Campaigns & Elections

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Voter Guidance

Government Information

U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC)

Established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the EAC serves as a resource for information on the administration of Federal elections. Their Register to Vote page provides some basic information and links to related resources such as a national voter registration form (PDF format), and a listing of state voter registration deadlines.


Project Vote Smart

"As a national library of factual information, Project Vote Smart covers your candidates and elected officials in five basic categories: biographical information, issue positions, voting records, campaign finances and interest group ratings."


Voting Rights

As seen in the Help From Other Agencies section on fec.gov, "If you believe your right to vote has been denied due to racial or ethnic discrimination, contact the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, at (202) 307-2767."


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Campaign Law

Definitions

Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)
(Based on information from The FEC and the Federal Campaign Finance Law)

Congress created the FECA in 1971, consolidating its earlier reform efforts and instituting more stringent disclosure requirements for federal candidates, political parties and political action committees. The FECA was amended in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs, and to establish the Federal Election Commission to enforce the law, facilitate disclosure and administer the public funding program. Further amendments were made in 1976 following the case Buckley v. Valeo, and amendments were made in 1979 to streamline the disclosure process and expand the role of political parties. The next set of major amendments came in the form of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The basic provisions of the FECA — Disclosure, Contribution Limits, Prohibited Contributions and Expenditures, Independent Expenditures, Corporate and Union Activity, and Political Party Activity — are explained in The FEC and the Federal Campaign Finance Law.

Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA)
(Based on the press release President Signs Campaign Finance Reform Act )

The BCRA helps prevent unions and corporations from taking political action without the consent of their members and shareholders, it restricts unregulated, "soft" money contributions, it raises the limits on campaign contributions imposed on individuals, and it creates new disclosure requirements and compels speedier compliance with existing ones.

McCain-Feingold Bill
(Based on information compiled from various sources, including Library of Congress staff)

The McCain-Feingold Bill often refers to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (see above definition). It's named after Senators John McCain (Republican of Arizona) and Russ Feingold (Democrat of Wisconsin) because they pushed the legislation for several years, though they were the primary sponsors of only the companion bill, S.27, which didn't become law. S.27 is also known as the McCain-Feingold-Cochran Campaign Reform Bill, which is the title used by Russ Feingold himself in his summary of S.27. The more familiar title of S.27 is Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2001.

millionaires' amendment
(Based on information from this page of The Campaign Legal Center)

On January 27, 2003, the FEC published interim final rules to implement the BCRA's provisions establishing increased contribution limits to candidates facing wealthy, self-financing opponents — commonly known as the "Millionaires' Amendment."

soft money
(Based on definition at Campaign Finance: Constitutional and Legal Issues of Soft Money)

Prior to enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), money for election related activities that was generally raised and spent outside of federal regulation was known as "soft money" or non-federal funds. Soft money was raised and spent in a manner that could affect federal elections, but was unregulated — and legal — since it was not spent directly for or against specific federal candidates. Generally, the intent of BCRA, which amends the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), 2 U.S.C. §§ 431 et seq., and became effective on November 6, 2002, is to restrict the raising and spending of soft money.

hard money
(Based on definition at Campaign Finance: Constitutional and Legal Issues of Soft Money)

The term "hard money," has typically been used to refer to funds raised and spent in accordance with the limitations, prohibitions, and reporting requirements of the FECA. Unlike soft money, hard money may be used in connection with a federal election. Under the FECA, hard money restrictions apply to contributions and expenditures from any "person," as defined to include, "an individual, partnership, committee, association, corporation, labor organization, or any other organization or group of persons, but does not include the Federal Government or any authority of the Federal Government."

lobbying
(Based on information from the lobbying page of the U.S. Senate's Virtual Reference Desk)

Lobbying is the practice of trying to persuade legislators to propose, pass, or defeat legislation or to change laws. Lobbyists may work for a group, organization, or industry, and present information on legislative proposals to support their clients' interests.

