Elections News ArticlesExcerpts of key news articles on elections
A group formed this year by executives and lobbyists for the defense contracting industry is taking credit for “driving the national debate on foreign policy during the 2016 presidential election,” and in particular for getting Republican presidential candidates to call for escalating military action in Syria. In an email to supporters over the weekend, Mike Rogers, the founder of Americans for Peace, Prosperity, and Security, hailed the group for “pushing candidates on national security.” The email also highlighted a quote from Jeb Bush at an APPS forum calling for the U.S. to be prepared for a “long haul” war on ISIS, and a similar comment from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who said the U.S. should engage ISIS as it had against the Taliban in Afghanistan. APPS was formed by current and former officials from Raytheon, BAE Systems, SAIC, and other major defense contractors. Lobbyists who represent the defense industry are also involved. Rogers, the former House Intelligence Committee chairman who retired from Congress last year, also represents private clients. To “help elect a president who supports American engagement and a strong foreign policy,” the group spends money on public events in primary states and encourages presidential candidates to take hawkish positions.
Amid a massive corruption scandal which has tarnished Brazil’s political class and driven the country’s president to the brink of impeachment, the Brazilian supreme court has banned corporate donations to candidates and parties in future elections. With eight votes in favour and three against, the court declared late on Thursday that the rules allowing companies to donate to election campaigns were unconstitutional. Rosa Weber, one of the judges who ruled in favour of the ban, argued that undue economic influence comprised the legitimacy of the country’s elections. “The influence of economic power has ended up transforming the electoral process into a rigged political game, a despicable pantomime which makes the voter a puppet, simultaneously undermining citizenship, democracy and popular sovereignty.” According to “The Spoils of Victory”, a US academic study into campaign donations and government contracts in Brazil, corporate donors to the PT in the 2006 elections received between 14 to 39 times the value of their donations in government contracts. The case was brought to the supreme court around one and a half years ago by the Order of Brazilian Attorneys (OAB). On Thursday the organization’s secretary general, Cláudio Pereira de Souza Neto, celebrated the decision. “It is what Brazilian society has been hoping for, even more so in these times of crisis,” he said, adding that the court order should make future elections cheaper.
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Voting machines around the United States are coming to the end of their useful lives. That could be a serious problem for next year's presidential elections. According to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice ... 43 states will use some voting equipment next year that's at least 10 years old. "We're not saying that all the systems are going to fail on Election Day. But the closer you get to this end of projected lifespan, the more likely you're going to see problems," said Larry Norden, one of the report's authors. Problems such as vote flipping - that's when a voter presses one candidate's name only to have the opponent's name light up. It happens when the glue on touch-screen machines gets old and erodes. Norden said everything's coming to a head at once because almost every state bought new computerized voting equipment right after the disputed 2000 election, using $2 billion in federal aid. But he says now there's neither the money nor the same sense of urgency. "More than one official has said to me [that] legislators [and] county funders are waiting for a disaster, which I think is crazy," he said. Disaster does seem increasingly possible. Earlier this year, the state of Virginia realized that machines used in 20 percent of the state were vulnerable to hackers and immediately ordered them replaced. The Brennan Center found a similar pattern in other states. Wealthier counties are getting new equipment, while poorer ones are not.
Note: Read more on the major problems with electronic voting machines in the US. For more along these lines, see concise summaries of deeply revealing elections corruption news articles from reliable major media sources. Then explore the excellent, reliable resources provided in our Elections Information Center.
Americans are required to register if they want to vote; as of this week, Oregonians will have to register not to. Gov. Kate Brown signed a first-in-the-nation bill to automatically register all eligible Oregonians to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license or state identification card. Those who are registered through the new process will be notified by mail and will be given three weeks to take themselves off the voting rolls. If they do not opt out, the secretary of state’s office will mail them a ballot automatically 20 days before any election. Oregon was the first state in the country to switch to all-mail voting when Ballot Measure 60 was passed in 1998 by a wide margin. Washington state and Colorado later followed suit. Currently, there are about 2.2 million registered voters in Oregon, said Tony Green, spokesman for Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins, and an additional 800,000 are not registered but eligible. The new law is expected to bring nearly half of those onto the voter rolls. For those who are already registered to vote, he said, “there will be no change. But if you move, your information will be automatically transferred. You don’t have to manually re-register. You only have to do one thing — change your driver's license address.” The change was not universally embraced. HB 2177 passed both chambers of the state Legislature without a single Republican vote in its favor.
