Election experts have observed that a heavy dose of congressional redistricting after the 2010 elections has polarized the nation and given Republicans an advantage in elections for years to come, but the practice's impact on election outcomes was all but ignored during the major cable news outlets' 2014 election night broadcasts.
From the November 4 edition of Fox News' Your World With Neil Cavuto:
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This Election Day, a number of states are implementing strict new voter ID laws and registration policies in a high-turnout election for the first time. These measures have been found to have the potential to disenfranchise thousands of voters -- typically people of color, young voters, and women -- who are unable to obtain select forms of ID or are caught in flawed voter purges, but right-wing media figures frequently argue that these laws do not suppress the vote.
The right-wing media have repeatedly claimed that these laws are not racially discriminatory, do not affect minority voter turnout, and maintain the integrity of the election system. Fox News has referred to recent court decisions striking down voter ID laws as illegal or unconstitutional "setbacks" and questioned the timing of the courts' intervention on behalf of the right to vote. Right-wing media have also railed against attempts to stop voter purges, despite the fact that reports have discovered "Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted" in these methodologically unsound attempts to find ineligible voters.
Repeatedly discredited National Review Online contributor Hans von Spakovsky has been particularly vocal in his support of these unnecessary and redundant election measures, dismissing concerns of "chaos at the polls" even though hundreds of thousands of voters are at risk. On the November 2 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, von Spakovsky again promoted strict voter ID laws and registration checks and claimed that "this idea" that voter ID laws can "suppress minority voters, we know is not true":
But qualified voters are already being turned away from the polls or purged from the rolls in states that have enacted these new Republican-pushed measures, despite right-wing media's promises that such laws would have no negative effect.
Radio host Laura Ingraham dismissed the sometimes insurmountable barriers voter ID laws can create to disenfranchise eligible voters to argue that voters deterred by ID requirements must not care enough about the country to vote.
On the November 4 edition ofher radio show, Ingraham suggested that "if it's too difficult for you to get a government issued ID in the states that require IDs," then "I don't really want you voting":
If you just sit it out election after election then -- well frankly if you make that decision not to vote, then I don't really want you voting. I'm kind of glad you didn't vote. Right? If you can't be bothered to get to the polls every few years, or if you can't be bothered to fill in an absentee ballot, or it's too difficult for you to get a government issued ID in the states that require IDs [...] I get this feeling that if you can't be bothered to go to the polls, then good. You can't care that much about the country, or you must be so uninformed that you think it's all going fine.
But the difficulty of obtaining an ID has been well-documented, and voter ID laws disproportionately burden low-income voters. A report from The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law explained that, for the "11 percent of eligible voters who lack the required photo ID," transportation issues and limited operating hours can be roadblocks. It found that almost 500,00 eligible voters both "do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week," and many of them live in areas with limited public transportation options. It also reported that many offices that issue IDs have severely limited hours:
- For example, the office in Sauk City, Wisconsin is open only on the fifth Wednesday of any month. But only four months in 2012 -- February, May, August, and October -- have five Wednesdays. In other states -- Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas -- many part-time ID-issuing offices are in the rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty.
The report also pointed to the costs of obtaining IDs, which can be higher than the discriminatory "poll taxes" that were banned during the civil rights era:
More than 1 million eligible voters in these states fall below the federal poverty line and live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. These voters may be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. By comparison, the notorious poll tax -- outlawed during the civil rights era -- cost $10.64 in current dollars.
And voters have spoken out about the difficulties they faced in attempting to obtain ID. The Guardian detailed the story of a Texas man, Eric Kennie, who will be unable to vote in the midterm elections because of the state's strict voter ID law:
To get an EIC, Kennie needs to be able to show the Texas department of public safety (DPS) other forms of documentation that satisfy them as to his identity. He presented them with his old personal ID card - issued by the DPS itself and with his photo on it - but because it is more than 60 days expired (it ran out in 2000) they didn't accept it. Next he showed them an electricity bill, and after that a cable TV bill, but on each occasion they said it didn't cut muster and turned him away.
From the October 31 edition of PBS' Moyers & Company:
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Right-wing media outlets have used misleading voter fraud stories to stoke fears of rampant voter fraud in the months leading up to the 2014 midterm elections. But experts state that voter fraud in the U.S. is virtually non-existent and that voter ID laws would actually disenfranchise voters.
In its most recent effort to defend discriminatory and unnecessary strict voter ID laws, National Review Online has resorted in the past week to recycling debunked myths about this type of voter suppression, most recently linking voter ID to noncitizen voting, which is an unrelated issue.