The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (As amended in 1998. See also Lobbying Disclosure Act Guidance.) establishes criteria for determining when an organization or firm should register their employees as lobbyists. Lobbyists register with the Office of Public Records.

See this entry below for information on grass roots lobbying.

political action committee (PAC)
(Based on information in Political Action Committees and the 2004 Election)

Political Action Committees (PACs) are not directly affiliated with any candidate or political party. They represent corporations, labor unions, or other organizations and contribute money to candidates in accordance with hard money limitations. Most have specific legislative or issue agendas. PACs are regulated by the Federal Election Commission, and have become a major source of funding for the candidates. See the Federal Election Commission's Quick Answers to PAC Questions for more information.

political committee
(Based on information in The Current State of Campaign Finance Law)

Federal statutory law defines the term political committee to mean "any committee, club, association or other group of persons which receives contributions aggregating in excess of $1,000 during a calendar year or which makes expenditures aggregating in excess of $1,000 during a calendar year." The Supreme Court has narrowly construed the statutory definition of "political committee" to "only encompass organizations that are under the control of a candidate or the major purpose of which is the nomination or election of a candidate."

Recent History of Campaign Finance

In 2002, new Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules went into effect regarding funds raised, received, and spent by party committees under the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). The revisions were based on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), which added to FECA new restrictions and prohibitions on the receipt, solicitation, and use of some non-Federal funds (soft money). The new rules prohibit national parties from raising or spending non-Federal funds, but they permit State, district, and local party committees to fund certain voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives pursuant to BCRA rules, or with a combination of funds pursuant to FECA and BCRA rules. The rules also address fundraising by Federal and non-Federal candidates and Federal officeholders on behalf of political party committees, other candidates, and non-profit organizations.

Legal actions brought by or fought against the FEC could affect how campaign law is interepreted, or even change it. Abstracts and other information regarding significant campaign finance legal actions can be found through the FEC's Selected Recent and Ongoing Litigation page. A dedicated page containing the McCONNELL v. FEC abstract is available here, on PoliSource.

Contributing to Candidates and Campaigns

The following is adapted from some sections of The Current State of Campaign Finance Law.

Contributions by Individuals

An Individual may contribute up to $2,100 to a candidate for each general, special, primary, or run-off election. Minors may contribute too, if the money is under their own control and contributed voluntarily. For national party committees, individuals are limited to $26,700 per year in contributions. For other political committees, such as political action committees (PACs), and for state party committees, the limit is $5,000 per year. Local party committees are part of state party committees, so the $5,000 limit is a combined limit for both.

There's also an aggregate annual federal contribution limit of $101,400 per election cycle. Smaller aggregate limits also apply to categories of contributions: individuals are limited to $61,400 in contributions during an election cycle to federal noncandidate committees, including no more than $37,500 to PACs and state and local parties' federal accounts, and there's a separate $40,000 limit on federal candidate contributions. All of the limits are inflation adjusted, and they will increase modestly for the 2006 election cycle.

Campaign finance laws and Federal Election Commission regulations contain numerous exceptions to the definition of "contribution." Among the principal exceptions are the donation of personal time to a candidate (unless it is time paid for by someone else, such as an employer), home hospitality of up to $1,000 per candidate per election, and personal travel costs of up to $1,000 per candidate per election and up to $2,000 per year for party committees.

Corporation Contributions

Corporations are prohibited from contributing to federal candidates, but they can establish and pay the administrative costs of political action committees (PACs), and encourage employees and stockholders to contribute personal funds to those committees. Corporations can also urge their executives and management personnel to support and contribute to specific parties or candidates, and may host visits by candidates at corporate facilities, subject to Federal Election Commission rules.

