Independent Voting Videos


Sunday, November 29, 2015

NYC Commission Considers Raises and Reforms for Elected Compensation

In September, in a move required by law, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed a three-person commission to review the compensation levels of elected officials. Those salaries are supposed to be reviewed by a commission comprised of private citizens generally recognized for their knowledge of management and compensation every four years, but out of reluctance by mayors to make a move that is generally perceived by the public as an attempt to give themselves and their colleagues a raise, the salaries of New York City’s elected officials have gone unchanged since 2006.

At the hearing, Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union, reiterated the good government group’s support for salary increases for the city’s elected officials provided that they are accompanied by other reforms. Citizens Union argues that salary increases should be prospective, only taking hold in 2018, after the next city elections; come with elimination of “lulus” or stipends, for chairing City Council committees; and with a cap on outside income to no more than 25 percent of one’s city salary, with full disclosure.

The commission includes Fritz Schwarz, Jr., the Chief Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice; Jill Bright, Chief Administrative Officer at Condé Nast; and Paul Quintero, Chief Executive Office at ACCION EAST, Inc. It will likely release its recommendations around compensation levels for the Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, City Council members, and District Attorneys by the end of the year, though the commission is already passing the initial timeline set in the mayor’s announcement. Public comment is open until December 3.

The mayor may accept, reject, or amend the findings of the commission, sending recommendations to the City Council for a vote on any new salaries before they head back to the mayor for approval into law.

Though some have said that issues with Council members and the mayor voting on their own salary increases could be avoided by simply pegging salary adjustments to one of a couple of economic measures, like the cost of living, Schwarz expressed dismay with the idea of proposing automatic COLA increases. “What worries me about that concept are two things: one, ordinary citizens are not guaranteed COLA increase; and two, if a government official’s future raises are automatic, it removes any democratic accountability, so they get their extra pay but they don’t have to go through the rigor and sometimes hard public position of saying there should be more pay for my office,” Schwarz said. COLA increases were not recommended by Citizens Union.

At the second hearing, Borough President Gail Brewer (Manhattan) also supported making any salary increase prospective. In the testimony she submitted to the commission, Brewer said, “I believe this commission should strongly urge the Mayor to do two things: First, commit now to empanel another pay raise commission in 2019; and second, to introduce legislation that contains an effective date of January 1, 2018, the first day of the next term of office for all New York City elected offices.”

In his testimony, Dadey pointed out that eliminating stipends for Council Committee Chairs is supported by 31 members of the Council. These stipends, known as lulus, currently range from $5,000 to $25,000 and, Dadey says, have contributed to the creation of unnecessary committees. With 38 committees, six subcommittees, and two task forces, nearly every Council member receives a stipend in addition to their $112,500 salary.

The large number of committees, Dadey said, allows “the speaker to use the lulus as a way in which to extract loyalty on particular issues which they would not otherwise do.” Only truly senior leadership positions like the Speaker and Majority Leader should receive stipends, Dadey added. “We have more committees in the City Council than in the House of Representatives in the US Congress,” Dadey said, adding that the number of committees Council members serve on restricts their ability to focus on certain issues. These points raised Schwarz’s eyebrows.

In her testimony, Brewer, who was a Council member before being elected Borough President, also expressed support for eliminating stipends. “Lulus should be abolished,” she wrote. “I think lulus have become a way of giving all but the least favored Council Members added compensation.”

Schwarz agreed that the lulus “can completely mislead people.” Due to public pressure, eleven Council members have refused to accept lulus this year, according to the Daily News editorial board.

Since being a member of the City Council is only considered a part-time job, Council members are permitted to earn outside income. Eliminating outside income altogether would detract from the goal of attracting candidates with varied private sector experience, the good government group says. Currently, fewer City Council members earn income from an outside job than at any time before.

Brewer suggested that the job of a City Council member should be considered a full-time job.

At the first commission hearing, Schwarz pointed out the merit in keeping the position part-time, saying “A lawyer who joins the government brings something valuable, as does a community organizer, as does a businessman or woman - it’s important to have people in the Council who have varied life experiences.”

According to New York City code, in making its recommendations, the commission must consider the duties and responsibilities of each position, the current salary of the position and the length of time since the last change, and any change in the cost of living, as well as a number of other factors.