With the midterm elections coming up, right-wing media are aggressively lying about voter ID laws and voter fraud, and NRO is no exception. NRO has previously praised Texas' strict voter ID law -- which has been found to be racially discriminatory in both intent and effect -- called for the remaining protections available under the Voting Rights Act to be repealed or limited, and dismissed concerns over Wisconsin's voter ID law, which has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters when it goes into effect.
In just the past week, NRO writers have doubled down on nearly all of these poorly supported right-wing positions. National Review editor Rich Lowry defended Texas's strict voter ID law -- which a federal judge determined to be an "unconstitutional poll tax" -- by arguing that the disenfranchisement these laws cause is justified by the potential for in-person voter impersonation, even though that kind of fraud is virtually non-existent. Lowry also incorrectly claimed that strict voter ID laws require the same level of identification needed to buy a gun. NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky wrote in The Wall Street Journal that "moves to shore up election integrity have been resisted by progressives" who are challenging the legality of voter ID laws "without evidence that such efforts suppress minority turnout" -- despite the fact that a recent report found a decrease in voter of color turnout in two states was attributable to strict voter ID. For good measure, von Spakovsky, a discredited proponent of restrictive election rules, also conflated other forms of voter fraud with in-person impersonation, the only type of fraud voter ID prevents.
The dissembling continued with another NRO contributor, Mona Charen, offering more of the same in a post titled "The Voter-ID Myth Crashes." Charen seized on a contested study of the rate of noncitizen voting to claim that "[b]eing asked to show a photo ID can diminish several kinds of fraud, including impersonation, duplicate registrations in different jurisdictions, and voting by ineligible people including felons and noncitizens," but buried the fact that "[v]oter-ID laws will not prevent noncitizens from voting."
A Media Matters analysis of newspaper coverage of anonymously donated "dark money" in three battleground states shows that secret money's growing influence on elections has not necessarily translated to more awareness in the media. While some news outlets are reporting on the influence this new influx of money is having on politics, others are merely providing a platform for dark-money groups to further their causes.
The term "dark money" is used to describe organizations that do not disclose the identity of at least some of their donors and that use money from these anonymous donors to fund political ads, mailers, and staff to try to influence voters and policymakers. Even spending by these groups may be shielded from disclosure, depending on the type of ad they run. Dark-money groups focus heavily on specific policy outcomes and try to connect candidates to their desired outcome through advertising. These groups protect their donors by never officially endorsing a candidate and by limiting their political activity. This allows them to be classified as "social welfare" organizations under the tax code, which means they do not have to disclose their funding.
Spending by dark-money groups in this election cycle is nearing the $200 million mark and is expected to spiral even higher before Election Day. Much of the spending by these groups is focused on influencing Senate races in key states. Media Matters reviewed newspaper coverage in three states with competitive Senate races (North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Colorado) to see how they are covering this influx of anonymous outside funding. The results show large discrepancies in the quality of the coverage of dark-money groups, with some papers doing a significantly better job than others.
Of the three states analyzed, North Carolina's newspapers provided the best overall coverage of dark money influence. North Carolina's Senate race is expected to set a new record for outside spending, with $55.7 million spent so far, even without counting the non-disclosed money. The Raleigh News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, the two largest papers by circulation in the state, went beyond reporting the existence of the groups and attempted to report which outside groups were spending money on which ads -- something these groups often fail to do themselves. The North Carolina papers also reported on how dark-money groups such as the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) are using their influence to lobby for specific policies, such as the group's successful campaign to block a special legislative session on economic development.
The Colorado newspapers' coverage of dark-money activity proved to be far less extensive than that of the North Carolina newspapers, producing just 13 stories since July 15. Colorado's Senate race is also poised to break records in outside spending. The Denver Post's coverage did not go into depth the same way North Carolina's newspaper coverage did, but it did highlight efforts by groups like Americans for Prosperity to influence voters with their door-to-door outreach.
Colorado's second biggest paper, The Gazette of Colorado Springs, produced few reports on dark money during the period analyzed. However, a partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News produced a report that covered many of the complexities of dark money. The article discussed outside spending by both conservative and liberal groups and explained the difficulty of tracking dark-money donors and the impact of their donations:
"Nonprofit political groups do not have to disclose donors," Viveka Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics said. "So we could only identify organizations that filed 990s (nonprofit tax forms) and that wouldn't include individuals or corporations, so there are still a lot of donors or donations no one would know about."
[Sheldon] Adelson, the Koch Brothers and many other politically active billionaires and multimillionaires across the political spectrum are able to maintain privacy and give endless funds after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.
"TV ads are number one, the overwhelming most important tool in winning one of these campaigns," Ciruli said.
