I have included a few links to Wikis about some of the terms used in these articles at the bottom of this post
1: Top 5 Senate Races Where Dark Money and Outside Spending Ran Wild JUSTIN MILLER NOVEMBER 5, 2014
Half a billion dollars was spent on U.S. Senate races this year, making this cycle the most expensive midterm campaign ever.
Get ready for a week of pundits making claims of just what was proven by the results of the 2014 midterm elections. But one thing is already quite clear: Money is indeed a deciding factor. Half a billion dollars was spent on U.S. Senate races this year, making this cycle the most expensive midterm campaign ever.
Much of that money was used by non-profit issue groups for what is known as “outside spending”—meaning money used for advertising and other forms of communication ostensibly to support an issue, but most often an issue that is framed in such a way to lend support to the group’s favored candidate. (These are the ads that often say something like: “Call Senator X and tell him to stop [supporting some allegedly terrible thing].”)
Republicans won all those races, and except for in North Carolina, conservative groups outspent liberal groups every time.
The 2014 cycle also shows how effectively outside spending groups can sway elections: When conservative groups outspend liberal groups (and sometimes even when they don’t), conservative candidates win. North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, Alaska, and Arkansas attracted the most outside spending of all the U.S. Senate races. Republicans won all those races, and except for in North Carolina, conservative groups outspent liberal groups every time.
It was that type of deadly effectiveness that led to the Republican knockout.
Senate Majority PAC, whose purpose is to elect Democrats, was the most well-funded superPAC of its kind in the country. It spent millions in the most pivotal of the Senate races. Yet it was largely acting as a stopgap to lessen the disparity between conservative and liberal outside spending groups—and ultimately conservative groups would outspend it.
The midterm was also a trial run for Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action. Things did not go well for the group; it lost just about every election that it spent money in.
The stalwart conservative groups like Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads, and Americans for Prosperity maintained a full stream of money into the elections that mattered and—with the help of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the NRA—outspent Democrats around every turn.
A new norm in American politics is taking hold. It’s one where outside spending has far surpassed what individual candidates can pull together—this year, there were 36 races where outside groups spent more than all candidates.
Let’s just let the numbers, per the Center for Responsive Politics, speak for themselves.
1st Most Outside Spending: North Carolina – $81 Million
Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan’s fight to keep her seat from being taken over by Republican Thom Tillis was not an easy one. Nor was it cheap–with more than $110 million in political spending, North Carolina’s Senate race has been the most expensive U.S. Senate race ever.
It also attracted more outside spending than any other race this cycle. Outside groups—including PACS, superPACs, and 501c’s (the nonprofit so-called social welfare groups empowered by the Supreme Court in the 2010 Citizens United decision)—dished out more than $80 million.
The top spender was the Senate Majority PAC, which spent more than $13 million in the state, airing more ads than Thom Tillis’s campaign. The Democratic SuperPAC spent about $47 million in total this election and was responsible for 45,000 (1 in 10 of all) ads aimed at Senate races, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Most of the other big spenders were conservative groups—US Chamber of Commerce, Crossroads GPS, the NRA, and local PAC Carolina Rising spent about $17 million.
2nd Most Outside Spending: Colorado – $69 Million
Republican Cory Gardner staged a surprising upset Tuesday as he unseated Democratic incumbent Mark Udall, winning by more than 100,000 votes. The heated U.S. Senate race in Colorado brought in an unprecedented windfall of political cash from outside groups. In 2008, the last time Democratic incumbent Mark Udall ran, only $20 million came in from outside groups. Outside spending more than tripled during this cycle—to about $70 million this year.
The influx of conservative spending was obviously quite the boon for Gardner’s campaign. Conservatives groups spent $40 million; 75 percent of that was strictly in opposition to Udall. And it seems to have worked. The most enthusiastic of outside spenders was Crossroads GPS, the group founded by Karl Rove, which spent $8.6 million to take down Udall. Most of which was spent on a barrage of more than 7,000 attack ads on Udall.
Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer’s new SuperPAC NextGen Climate Action pumped in $7.4 million and launched persistent attacks against Gardner’s environmental record. Despite lessening the outside spending gap in many races, NextGen lost every election that it invested in.