Corporations are prohibited from using treasury funds for electioneering communications within 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election, but they are able to fund such advertisements through their affiliated PACs, using voluntarily contributed individual monies in those PAC accounts. Some corporations pay for electioneering related activities through donations to other groups, such as industry associations (501(c)(6) organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Job Security, or issue-oriented 501(c)(4) organizations).

The Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to prohibit corporations from spending funds to campaign for and against state ballot measures. In states where ballot initiatives are often identified with particular candidates or political parties, this can provide an avenue for a significant direct expenditure of corporate funds that may have the effect of influencing an election.

Union Contributions

Like corporations, unions may not contribute directly to federal candidates but they may create and administer PACs for the financing of electioneering communications within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election. Though electioneering communications may not be paid for with union treasury funds, as membership organizations, unions may communicate with their members on any subject, including urging them to vote for specific candidates or parties, and may use union treasury fund to do so.

The Supreme Court has determined that under the National Labor Relations Act, nonunion employees could prevent union use of their agency fees, which are sometimes required as a condition of employment, for political activity. As a result, nonunion employees in closed-shop states cannot be required to fund political spending as a condition of their employment. This decision has not reduced the political use of agency fees paid to unions by non-members to the extent desired by union critics. Some blame this on inadequacies in the notice provided to non-members regarding their "Beck rights." Under Beck and subsequent National Labor Relations Board decisions, unions must provide notice of "Beck rights" to non-members, however, presidential administrations have alternated positions on whether to also require government contractors to inform employees of their "Beck rights."

Republican party leaders have argued for paycheck protection, which would allow even union members to restrict the use of their dues for political purposes. Democrats and unions have responded that union leaders are freely elected by the membership and are only exercising their representative authority. Besides, they add, corporate shareholders don't vote on whether to approve corporate political spending on issue advocacy either. Member dues in any case provide only a portion of the funds available to unions for such communications, so union leaders could probably use other funds for these activities if necessary. During consideration of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) in the Senate in 2001, a "paycheck protection" amendment (which was seen as a "poison pill" impairing passage of McCain-Feingold) was defeated.

Summary of Internal Revenue Service Regulations

The following is adapted from some sections of The Current State of Campaign Finance Law.

501(c)(3) Organizations

Section 501(c)(3) organizations are tax-exempt entities organized for charitable and other similar purposes and are ostensibly prohibited from intervening in political campaigns. These organizations cannot endorse candidates, contribute to campaigns, or organize political action committies, but they can conduct nonpartisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in accord with FEC regulations as well as be involved with state or local ballot measures. They may also sponsor candidate forums on issues of public concern.

Many well-known think tanks are 501(c)(3) organizations. Some are genuinely nonpartisan, while others appear close to one party or group of candidates. Additionally, many organizations maintain a collection of entities under one umbrella, such as the Sierra Club (which has a 501(c)(3), a 501(c)(4), and a PAC) and the Club for Growth (which has a 501(c)(4), a PAC, and a 527 organization). Many of the ethics charges against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich related to his use of just such a collection of organizations, including charitable and educational groups, for political purposes.

501(c)(4) Organizations

Section 501(c)(4) of the Tax Code provides for the establishment of "social welfare organizations" exempt from federal income tax. While these organizations must be operated exclusively for the promotion of the public social welfare and cannot be for profit, they still can engage in political activities, as long as these activities do not become their primary purpose. 501(c)(4)'s are prohibited from making contributions to federal candidates.

The IRS appears to be questioning whether some groups can become so partisan in nature or purpose that they advance a narrow private or partisan purpose, rather than the general social welfare, and thus are not entitled to a tax exemption. The IRS denied tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) to the Christian Coalition apparently on the grounds that it engaged in excessive partisan political activity (the organization reorganized as a for-profit corporation known as Christian Coalition International). Likewise, the IRS denied tax-exempt status to the National Policy Forum, headed by former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour, on that basis.

