in judges—that’s not exactly a practical idea or a constitutional idea,” Mitt Romney said on Fox News last night.

Ron Paul on the Rise in Iowa

A little bit of sanity has returned to the GOP presidential field, with the latest polls from Iowa indicating that quasi-frontrunner Newt Gingrich has fallen back. Yet, Gingrich has been replaced by yet another shock frontrunner: Ron Paul is now on track to win the Iowa caucuses.

Mike Huckabee Offers Mini-Endorsements

STORY CITY, IOWA—Before the pro-life seminar film debut last night, Mike Huckabee took to the stage to address his most adoring fans. Iowans still love the former Arkansas governor and winner of the 2008 Iowa Caucus. Sure there were four current presidential candidates on the docket, but many people seemed more interested in what their former favorite candidate had to say.

Vander Plaats Still Open to Endorsing Gingrich

STORY CITY, IOWA—There was a line of folks patiently waiting to shake Bob Vander Plaats' hand when I tracked him down following the pro-life film premiere last night. A three-time gubernatorial candidate, Vander Plaats is a well-respected leader among the state's social conservatives and, despite his failure at running his own political campaigns (he's run for governor and lost every time), his endorsement is among the most coveted for any presidential candidate hoping to win Iowa.

One Small Step for Newt

AP Photo/Bill Ingalls

GRINNELL, IOWA—The emerging narrative for Newt Gingrich is that that he is an unstable politician prone to indulging in crazy theories more fitting a fantasy author than a presidential contender. He's been doing his best Chicken Little impression for years, running around warning about the threat of an EMP attack knocking out the nation's electrical grid (hint: it's not much of a threat). And, he is such a Steven Spielberg fan that he became convinced that the U.S. should invest in building a real-life “Jurassic Park.”