The Wall Street Journal is dismissing efforts to convince corporations to be more transparent about their political contributions as "partisan agitprop," despite the fact that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court reaffirmed the need for such transparency in 2010's Citizens United decision.
Although a majority of Americans from across the political spectrum disagree with the court's decision in Citizens United and support a bipartisan effort to reduce the unprecedented influx of campaign spending and "dark money" in politics, the Journal isn't convinced that transparency and disclosure for corporations playing politics is worthwhile. In an October 14 editorial, the Journal complained that groups like the Center for Political Accountability targeted corporations in an attempt to "discourage businesses from participating in politics" by publishing an index that ranks companies based on how transparent they are about their political expenditures. The goal of the index is to encourage corporations to disclose their campaign contributions to their shareholders, since it is the shareholders' money that is financing the political spending in the first place.
But the editorial was unsupportive of the group's activities, despite the fact that the conservatives on the Supreme Court upheld campaign finance disclosures in their majority opinion in Citizens United as indispensable to their decision that corporations can influence elections as freely as actual voters:
Hey shareholders, want some stock tips from a nonprofit outfit that wants to discourage businesses from participating in politics? That's the dubious message from a new index designed to block the political speech of corporations while leaving unions free to donate as they please.
Every year, the George Soros-funded Center for Political Accountability publishes the Wharton-Zicklin index, which ranks companies based on their political disclosure. When the group isn't publishing the index, it spends its time pushing for shareholder proxy proposals that would force companies to disclose their political activity.
The activist group's tactics have also included pressuring companies to cave pre-emptively and disclose political activity for fear of becoming targets. The index ranks companies according to their political transparency and disclosure profile. The Center for Political Accountability then uses those rankings as a truncheon to lobby CEOs to advertise how and how much they spend on campaigns and lobbying.
Most shareholders aren't buying it, but the disclosure gambit deserves to be exposed as the partisan agitprop it is.
A recent CBS Evening News report on unnecessarily strict voter ID laws engaged in the sort of "he said, she said" reporting that ignores the virtual non-existence of in-person voter fraud, a type of false equivalence that media critics have widely condemned.
On October 9, the Supreme Court issued an order that prevented Wisconsin's voter ID law -- one of the strictest in the nation -- from going into effect just weeks before the November elections. Opponents of the law argued that the new identification requirements were not only unconstitutional but would have caused "chaos" at polling places and could have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters who lacked the appropriate ID. A similarly restrictive voter ID law was struck down by a federal judge in Texas that same day, with the judge calling the law an "unconstitutional poll tax" that unfairly discriminated against the poor and people of color.
These types of strict voter ID laws are popular among Republican lawmakers, despite the fact that they are redundant and there is no evidence of widespread, in-person voter fraud -- the type of fraud voter ID laws are designed to prevent. Nevertheless, on the October 10 edition of CBS Evening News, correspondent Chip Reid's segment on the recent legal decisions affecting Texas and Wisconsin's voter ID laws failed to report this simple truth about voter suppression:
Fox News is calling recent court decisions blocking voter ID laws a "setback," despite the fact that these decisions will allow more people to engage in the political process.
On October 9, the Supreme Court issued an order temporarily blocking Wisconsin's voter ID law -- a law that The New York Times called "one of the strictest in the nation." Even though these kinds of voter ID laws disproportionately affect people of color and in-person voter fraud is almost nonexistent, right-wing media outlets has repeatedly celebrated them. National Review Online was highly supportive of Wisconsin's law in particular, and it called fears that the new ID requirements would cause "chaos at the polls" overblown because "there has been no such 'chaos' in any of the other states that have implemented voter-ID laws over the past ten years."
Elsewhere, in Texas, a federal court struck down that state's voter ID law -- another stringent law that right-wing media have described as "a good thing." However, in its ruling, the court called Texas' law an "unconstitutional poll tax" that "has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose."
Yet Fox News was apparently unmoved by the Texas court's proclamation that the right to vote "defines our nation as a democracy." On the October 10 edition of America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum said the "timing" of the orders was "very interesting." Her co-host, Bill Hemmer, said the decisions were "the latest setbacks" to laws "meant to crack down on voter fraud":
The timing is interesting, but probably not in the way MacCallum thinks. Although the court's order doesn't say why it stopped Wisconsin's law from being implemented, SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston suggested that "the fact that this year's election is less than a month away may have been the key factor." In its brief in the Wisconsin case, the ACLU also argued that "[n]o court has permitted a voter ID law to go into effect this close to an election based on last-minute changes to the law." Had the law been implemented before the 2014 election, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters could have been affected. According to the ACLU and the Advancement Project, state officials would have had "to issue some 6,000 IDs per day between now and the election" to ensure that every eligible voter had the required form of identification.