The salaries of New York’s 64 elected officials has gone unchanged since 2006, though only 27 have held office for more than one term, and 22 were first elected to their posts just two years ago.

The 2006 commission’s recommendations resulted in a 25 percent salary increase for Council members (up to the current $112,500 per year base) and a 15.4 percent increase for the mayor, from $195,000 to $225,000.

Some elected officials, however, have been seeking raises much higher than what good government groups support. According to the Daily News, a handful of Council members have been discreetly supporting a 71 percent increase. It’s something Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called “ridiculous” and that Dadey, among others, have also panned. Mark-Viverito has not expressed an opinion about raises and says she wants to see the results of the commission's work.

Earlier this November, the Daily News also reported the city’s five district attorneys, who currently make $190,000 annually, wrote a letter to the Quadrennial Advisory Commission requesting a 32 percent increase to their salaries, up to $250,000.

For his part, Mayor de Blasio has indicated through a spokesperson that he would “decline” accepting any pay hike “for the duration” of his current term.

Though the Council and the Mayor have approved the commission’s recommended salary increases in the past, recommendations for reforms have gone unheeded.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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The 2016 Ballot Wars Begin

Voting doesn’t begin for another two months but some Presidential candidates have already failed their first big ballot test, actually getting on the ballot in all 50 states.

The business of getting a candidate’s name on the ballot is a costly and complex endeavor, a major drain of money and manpower that threatens to weed out the most underfunded campaigns and strain the others in what remains a historically unwieldy Republican field. Some states require thousands of signatures to qualify; others charge tens of thousands of dollars.

Nationally, the price tag for ballot access can soar well past $1 million, more money than some campaigns have left in the bank.

Barring a major organizational misfire, there’s little doubt that the top-tier Republicans with big money operations: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, will be on the ballot nationwide. But for everyone else, including Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Rand Paul, whose campaigns say they are on track to be on the ballot everywhere, ballot access is an expensive challenge.

In Alabama, one of the few states where the filing deadline has passed, neither Jim Gilmore nor George Pataki, two long-shot former Governors running bare bones 2016 campaigns, paid the $10,000 fee to appear on the March 1 ballot. Failing to file guarantees that Gilmore and Pataki won’t win any of Alabama’s 50 delegates up for grabs next year.

While it’s true mathematically that candidates need not compete in every state to win the nomination, the political reality is that each failure to appear on a ballot undermines a candidate’s credibility as a national figure.

CLICK HERE to read Shane Goldmacher's article in Politico.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Supreme Court Halts Historic Hawaiian Election

The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a historic and controversial election from moving forward in Hawaii.

Native Hawaiians are currently nearing the end of a month-long election to select delegates for a constitutional convention, but on Friday, Justice Anthony Kennedy issued an order blocking both the counting of votes and the certification of any winners "pending further order" by the court.

The election is seen by many as a first step for Native Hawaiian self-determination. The elected delegates would attend a constitutional convention and recommend a form of self-government, deciding what, if any, relationship that government should have with the United States.

But opponents of the election say the process is unconstitutional and racially exclusive.

A group of native and non-native residents is challenging the election, arguing Hawaii residents who don't have Native Hawaiian ancestry are being excluded from a vote that affects the state. They also argue that the election is racially exclusive and therefore unconstitutional.

Attorneys representing Hawaii have argued that the state isn't involved in the election, an argument that a federal judge agreed with last month. In October, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright said the election was legal since it was a private poll being conducted by the private nonprofit Nai Aupuni.

Nai Aupuni said in a statement Friday that Native Hawaiian self-governance has been discussed for over two hundred years without tangible results. And despite the recent ruling, the group remains confident that the election will ultimately be ruled legal.

State Attorney General Doug Chin pointed out that Friday's order doesn't prevent people from voting in the election, which he described as a private process.

Opponents of the election, however, called it a "victory."

"First, it's a victory for Native Hawaiians who have been misrepresented by government leaders trying to turn us into a government-recognized tribe," Kelii Akina, one of the Native Hawaiian plaintiffs and President of public policy think tank Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, said in a statement. "Secondly, it is a victory for all people of Hawaii and the United States as it affirms racial equality."