The liberal Senate Majority PAC also spent more than $6 million. As in North Carolina, conservative groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, and Ending Spending were quite influential—each spending more than $3 million.
3rd Most Outside Spending: Iowa – $61 Million
New wave Tea Partier Joni Ernst managed to best Democrat Bill Braley for Iowa’s open Senate seat. The fight for the seat long held by retiring Senator Tom Harkin totaled more than $85 million, with $61 million coming from outside groups.
NextGen and Senate Majority PAC invested about $5 million each to put Braley in office–again, mostly through attack ads.
Conservative groups American Crossroads (a superPAC founded by Rove) and the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners Action Fund also pumped in about $5 million each, mostly spent to attack Braley as too partisan.
And again, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and NRA coughed up a few million each.
4th Most Outside Spending: Alaska – $40.6 Million
Out in the last frontier, outside groups spent $40 million in the war over Democratic Senator Mark Begich’s seat. Spending remained pretty much neck and neck between liberal and conservative groups—that is until the last week before the race. American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, and Americans for Prosperity combined to make a $500,000 push within the last week.
That may have been enough to push Republican Dan Sullivan into office.
5th Most Outside Spending: Arkansas – $39.9 Million
Yes, outside spending in Arkansas may only be a measly half of what it was in North Carolina. But still, $40 million is not nothing.
Money spent on behalf of Republican Tom Cotton romped that spent in favor of incumbent Mark Pryor. And (you guessed it), conservative groups outspent liberal groups.
At $6 million, the liberal Senate Majority PAC spent the most of all groups. That, the Democrats Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the self-proclaimed grassroots (but actually dark money) group Patriot Majority USA made up for what comprised most of the Democratic outside spending. Most was funneled into attack ads on Cotton.
The usual suspects of conservative groups all showed up to play in Arkansas: Freedom Partners Action Fund dished out nearly $4 million. The NRA, Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads, and Arkansas Horizon all spent around $2 million each.
Money may not be the only reason the Democrats took a licking in the midterms, but it’s a big one.
2: How Much of a Difference Did New Voting Restrictions Make in Yesterday’s Close Races?
by Wendy R. Weiser November 5, 2014
The Republican electoral sweep in yesterday’s elections has put an end to speculation over whether new laws making it harder to vote in 21 states would help determine control of the Senate this year. But while we can breathe a sigh of relief that the electoral outcomes won’t be mired in litigation, a quick look at the numbers shows that in several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement.
In the North Carolina Senate race, state house speaker Thom Tillis beat Senator Kay Hagen by a margin of 1.7 percent, or about 48,000 votes.
At the same time, North Carolina’s voters were, for the first time, voting under one of the harshest new election laws in the country — a law that Tillis helped to craft. Among other changes, the law slashed seven early voting days, eliminated same-day registration, and prohibited voting outside a voter’s home precinct — all forms of voting especially popular among African Americans. While it is too early to assess the impact of the law this year, the Election Protection hotline and other voter protection volunteers reported what appeared to be widespread problems both with voter registrations and with voters being told they were in the wrong precinct yesterday.
Some numbers from recent elections suggest that the magnitude of the problem may not be far from the margin of victory: In the last midterms in 2010, 200,000 voters cast ballots during the early voting days now cut, according to a recent court decision. In 2012, 700,000 voted during those days, including more than a quarter of all African-Americans who voted that year. In 2012, 100,000 North Carolinians, almost a one-third of whom were African-American, voted using same-day registration, which was not available this year. And 7,500 voters cast their ballots outside of their home precincts that year.
In the Kansas governor’s race, Governor Sam Brownback beat back challenger Paul Davis by a margin of 2.8 percent, or less than 33,000 votes.
But Kansans faced two new voting restrictions this year — a strict photo ID law that was put into effect right before the 2012 election, and a new documentary proof of citizenship requirement for voter registration.
What was the impact this year? We know from the Kansas secretary of state that more than 24,000 Kansans tried to register this year but their registrations were held in “suspense” because they failed to present the documentary proof of citizenship now required by state law. And while we do not yet have the data regarding the impact of the voter ID requirement this year, a recent study by the independent Government Accountability Office found that Kansas’s voter ID law reduced turnout by approximately 2 percent in 2012. (GAO also found that Tennessee’s new law reduced turnout by up to 3 percent.) If the law’s effect was similar this year, it would mean that turnout was about 17,000 voters lower than it otherwise would have been. And keep in mind that the number of Americans that don’t have government-issued photo IDs that would be accepted under new laws is closer to 11 percent. In short, the margin of victory in Kansas looks perilously close to the margin of disenfranchisement.