527 Organizations

The IRS sometimes denies 501(c) tax-exempt status to organizations because of their partisan political activity. Even if 501(c) status is granted, large donations to these organizations may be subject to a gift tax. 527 status, which provides political organizations the benefit of taxation only of investment income, is sometimes a better option. Political organizations is defined as organizations formed primarily for "the function of influencing or attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any individual to any federal, State, or local public office or office in a political organization, or the election of Presidential or Vice-Presidential electors."

When Congress wrote Section 527 of the tax code to clarify that political organizations were not subject to incur tax, the known "527" organizations were political committees (parties, candidate committees, and PACs) and regulated as such. Today, there is much legal controversy over when an organization is a political committee and when it's an entity completely unregulated by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) and Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). Some organizations have claimed that influencing specific elections isn't their primary purpose, in order to avoid political committee regulations while benefiting from the tax benefits of 527 status. Such 527 organizations can raise unlimited soft money for issue advocacy that affects federal races along party lines despite the fact that they're not political committies.

Other Campaign Law Resources (U.S.)

Federal Election Commission

The FEC provides information about political action committees through its Quick Answers to PAC Questions. Information on PACs is also available at FEC sponsored PAC conferences. See the Educational Outreach page for the PAC conference schedule. Other information on the FEC's website includes campaign finance reports, laws, and litigation information.

Some webpages and documents on the FEC's website can be confusing and misleading, especially if accessed directly through a link on another website or a search engine, without navigating from the FEC's home page. The FEC's Federal Campaign Finance Laws page claims to include "documents relevant to federal campaign finance legislation" but it focuses on the United States Code (USC) laws and doesn't even refer to relevant regulations from the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).1 Federal regulations are omitted from the Federal Campaign Finance Laws PDF document as well. The CFR is covered on the Commission Regulations page.

A couple of webpages belong in the too-difficult-to-find category, like Summary of State Campaign Finance Laws, but it was three years out of date at the time of this review. Information on "soft money" was also too hard to find through the menu, and with the search tool, the first page of results for "soft money" didn't include the FEC's soft money page.

There are several ways to comment on current and proposed FEC regulations and election laws.

  • The FEC's Advisory Opinions page explains how to review and comment on advisory opinion requests and draft advisory opinions. An advisory opinion is "an official Commission response to a question relating to the application of the Federal campaign finance law to a specific, factual situation."
  • For those wishing to comment on proposed regulations, such as those listed on the FEC's recent and ongoing projects page, the Commission Regulations page links to Regulations.gov — "A dynamic web site that helps users find, review and comment on regulations proposed by federal agencies" — though regulations.gov didn't work with FEC regulations at the time of this review. According to Regulations.gov, "Over the next two years, additional rulemaking documents and materials will be made available in the system by various Federal Departments and Agencies."
  • For recommendations that the FEC sent to the President and Congress, see Legislative Recommendations. This enables concerned parties to voice their opinion about legislation that's still being considered.

1 Information about the USC, CFR, and other legal documents is available on PoliSource's Government Publications & Legal Documents page, under Index of Government Publications and Legal Documents.


Federal Election Campaign Laws on PoliSource

Various versions of the Federal Election Campaign Laws (FECL), including PDF versions with bookmarks added by PoliSource, are listed below. These same links and some useful information on legal research can be found on PoliSource's Government Publications & Legal Documents page.

Federal Election Campaign Laws 2004 (full PDF)

Federal Election Campaign Laws 2004 (divided PDFs):
Section 1 · Section 2 · Section 3 · Section 4

Federal Election Campaign Laws 2004 (divided HTML):
(Google's conversions from PDF — not recommended)
Section 1 · Section 2 · Section 3 · Section 4
 


Brookings — Campaign Finance

"The Brookings Institution, one of Washington's oldest think tanks, is an independent, nonpartisan organization devoted to research, analysis, and public education with an emphasis on economics, foreign policy, governance, and metropolitan policy." Politically involved businesses might find their Campaign Finance information helpful.