While Native Hawaiians make up one of the nation's largest indigenous communities, they are the only one without an independent political structure. In September, the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed a framework that it would use if "the Native Hawaiian community forms a unified government that seeks a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States.”

The 30-day election for constitutional delegates kicked off on Nov. 1 with more than 100,000 Native Hawaiians eligible to vote. Election results were due Dec. 1, with the convention set to be held on Oahu between February and April, 2016.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tossed Absentee Ballots Show Need to Update Law

There was disturbing news from the Summit County Ohio Board of Elections last week. The absentee ballots of 861 voters who mailed their selections to the board were disqualified, even though they had done nothing wrong. What their ballots lacked was a postmark, or at least the kind required by Ohio law.

The disqualified ballots from the Nov. 3 election represent 9 percent of the mailed-in absentee ballots in the county. No one familiar with Ohio’s role in Presidential elections could ignore easily the thought that such a disqualification rate next year, multiplied across this battleground state, could throw the national results into controversy and lawsuits.

The problem that surfaced in Summit County has been simmering since 2008, when the legislature, in an otherwise commendable effort to encourage early voting, allowed boards to count mailed absentee ballots received within 10 days of an election, provided they were postmarked by the day before Election Day.

Yet, at the same time, the national policy of the Postal Service states that not every piece of mail gets the kind of traditional postmark required by Ohio law, meaning the problem in Summit County is really a statewide problem. The Postal Service considers a piece of mail with a printed postal label or a metered piece of mail to already have a postmark.

And, as was the case with some of the absentee ballots in Summit County, there is no guarantee that every piece of mail with a regular stamp will get a sprayed-on ink postmark, either.

The problem in Summit County appears to have been aggravated this year by the closing of a local mail processing center in April.

When ballots came in late, some 600 on the day after Election Day, most had a postmark problem.

In Oregon, where every election is conducted by mail, ballots are accepted until 8 p.m. on Election Day, period, no postmarks required, no late ballots permitted.

If Ohio wants to continue a 10-day window for late absentee ballots, it must come to grips quickly with its counting rules or risk the possibility of an electoral meltdown next year.

Jon Husted, the Secretary of State, is looking into the issue, as are Summit County elections officials. But because of the way statewide voting records are kept, the Secretary of State’s office does not know how many late absentee ballots have been disqualified by postmark problems in recent elections.

Husted long has been concerned about uniformity in voting practices and, in 2013, conducted a statewide investigation of possible voter fraud, referring some 270 cases to county prosecutors for action, out of more than 5 million votes cast in 2012. Now there is solid evidence that 861 voters in one county alone have had their ballots disqualified, many over what amounts to a technical distinction of what constitutes a postmark.

Democratic State Reps. Alicia Reece of Cincinnati and Emilia Sykes of Akron asked, that the Secretary of State must conduct a thorough statewide investigation and soon recommend changes to the legislature.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Miller v. Federal Election Commission 15-428

The petition is: Whether the ban on political contributions by federal contractors in 52 U.S.C. § 30119, as applied to individuals such as petitioner and the other plaintiffs, is sufficiently tailored to meet the requirements of the Equal Protection component of the Fifth Amendment and the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Nov 23 2015 - Order further extending time to file response to petition to and including December 16, 2015.

CLICK HERE to track this petition.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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GOP Presidential Candidate Shortcut to Every State’s Ballot Guide

In an un­pre­ced­en­ted ef­fort aimed at lev­el­ing the play­ing field for can­did­ates and erasing the ad­vant­ages held by bet­ter-fun­ded cam­paigns, the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Lawyers As­so­ci­ation (RNLA) has spent the last nine months build­ing a com­pre­hens­ive data­base of bal­lot-ac­cess guidelines for the 2016 nom­in­at­ing sea­son, and dis­trib­ut­ing the find­ings, free of charge, to each of the GOP pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns.