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When you ... cast your vote for the various candidates and public propositions at an electronic voting machine, how confident are you that the results will be tabulated honestly? If you feel less than sanguine about it and do a bit of the research to assuage your doubts, be prepared to feel even less confident afterwards. My statistical analysis shows patterns indicative of vote manipulation in machines. These results form a pattern that goes across the nation and back a number of election cycles. The data reveals multiple (at least two) agents working independently to successfully alter voting results. The official report from the congressional hearing on [the 2004 Ohio presidential] election describes it as 'the abuse and manipulation of electronic voting machines and the arbitrary and illegal behavior of a number of elected and election officials which effectively disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters in order to change the outcome of an election.' For a thorough assessment, [read] 'Post-Election Audits: Restoring Trust in Elections' published by the Brennan Center for Justice. Voting machine software ... is proprietary and even the election officials are not allowed to inspect it. This is termed Black Box Voting and combined with Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting, which permits touchscreen machines and does not require a paper trail allows a situation ripe for exploitation. We have a serious pervasive and systematic problem with electronic voting machines.
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Federal law designates the secretary of state as “responsible for the continuous supervision and general direction of sales” of arms, military hardware and services to foreign countries. In practice, that meant that [Hillary] Clinton was charged with rejecting or approving weapons deals — and when it came to Clinton Foundation donors, Hillary Clinton’s State Department did a whole lot of approving. While Clinton was secretary of state, her department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors. That figure ... is almost double the value of arms sales to those countries during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term. The Clinton-led State Department also authorized $151 billion of separate Pentagon-brokered deals for 16 of the countries that gave to the Clinton Foundation. That was a 143 percent increase in completed sales to those nations over the same time frame during the Bush administration. The 143 percent increase in U.S. arms sales to Clinton Foundation donors compares to an 80 percent increase in such sales to all countries over the same time period. American military contractors and their affiliates that donated to the Clinton Foundation — and in some cases, helped finance speaking fees to Bill Clinton — also got in on the action. Those firms and their subsidiaries were listed as contractors in $163 billion worth of arms deals authorized by the Clinton State Department.
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The world’s biggest and most profitable fossil fuel companies are receiving huge and rising subsidies from US taxpayers, a practice slammed as absurd by a presidential candidate given the threat of climate change. A Guardian investigation of three specific projects, run by Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum, has revealed that the subsidies were all granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. “At a time when scientists tell us we need to reduce carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change, it is absurd to provide massive taxpayer subsidies that pad fossil-fuel companies’ already enormous profits,” said senator Bernie Sanders, who announced on 30 April he is running for president. Sanders, with representative Keith Ellison, recently proposed an End Polluter Welfare Act, which they say would cut $135bn of US subsidies for fossil fuel companies over the next decade. “Between 2010 and 2014, the oil, coal, gas, utility, and natural resource extraction industries spent $1.8bn on lobbying,” according to Sanders and Ellison. Globally in 2013, the most recent figures available, the coal, oil and gas industries benefited from subsidies of $550bn, four times those given to renewable energy. In 2009, President Barack Obama called on the G20 to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies but since then US federal subsidies have risen by 45%. Every single well, pipeline, refinery, coal and gas plant in the country is heavily subsidised.
The political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaign, an unparalleled effort by coordinated outside groups to shape a presidential election that is already on track to be the most expensive in history. The spending goal ... would allow their political organization to operate at the same financial scale as the Democratic and Republican Parties. It would require a significant financial commitment from the Kochs and roughly 300 other donors they have recruited ... to influence legislation and campaigns across the country, leveraging Republican control of Congress and the party’s dominance of state capitols to push for deregulation, tax cuts and smaller government. The [increased budget] reflects the rising ambition and expanded reach of the Koch operation. In 2012, the Kochs’ network spent just under $400 million, an astonishing sum at the time. The $889 million spending goal for 2016 would put it on track to spend nearly as much as the campaigns of each party’s presidential nominee. The Kochs are longtime opponents of campaign disclosure laws. Their network is constructed chiefly of nonprofit groups that are not required to reveal donors.
