Chart: State-level PAC contributions

Uncontrolled and untrackable corporate campaign contributions distort state-level races as much, if not more, than federal races.

U.S. companies have found a loophole in state campaign-finance rules by funneling donations aimed at helping candidates through the [Republican Governors Association, or RGA, a Republican fundraising PAC] and its Democratic counterpart, according to multiple former officials. Donors can’t earmark money for a particular candidate. Instead, they can simply—and legally—tell the groups they have “an interest” in a race or are making a donation “at the request” of a gubernatorial candidate, these officials say.

An internal tracking system, sometimes called the “tally,” allows the [Democratic Governors Association, DGA] to keep tabs on how much individual governors raise for the association from companies and other donors, which later helps it figure out how to allocate the money, former DGA officials said. The RGA has a similar system, former RGA officials say.

Multiple former RGA and DGA officials described the practice of guiding donations as an open secret. The available public data hint at a pattern, too. Over the past decade, 42 S&P 500 index companies gave donations of $100,000 or more to the RGA or DGA. Donations by 19 of those companies were followed by an RGA or DGA expenditure of the same or greater amount within a month in a state where the company has operations, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign donations.


Chart - Corp Contributions to Party Governor Associates - 2017-12-30

Source: WSJ 12/30/17.




Hogs at the Trough…


Some sadly business-as-usual quotes from a Times article on the behind the scenes efforts of Washington lobbyists around the Republican 2017 tax bill.


In all, more than half of the 11,000 registered lobbyists in Washington reported working on tax-related issues through the first nine months of the year, according to a report released this month by the nonprofit group Public Citizen.

No matter how convincing the policy analysis or how steady the constituent pressure, though, personal and financial connections to policymakers remained among the most important currency on K Street during the tax debate, as has been the case in legislative battles for decades.

Fund-raisers held by members of the conference committee during the tax reform debate were hot tickets for tax lobbyists, who eagerly forked over a few hundred — or even a few thousand — dollars for face time with lawmakers who controlled the fate of valued loopholes.

Mr. Portman has held fund-raisers in recent weeks, and has another one scheduled for next week at the fashionable Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant across the street from the Capitol. Attendees are being asked to donate $1,000 each through their political action committees or $250 in personal funds, according to an invitation, which bills the event as a “birthday breakfast” for Mr. Portman, whose birthday is the day before the event.

A Republican who attended a fund-raiser late last month for another member of the conference committee, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, said several lobbyists asked the senator about tax reform. Mr. Cornyn kept his responses vague, telling attendees that he was hopeful that the process could be completed before Christmas.

Source: NYTimes 12/16/17.

It’s Bigger and Better (Gerrymandering) in Texas…

Lawrence Wright’s July 10, 2017 New Yorker article, “The Future of Texas,” has a good description of the effectives of systematic gerrymandering.

This excerpt describes the efforts of Tom Craddick, the ultraconservative, Midland, TX Republican Speaker of the Texas Legislature, after January 2003, when the Republicans took over the legislative majority. The “cracking” of Austin’s democratic voting blocks is a classic strategy.

As this excerpt concludes, “Texas become a model for how to get control.”

New Yorker - Texas - 2017-07-10a

Measuring the Impact of Gerrymandering

voting boothThe “efficiency gap” measures Gerrymandering’s insidious effect of on democracy’s aspiration of “one person, one vote”.

Efficiency Gaps Gerrymandering WSJQuoting the WSJ article:

The metric devised by Mr. Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute in California, tests whether district plans treat political parties equally by comparing the number of votes each wastes.

Wasted votes are those cast for a losing candidate as well as those cast for a winner in excess of the number needed for victory.

The efficiency gap divides the difference between the two parties’ wasted votes by the total number of votes cast. The result is a percentage that indicates the portion of seats the dominant party won because it wasted fewer votes than the other side.

The authors offer a simple example:

Imagine 1,000 voters spread across 10 election districts. Party A collects 55% of the votes, wins eight seats and wastes 150 votes. Party B collects 45% of the votes, wins two seats and wastes 350 votes.

Party A wasted 200 fewer votes than Party B, or 20% of the 1,000 votes cast, indicating that it won 20% more seats than it would have if the district plan was unbiased, or two extras seats.

The question, then, is whether that degree of bias rises to the level of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

To decide, the authors propose setting a threshold above which a district plan would trigger scrutiny then testing to confirm it had no neutral justification, gave a persistent advantage to the dominant party and that its effect was intentional.

They suggest flagging congressional plans that help the majority party win two or more additional seats and state legislative plans that have an efficiency gap of at least 8%.

While the efficiency gap is better than previous attempts to measure partisan gerrymandering, it isn’t perfect. It isn’t suitable for states with a small number of congressional districts, such as Nebraska, because flipping a single seat would cause the gap to move by a large percentage. (The authors applied the formula in states with eight or more districts.

It also builds in a bonus for the majority party by awarding it twice as many seats after winning 50% than if it were simply proportional, a feature that is easier to detect when the formula is reduced to an equation:

(seat margin – 50%) – 2 x (vote margin – 50%) = efficiency gap

Or, in the authors’ simple example: (80% – 50%) – 2 x (55% – 50%) = 20%

The bonus allows the majority party to win more seats before meeting the threshold of an unconstitutional gerrymander. The authors say the formula reflects the way elections have worked out historically, but it disturbs people who don’t want that cushion locked into a legal definition of partisan gerrymandering.

“We don’t see a good argument for that factor of two,” said Moon Duchin, a Tufts University math professor who has organized five upcoming workshops on using mathematics and technology to draw nonpartisan congressional and legislative districts.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the Wisconsin case in the term that begins in October.