1. John McCain and the lost battle for campaign finance reform
Last week, Senator John McCain died. And while I didn’t agree with most of his policies or politics, I will always admire his central role in the last great effort to pass bipartisan campaign finance reform. In 2002, he partnered with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold to enact the McCain-Feingold Act, which restricted campaign finance spending on elections.
McCain had seen first-hand the rising impact of unlimited campaign finance spending throughout his career in Congress and during his 2000 run for President. In a Washington Post op-ed he wrote in 2000, McCain wrote that “clearly, the rushing stream of cash, coming in the form of huge, unlimited contributions… has done precious little to encourage participation in our democratic processes. On the contrary, it has increased public indifference and cynicism.” He urged Congress to “make campaigns more competitive and ensure that challengers have a real opportunity to beat incumbents.” He foresaw the dangers of the flood of dark money on elections and how they threatened to entrench politicians in office. McCain argued for limits on campaign spending to prevent “campaigns self-financed by multimillionaires,” something he felt would disenfranchise average Americans.
The McCain-Feingold Act was far from perfect. He admitted himself that it was a compromise necessary to gain the support of 60 Senators. And it had loopholes that still allowed millions of dollars to flood elections in the years that followed. But it was a principled stand against big money in elections. He led the way on a bipartisan effort to try and reduce the impact of money on elections.
The Supreme Court effectively gutted the Act in 2010 with the Citizens United ruling that unleashed unlimited corporate spending on elections. And in 2014, the Court further killed campaign finance limits in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling.
But McCain tried. He deserves respect for bucking most of the members of his own party, working with Democrats, and forging a bipartisan effort to try to clean up elections from unlimited campaign spending.
Ultimately, he won the battle but lost the war. But as he did often in his life, John McCain ignored the easy path and did what he thought was right for America.
2. North Carolina’s big, ugly voting mess
This week, a federal court ruled the North Carolina’s congressional maps are unconstitutional and must be redrawn before the 2018 election. It’s difficult for the GOP in North Carolina to pretend the extreme maps weren’t drawn with naked partisan intent since there is video of them bragging about it. And with a 4-4 split on the Supreme Court, it is unclear if an appeal to the high court will change the order. No one really knows how this will turn out — the voting maps might be redrawn before the upcoming election, which could open up the potential for more Democratic gains in the state. Or not.
But for the third time now, a federal court has ruled that the North Carolina maps are unconstitutional and damaging to the rights of millions of Tar Heel State citizens. I’m not overly optimistic, since new maps were ordered twice before, and legal delays followed, but stay tuned…
Also this month in NC: efforts by GOP legislators to try and amend the state constitution to weaken the power of the governor and the courts through confusingly labeled ballot initiatives have been partially blocked by state courts. The battle over the controversial partisan amendments now shifts to the North Carolina Supreme Court. GOP state legislators, upset to see that their latest power grab attempt may unravel, are upset and ready to throw a constitutional tantrum. Now, they threatening to impeach judges who might rule against them. Why? Because, for now, there isn’t much to stop them.
3. “All politics is local.” “All politics is kinda, sorta 33% local”
Axios has a great feature this week on how money from outside their districts is overwhelming House races. According to their report, “more than two thirds of individual contributions to 2018 House candidates came from donors outside of the candidates’ districts.”
I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing (I’ve donated money to races in other districts and states) since the outcomes of those races can impact all of us. But it’s nonetheless striking to see how much all Congressional elections have become national. Check out Axios’ cool interactive infographic where you can see where House candidates’ get their money and how little of it is from within their own district.
4. Everything is bigger in Texas, including election data vulnerabilities
TechCrunch reports that more than 14.8 million voting records were left on an unsecured server. Ooops!
5. Brett Kavanaugh and “the End of Voting Rights”?
Ari Berman makes a compelling case that should Brett Kavanaugh join the Supreme Court, “he will join with the court’s conservative justices to further roll back voting rights protections and other civil rights laws.” Here’s more:
Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination signals a disturbing shift in the historic role of the court. In the 1950s and 1960s, the civil rights movement looked to the Supreme Court for help in dismantling the architecture of white supremacy. And the court responded by desegregating public schools, upholding the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act and legalizing interracial marriage, to name a few landmark decisions.
Representative John Lewis of Georgia described the court in those days as a “sympathetic referee.” That era of strong civil rights enforcement is over. With Judge Kavanaugh on the bench, this will be the most extreme court on civil rights issues since the days of Jim Crow.
Read the rest here. Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings begin next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already committed to a swift confirmation process before this fall’s elections.