Elections

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. In a year of reactionary politics and partisan gridlock nationwide, what made Connecticut so different? One-party control over both the governor’s office and the legislature for the first time in 21 years played a role. But the secret behind the Democrats’ success was sweeping campaign-finance reform enacted six years earlier. Reeling from the embarrassment of a corruption scandal that landed a governor in federal prison, Connecticut legislators grabbed the national spotlight in...

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. It was a more subdued and tired-looking Newt who came before a group of college students and then answered questions from reporters this morning in Concord. What was striking about his first appearance was his lack of interest in creating any rapport between himself and the students. What Newt delivered was a lecture, not a speech, on the duties of citizenship as he saw them, which consist chiefly of the duty to...

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. Bachmann announced that she would suspend her presidential campaign this morning at the Marriott in west Des Moines. For the first time in her career, Bachmann seemed to have landed on planet Earth. "Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside," she said. Boy, they sure were clear. She came in second to last, just ahead of Jon Huntsman, who drew 5 percent of the vote. That equals 6,073 votes, only a slight increase from the 4,823 people who supported her at the Ames Straw Poll in early August. Back then it looked as if Bachmann could threaten Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. But the entry of Rick Perry into the race stole her momentum, and she never recovered. Her...

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. The room was a tight space, but only a small crowd of supporters—around 150—bothered to stop by anyway. It was a calm scene around 9 p.m., when the early results started to favor Santorum. The Iowans milled about, celebrating and waving their signs only when it was necessary to mug for the TV cameras. Besides the two TVs set up without volume on the sides of the room, there was no reliable way for the crowd packed near the stage to receive the results; instead of relying on televised news reports, supporters got the latest caucus numbers from the reporters packed near the exits of the hall...

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? Yes, we need to organize—lobby better in D.C., rabble rouse better in the countryside. And assuredly we must mount a long-term legal drive to overturn Citizens United. But these things are not enough. Let’s face it: Campaign-finance reformers have not engaged in serious rethinking in decades. We need a revitalization of policy goals as well. A compelling...

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. Yet it is also clear that Congress won’t ask for this authority itself. The chance that this Congress, or any Congress elected in the current environment, could muster 67 votes in the Senate to alter Washington’s economy of influence is zero. Congress is the...

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. For the public and most lawmakers, the problem is clear. Our present system has long rewarded politicians who rely on deep-pocketed supporters to provide massive amounts of cash to pay for increasingly costly campaigns. A string of recent Supreme Court decisions has exacerbated the problem, allowing corporations nearly free rein to attack candidates who present a threat to their bottom line, pushing officeholders to seek even more money. This adds to the pervasive sentiment that our elected officials’ primary function is to raise money. Large numbers of voters have disengaged from a system in which they don’t seem to matter. With no end in sight and increasing frustration driven by a stagnant economy, American democracy is in peril. The good news is...

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. In Gingrich's case, it's clear that his opponents' onslaught of negative comments—during stump speeches but also in TV ads attacking his characters—brought about his downfall. Gingrich's favorability was at 62 percent when he jumped to take the lead in PPP's Iowa survey at the beginning of the month, with just 31 percent of Republican voters disapproving of him at the time. Those numbers have now...

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. Vander Plaats' word carries wide sway among Iowa's social conservative base as a result of his frequent (and unsuccessful) gubernatorial runs and the campaign he led against three state Supreme Court judges last fall. Mike Huckabee selected Vander Plaats as his 2008 Iowa campaign chairman, so the endorsement could be an indication that Huckabee's former supporters are shifting Santorum's way. All of the candidates competing...

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 is assaulting the prevalence of Super PACs now that his poll numbers have dropped as a result of recent attack ads, but he hasn't exactly turned that criticism on himself. Solutions 2012 was formed earlier this year by Becky Burkett, a former aide who had solicited funds for a Gingrich nonprofit. The LA Times reported that the group has penciled in an operating budget of $10 million to support the former speaker's presidential ambitions. A second pro-Gingrich Super PAC called Winning Our Future popped up last week and has already cut an ad touting Gingrich's conservative credentials (to be fair that ad does avoid the negative campaigning that has been Gingrich's main point of...

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. Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey shared that sentiment, telling The New York Times that "it would lead us to become a banana republic, in which administrations would become regimes, and each regime would feel it perfectly appropriate to disregard decisions of courts staffed by previous regimes." The impractical proposal is doing Gingrich no favors with national conservatives, but I speculated yesterday that they weren't his true audience; he's instead signaling to evangelicals—particularly in Iowa—that he is on their side. Gingrich hosted a town hall in Davenport, Iowa Monday where a small crowd...

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. In the latest poll from Public Policy Polling, Paul has moved to the top of the field with 23 percent support. Mitt Romney jumped up to second place with 20 percent, while Gingrich is down in third with 14 percent. Two weeks ago, PPP's numbers put Gingrich clearly atop the field with 27 percent, but that level took a slight dip to 22 percent last week before bottoming out in the latest numbers. It's easy to dismiss Paul's jump to the top as yet another mini-surge that will fall back before the actual vote, but I wouldn't be so sure. Unlike Gingrich, Paul has actually built an Iowa infrastructure, and voters in the state are very familiar with his policy positions because he has traveled to Iowa more...

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. Before things kicked off, Huckabee told ABC News that he would not be endorsing any candidates before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. But that didn't stop him from signaling his persuasion when he spoke yesterday. Huckabee, in effect, lent his support to the four candidates who attended the event, while dinging the candidates who didn't show: Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul. "My heartfelt and deep appreciation for the candidates who are here tonight," he said "and it speaks volumes that they are here…I do want you to take note, that there are four candidates who cleared their schedules and made this a priority...

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. Almost every candidate visited Iowa to be shepherded around by Vander Plaats for a full day at some point this year, and everyone except Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman attended last month's Thanksgiving Family Forum hosted by his organization, The Family Leader. There's just one hitch: The Family Leader tied any endorsement to a marriage pledge , which quickly become a source of controversy when it was released this summer. In addition to requiring candidates to remain faithful in their own personal...

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.” During the debate last weekend, Newt's stance on space policy got Mitt Romney chuckling. "Places where we disagree?" Romney said in response to some prodding from debate moderator George Stephanopoulos. "Let's see, we can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon, I'm not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that." The Republicans in the crowd laughed it up with Romney, who had used a similar line of attack the day before...

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