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Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year. The Times reported previously how individual attorneys general have shut down investigations, changed policies or agreed to more corporate-friendly settlement terms [for] campaign benefactors. But the attorneys general are also working collectively. Out of public view, corporate representatives and attorneys general are coordinating legal strategy and other efforts to fight federal regulations, according to a review of thousands of emails and court documents and dozens of interviews. Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma [used his post] to help start what he and allies called the Rule of Law campaign. That campaign, in which attorneys general band together to operate like a large national law firm, has been used to back lawsuits and other challenges against the Obama administration on environmental issues, the Affordable Care Act and securities regulation. The most recent target is the president’s executive action on immigration. Coordination between the corporations and teams of attorneys general involved in the Rule of Law effort also involves actual litigation to try to clear roadblocks to energy projects, documents show.
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The most disturbing trend in the financing of American political campaigns is not the magnitude of the money being spent. It’s that more and more of that money is not going through the campaigns themselves — where donations must be disclosed and limited — but from nonprofit groups that are being set up for the express purpose of frustrating any attempt to identify their funders. This infusion of “dark money” all but obliterates the post-Watergate notion that Americans have a right to know who is behind ... candidates. In this new world order, various players are operating under different sets of rules — and some seem to be creating their own, aware that this Supreme Court seems disinclined to stop them. We know, for example, that billionaire investor Tom Steyer spent $74 million on behalf of Democratic candidates who were committed to doing something about climate change. There is no exact figure on how much was spent at the other end of the spectrum by the Koch brothers, the conservative oil barons who funnel much of their donations through nonprofits that are not required to list their funding sources under the tax code. A memo by the Koch brothers’ main political arm, leaked to Politico in May, forecast a budget of $125 million in this election. Such obfuscation is becoming more commonplace. The average voter is left without knowing who really is behind these campaigns. But make no mistake: Our elected officials are well aware of their benefactors and their expectations.
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Before 2002, parties could accept unlimited donations from individuals or groups (corporations, labor unions, etc.). The McCain-Feingold law, as it came to be known, banned soft-money contributions, and it also prohibited political groups that operate outside the regulated system and its donation limits from running “issue ads” that appear to help or hurt a candidate close to an election. In 2010, the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court effectively blew apart the McCain-Feingold restrictions on outside groups and their use of corporate and labor money in elections. That same year, a related ruling from a lower court made it easier for wealthy individuals to finance those groups. What followed has been the most unbridled spending in elections since before Watergate. In 2000, outside groups spent $52 million on campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. By 2012, that number had increased to $1 billion. The result was a massive power shift. With the advent of Citizens United, any players with the wherewithal, and there are surprisingly many of them, can start what are in essence their own political parties, built around pet causes or industries and backing politicians uniquely answerable to them. No longer do they have to buy into the system. Instead, they buy their own pieces of it outright. “Suddenly, we privatized politics,” says Trevor Potter, an election lawyer who helped draft the McCain-Feingold law.
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Addicted to each other’s power and money, the political parties and their corporate donors are constantly trying to enlarge their relationship out of sight of the American public. An accidental Internet disclosure last month showed that the stealthy form of political corruption known as “dark money” now fully permeates governor’s offices around the country, allowing corporations to push past legal barriers and gather enormous influence. This has been going on nationally for several years ... after wealthy interests claimed that a series of legal decisions allowed them to give unlimited and undisclosed amounts to “social welfare” groups that pretended not to engage in politics. (The tax code prohibits these groups from having politics as a primary purpose.) Now it turns out that both the Republican and Democratic governors’ associations have also set up social welfare groups ... with the purpose of raising secret political money. Thanks to the computer slip ... we now know some of the people and corporations that secretly contributed. Companies that gave at the highest level (more than $250,000) included Exxon Mobil, the Corrections Corporation of America, Pfizer and the Koch companies. In exchange for their private donations, “members” of [one key] group were invited to a symposium last year [where] they were allowed to meet with (and lobby) some of the highest-ranking officials and regulators in states with Republican governors. Big donors are given “the greatest opportunity possible to meet and talk informally with the Republican governors and their key staff members.” The Democratic Governors Association does exactly the same thing, regularly providing access to top state executives in exchange for large contributions. Both parties are routinely selling access to the nation’s governors and their staffs to those with the most resources.