In Virginia, Senator Mark Warner eked out a victory over challenger Ed Gillespie by only 0.6 percent of the vote, or just over 12,000 votes.
Like in Kansas, voters in Virginia faced a strict new photo ID requirement this year. According to the Virginia Board of Elections, 198,000 “active Virginia voters” did not have acceptable ID this year. While there are no studies yet on the impact on turnout in Virginia, Nate Silver estimates, based on academic studies, that in general such laws reduce turnout by about 2.4 percent. If that were applied to Virginia this year, it would amount to a reduction in turnout by more than 52,000 voters. That far exceeds the margin of victory here.
The Florida governor’s race was decided by only a 1.2 percent margin, with Governor Rick Scott narrowly beating former Governor Charlie Crist by just under 72,000 votes.
Florida has passed a host of new voting restrictions over the past few years. Perhaps the most significant for this election was a decision by Scott and his clemency board to make it virtually impossible for the more than 1.3 million Floridians who were formerly convicted of crimes but have done their time and paid their debt to society to have their voting rights restored. Under Florida’s law, the harshest in the country, one in three African-American men is essentially permanently disenfranchised. Ironically, Scott had rolled back rights that were expanded under Governor Crist, who had established a path for people with past convictions to more easily get their voting rights restored. Under that process, more than 150,000 citizens had their rights restored before Scott changed the rules. This is part of a pattern this year of candidates benefiting from voting restrictions they helped to pass.
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It will likely be months before we have the data to assess the full impact of new voting restrictions on yesterday’s elections. But we already do know that their impact is far more than the number of hot races they could have turned.
It is little solace to the more than 600,000 registered voters in Texas who could not vote this year because they lack IDs the state will accept that the governor’s race was decided by more than 600,000 votes. For one thing, there are far more races — from state legislator to justice of the peace — that affect voters’ day-to-day lives and that could have been impacted by those lost votes. But more importantly, those citizens — a number of whom were long-time voters who were turned away from the polls this year — were denied their basic right of citizenship, their ability to hold their politicians accountable, and their ability to join their friends and family to have a say over what happens in their communities. The dignitary harm comes through loud and clear when you read their stories.
Hopefully those stories — along with the big numbers — will help stem the recent tide of voting restrictions. The integrity of our elections is at stake.
3: Gerrymandering poses questions for fair elections
by Alicya Dennison October 12, 2014
Democrats have also been guilty of heavy redistricting, as Republican candidates in Illinois have discovered. Illinois Congressional redistricting occurred in 2011 and helped lead Democrats claim 12 of 18 House seats in 2012 elections, despite only winning 55 percent of the popular vote.
Critics of the practice claim that it is unethical on a number of fundamental criteria. In addition to the previously mentioned viewpoints, gerrymandering often concentrates and politically under-represents minorities. Some critics also said gerrymandered districts may simply fail to make geographical sense in accordance to actual community boundaries.
“A beautiful electoral district is in the eyes of the beholder,” Larry Bennett, a DePaul political science professor, said. “A problem is that there’s no standard for what an ‘ethically districted’ area looks like.”
There have been various attempts to stymie practices of gerrymandering. On Oct. 7, U.S. district courts declared Virginia’s gerrymandered 3rd Congressional District unconstitutional on the grounds of racial discrimination.
Similarly, in 2011 California established a Citizen’s Redistricting Commission, taking the power of political districting out of the hands of elected officials.
However, large-scale pushes for these types of practices have not been stringent. Except in cases of extreme racial discrimination, there is often little legal basis for striking down the practice. Furthermore, ruling politicians are, understandably, often unwilling to give up their power over districting.
“With (citizens commissions), there’s also the issue that their members can potentially be ideologically compromised as well,” Bennett said.
Without any large pushes to end gerrymandering, it remains to be seen how the practice may influence the November elections.
“I don’t think there are really any ethical validations of gerrymandering,” Bennett said.
Rolling Stone Article from 2013 gives more details (Long Read)