The 2014 midterm election cycle is already one of the most expensive ever -- due in part to the Supreme Court's recent campaign finance decisions, which have opened the floodgates for billions of dollars in political expenditures to influence our election system. But the crisis is all but nonexistent on Fox News Sunday, which has rarely discussed money in politics outside of the overblown IRS targeting scandal.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court dismantled aggregate campaign contribution limits in McCutcheon v. FEC, making it easier for individuals to influence the political process by donating money to an unlimited number of candidates, political parties, and super PACs. McCutcheon was an extension of the court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC in 2010, which allowed corporations to make unlimited political expenditures to support their favored candidates.
Since the Court decided to hear McCutcheon in 2013, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday has discussed campaign finance roughly as often as the Sunday morning news shows on other broadcast networks did -- but its coverage was almost always in relation to the allegation (and right-wing talking point) that the IRS unfairly scrutinized the tax-exempt status of Tea Party nonprofit groups and other conservative organizations.
In fact, out of nine segments on Fox News Sunday that discussed campaign finance reform, seven mentioned the IRS allegations or former IRS director Lois Lerner. The program's other two segments were passing mentions of the existence of campaign finance reform, not comprehensive discussions of the issue. While every other Sunday show aired at least one substantive segment on campaign finance reform, Citizens United, or McCutcheon, Fox News Sunday did not.
Below are five stories that Fox News Sunday could have covered to give its viewers a more complete picture of the crisis of big money in politics.
From the October 8 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is criticizing the major news networks' lack of coverage of big money in politics, saying he is "disappointed, but not surprised ... that the networks barely covered the issue."
Sanders' press release comes after a recent Media Matters study found that the subject of campaign finance reform was hardly reported on by either the major networks' evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News, and NBC's Nightly News) or their Sunday talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and NBC's Meet the Press). These news programs also largely overlooked the Senate's proposed (and ultimately filibustered) constitutional amendment that would have restored Congress' ability to regulate political spending after the conservative justices of the Supreme Court gutted bipartisan campaign finance law in 2010's Citizens United v. FEC and this year's McCutcheon v. FEC.
Although most of the networks seldom covered the issue, PBS NewsHour, on the other hand, set the standard and broadcast numerous in-depth segments on campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and the Supreme Court decisions that have invited billions of dollars to flow into the federal election system. In fact, PBS NewsHour offered more campaign finance coverage than the other networks combined.
In response to these findings, Sanders called on the media to dedicate more coverage to what he called "the single most important issue facing our country today" and suggested that the networks' insufficient coverage has contributed to the decline of Americans' confidence in the media:
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, by the study's finding that the major networks barely covered the issue of money in politics," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "There is a reason why confidence in the American media is declining," he added. "More and more people say the media is not paying attention to the issues of real importance to the American people. This study confirms that."
The study found that each network devoted less than single minute per month to talking about campaign finance reform. "To my mind," Sanders said, "the single most important issue facing our country today is that, as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, we are allowing billionaires to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates who will represent the wealthy and powerful rather than the needs of ordinary Americans. This is an issue of enormous consequence."
Sanders cited a recent Gallup poll that found Americans' faith in television news and newspapers is at or tied with record lows. The findings continued a decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in newspapers or TV news.
Fox News co-host Steve Doocy claimed New York City's new law allowing municipal identifications to all city residents will allow undocumented immigrants to vote in state and local elections. But New York City's election law clearly stipulates that only U.S. citizens can vote, and experts explain that the municipal IDs provide much-needed services the city's residents.
National Review Online misrepresented a recent court decision that could allow an unneccessarily restrictive voter identification law to be implemented in Wisconsin only weeks before the November election.
On September 12, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that a district court judge had previously granted to prevent Wisconsin's strict voter ID law from going into effect due to concerns that its disproportionate effect on communities of color violated the Voting Rights Act. After the three judge panel of the Seventh Circuit issued its order, Wisconsin officials announced that they would move forward with implementing the law despite the fact that election officials are not trained in the new photo ID requirements and absentee ballots have already been turned in. This last minute voting change has the potential to keep hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters who lack photo ID from participating in the November election.
Right-wing media quickly downplayed the significance the law might have on the election. On the September 17 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin managed to point out that the law could affect the outcome of the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin, which shows Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a near-tie with his Democratic opponent Mary Burke. But Tobin minimized the impact of the ID law by erroneously suggesting that "there is only a handful of voters who won't get IDs by election day."
NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky, a tireless advocate for voter ID laws that suppress the vote of women, minorities, and the poor, also applauded the Seventh Circuit's order, calling it a "stunning blow" for opponents of voter ID. Von Spakovsky overlooked key facts in the case to ultimately conclude there was "no justification for striking down" Wisconsin's law in the first place:
As I explained in an NRO article in May, the district court judge, Lynn Adelman, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic state senator, had issued an injunction claiming the Wisconsin ID law violated the Voting Rights Act as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. Adelman made the startling claim in his opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in 2008 upholding Indiana's voter-ID law as constitutional was "not binding precedent," so Adelman could essentially ignore it.
However, that was too much for the Seventh Circuit. It pointed out, in what most lawyers would consider a rebuke, that Adelman had held Wisconsin's law invalid "even though it is materially identical to Indiana's photo ID statute, which the Supreme Court held valid in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board."
It was also obviously significant to the Seventh Circuit that the Wisconsin state supreme court had upheld the state's voter-ID law in July ... In fact, the appeals court said the state court decision had changed the "balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief."
In other words, there was no justification for striking down a state voter-ID law that was identical to one that had been previously upheld by both the Supreme Court of the United States and that state's highest court.
A Media Matters analysis found that PBS NewsHour has far outpaced other broadcast network news programs in covering the consequences of the Supreme Court's dismantling of campaign finance reform. In the past year and a half, PBS thoroughly analyzed the effects of Citizens United and its sequel -- McCutcheon v. FEC -- dedicating more time to the issue than all the other networks combined.
National Review Online misinformed about an amendment that would reinstate the ability of Congress to regulate campaign finance and counter Citizens United -- the infamous Supreme Court decision that opened the door for the super-rich and corporations to drown out average Americans in the political debate with unlimited sums of money.
On September 8, the Senate voted to debate the proposed constitutional amendment, which would re-establish campaign finance laws that the conservative justices of the Supreme Court struck down in Citizens United in 2010. That decision overturned part of the McCain-Feingold Act -- much-needed bipartisan campaign finance reforms instituted to prevent corruption of the political process and level the playing field between small donors and the wealthy -- and effectively eliminated limits for independent corporate spending in federal elections. Specifically, Citizens United radically rewrote First Amendment precedent and expanded the legal concept of "corporate personhood," with the court ultimately deciding that the political spending by corporations was constitutionally equivalent to the free speech of actual human voters. The conservative justices chipped away at campaign finance limits even further this year in McCutcheon v. FEC, which abolished direct contribution limits that worked to control the corrupting influence of multimillion-dollar donations.
Although the proposed amendment is intended to restore the First Amendment to its pre-Citizens United interpretation, right-wing media are already denouncing the Senate's attempts to stem the explosion of unregulated high-dollar donations with wild exaggerations. In a September 9 editorial, NRO complained that Democrats were planning to "repeal the First Amendment" by proposing the Citizens United amendment -- which the editorial board called "an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself" -- and suggested the move would "censor newspapers and television reports." From the editors:
Senate Democrats are on the precipice of voting to repeal the First Amendment.
That extraordinary fact is a result of the increasingly authoritarian efforts of Democrats, notably Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, to suppress criticism of themselves and the government, and to suffocate any political discourse that they cannot control.
The Supreme Court in recent years has twice struck down Democratic efforts to legally suppress inconvenient speech, citing the free-speech protections of the First Amendment in both cases. Senator Reid's solution is to nullify the first item on the Bill of Rights.
The Democrats are not calling this a repeal of the First Amendment, though that is precisely what it is. Instead, they are describing the proposed constitutional amendment as a campaign-finance measure. But it would invest Congress with blanket authority to censor newspapers and television reports, ban books and films, and imprison people for expressing their opinions. So long as two criteria are met -- the spending of money and intending to influence an election -- the First Amendment would no longer apply.
The amendment that Democrats are putting forward is an attack on basic human rights, the Constitution, and democracy itself. If those who would criticize the government must first secure the government's permission to do so, they are not free people.
The New York Times did not follow the advice of its public editor, who has argued the paper should report that the type of voter fraud that strict voter ID laws are supposed to prevent is virtually nonexistent. In the two-year period between her current and past request that the paper add "the truth" to "he said, she said" coverage on voter ID and voter fraud, the Times reported the evidence on in-person voter impersonation in only 15 of 28 articles.