The re­port, called the Bal­lot Ac­cess Ini­ti­at­ive, is an in­valu­able cheat sheet for cam­paigns, provid­ing them all the in­form­a­tion ne­ces­sary to com­pete in each of the 56 voti­ng jur­is­dic­tions: dead­lines, fil­ing fees, sig­na­ture thresholds, and oth­er fine-print language that has thwarted past cam­paigns. Where­as bal­lot ac­cess has long im­posed a win­now­ing ef­fect on primary fields, the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates in 2016 will be equipped with an ex­traordin­ary re­source that has po­ten­tial to ex­tend the life of their cam­paigns.

More than 300 pages if prin­ted out, state-by-state, and capped with a me­tic­u­lous, col­or-coded sum­mary spread­sheet, the ini­ti­at­ive rep­res­ents the most sweep­ing bal­lot-ac­cess pro­ject in GOP his­tory, party of­fi­cials said.

The re­port was dis­sem­in­ated on a rolling basis over the last three months to each of the GOP cam­paigns, and has now been dis­trib­uted in its en­tirety, save for some forth­com­ing up­dates to re­flect rule changes be­ing con­sidered in a hand­ful of states. To put a bow on the pro­ject, the RNLA, an or­gan­iz­a­tion of 5,000 prac­ti­cing at­tor­neys na­tion­wide, in­vited the coun­sels from each of the pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns to New York City last month for a brief­ing on the pro­ject. The only ex­cep­tion was Jim Gilmore, which RNLA or­gan­izers at­trib­uted to his late en­trance in­to the race.

Ul­ti­mately, 12 of the 16 in­vited cam­paigns sent a rep­res­ent­at­ive, in most cases the Gen­er­al Coun­sel, to the RNLA sum­mit at the New York Mar­ri­ott Down­town. There, they got con­firm­a­tion of something that seemed too good to be true: An out­side or­gan­iz­a­tion was provid­ing them a road map to ac­com­plish one of the most daunt­ing tasks in Pres­id­en­tial polit­ics, and do­ing so free of charge.

“We’re try­ing to es­tab­lish ourselves as a re­source for Re­pub­lic­ans to spend their hard-earned money on sub­stant­ive is­sues, versus get­ting on the primary bal­lots,” said RNLA Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Mi­chael Thielen, who served as li­ais­on between his or­gan­iz­a­tion and the cam­paigns, and helped brief them in New York.

How much money? Ac­cord­ing to Stefan Passantino, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based at­tor­ney who served as co­chair­man of the Bal­lot Ac­cess Ini­ti­at­ive, the num­ber reaches eas­ily in­to the six fig­ures.

It typ­ic­ally costs “tens of thou­sands of dol­lars in dir­ect re­search costs to the cam­paign,” Passantino said. “When you com­bine that with the ad­di­tion­al costs in­curred in hav­ing to hire pro­fes­sion­al sig­na­ture-gather­ers be­cause of an in­ab­il­ity to fully al­loc­ate vo­lun­teer re­sources at the out­set, the amount un­doubtedly ex­tends to six fig­ures.”

The Bal­lot Ac­cess Ini­ti­at­ive was con­ceived by a Gin­grich vet­er­an. Randy Evans, the RNLA’s Chair­man and a seni­or ad­viser to Gin­grich’s cam­paign, along with Larry Levy, the RNLA’s pres­id­ent, who served as Gen­er­al Coun­sel to Rudy Gi­uliani’s 2008 White House bid.

In Decem­ber of 2014, after the midterm elec­tions had con­cluded and with at­ten­tion
be­gin­ning to shift to the up­com­ing Pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, Evans and Levy com­mis­sioned the pro­ject. They had the bless­ing of the RNLA board, as well as the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee, with the un­der­stand­ing that the re­port would be com­pleted by sum­mer’s end and dis­trib­uted to the cam­paigns for free.

Gen­er­os­ity for its own sake may seem rare in polit­ics, but in this case, there’s no catch or caveat. Every­one in­volved with the pro­ject in­sists the goal is simply to level the play­ing field between can­did­ates, and spare the cam­paigns much of the time, en­ergy, and money ex­pen­ded in cycles past.

With all the re­main­ing cam­paigns now pos­sess­ing a how-to guide for get­ting onto every bal­lot, it’s plaus­ible that many second and third tier can­did­ates could qual­i­fy for con­tests they oth­er­wise wouldn’t have, thus pro­long­ing the primary sea­son.

