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Right-wing media figures are using the high April 5 voter turnout during the presidential primary in Wisconsin, which has a voter ID law, to dismiss concerns about the discriminatory impact of such laws. But experts say conclusions about the impact of voter ID laws cannot be drawn based only on high voter turnout, and several media outlets reported that the law did harm potential voters in the state's primary.
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A Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial dismissed money's impact on U.S. elections by taking a campaign finance reform advocate out of context while ignoring the overwhelming instances where money has played a crucial role in the election process.
The March 9 editorial claimed that the theory that "money buys elections ... has never been the case" and that "the facts continue to shatter the myth," citing the presidential campaigns of former Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker, well-funded candidates who dropped out of the race. The editorial continued:
The hard reality has led even some of the nation's most persistent campaign-finance scolds, such as Rick Hasen -- author of "Plutocrats United" -- to concede that "In spite of the rhetoric of some campaign reformers, money doesn't buy elections." Others still insist that it does, or will, someday -- just you wait. Big-donor money hasn't bought the 2016 election, says The New York Times -- "yet."
But while unions, nonprofits, and businesses can talk themselves hoarse, they can't cast ballots. Only the voters can do that -- and they often vote in ways that resoundingly reject the efforts of so-called big money. Just ask Jeb Bush about that.
First, the editorial selectively quotes UCLA professor Rick Hasen, whose piece in The Washington Post explains that while "money doesn't buy elections," it "increases the odds of electoral victory and of getting one's way on policies, tax breaks and government contracts." His article continued:
And the presidential race is the place we are least likely to see money's effects. Looking to Congress and the states, though, we can see that the era of big money unleashed by the Supreme Court is hurtling us toward a plutocracy in which the people with the greatest economic power can wield great political power through campaign donations and lobbying.
Hasen's argument was backed up by a recent release by U.S. PIRG, which found that "87.5% of higher fundraising candidates won their congressional [primary] race and now head to the general election."
Even the New York Times piece the Times-Dispatch's editorial dismisses is grounded in reality. In the 2012 election, a majority of the money spent in the election by both parties and super PACs spiked in October, the month before the general election. The Times piece argues -- again in a section left out of the Dispatch's editorial -- that major donors "like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will come off the sidelines" in the general election.
There are real impacts to more money in politics. When elected members of the judiciary know their rulings could be used against them during an election, they are less likely to rule in favor of defendants and more likely to hand down longer sentences. And as the Brennan Center for Justice explained in a blog post, even though there is a scientific consensus around man-made climate change, those who are less likely to believe the scientific consensus are more likely to receive money from "dirty energy sources."
In the wake of Donald Trump's resounding victory in South Carolina, and Jeb Bush's exit from the presidential race, some in the media rushed to declare that money does not play the dangerous role in politics many feared it would in the wake of Citizens United. These media voices claimed that voters were effectively "overturning" the Citizens United ruling by supporting non-establishment candidates: Trump, who reportedly rejected the super PACs that had formed to support him, and Bernie Sanders, who has raised record amounts from small donors. But this view underestimates some of the unique qualities about this election cycle and ignores the importance of money in congressional, state, and judicial elections.
Bush's exit from the race after his super PAC had raised nearly $100 million led parts of the media to draw the conclusion that outside money has less influence than was thought. While interviewing Sanders on Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked, "The guy who had the biggest super PAC of all time had to drop out of the race. ... [Aren't] the people already overturning Citizens United?" Fox News host Tucker Carlson made a similar statement on Fox & Friends Weekend, saying Bush's defeat and Trump's victory are "basically the end of the meaning of Citizens United. Money is supposed to determine the outcome in politics; the opposite has happened here."
If this sounds familiar, it's because much of the same was said back in September when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made an early exit from the Republican presidential race with millions still left in the super PAC supporting him. Like with the Bush backing Right To Rise PAC, media pointed to the millions raised by the Walker-supporting Unintimidated PAC as proof of "the idea that the power of super-PACs and their billionaire boosters has been overstated." But both Walker's and Bush's cases demonstrate that weak candidates and mismanaged campaigns can doom a campaign whether or not super PACs have a chance to flex their financial muscle.
Much of Walker's early failure was attributed to bungled management that left his campaign struggling to make ends meet while the super PAC was raising millions. The New York Times reported, "Super PACs, Mr. Walker learned, cannot pay rent, phone bills, salaries, airfares or ballot access fees." In Bush's case, his failure to connect with the party's base and a questionable management strategy within his super PAC demonstrated that fundraising is only so valuable without the right candidate or staff.
