Here’s your weekly roundup of the important political corruption stories we’ve been tracking.
Congress Passes 2,232 Page Bill Without Reading It
In the wee hours of Friday morning, the Senate passed a $1.3 trillion dollar package that will keep the government funded through the end of September. The 2,232 page spending bill passed less than 30 hours after becoming public.
The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill was approved by both the House and the Senate last week, despite the fact that few legislators had actually read the measure. The 2,232 page bill became public Wednesday evening, and was approved by the House by early Thursday afternoon on a vote of 256-167. The bill then moved quickly to the Senate, where it was approved on a margin of 65 to 32 just a few hours later.
In total, legislators had less than 30 hours to read the 2,232 page package before they signed it. To put that into perspective, the bill is longer than Les Miserables and nearly twice the length of War and Peace. If you do the math, it would take the average reader 74.4 hours to read the bill without any breaks — and that’s assuming they can read legalese. Lawmakers on both sides voiced concerns about the speed at which the bill was rushed through, as N.C. Representative Mark Meadows stated “as fast as I was reading it, there’s no way they read it.” President Trump, who signed the massive legislation into law, was reported saying “you tell me who can read that quickly” when presented with the printed bill.
This isn’t the first time legislation has been rushed through without allowing adequate time for the public and lawmakers alike to read it. Aside from being a poor way to run government, it also means that our elected officials have no opportunity to amend bills in order to better represent the needs of their constituents. Yet, it’s hard to feel sorry for Congress given that this is a self-inflicted wound. Congressional leaders drafted the bill in private with the White House and released it at the last moment, giving their colleagues a tough choice: pass the bill without reading it, or delay the vote and shutdown the government in the process.
It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican — we all lose when Congress is this dysfunctional. Congress needs to follow proper procedure and needs to work together for the good of the American people. That means working together on legislation, releasing it early enough for people to read it, and responding to the will of constituents instead of lobbyists and mega-donors.
The Bottom Line: Lawmakers should be required to read a bill before they pass it. We elect them to do a job; it’s time for them to do it.
Voters Challenge Partisan Gerrymandering in Second Supreme Court Case
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case accusing Democrats of partisan gerrymandering in Maryland.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Maryland gerrymandering case known as Benisek v. Lamone. The case was brought by Republican voters in Maryland who are challenging the way that Democratic state officials drew the congressional district map in 2011.
When Democrats redrew district lines in 2011, Maryland voters filed a series of complaints concerning congressional district 6, which they eventually appealed to the Supreme Court. They claimed that Democrats intentionally and unconstitutionally drew the district lines to help Democrat John Delaney defeat Republican Roscoe Bartlett in the 2012 race for the district’s U.S. Representative. Attorney Michael Kimberly, who represented Maryland voters in Wednesday’s case, argued that this partisan gerrymandering created a more than 90,000-voter swing in favor of Democrats.
As you can see in the map below, the original 6th Congressional District (blue) included almost all of the areas bordering Pennsylvania. For the new district drawn in 2011 (red), some areas along the Pennsylvania border that reliably vote Republican were cut out in the new plan, while parts of the Democrat-leaning DC suburbs of Montgomery County were brought in.
Although the Supreme Court has suggested in the past that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional in theory, the Court has never ordered a state to redraw its maps for being too partisan. This isn’t the first partisan gerrymandering case to reach the Supreme Court, though. Last October, the Justices heard arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case involving Republican gerrymandering in Wisconsin.
The Bottom Line: Cases like Benisek v. Lamone and Gill v. Whitford could have a profound impact on the future of our republic.
Congress to Require FEC Report on Foreign Money
Hidden inside of the 2,232 page omnibus bill is a provision requiring the FEC to report on foreign influence in elections.
On Friday, Congress approved the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, as mentioned at the top of this article. Despite the horrible way in which it was passed, there is at least one small bright spot. Buried inside of the massive bill is a provision which will require the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to issue a report detailing illegal foreign contributions in recent elections, enforcement measures being taken to prevent future violations, and how the commission will work to combat the issue.
The FEC’s chairwoman, Caroline Hunter, now has less than 180 days to compile and send the report to the House and Senate appropriations committees. Per the language of the bill, the report must detail “the Commission’s role in enforcing this prohibition, including how it identifies foreign contributions to elections, and what it plans to do in the future to continue these efforts.”
The measure comes unsurprisingly in the wake of a Russian interference investigation, and highlights that “preserving the integrity of elections and protecting them from undue influence is an important function of government at all levels.” Many are calling this provision a good step forward in understanding the significance of foreign influence in our elections. On Thursday, Hunter herself reported that she is eager to write the report “to explain what it is we do to make sure that foreigners aren’t contributing to campaigns.” Former FEC chairwoman Ann Ravel called the measure an “incredible directive”, and many other campaign finance reformers hailed the initiative.
The Bottom Line: Congress should continue taking steps towards fixing our broken elections and protecting voters from foreign influence in our elections.
Tempe Voters Challenge State Legislature in the Battle Over Dark Money
Tempe residents and state legislators are in a face-off over campaign finance transparency laws in Arizona.
Last Tuesday, Arizona residents overwhelmingly supported Proposition 403, an amendment to the city’s charter which curbs the influence of dark money in local elections. The measure passed with 91% approval, and requires any groups spending more than $1,000 dollars in local elections to disclose the names of their donors. Based on the overwhelming voter approval, it is clear that Tempe residents both support and demand transparency in their elections.
Tempe’s win is inspiring others across the state to take up similar initiatives. In Scottsdale, for example, local citizen David Smith brought a motion to the city council asking for future discussion of the newly passed Tempe dark money proposition. The city council rejected Smith, but groups across the state are continuing to strategize how to bring transparency ordinances to their cities.
Meanwhile, politicians in Arizona are panicking. In an appalling display of disdain towards voters, legislators in the state have pushed a bill through the Senate and House. that would block Tempe’s ordinance from going into effect and would block cities and counties from passing similar transparency laws in the future.
The Bottom Line: Attacks on citizen-led initiatives are on the rise across America. Politicians need to stop trampling local power and should listen to the will of the people.