This would seem­ingly coun­ter­act the stated goal of the RNC, which has re­duced the num­ber of de­bates and com­pressed the primary cal­en­dar with the ul­ti­mate goal of short­en­ing the nom­in­at­ing sea­son and pro­du­cing a nom­in­ee early. So why would the RNC green-light a pro­ject that could po­ten­tially achieve the op­pos­ite?

An RNC spokes­per­son stressed that the na­tion­al party played no role in the RNLA ef­fort. But of­fi­cials in both groups con­firmed that the RNC was con­sul­ted at the out­set of the pro­ject, and said there was co­ordin­a­tion throughout. This was at­trib­uted in large part to the over­lap between the two en­tit­ies, start­ing at the top: Evans, the RNLA Pres­id­ent, also serves as the RNC com­mit­tee­man from Geor­gia; and RNC Gen­er­al Coun­sel John Ry­der is vice chair­man of the RNLA’s ex­ec­ut­ive com­mit­tee.

Simply put, RNLA of­fi­cials said they share the RNC’s goal of choos­ing a nom­in­ee quickly, as long as the can­did­ates are al­lowed to com­pete un­der equal cir­cum­stances.

The Bal­lot Ac­cess Ini­ti­at­ive is no guar­an­tee of uni­ver­sal suc­cess. Hav­ing all of the in­form­a­tion is only half the battle; cam­paigns must now ex­ecute on the play­book handed to them by the RNLA. And, oddly, sev­er­al of the cam­paigns didn’t both­er send­ing any­one to New York for last month’s brief­ing. Ab­sent were rep­res­ent­at­ives from the cam­paigns of San­tor­um, Lind­sey Gra­ham, Rick Perry, who has since dropped out of the race, and Don­ald Trump, though RNLA of­fi­cials em­phas­ized that Trump’s cam­paign coun­sel, former Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion Chair­man Don­ald McGahn, has worked closely with them, and that he missed the sum­mit due to a schedul­ing con­flict.

It’s es­pe­cially not­able that San­tor­um, whose bal­lot struggles hindered his anti-Rom­ney surge in 2012, did not send any­one to the RNLA sum­mit. San­tor­um spokes­man Matt Beyn­on said the cam­paign “is well aware of the chal­lenges we faced four years ago” and now has “a cam­paign coun­sel as well as sev­er­al staff mem­bers ded­ic­ated to bal­lot ac­cess.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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GOP Rider Could Boost Party Spending

Senate Republicans plan to insert a provision into a must-pass government funding bill that would vastly expand the amount of cash that political parties could spend on candidates.

The provision, which sources say is one of a few campaign-finance related riders being discussed in closed-door negotiations over a $1.15 trillion omnibus spending package, would eliminate caps on the amount of cash that parties may spend in coordination with their candidates.

Pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime foe of campaign finance restrictions, the coordination rider represents the latest threat to the increasingly rickety set of rules created to restrict political fundraising and spending on elections.

Campaign finance watchdogs argue that it would allow wealthy donors to exercise even more influence with members of Congress. And they cried foul over the possibility that the provision could be slipped into the omnibus spending bill that Congress is working to pass before a Dec. 11 deadline to avoid a government shutdown.

Other campaign-finance provisions being discussed during the omnibus negotiations include GOP-backed efforts to block the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission from enacting additional regulations and disclosure requirements on politically active nonprofit groups, sources say.

Proponents of the coordination rider cast it as a step toward a more accountable and transparent system of political financing. They argue it would help party committees, which are subject to strict campaign rules and reporting requirements, claw back some of the power and control that has migrated to less rigorously regulated big-money outside groups empowered by recent federal court decisions, including the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.

The McConnell provision would allow the parties to engage in unlimited spending in coordination with nominees, though contributions to the party committee themselves would still be subject to annual limits of $33,000 per person.

But Fred Wertheimer, President of the campaign-finance watchdog group Democracy 21, said the McConnell rider would allow politicians to steer bigger checks from their richest backers through the parties to their campaigns.

“What this provision would basically do is turn the party committees into full-time laundering operations,” he said, pointing out that earlier this year a GOP effort failed to pass a similar measure through the committee process.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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