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Together, Charles and David Koch control one of the world's largest fortunes, which they are using to buy up our political system. The Kochs [have] cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Koch-affiliated organizations raised some $400 million during the 2012 election, and aim to spend another $290 million to elect Republicans in this year's midterms. Koch ... is larger than IBM, Honda or Hewlett-Packard and is America's second-largest private company. Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. But what they don't want you to know is how they made all that money. The company's stock response to inquiries from reporters: "We are privately held and don't disclose this information." The company's troubled legal history – including a trail of congressional investigations ... civil lawsuits and felony convictions ... combine to cast an unwelcome spotlight on the toxic empire. The company has paid out record civil and criminal environmental penalties. According to the University of Massachusetts Amherst's Political Economy Research Institute, only three companies rank among the top 30 polluters of America's air, water and climate: ExxonMobil, American Electric Power and Koch Industries. Koch Industries dumps more pollutants into the nation's waterways than General Electric and International Paper combined. Koch has profited precisely by dumping billions of pounds of pollutants into our waters and skies. The Koch brothers get richer as the costs of what Koch destroys are foisted on the rest of us – in the form of ill health, foul water and a climate crisis that threatens life as we know it on this planet.
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Wall Street is one of the biggest sources of funding for presidential campaigns, and many of the Republican Party's potential 2016 contenders are governors. And so, last week, the GOP filed a federal lawsuit aimed at overturning the ... law that bars those governors from raising campaign money from Wall Street executives who manage their states' pension funds. In this case, New York's and Tennessee's Republican parties are represented by two former Bush administration officials, one of whose firms just won the Supreme Court case invalidating campaign contribution limits on large donors. In their complaint, the parties argue that people managing state pension money have a First Amendment right to make large donations to state officials who award those lucrative money management contracts. With the $3 trillion public pension system controlled by elected officials now generating billions of dollars worth of management fees for Wall Street, Securities and Exchange Commission regulators originally passed the rule to make sure retirees' money wasn't being handed out based on politicians' desire to pay back their campaign donors. The suit comes only a few weeks after the SEC issued its first fines under the rule - against a firm whose executives made campaign donations to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat. In a statement on that case, the SEC promised more enforcement of the pay-to-play rule in the future. The GOP lawsuit aims to stop that promise from becoming a reality.
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It’s not enough, apparently, that some of the wealthiest Americans spend millions to elect their candidates to Congress. Now they are using their fortunes to lobby Congress against any limits on their ability to buy elections. Koch Companies Public Sector, part of the industrial group owned by a well-known pair of conservative brothers, has hired a big-name firm to lobby Congress on campaign-finance issues, according to a registration form filed a few weeks ago. The form doesn’t say what those issues are, but there are several bills in the House that would reduce the role of anonymous big money in campaigns, and restrict the kinds of super PACs and nonprofit groups that the Koch brothers and others have inflated with cash. Clearly, it’s vital to the Kochs and others like them to prevent such limits from being enacted; their network raised $400 million in 2012, and it has been extremely active again this year. To that end, they have done something ordinary citizens cannot do: They hired the lobbying firm of a well-known former senator, Don Nickles, Republican of Oklahoma, to press their interests. Mr. Nickles started his firm a few months after leaving the Senate in 2005, and he takes in up to $8 million a year from big firms like Exxon Mobil, General Motors and Walmart. This is a perfect illustration of the cumulative power of cash in today’s Washington. Members of Congress get elected with substantial help from check writers like the Kochs and others. Once there, they do the bidding of former members paid by the Kochs to preserve their business interests and fight off campaign-finance reforms.
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The US is dominated by a rich and powerful elite. So concludes a recent study by Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I Page. Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power. The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted. "A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time," they write, "while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time." When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it. They conclude: "We believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened."