The New Campaign Finance Sourcebook (the successor volume to Campaign Finance Reform: A Sourcebook), published in 2005, "incorporates the many and diverse changes in campaign finance law and practice over the past decade."

Also available are "...basic resources (including the Federal Election Campaign Act and key court cases), featured publications, and links to related organizations and sources of information."


The Campaign Legal Center

"The Campaign Legal Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization which works in the areas of campaign finance, communications and government ethics....the Legal Center generates legal and policy debate about disclosure, political advertising, contribution limits, enforcement issues and many other matters....our attorneys were members of the legal team that successfully defended the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002..."

Links on the left side of their homepage include Articles of Interest, Court Cases of Interest, and Ethics in Government.


The Campaign Finance Institute

The Campaign Finance Institute is a non-profit organization whose activities include research and education, task force creation, and making recommendations for policy change in the field of campaign finance.

At the time of this review, their homepage contained numerous "Recent Studies & Releases," a video of a debate on pending legislation, and draft chapters of a forthcoming book.

Other Campaign Law Resources (international)

FoPP Database (Funding of Political Parties)

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) — an intergovernmental organization supporting sustainable democracy — provides web access to the FoPP Database which contains information for over 100 countries. You can make comparisons based on countries, regions, or themes. IDEA claims it's the largest collection of such information available.


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Campaign Organizing

Political Campaigns

Campaign Plans—Major Elements

The major elements of a campaign plan may include the following (paraphrased from The Mechanics of State Legislative Campaigns, 1st Edition, chapter 2).

  • District analysis—geographic, social, economic, and demographic information on the district, and a breakdown of the political implications of that information.
  • Electoral research—the district's voting history, voter turnout, recent redistricting outcomes, and other voting trends. Also helps estimate the ultimate question in a campaign: "How many votes do I need to win?"
  • Candidate and opposition profiles—the major personal, political, and policy characteristics associated with all candidates.
  • Campaign message—answers the question, "Why am I running?" Also provides reasons to support a candidate.
  • Budget and fund-raising—Creating a budget informs the campaign about how much money it needs to raise and how it will be spent (for example, for paid media, fund-raisers, postage for mailings, and so on). The fund-raising plan tells the campaign how the funds specified in the budget will be raised.
  • Volunteer recruitment and volunteer use plan—how to identify and recruit volunteers, how to use them most efficiently and effectively when they show up, and how to keep them happy and coming back to volunteer again.
  • Paid media plan—strategic decisions that involve all paid communications or advertisements (for example, direct mail literature, newspaper, TV, or radio ads, and billboards) and all campaign collateral materials (for example, lawn signs, campaign buttons, bumper stickers, and GOTV literature). It also includes information on the timing of ads, when literature will be mailed, etc.
  • Earned media plan—designs activities geared toward generating enough media interest in the campaign so the campaign's events are covered as a news story. It must be specific and cover activities such as interviews with journalists, and speeches the candidate will give, and candidate forums or debates that are likely to be covered by the news media.
  • Get-out-the-vote (GOTV) plan—informs the campaign on how voters who have been identified as supporters will be mobilized on Election Day.
  • Campaign calendar—brings all the different elements of the plan together in chronological order. There are only a certain number of days until Election Day and proper planning through the use of a campaign calendar helps ensure that time-consuming activities are completed at the appropriate time by detailing the dates by which all campaign activities must be performed.

General Campaigning and Lobbying

Grass Roots Lobbying

The 26 page Grass roots lobbying: marketing politics and policy 'beyond the Beltway' was presented at the conference Elections on the Horizon: marketing politics to the electorate in the USA and UK—a one-day conference co-sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies and the Haworth Press Series in Political Marketing, held on 15 March 2004 at the British Library. It includes the sections:

  • Grass roots lobbying: the electoral connection
  • Grass roots campaigns and political marketing
  • Quantity and quality
  • Grass roots lobbying: shotgun or sniper?
  • Techniques in grass roots lobbying
  • Grass tops campaigns

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Voting Systems

Worldwide Voting Systems

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)

IDEA, an intergovernmental organization supporting sustainable democracy, lists the following "electoral systems for national legislatures — unicameral or lower houses — of independent countries and related territories" in their color coded map of The Electoral Systems of the World. Definitions of each system and lists of countries using each system are available through their Glossary of Terms page.