Plus, dismissing the influence of money in this presidential campaign ignores some of the special circumstances that are unique to this election cycle. Trump's celebrity and the media's infatuation with his campaign have reduced his need for outside support from a super PAC. Super PACs spend much of their money on advertising, but any free air time candidates can generate allows them to push their platforms without spending a dime and counterbalances their opponent's paid efforts.
Trump's star power and his ability to generate media through outlandish comments have translated into massive amounts of free air time. Fox News has devoted more than 28 hours to the candidate since May 1, 2015, and other outlets like MSNBC provided him with exceptional opportunities to be in the media without having to buy advertising. And while Bush and others have been relatively ineffective despite super PAC fortunes, history shows that a major portion of outside spending in the post-Citizens United presidential races is saved for the general election.
Citizens United Impact Not Limited To Presidential Race
When media cite the failures of Walker and Bush as signs that the Citizens United decision allowing a flood of corporate political spending had an overestimated impact on politics, they are ignoring a major portion of the decision's influence. Congressional, state, and judicial races have all seen significant increases in outside spending as a result of Citizens United.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan public policy institute, "Outside spending on Senate elections has more than doubled since 2010, increasing to $486 million in 2014." This money is having a real impact on campaigns as corporations and unions target competitive races, accounting for more spending than that of either candidate campaigns or political parties in 10 of the races analyzed. Furthermore, candidates who won 11 of the most competitive Senate races in 2014 benefited from outside money that was donated without disclosure of the donors -- so called "dark money." This dark money made up over 70 percent of the nonparty outside spending made on behalf of winning campaigns.
Political spending does not just distort national races. Since 2010 there has been a concerted effort by Republicans to take over state legislatures in order to push conservative agendas on a more local level. The effort has been successful as the GOP has won "historic majorities in state legislatures," according to Vox. Research by professors at the University of Alberta and Emory University has shown that Republicans were helped in their efforts by Citizens United, especially as the ruling overturned laws banning corporate and union spending. They report, "Citizens United is associated with a significant increase in Republican election probabilities in states that banned corporate or union independent spending prior to 2010."
Also troubling is Citizens United's impact on judicial elections and the impact outside money is having on the justice system. According to the Brennan Center, the decision led to "special interest groups and political parties [spending] an unprecedented $24.1 million on state court races in 2011-12 -- an increase of over $11 million since 2007-08." Much of this money is spent on negative advertising by outside groups. Experts note that justices who face negative ad campaigns are "less likely to rule in favor of defendants in criminal appeals" and that judges facing re-election may hand down longer sentences in an attempt to appear tough on crime. Furthermore, law advocates have found that "empirical evidence suggests that campaign contributions to candidates for judicial office can affect judicial decision-making and case outcomes."
Across all nightly network broadcasts, PBS has consistently provided the most coverage of the crisis of money in politics and campaign finance reform over the last 16 months. During Thursday night's debate, PBS can continue its much-needed emphasis on the issue by asking the candidates what steps they will take to address money in politics if elected president.
Fox News scandalized ordinary Iowa Democratic caucus procedures to baselessly suggest former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won a Des Moines, IA, precinct through "voter fraud."
During the February 3 broadcast of Fox & Friends, host Heather Nauert claimed that "voter fraud" benefiting Clinton may have occurred because "Votes at a Des Moines high school were counted by hand. The first count had Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders just separated by five votes. After a second count, Clinton gained more votes but counted different people."
Fox & Friends then aired video from Des Moines Democratic Precinct No. 43 of three apparent supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) questioning Clinton's vote total after a second count of voters.
In scandalizing the multiple voter counts, Nauert misunderstands the mechanism by which voters are counted at Democratic precincts.
Fox News also deceptively chose which portion of video from the precinct site to air, focusing only on the complaints of three voters. Fox News did not air the caucus chair explaining that it was extremely unlikely that a further recount of voters would change the delegate apportionment from Precinct No. 43. Fox News also failed to air the caucusgoers' vote on whether an additional recount was needed. According to full video available online, the vast majority of Sanders supporters joined Clinton supporters in declining to recount.
Here are several ways in which Fox's segment distorted and misunderstood the Iowa Democratic caucus process:
Multiple Voter Counts Are A Normal Part Of The Process. When caucusgoers arrive at their precinct they divide themselves into what are called "preference groups" for various candidates. After everyone has formed preference groups, a count is made. Any "preference group" that does not include at least 15 percent of total on-site voters is not considered viable. These voters then have the option of joining a "preference group" that is viable. Unless every single caucusgoer initially joins a viable "preference group," there is always going to be a reshuffling of voters and second count.