In New Hampshire, dark-money groups have spent at least $4.3 million in the Senate race -- overwhelmingly in support of the Republican candidate, as of September 8. This subject has seen poor coverage from the state's largest newspaper, The Union Leader. While the paper mentioned dark-money groups in 11 articles, and another five articles mentioned the groups and specific policies, the paper's coverage mostly provided a platform for groups like AFP to spread their message and did not explain the groups' attempt to influence policy decisions or the Senate race. For example, in a September 30 article, the paper gave AFP state director Greg Moore a platform to attack the state's budget situation and blast the Affordable Care Act, something the group has also done in its advertising against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH):
Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity, blamed Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act for much of the shortfall in the two-year budget plan.
"The legislature gave the administration $57 million from the last, fiscally-responsible budget to spend, and expected that surplus to last for the entire, two-year budget, but Governor Hassan took her eyes off the ball and spent even more," Moore said. "Keeping within the budget takes strong executive action and discipline, but we aren't seeing that right now in Concord."
While the use of dark-money groups is not one sided, conservative groups are far more likely to use this route to shield wealthy donors and ensuing spending. As the Brennan Center for Justice noted, in this election cycle, "Overall, 80 percent of pro-Republican nonparty expenditures came from dark money groups, compared to 32 percent of outside spending favoring Democrats." This is not a new trend for conservative supporters, as spending by nondisclosing groups has clearly favored Republican candidates over the past four election cycles:
The problem with dark-money groups, as the Brennan Center's analysis noted, is that "the lack of transparency in the majority of outside spending in competitive races leaves voters unable to evaluate the political messages they see" and that these groups "threaten to make a mockery of contribution limits and their prophylactic effect on corruption and influence buying." This sentiment was echoed by University of Louisville political science professor Laurie A. Rhodebeck in the Los Angeles Times, saying that the flood of dark-money spending is "detrimental to voters because if they don't know who is behind the money, they can't judge whether to trust the ad or not."
The scale of the problem is considerable. The Boston Globe reported on October 22 (emphasis added):
The impact is visible online and on television. One of every 16 television ads in US Senate races from January 2013 through August were paid for by a single group, Americans for Prosperity, according to the nonpartisan investigative Center for Public Integrity and advertising tracking service Kantar Media. AFP serves as a nonprofit advocacy arm of the political network backed by conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
The Brennan Center found that during the 2012 election, "three-quarters of outside expenditures were made after September 30, and one-half were made in just the last three weeks of the campaign." This suggests that newspapers in these key battleground states still have the opportunity to report on how dark money is influencing their elections.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of the top newspapers (by circulation) in three highly contested states. The papers analyzed were North Carolina's News and Observer in Raleigh and The Charlotte Observer, New Hampshire's Union Leader, and Colorado's Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette. The Concord Monitor, New Hampshire's second largest newspaper, was excluded because it is not in the Nexis database. The search term "((outside or independent or nondisclos! or non-disclos! or undisclosed or dark or secretive) w/5 (money or expenditure or spending)) or (Americans for Prosperity) or (Crossroads GPS) or (U.S. Chamber of Commerce) or (Patriot Majority USA) or (Concerned Veterans for America) or (Freedom Partners)" was used to search for reports on dark-money spending from July 15, 2014, when the Federal Election Commission's quarterly report was released, through October 24. While dark-money groups do not have to disclose all spending to FEC, as other groups do, this date aligns closely with the increase in outside spending.
Conservative media figures pointed to the news that 145 immigrants' names were flagged on North Carolina's voter rolls as proof of potential voter fraud in the upcoming election. But the discovery of these names actually disproves the potential for voter fraud, as the state's board of election is now confirming the citizenship of individuals who were flagged.
As strict voter ID laws are put into effect ahead of the midterm elections, recent judicial opinions and social science studies continue to poke holes in right-wing media's defense of voter suppression.
The Wall Street Journal is advocating for the elimination of decades-old law crafted in the wake of the Watergate scandals that prevents coordination between independent groups and political candidates -- a radical position the Journal pretends is a rejection of a "liberal campaign" but actually is a rejection of the conservative majority opinion in Citizens United.
In an October 20 editorial, the Journal praised a highly controversial federal district court judge's newest attempt to legalize prohibited coordination between Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and outside right-wing groups. Under investigation for suspected violation of campaign finance laws, these organizations are suing in an attempt to have rules against this type of coordination declared unconstitutional. Although the Citizens United decision allowed corporations to make previously disallowed expenditures in support of political candidates, the opinion from the conservative justices still recognized that a crucial guard against corruption was the federal prohibition on coordination between unlimited "independent" money and the politicians' actual campaigns. Yet the campaign finance nihilists on the Journal editorial board object to this long-established principle as well, misleadingly referring to coordination as a "new liberal target":
That came into stark view last week with a new and welcome judicial ruling in Wisconsin, only days after the Brennan Center issued a trumpet call for government to find more ways to criminalize campaign spending. The new liberal target is "coordination" between politicians and independent groups. This is dangerous stuff.
