Election Law

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  • 5 Years After Citizens United, Newspapers Fail To Cover Its Impact On Judicial Elections

    ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    Five years after the Supreme Court opened the floodgates of campaign spending with its Citizens United decision, top newspapers in the three states with the most expensive judicial campaigns, Ohio, Alabama, and Texas, have largely failed to connect Citizens United with major changes in these races. The influx of money into state judicial elections following the decision has accelerated negative advertisements and campaign financing that may influence judges' decisions.

  • Five Years After Citizens United, Media Coverage Of Its Sequels Is Lacking

    Little Scrutiny Given To Legal Effects Of The Fall Of Campaign Finance Regulation And Rise Of Corporate Personhood

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    This January marks the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court case that expanded the idea of "corporate personhood" by ruling that the First Amendment protects a corporation's right to make unlimited expenditures in support of political candidates as a form of speech. Network news coverage of its legal impact, however, has largely ignored how the Supreme Court continues to aggressively expand the decision.

    This expansion of corporate rights has wide-ranging consequences, even outside of the context of campaign finance deregulation. The court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, for example, seemed to embrace the idea that corporations are capable of morally objecting to contraception coverage, co-opting yet another constitutional right -- that of religion -- that had previously been reserved for people, not businesses.

    In terms of election law, the conservative justices further dismantled campaign finance restrictions in 2014's McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck down aggregate campaign donation limits and allowed wealthy donors to contribute money to a virtually unlimited number of candidates and political parties. The court will hear yet another campaign finance case on January 20 called Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which could strike down a Florida rule that prohibits judicial candidates from directly soliciting money from donors -- a rule that was put in place in response to a serious corruption scandal that resulted in the resignations of four Florida Supreme Court justices.

    Yet despite the cascade of decisions from conservative justices intent on dismantling campaign finance regulations and rewriting corporate rights -- and the majority of Americans who support a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United -- the media have largely underreported this story.

    Here are four graphics that illustrate this failure.

  • The Historian, Legal Experts, And Justices Who Think Judges Asking For Cash Is A Really Bad Idea

    ››› ››› SERGIO MUNOZ

    On January 20, the day before the five-year anniversary of Citizens United, the Supreme Court will hear yet another case that could roll back campaign finance restrictions, this time for judicial elections. Here is a media guide to some of the legal briefs filed by experts in that case, Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, which warn that allowing judges to solicit campaign donations directly is a recipe for disaster.

  • Fox News Viewers Aren't Getting The Full Story On Voter Suppression

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    A recent study indicated that viewers of Fox News are far more likely than viewers of other TV news to believe that voter fraud is a more significant problem than voter suppression, an unsurprising finding given the network's misleading reports on voter ID laws and in-person voter fraud.

    Right-wing media have repeatedly defended the need for strict voter ID laws while denying the reality of voter suppression -- particularly in the run-up to the midterm elections. On the November 2 edition of America's News HQ, National Review Online contributor Hans von Spakovsky argued that it was "not true" that strict voter ID laws can "suppress minority voters," even though there were already concrete examples of people of color, women, and the poor being turned away from the polls this past election because they didn't have the type of identification required to vote. Even though a federal court has called one voter ID law an "unconstitutional poll tax," right-wing media have previously called such restrictive ID requirements "a good thing."

    Fox News was back on the supposed harmlessness of strict voter ID again on the November 12 edition of The O'Reilly Factor. Host Bill O'Reilly rejected a federal court's uncontroverted finding that implementation of Texas' new voter ID law "may prevent more than 600,000 registered Texas voters (about 4.5% of all registered voters) from voting in person for lack of compliant identification," as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent from the Supreme Court's refusal to block the law. O'Reilly's guest, fellow Fox News host Eric Shawn, concluded that Ginsburg's prediction was "[n]ot true" because a roundup of disenfranchised voters compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice listed only "about 12" instances of voters being turned away in Texas:


    Segments like the one on the Factor might explain why viewers of Fox News disproportionately believe that voter fraud is a bigger problem than voter suppression, despite evidence to the contrary. As Talking Points Memo reported, a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that "people who consider Fox News their most trusted TV news source say that 'people casting votes who are not eligible to vote' is the bigger problem while most people who trust other news stations (CNN, broadcast news, or public television) say that eligible voters who are denied the right to vote is the bigger issue in voting today."

  • Voter Disenfranchisement That Right-Wing Media Said Wouldn't Happen Is Definitely Happening

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    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.

    1. Voter ID Blocks Eligible Voters
    2. Voter "Crosschecks" Purge Eligible Voters
    3. Provisional Ballots Are Not Preventing Disenfranchisement

  • Laura Ingraham Suggests People Who Find It Too Difficult To Get ID Shouldn't Vote

    Blog ››› ››› OLIVIA MARSHALL

    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.

  • National Review Online Now Totally Confused In Its All-Out Push For Strict Voter ID

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    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." 

  • Are Newspapers In Battleground States Covering Dark Money's Unprecedented Influence On The Midterms?

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    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.

  • Conservatives' Latest Example Of Potential Voter Fraud Actually Proves The System Works


    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.