As The Caucus Chair Explained, It Was Highly Unlikely That A Recount Would Have Changed Delegate Appointment From The Precinct. Video of the Precinct No. 43 dispute indicates that three Sanders supporters were concerned that several Clinton supporters were included in her total count despite possibly having left the Clinton "preference group" after the first vote. The caucus chair explained that in his belief, this discrepancy had been accounted for, with three people having been identified as leaving, but he said that he would put forward a motion to recount anyway. Before the motion, the chair explained, "By the way, just so you know, the difference here will not change the delegate math. There are only nine delegates, I do not believe it will change the delegate math, but that being said I could be wrong." Even in the unlikely event that a recount did change delegate apportionment, it would have been a swing of one of approximately 11,000 county-level delegates awarded during the caucuses. (And as The Des Moines Register explained, the county-level delegates awarded at individual precincts have far less significance compared to the statewide delegate equivalents that "determine the outcome on caucus night.")
The Vast Majority Of Voters, Regardless Of Who They Supported, Did Not Want A Recount. In video that Fox News failed to air, nearly all the people in the room can be seen raising their hands against having an additional count of voters. Sanders supporters are on the right side of the image:
The type of conduct that Fox News falsely claimed occurred at Precinct No. 43 wouldn't even fall within what experts consider to be voter fraud. As the Brennan Center for Justice explained, voter fraud is "fraud by voters" and "occurs when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system," which bears no resemblance to what Fox News purported to demonstrate in its video. Fox News frequently makes baseless claims about widespread voter fraud -- often in support of restrictive voter ID laws -- even though actual in-person voter fraud is extremely rare.
Media figures are erroneously attributing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses to her wins in coin tosses held at several precincts to determine the apportionment of unassigned delegates. Media figures claiming that coin tosses could have flipped the outcome misunderstand the caucus process by wrongly conflating county-level delegates -- which the coin tosses assign -- and state delegate equivalents (SDEs). As The Des Moines Register explained, the coin flips "had an extremely small effect on the overall outcome."
It's true: campaign finance law is absurdly difficult for media to explain to American voters. The numbers are abstractly large, the rules are complicated, and everyone wonders if American voters actually care.
The polls certainly seem to say Americans are concerned. Across the political spectrum, voters consistently tell the media the tidal wave of money in politics is a grave problem and the case that opened the flood gates -- Citizens United -- should be overturned. Whether it's Republicans complaining about the "special interests" of Washington, D.C. or Democrats warning about the billionaires running our campaigns, the message is clear: clean elections matter.
The editorial boards and television pundits seem to agree. Like clockwork, with every new discouraging development handed down by the courts on campaign finance law, every new revelation of the monied power brokers pulling politicians' strings, every new failure to effectively enforce the election regulations on the books, solemn editorials are written and monologues are delivered warning American voters that the system has become at-risk to rampant corruption and conflicts of interest.
And yet here we are: live on Fox Business Network during their televised presidential debate, under questioning from FBN's Maria Bartiromo, a major presidential candidate just admitted he violated a basic campaign finance transparency rule in a fashion that runs antithetical to his core political image and he seems to think no one cares. He certainly doesn't seem to be afraid of the media calling him out, although some are trying. How else do we describe the embarrassing image of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), ostensibly one of the most intelligent legislators in Congress, brazenly admitting in a live presidential debate he broke the law as a senatorial candidate by taking a roughly million dollar campaign loan from Goldman Sachs and Citibank without properly disclosing the sources to the Federal Election Commission (FEC)?
Maybe the reason Bartiromo didn't follow up her original question with anything more than a "thank you" was that she was as stunned as the rest of us.
Yes, the candidate also misled about the details of his election violation on national television and media fact checkers duly called out the bait-and-switch after. Disclosing the possible conflict of interest in receiving a million dollars from Goldman Sachs (this Goldman Sachs) and Citibank while you're campaigning as a man of the people railing against the big bad establishment is not the same thing as disclosing the possible conflict of interest after you've been elected, a conflation the candidate nevertheless attempted to sell with a straight face during the debate. That's like a voter explaining they didn't properly register before they cast a ballot but did so afterwards, so it's all good.
That's not how it works.
Election disclosure laws are supposed to inform Americans before they vote so they can make an educated decision. In fact, this principle of mandated disclosure may have been the only reason Citizens United was allowed in the first place -- as a counterbalance to the obvious conflicts of interest the Supreme Court was about to tempt politicians with. The entire point behind the legal argument that led the conservatives on the Supreme Court to allow the 1% more unfiltered access to campaigning politicians was the idea that at least Americans would know who was potentially buying influence. In the case of Cruz, who rails against big money and the elite as a point of pride, such information may have been particularly interesting to the Tea Partiers who voted for him.
