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.
The hosts of Fox & Friends wondered whether a Washington Post infographic that shows the different levels of documentary identification required to vote in each state promotes voter fraud, and they also cast suspicion on the intentions of the country's leading Hispanic civil rights advocacy group that highlighted the article on Twitter.
The Washington Post published an informational piece on October 27 that summarizes which states in the U.S. require or request photo ID, another form of documentary ID, or a non-documentary form of identification to vote. The source The Washington Post relied on, the National Conference of State Legislatures, makes clear that the article and graphic focus on documentary identification, of which strict voter ID -- a photo ID requirement that is selective about which photo IDs are acceptable -- is the most stringent type. As the NCSL explains, not all states require documentary identification. Other states have " 'non-documentary' ID requirements, meaning voters must verify their identity in other ways, such as by signing an affidavit or poll book, or by providing personal information. In addition, all states have procedures for challenging voter eligibility."
But on the October 30 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Steve Doocy, Anna Kooiman, and Brian Kilmeade highlighted the fact that the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a Hispanic advocacy group, retweeted the Post article. Doocy suggested the Post is encouraging voter fraud, and Kooiman cast suspicion on NCLR's promotion of the article:
DOOCY: Are they, is The Washington Post promoting voter fraud or just doing a public service?
KOOIMAN: Well, I mean, The Washington Post just put it out there, but this immigration group tweeted it, and then La Raza retweeted it, and it wasn't just, you know, nonpartisan. It had the hashtag #TurnOutForWhat, which is the pro-Democrat hashtag.
Despite Fox & Friends' attempt to attribute a nefarious intention to the article and NCLR, strict voter ID laws have become a significant obstacle to many Americans attempting to vote, and because of ongoing legal challenges, the requirements to vote in many states are in flux. Eligible voters in Texas have already been turned away because of the state's restrictive voter ID law, which was recently blocked and then reinstated. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that similar laws in Kansas and Tennessee brought voter turnout down 1.9 and 2.2 percentage points, respectively -- which amounted to 122,000 fewer votes. As The Washington Post explained in its summary of the report, "[y]oung people, black people, and newly registered voters were the groups that were more likely to see bigger drops in turnout."
Courts and social scientists have repeatedly found strict voter ID laws to be racially discriminatory toward or linked to bias against voters of color. Researchers at the University of Southern California found that when they emailed state legislators posing as a voter asking whether or not he could vote without a driver's license, "legislators who had supported voter ID laws were much more likely to respond to 'Jacob Smith' than to 'Santiago Rodriguez.'" The Washington Post's Wonkblog further summarized the findings:
"The fact that legislators supporting voter identification responded so much l[ess] to the Latino name is evidence anti-Latino bias, unrelated to electoral considerations, might be influencing these public policies," they write.
A University of Delaware study found that white survey respondents who saw a picture of black voters were more likely to support voter ID laws than those who were shown an image of white voters or no image. And two experts from the University of Massachusetts Boston wrote in The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog that "restrictions on voting derived from both race and class":
The more that minorities and lower-income individuals in a state voted, the more likely such restrictions were to be proposed. Where minorities turned out at the polls at higher rates the legislation was more likely enacted.
More specifically, restrictive proposals were more likely to be introduced in states with larger African-American and non-citizen populations and with higher minority turnout in the previous presidential election.
And the Fox hosts' concern about supposed "voter fraud" is unfounded -- studies and investigations have found that in-person voter impersonation, the kind of fraud that voter ID laws are supposed to prevent, is so rare that it is almost nonexistent.
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent weighed in on the Texas governor's race in his column for conspiracy website WND, attacking the "America-hating" campaign of Democratic candidate Wendy Davis.
In his October 29 column, Nugent wrote, "Thank God there are still way more Texans that stand in defiance of the lying, scamming, America-hating, Texas-hating scammers and scoundrels that infest and steer the Wendy Davis campaign of deception."
In February, Nugent set off a lengthy controversy when he appeared at a campaign event with Republican candidate Greg Abbott and called him his "blood brother." Abbott was criticized for appearing with Nugent after the NRA figure had recently called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel" and because of Nugent's history of demeaning attacks on women.
From the October 29 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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From the October 29 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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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."
Fox News proved that love is blind in its latest interview with former Fox employee and current Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown.
With less than a week before the 2014 midterm elections, Brown was welcomed on the set of Fox & Friends with no disclosure of his prior affiliation with the network. Instead, hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade praised Brown for "doing really well" in the polls and getting "within two points" of Shaheen. Kilmeade added: "I think both sides are saying you're one of the finest politicians they've seen because you like people."
Fox's softball questions didn't attempt to delve into Brown's platform, instead echoing Brown's own attacks on Shaheen's voting record. Doocy mistakenly congratulated Brown, who was elected Massachusetts Senator during Obama's presidency in 2010, for having an independent record under the Bush administration and claimed that, unlike Brown, Shaheen has served as a "rubber stamp" for her party's policies:
DOOCY: You just touched on something. When you were in the U.S. Senate you were not a rubber stamp, an automatic rubber stamp for George Bush's policies. However, you've been very effective in this particular senate race. Jean Shaheen has been a rubber stamp for President Obama.
BROWN: I was there with President Obama, not with President Bush, but that is correct, I was the most independent senator in the United States Senate. Senator Shaheen is the most partisan. So, we need to change direction.
Doocy failed to mention that his line about Shaheen being a "rubber stamp for President Obama" comes directly from the Brown campaign. During an October 6 debate Brown said, "You will have a clear choice, someone who is rubber stamping for the president's policies or someone who will be independent on the issues." Brown's "rubber stamp" attack has also been echoed by the Republican National Committee on Brown's behalf.
Fox has a long history of working to boost the electoral prospects of its former employees and has given Brown a particularly cozy platform to promote his campaigns. While Brown was still employed at Fox, its hosts repeatedly asked him whether he planned to run again, calling it a "terrific" idea. Brown has also said that his time at Fox "really charged me up to" run. Since his primary victory in New Hampshire, the network has repeatedly offered him free airtime to attack Shaheen.
From the October 28 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Academics and experts are casting doubt on the merits of a new study, promoted by right-wing media, which estimates that a small percentage of non-citizens vote and might sway the outcome of elections.
The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, sister papers both published by the Miami Herald Media Company, barely mentioned the importance of Medicaid expansion to the Hispanic community in their coverage of the issue following the end of Florida's congressional session despite Medicaid expansion being a prominent campaign issue. Studies have shown that Medicaid expansion in Florida, an issue polling has found important to Hispanics, would have a significant beneficial impact on the Hispanic community.
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 praised the failed theory of trickle-down economics in response to Hillary Clinton's remark that the middle class, not tax cuts for corporations, spurs economic growth, a position backed by economists.
A paranoid column from National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre appearing in the gun group's magazine fearmongered about terrorist attacks and "angry mobs" rioting "just for the sheer hell of it" in the United States before calling on supporters to "vote our guns" on Election Day.
As part of a "special two-cover election issue," the NRA's magazine, America's 1st Freedom, depicted a flag and gun-toting ISIS fighter along with the headline, "Chaos At Our Door?" Other text on the cover added, "Your Second Amendment Freedom Has Never Been More Important And Necessary. Vote Your Guns In November."
LaPierre's column was illustrated with a graphic that combined an image of a suburban house and an ISIS militant who has been seen in recent videos beheading U.S. and British hostages:
The image used by the NRA comes from an Islamic State propaganda video showing the execution of British aid worker David Haines.
From the October 27 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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From the October 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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