National Review Online is repeating the claims of conservative groups who compared voter registrations in Maryland and Virginia and flagged potential instances of "double voting" -- voters with the same name and birthdate who may have voted in both states. This method of election integrity has been discredited due to its high rate of false positives and significant risk of voter disenfranchisement.
Right-wing media are parroting local Republican officials and criticizing voter registration drives in Ferguson, Missouri, the site of intense protests after the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Voting rights advocates argue that registering the electorate is crucial for the community to hold their government accountable, but right-wing media condemn these efforts as "liberal activism."
Myths about voter ID are reemerging in the wake of a federal judge's ruling against the government in North Carolina, a voting rights case right-wing media characterized as a "huge loss" for the Obama Administration, despite the fact that the decision is preliminary and the government has prevailed in similar cases in other states.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, a provision that required states with a history of suppressing the minority vote to pre-clear changes to their election laws with the Department of Justice or a federal court. Almost immediately after the decision in Shelby County, states that had been subject to the preclearance requirement, like North Carolina, began passing and implementing strict voter ID laws, an expensive fix to a problem that is essentially non-existent. Nevertheless, unnecessarily restrictive and redundant voter ID laws have become a favorite policy proposal for conservatives and right-wing media.
A recent order denying DOJ's request for a preliminary injunction against North Carolina's new voter ID requirements -- part of the "country's worst voter suppression law" -- has now given right-wing media a fresh opportunity to dredge up old misinformation about the legal struggle over these measures. Frequent National Review Online contributor Hans von Spakovsky, a vocal proponent for oppressive voter ID laws and questionable election procedures, called it "a huge loss" for Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ, and claimed that the judge "simply shreds the arguments by the DOJ" in the opinion:
Judicial Watch filed an expert report in the case through an amicus brief that showed that in the May 2014 primary election, black turnout was up an astounding 29.5 percent compared with the last midterm primary election in May 2010. White turnout was up only 13.7 percent. As Judicial Watch said, these results were "devastating to the plaintiffs' cases because they contradict all of their experts' basis for asserting harm."
[T]his is a significant blow to DOJ and other opponents of commonsense election reforms.
That is particularly true when one remembers that this is DOJ's second big loss in the Carolinas. South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson beat DOJ in 2012 when a federal court threw out a claim that South Carolina's voter-ID law was discriminatory. That law is in place today -- and there is a high probability that North Carolina's voter-ID requirement will also be in place in 2016 for the next presidential election.
A new report has debunked the primary voter fraud argument right-wing media have used for years to promote unnecessarily strict voter identification laws, which alienate eligible voters and often have the effect of suppressing the vote in minority and heavily-Democratic jurisdictions.
These kinds of voter ID laws, which require voters to present certain forms of ID at polling locations when attempting to vote, disproportionately affect people of color and can cost states millions of dollars to implement. But right-wing media have continued to promote them, especially since 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that prevented suppression efforts in states with a history of racially-motivated voting laws. As Ezra Klein noted on the August 6 edition of MSNBC's All In, right-wing media have consistently raised the specter of in-person "voter fraud" to justify their support for these redundant and highly restrictive voter ID laws.
But as election law experts repeatedly point out, the specific type of fraud that voter ID can prevent -- voter impersonation -- is extremely uncommon.
National Review Online contributors John Fund and Hans von Spakovksy have been at the forefront of right-wing media's push for burdensome voter ID laws, calling Texas's law "a good thing," despite the fact that voters reported being turned away from the polls. Both Fund and von Spakovsky have advocated for further gutting what's left of the Voting Rights Act, making it nearly impossible for citizens who have been prevented from voting due to needlessly cumbersome election laws to legally challenge these oppressive regulations. Fund has also downplayed how difficult it can be for citizens -- particularly people of color, women, and low-income voters -- to obtain the right kind of identification needed to vote. In response to a Pennsylvania state court case that found the state's voter ID law unconstitutional, Fund called evidence that thousands of voters lacked the proper ID nothing more than an "inflated estimate."
While evidence of widespread voter fraud has yet to surface, right-wing media figures have nevertheless insisted that "there are plenty of instances" of voter fraud and that there is "concrete evidence ... of massive voter fraud." But according to a new study by Loyola University law professor Justin Levitt, the in-person voter fraud that strict voter ID prevents is still nearly non-existent. Levitt's study, which "track[ed] any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix" found just 31 instances of this potential voter fraud between 2000 and 2014. According to Levitt, "more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period."
Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you'll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren't designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. In the 243-page document that Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel filed on Monday with evidence of allegedly illegal votes in the Mississippi Republican primary, there were no allegations of the kind of fraud that ID can stop.
Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.