But again, here we are. A major presidential candidate seems to think either voters are idiots, or the media are.
So it's a challenge. The number is a cool million, easy for the typical news consumer to grasp. The case law and implementing disclosure regulations are cut and dry -- if you take money from a bank for your campaign, you have to identify the bank to the FEC. It boils down to the third problem of campaign finance reporting -- does the American public care? They say they do, over and over again, and the media keeps telling us this is an important part of American democracy, so what's the disconnect, if any?
With this ridiculously clear campaign finance violation on display for all to see, we're about to find out.
If media can't get the American public to understand why this sort of behavior, certainly not unique to Cruz, is a big problem, it's no longer the fault of the American public. They aren't the experts. It's the media's job to provide the expertise. But if the media can't effectively explain this one to its audience -- it's time to rethink how campaign finance reporting is done.
After all, Cruz is basically daring you.
Iowa radio host Steve Deace defended Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) eligibility to be president after some of Cruz's 2016 presidential opponents questioned the constitutionality of a Cruz presidency because of his Canadian birth. While Deace dismissed those questioning Cruz, the radio host played an active role in promoting similar "birther" conspiracy theories surrounding President Obama.
During a January 6 interview with Senator Cruz, Deace sought to dismiss GOP rivals' doubts that Cruz is eligible to be president because he was born to an American citizen living in Canada. "It's like there is no factual amount of evidence that can be presented to the contrary when people get this issue stuck in their craw," said Deace. While Deace is quick to agree with legal experts that Cruz is eligible to hold office, he denied overwhelming evidence that President Obama was eligible to be president after his election.
In 2009 Deace provided a platform for some of the most notorious birther conspiracy theorists to promote their unfounded ideas surrounding Obama's presidential eligibility. As the Iowa Independent reported, Deace dedicated significant time to the birther issue as well as hosting several conspiracy theorists including Drew Zahn of leading birther website WND (formerly WorldNetDaily) and Orly Taitz, who filed several lawsuits against President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in an effort to stop Obama's presidency:
Conspiracy theorists claiming President Barack Obama is not a United States citizen were granted an hour of drive-time radio Friday to lay out the "evidence" by Christian radio host Steve Deace.
Deace discussed the issue with Drew Zahn, editor of the conspiracy theory Web site World Net Daily, who said that while his cohorts have been "ridiculed and mocked" for continuing to follow the story, it simply won't go away.
"We're catching heat from almost every direction," Zahn said.
Zahn and Deace started off blasting the "mainstream media" for not fully investigating an issue that deals with whether "we're going to follow the Constitution at its most basic level."
The pair then attempted to debunk any evidence produced that may contradict their theory -- including a certificate of live birth and newspapers accounts at the time -- ultimately concluding all materials could be easily obtained fraudulently or easily fabricated.
Deace discussed the issue once before in January, when he interviewed the birther movement's most high profile advocate, Orly Taitz, a woman news site Politico describes as "the Russian-born attorney/dentist who has become a kind of ringleader for the movement." Among other things, Taitz has become famous of late for encouraging soldiers to disobey orders from a president who is "ineligible to serve as commander-in-chief of U.S Armed Forces."
Deace also contributed to the conspiracy by writing commentary on WND ranting against Obama, who he referred to as Barry Soetoro -- a name referring to Obama's stepfather's surname, which he used temporarily while living in Indonesia. Birther theory supporters falsely claim Obama used the Soetoro name on a Columbia University student ID, proving his foreign citizenship. Deace also defended WND by sharing its birther articles as mainstream media outlets like CNN denounced their conspiracy theories.
In 2012, Deace continued his affiliation with birtherism by referring to Obama as a "Kenyan" and "foreigner":
For the past four years we've called Obama every name in the book - Marxist, socialist, Kenyan, Muslim, heretic, divider-in-chief, infanticidist, traitor, amateur and foreigner (just to name to few) - and even though some of those are actually true, the really inconvenient truth is that if the election were held today Obama would most assuredly be re-elected.
Deace also appeared on MSNBC's The Ed Show in May of 2012 to discuss the birther movement in Iowa. During the interview Deace never denied his support of the conspiracy theories, but sought to change the subject while speaking to the more mainstream outlet -- a well-known tactic of the radio host -- while pushing the idea that birtherism is just a "clash of world views" (emphasis added):
ED SCHULTZ (HOST): Steve, this is not a world view. These are facts. Steve, respectfully, these are facts. There are facts that back up that President Obama is an American citizen, he loves the country, he was born -- he has got all the documentation. Why is this an issue? Krystal, you can see just from his answers that this is where they [Republicans] are.