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America is not yet an oligarchy, but that's where Charles and David Koch and a few other billionaires are taking us. Around a quarter century ago, as income and wealth began concentrating at the top, the Republican and Democratic parties started to morph into mechanisms for extracting money, mostly from wealthy people. Finally, after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010, billionaires began creating their own political mechanisms, separate from the political parties. They now give big money directly to political candidates of their choice, and mount their own media campaigns to sway public opinion toward their own views. So far in the 2014 election cycle, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers' political front group, has aired more than 17,000 broadcast TV commercials, compared with only 2,100 aired by Republican Party groups. Americans for Prosperity has also been outspending top Democratic super PACs in nearly all of the Senate races Republicans are targeting this year. In seven of the nine races, the difference in total spending is at least 2-to-1, and Democratic super PACs have had virtually no air presence in five of the nine states. Four of the top five contributors to 2014 super PACs are now giving money to political operations they themselves created, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Billionaires squaring off against each other isn't remotely a democracy. When billionaires supplant political parties, candidates are beholden directly to the billionaires. And if and when those candidates win election, the billionaires will be completely in charge.
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Azerbaijan's big presidential election ... was anticipated to be neither free nor fair. President Ilham Aliyev, who took over from his father 10 years ago, has stepped up intimidation of activists and journalists. Rights groups are complaining about free speech restrictions and one-sided state media coverage. The BBC's headline for its story on the election reads "The Pre-Determined President." So expectations were pretty low. [But] it was a bit awkward when Azerbaijan's election authorities released vote results – a full day before voting had even started. The vote counts ... were pushed out on an official smartphone app run by the Central Election Commission. It showed Aliyev as "winning" with 72.76 percent of the vote. That's on track with his official vote counts in previous elections: 76.84 percent of the vote in 2003 and 87 percent in 2008. In second place was opposition candidate Jamil Hasanli with 7.4 percent of the vote. The data were quickly recalled. The official story is that the app's developer had mistakenly sent out the 2008 election results as part of a test. But that's a bit flimsy, given that the released totals show the candidates from this week, not from 2008. As of this writing, Azerbaijan's election authorities say they've counted 80 percent of the ballots, with Aliyev winning just under 85 percent of the vote so far. He's been officially reelected.
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So you think the American electoral system is broken? New research out of MIT lays bare just how bad it really is. Here are the five most outrageous facts from "Waiting to Vote," a forthcoming paper by Charles Stewart III for the Journal of Law and Politics, on long lines in the 2012 election. 1. African-American voters wait in line nearly twice as long as white voters. "Viewed nationally, African-Americans waited an average of 23 minutes to vote, compared to 12 minutes for whites." 2. Hispanic voters wait in line one-and-a-half times as long as white voters. "Hispanics waited 19 minutes" – again, compared to a 12-minute wait for whites. 3. Democrats wait in line 45 percent longer than ... Republicans. "Strong Democrats waited an average of 16 minutes, compared to an average of 11 minutes for strong Republicans." 4. Voting in Florida remains a [disgrace] – even compared to other big states. "Waiting times varied tremendously across the states in 2012, ranging from less than two minutes in Vermont to 39 minutes in Florida. 5. The federal Election Assistance Commission is on its last legs. It is supposed to have four commissioners. It currently has four vacancies."It is for answering questions such as this – how to shorten lines in urban areas and a few states where they exist statewide – that the Election Assistance Commission was created. Unfortunately, the EAC has become a 'zombie commission,' without commissioners and therefore without a clear agenda."
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Computer problems, as well as human ones, have drawn complaints across the US as millions of Americans go to the polls. One Pennsylvania voter highlighted a problem with voting machines on YouTube, complete with video, in which a touchscreen changed his choice from President Barack Obama to Republican Mitt Romney. "I initially selected Obama but Romney was highlighted," the man wrote. "I assumed it was being picky so I deselected Romney and tried Obama again, this time more carefully, and still got Romney." This was not the first allegation of foul-ups with electronic machines. In Ohio, some Republicans claimed machines were changing Romney votes to Obama, while Democrats accused Republican state officials of installing untested "experimental" software at the last minute. In Florida, The Tampa Bay Times reported that hundreds of voters received automated "robo-calls" telling them the election was on Wednesday. An official told the paper a glitch in the phone system allowed the calls to go through early on Tuesday, telling voters the election was "tomorrow". A similar glitch was reported in the US capital Washington. The Arizona Republic reported that robo-calls directed voters to the wrong polling stations, and that Democrats claimed it was an intentional effort by Republicans to misdirect people amid a tight Senate race.
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