  • First Past the Post (FPTP)
  • Two Round System (TRS)
  • Alternative Vote (AV)
  • Block Vote (BV)
  • Party Block Vote (PBV)
  • Parallel
  • Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)
  • List Proportional Representation (List PR)
  • Single Transferable Vote (STV)
  • Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV)
  • Limited Vote (LV)
  • Modified Borda Count (Modified BC)
  • No provisions for direct elections
Electoral systems map
See The Electoral Systems of the World for more detail.


Proportional Representation

In December, 1994, in response to members of Washington State's House of Representatives asking for a summary of research on the role various electoral systems may play in local government in increasing voter turnout and representation for minority groups, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy issued the report Proportional Representation in Local Elections: a Review. The report defines proportional representation as a voting system that "awards seats in legislative bodies to parties in proportion to their strength in the electorate." It contrasts this with "American national, state and local elections which [primarily] use non-proportional, winner-take-all plurality election plans."

The section Does proportional representation accomplish what proponents expect? concludes that "minorities do gain representation under these plans" and that "no direct evidence, however, demonstrates that proportional representation increases voter turnout." In part V of the report, the conclusions are:

Proportional representation plans are uncommon in state and local elections in the U.S. However, these plans are not absent from our history. As state and local governments examine election plans that might be used as alternatives to the standard districting remedies in Voting Rights cases, the American experience with proportional representation has received more attention.

This review of experience with these election plans indicates that there might be practical advantages to using cumulative voting when at-large election plans appear to be diluting minority vote strength. There is less contemporary experience with limited voting and single transferable voting in America, but some case study evidence also suggests these plans facilitate minority representation.

It should be stressed that experience with these plans as remedies in Voting Rights Act cases is recent and, therefore, limited. Furthermore, of the three plans discussed here, only cumulative voting has been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice as a remedy in Voting Rights Act cases. The standard remedy in these cases is to abandon the at-large structure of local elections and adopt districts. The review of literature presented here suggests that these alternative plans might be applicable when the under-represented minority is not spatially concentrated, or when there is a desire to retain at-large structures for local government.


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Election History

Results and Statistics

Psephos Election Statistics Archive

This archive is intended to be comprehensive, permanent and simple to use. The U.S. election results index covers gubernatorial elections, presidential elections, legislative elections, and elections in Puerto Rico and United States dependencies.

Featured Historic Elections

Kennedy-Nixon Debate

Polls taken after the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960 showed that most people who listened on the radio thought that Nixon won, while most who watched it on television thought that Kennedy won. Find out why on in The Great Debate: Kennedy, Nixon, and Television in the 1960 Race for the Presidency.


Bush-Gore Election

The 2000 presidential election between Democratic vice president Al Gore and Republican Texas governor George W. Bush was the closest presidential election since Hayes-Tilden in 1876. With 269 electoral votes needed to win, Bush defeated Gore by a margin of 271 to 266. But the electoral college outcome doesn't tell the full story of this extraodinary election. See Mark J. Rozell's account of the event as published in Encyclopedia Americana.


Howard Dean, 2004

Blog for America and Civic Involvement, by Matthew R. Kerbel, Professor of political science at Villanova University, and Joel David Bloom, adjunct professor of political science at the University of Oregon, analyzes the 3,066 posts to Governor Howard Dean's blog from March 15, 2003 to the day he finished a distant second to John Kerry in the New Hampshire primary on January 27, 2004, effectively ending his bid for the presidency.

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