SCHULTZ: I mean when you have a state party talking about putting it on the platform, how much more radical can you get? I mean they do not want to accept this president.
SCHULTZ: Why aren`t the Democrats asking for Mitt Romney`s birth certificate? I mean, his dad was born in Mexico. I mean, how do we know?
CHRIS KOFINIS (DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST): You know why, because --
DEACE: Here`s what I think --
SCHULTZ: Go ahead, Steve.
DEACE: I think if unemployment -- I think if unemployment was at five percent, I think if the president had lived up to his campaign promises on turning the economy around, we probably wouldn`t be talking about this issue right now. But when you`ve got to run on the economic record, you`ve got to change the subject to stuff like this.
SCHULTZ: Well, not really. He`s got 26 months of private sector job growth. He`s saved the automobile industry, and he's added 4 million jobs. I mean, the guy is not superman. He is just president of the United States, and those are three facts right there that are --
DEACE: Ed, there must be a lot of stupid people. There must be a lot of stupid people, then, Ed, in your own NBC news poll. Because if you look at the cross-tabs on the economy in your own poll that came out yesterday, it doesn`t appear that they see things the same way you do --
SCHULTZ: That`s a messaging issue, there's no doubt -
DEACE: At best he has a 50/50 chance --
SCHULTZ: That`s -- he has added four million jobs. He has saved millions of jobs because of the turnaround of the automobile industry, and 26 months of private sector job growth. Those are three facts right now, whether it`s polled or not --
SCHULTZ: Your party in Iowa wants to put birtherism on the platform instead of talk about creating jobs. I`m out of time.
BALL: We`re not the ones that --
DEACE: What cracks me up is its considered radical that someone shows the same identification --
Deace's defense of Cruz against some of the same criticisms he used against Obama comes as no surprise as the radio host has been working overtime to push the Texas senator to victory in Iowa. His personal investment in Cruz, which includes creating a campaign ad, prepping him for debates, and promoting him on social media, has prevented him from acknowledging the hypocrisy of his birther stance.
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In reporting on conservative activist James O'Keefe's latest absurd adventure, major media coverage acknowledged it was a flop and something of a joke, except for the New York Times.
O'Keefe held a press conference to announce that his group Project Veritas had released an undercover video of the Clinton campaign allowing a Canadian to give a Project Veritas operative money so that she could purchase a Clinton t-shirt, which was a campaign product that could not be legally purchased by a non-American. At his event O'Keefe presented the incident as if it were a major scandal, while most of the press reported that it was at best a trivial infraction of less than $80.
Bloomberg Politics compared the offense to "jaywalking," National Journal described O'Keefe's press conference as a "vortex of political absurdity" and noted that "we had been snookered into another supposedly salacious release from O'Keefe's organization." The Los Angeles Times said the story, "billed as a blockbuster," was "hardly the stuff of a Pulitzer Prize. " The event and revelation were so underwhelming that a reporter from the Daily Beast asked O'Keefe, "Are you sure it's not a joke?"
The New York Times' Alan Rappeport, in an article headlined "James O'Keefe, Political Sleuth," was far more charitable than the rest of the media. Rappeport wrote that O'Keefe "fired an opening salvo" in 2016 coverage and "campaigns were put on notice on Tuesday."
The Times accepted O'Keefe's framing of the exchange between the Canadian woman and the Project Veritas staffer, writing, "Mr. O'Keefe made the case that the video showed a willingness by the campaign to skirt laws that forbid taking donations from foreigners by using a conduit." In fact the video shows a Clinton staffer pointing out that a foreign national is prohibited from buying the t-shirt in question.
Rappeport proceeded to parrot O'Keefe's argument by noting, "Foreign donations are a sensitive subject for the Clintons, as their family foundation has been under scrutiny for accepting money from overseas." The Times has repeatedly misinformed its readers on the nature of donations to the Clinton Foundation. To reiterate, this is in reference to a $75 transaction over a t-shirt.
The paper even sought comment from the Federal Election Commission, reporting that "at least four commissioners would have to agree that there was a violation before any penalties could be imposed."
While the Times noted that reporters attending O'Keefe's presentation snickered at the obvious absurdity of the occasion, the Times report gave O'Keefe's deceptive claims an enormous and largely uncritical platform.