[The plaintiff in the Wisconsin campaign finance case] is Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates, an advocacy group that wants to collaborate with politicians on a project called "Take Charge Wisconsin" to educate the public about fiscal responsibility and property rights. But the group was unsure it could proceed under Wisconsin law as interpreted by prosecutors, so it sought relief in federal court.
The problem is that Wisconsin and other states have set up elaborate bureaucracies like the Government Accountability Board (GAB) to police free speech and harass individuals and groups that want to run political advertising. Wisconsin's GAB and Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm "have taken the position that coordinated issue advocacy is illegal under Wisconsin's campaign finance law," wrote Judge [Rudolph] Randa.
That legal interpretation has already been rejected by state judge Gregory Peterson, but the state and Mr. Chisholm are appealing. Thanks to Judge Randa's ruling, at least the conservatives will be able to engage in issue advocacy without fear of prosecution in the few remaining days before the election.
It's important to understand that this political attack on "coordination" is part of a larger liberal campaign. The Brennan Center -- the George Soros-funded brains of the movement to restrict political speech -- issued a report this month that urges regulators to police coordination between individuals and candidates as if it were a crime.
The report raises alarms that independent expenditures have exploded since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, as if trying to influence elections isn't normal in a democracy.
Although the Journal insists that attempts to eliminate coordination between independent groups and candidates are a liberal plot, it is actually a bipartisan goal that has been repeatedly endorsed by the Supreme Court, including its conservatives. In the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo, the Court found that "[u]nlike contributions, such independent expenditures may well provide little assistance to the candidate's campaign, and indeed may prove counterproductive. The absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent not only undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate, but also alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidate." In other words, the Court determined that a lack of coordination between candidates and outside groups is necessary to reduce the potential for or the appearance of corruption in the political process, the core reason campaign finance is regulated.
From the October 16 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Fox News is claiming that Democratic campaigns and supporters are vastly outspending their Republican counterparts during this election cycle, a suggestion that appears to focus on super PACs and ignores the influence of "dark money" spending that favors the GOP.
On the October 10 edition of America's Newsroom, host Bill Hemmer stated that Democrats have "got a lot of money ... and they're spending it, in some states, 4-to-1 over Republican candidates." National Review Online editor-at-large and Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg repeated a similar claim on the October 13 edition of Happening Now, downplaying secretive right-wing donors like the Koch brothers and arguing that "the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side" in contentious Senate races like the one in Kentucky:
HEATHER CHILDERS (guest host): So, a lot of this also is coming down to money. And we are talking about big amounts of money that are being spent from both sides in these particular states, so how is that going to influence things?
GOLDBERG: Sure, well, it depends on state by state. You know, in some of these places, you just don't have enough physical airtime in the space-time continuum to buy more ads. I mean, people are throwing in -- you know, the Democrats are just announcing [unintelligible] a million dollars into South Dakota. A million dollars probably would buy, you know, who knows how much airtime in South Dakota at this point. And so you're seeing things saturated all over the place. One of the things that has helped Democrats enormously is, they have actually raised vastly more money than Republicans have at a lot of these different levels. They're spending a lot more money. In North Carolina, they're outspending Republicans, I think, 2-to-1, and yet they claim that it's all the evil Koch brothers and their sort of other James Bond-like villains who are throwing all the money into Republicans. When the reality is, is that most of the money is actually on the Democratic side, but a lot of the mainstream media covers it as if, "Oh, it must be the Republicans who are taking advantage of all of this outside money." [emphasis added]
On October 15, Fox News correspondent Jim Angle continued the network's inapt comparison of the Koch brothers to high-dollar Democratic donors. Angle didn't mention that unlike the progressive billionaires and unions he highlighted, conservative activists like the Kochs are unwilling to publicly stand behind the right-wing policies their billions of dollars fund.
Fox News' narrative is misrepresenting the full and current story on campaign spending, which actually shows that a deluge of undisclosed outside money is supporting Republicans and outpacing similar expenditures for Democrats -- especially in the Kentucky contest.
The 4-to-1 statistic that Hemmer used may be a reference to a widely cited report from The Wall Street Journal that found super PACs aligned with Democrats had raised four times more than their Republican counterparts. By focusing on super PAC figures, Fox News is ignoring massive spending from outside right-wing groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Fox News contributor Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and the Koch brothers' network of secretive and increasingly political groups. These organizations don't reveal their donors, and sometimes -- depending on the type of ad they are running -- they don't even reveal their expenditures. Groups of that sort have spent more "dark money" -- funds from undisclosed donors -- than Democratic-leaning groups have.
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: