Elections

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...

Ron Paul's Threat to Gingrich

With his vast trail of scandals and long list of enemies, Newt Gingrich is unlikely to win the Republican presidential nomination, even if he’s leading the polls. But if you were to imagine a path to the nomination for the former House speaker, it would begin in Iowa. A strong win in the Iowa caucuses would provide Gingrich with the momentum necessary to place well in New Hampshire (or win it, under the right circumstances). With the momentum of two primaries behind him, Gingrich would cruise to victory in South Carolina and Florida and finish January as the presumptive nominee. Iowa is a must-have for Gingrich, which is why Ron Paul’s surge—he is tied with Gingrich in the latest survey from Public Policy Polling—is so dangerous. A Ron Paul win in Iowa would both derail Gingrich and help Mitt Romney as he navigates through the New Hampshire primary. In that sense, Paul is Romney’s greatest ally in the Republican presidential primaries. If Paul can keep Gingrich from building momentum...

Ron Paul Ties Gingrich in Iowa

GRINNELL, IOWA—That sure didn't last long. The Newt Gingrich boomlet appeared to have at least a bit more staying power than the month-long GOP love affairs with Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain. Instead, it might already be over. A new survey from Public Policy Polling puts Gingrich dead even with Ron Paul in Iowa, a crucial state that Gingrich will need to win if he hopes to clinch his party's nomination. Gingrich notches just 22 percent support in the poll, with Ron Paul in second place at 21 percent. The survey, conducted between December 11 and December 13, encompasses the days immediately following the last GOP debate. Gingrich's likability plummeted during that time. When PPP polled Iowans the previous week, the former speaker had a net favorability of 31 percent; that's now dropped to just a 12 percent margin, with 52 percent of caucus voters having warm feelings for Gingrich and another 40 percent having negative views. Mitt Romney placed third in the poll with...

No One Can Win the Republican Nomination

AP Photo/Eric Gay
With the air going out of the Newtster’s balloon—not surprisingly, as everyone who has ever worked with him (possibly, everyone who has ever met him) has declared him too unstable and egomaniacal to win—the latest smart-money bet in Iowa is Ron Paul, whose libertarian delusions render him unelectable as well. Mitt Romney, having entered that phase of the campaign where he has to campaign among actual people, is trending downward, too. That leaves Jon Huntsman, who can take votes from Romney but not likely from anyone else, and Rick Perry, who can still boast of impressive credentials but who’s still saddled with an unimpressive brain. None of these guys can win, yet one of them must, unless the gods decree that most unlikely of outcomes, a deadlocked convention. None of these candidates has been substantially damaged by his rival candidates. Their unelectability is the result of their own failings and marginalities—theirs, and their party’s, which has required of its nominees a...

No Labels Comes to Washington

For its panel on “mak[ing] Congress work” this morning, No Labels—a group that bills itself as “a voice” for the “silent majority”—assembled a group of current and former lawmakers to solve the problems of partisanship and polarization. Among the members present were Senators Joe Lieberman, Joe Manchin, Bill Nelson, and Dean Heller; Congressman Jim Cooper; former Senator Evan Bayh; former Congressman Micky Edwards; and David Walker, the former comptroller general. There was a standard issue list of bipartisan reforms: an end to negative campaigning against fellow members, filibuster reform, pay for performance, and nonpartisan primaries. If these sound unremarkable, it’s because they are. Even if the large crowd (it filled a chamber in one of the House office buildings) was enthusiastic, there’s something banal about an event where politicians speak in gauzy platitudes—“Back in the day, friendship mattered more than party, and common purpose mattered more than ideology,” Evan Bayh...

Putting the Brakes on Voter Supression

Voters in most states have little recourse to combat the onslaught of restrictive voter-ID laws Republican majorities have passed in 2011. For the most part, they'll have to wait until the 2012 election to replace their legislators and hope that these laws (such as photo-ID requirements and repeals to same-day registration) can be taken off the books. But a number of states will tackle voter suppression directly via ballot referendums. Last month, both Maine and Mississippi tested restrictive voting laws through popular votes; in Maine, voters overruled their legislators and reinstituted same-day voter registration, a major win for voter-rights advocates. But in Mississippi, things took a turn for the worse; voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification for access to the ballot. Ohio is up next after organizers gathered more than 300,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot next year. The state's Republican majority had passed severe restrictions to...

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