Election Law

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  • NBC’s Today Ignores Possible Lawbreaking In Interview With Trump Campaign Chairman

    Speechwriter Who Claims To Have Helped With Melania Trump’s Speech May Only Work For Trump Organization

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    NBC Today hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie did not press Paul Manafort, chairman of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign, in an interview about whether the speechwriter who took responsibility for plagiarism in Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention speech was employed by the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization. If it’s the latter, that may be a violation of federal law.

    The Trump campaign has come under fire for the July 18 speech by the candidate’s wife, which plagiarized portions of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention. The campaign and Manafort initially lied, claiming that “no cribbing” occurred and and to claim that it did is “crazy.” On July 20, the campaign released a statement in which an “in-house staff writer at the Trump Organization” named Meredith McIver took responsibility for the plagiarism and said she had offered her resignation but that Donald Trump did not accept it. The statement was also written on the letterhead of Trump’s conglomerate the Trump Organization, not the Trump campaign.

    According to The Washington Post, if Trump’s campaign “used corporate resources” to help with Melania Trump’s speech, “that could be illegal.” The Post quoted Lawrence Noble, general counsel for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, and reported, “If the campaign used corporate resources ‘willingly and knowingly,’ the offense is a criminal one.” The paper explained Noble’s rationale: “If she was working for the campaign,” it would have been legal, “but it seems clear that she offered to resign from her theoretically unrelated Trump Organization job.”

    Discussing the controversy during the July 21 edition of Today, Manafort conceded that McIver “was somebody who was not part of the campaign,” and Lauer noted she was “part of the Trump Organization.” Manafort added that he “didn't even know [McIver] was involved in the process” and “didn't even know of her existence.” Rather than pressing Manafort about the specific arrangement of McIver’s role in the campaign, Lauer transitioned to discussing Trump’s upcoming convention speech:

    MATT LAUER (CO-HOST): Let me just go back to something we talked to you about on Monday morning -- or Tuesday morning, excuse me, the morning after Melania Trump's speech where it was widely believed she had plagiarized portions of that speech. You came onto other shows and this show. You said, "No, there was no plagiarizing. There was no cribbing." You even went as far as to blame Hillary Clinton. We now know in the last 24 [hours] that yeah, it was a mistake on the part of a speechwriter. That person has taken the blame for it. So when you said, "When Hillary Clinton is threatened by a female, the first thing she does is try to destroy that person," would you offer Secretary Clinton an apology for blaming her?

    PAUL MANAFORT: First of all, you have to put the situation in context. It wasn't a speechwriter. This was somebody who was not a part of the campaign.

    LAUER: Part of the Trump Organization.

    MANAFORT: And I didn't even know she was involved in the process. When I spoke to Melania Trump, she said, and she believes and still does, that she did not put those words in there. She did not know that they were words from Michelle Obama, those specific words.

    [...]

    SAVANNAH GUTHRIE (CO-HOST): Sorry, but that statement says the exact opposite. And Trump told The New York Times he knew two days ago that in fact Melania had said the speech -- the question is really not about whether she did or she didn't. It's really a matter of candor and whether you knew that those words came from Michelle Obama's speech.

    MANAFORT: And I did not know. I was told by Mrs. Trump and I believe Mrs. Trump and I don't think Mrs. Trump still believes she personally put those words in that speech. And as far as Ms. [McIver's] concern, I didn't even know of her existence. I asked the speechwriters if they had done it. They said no. I asked Mrs. Trump. She said no. And as far as I was concerned, there was no one else in the process and so therefore that was my position.

    LAUER: Huge night for your candidate tonight. What’s he going to say, what do you want him to say?

  • Trump And NY Radio Host Simone Question Cruz’s Eligibility To Run For President

    Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    New York radio host Mark Simone and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump questioned whether Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is eligible to run for president because “he was born in Canada.”

    Simone, a self-proclaimed longtime friend of Trump who recently said he "loves Donald Trump," hosted the businessman on the April 12 edition of his WOR show. After saying Colorado’s “system is rigged” because Cruz received the state's entire set of delegates, Simone brought up a hearing by the New Jersey secretary of state to determine Cruz's eligibility to be president because of his birthplace. Trump said Cruz isn't eligible because “he was born in Canada” and you need to be "natural born" which "means on this land." Listen:

    MARK SIMONE (HOST): For the first time, [Cruz] is really being challenged in court, in New Jersey, by the secretary of state about whether he's technically legally eligible to be president. That could turn the whole thing.

    DONALD TRUMP: I didn't even know that. Is that a fact?

    SIMONE: Well, it was reported in the papers, because any secretary of state, that's the guy that --

    TRUMP: Where did you read this? Is this today?

    SIMONE: Yesterday.

    TRUMP: Oh, where? I've got to get that.

    SIMONE: I'm pretty sure it was in the Post. You can find it online.

    TRUMP: Yeah, I'll check it. No he's not -- look, he was born in Canada. He lived in Canada for four years. He was a Canadian citizen 18 months ago.

    SIMONE: Yeah, but the guy that would have standing to bring the case is the secretary of state who has to put him on the ballot. So apparently in New Jersey, it was reported, the secretary of state is going to bring that to court.

    TRUMP: You know what? It’s a great case. I mean, it’s such a great case. That's really amazing. I didn't know that there was reporting on it. I know that he's got a big problem in a couple of states. Big, big problem. Look, he was born in Canada. You're supposed to be natural born. Natural born means on this land. Unless you're born on a military base or something like McCain, which I understand. I get that.

    This isn't the first time Trump has questioned Cruz's eligibility. He responded to a question in January about whether Cruz was eligible to run by saying, “I don’t know. I really don’t know. It depends.” Later that month Trump floated the idea that he might sue Cruz over his citizenship, noting that others have tried but lacked standing, yet as a candidate, Trump has “standing to sue.” Trump revisited the possibility of a lawsuit in February after Cruz released attack ads against him.

  • Right-Wing Media Use Wisconsin Primary Turnout To Dismiss Discriminatory Impact Of Voter ID Laws

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G. , ALEX KAPLAN & DINA RADTKE

    Right-wing media figures are using the high April 5 voter turnout during the presidential primary in Wisconsin, which has a voter ID law, to dismiss concerns about the discriminatory impact of such laws. But experts say conclusions about the impact of voter ID laws cannot be drawn based only on high voter turnout, and several media outlets reported that the law did harm potential voters in the state's primary.

  • Richmond Times-Dispatch Ignores Facts To Dismiss Money's Impact On Elections

    Blog ››› ››› SALVATORE COLLELUORI

    A Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial dismissed money's impact on U.S. elections by taking a campaign finance reform advocate out of context while ignoring the overwhelming instances where money has played a crucial role in the election process.

    The March 9 editorial claimed that the theory that "money buys elections ... has never been the case" and that "the facts continue to shatter the myth," citing the presidential campaigns of former Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker, well-funded candidates who dropped out of the race. The editorial continued:

    The hard reality has led even some of the nation's most persistent campaign-finance scolds, such as Rick Hasen -- author of "Plutocrats United" -- to concede that "In spite of the rhetoric of some campaign reformers, money doesn't buy elections." Others still insist that it does, or will, someday -- just you wait. Big-donor money hasn't bought the 2016 election, says The New York Times -- "yet."

    [...]

    But while unions, nonprofits, and businesses can talk themselves hoarse, they can't cast ballots. Only the voters can do that -- and they often vote in ways that resoundingly reject the efforts of so-called big money. Just ask Jeb Bush about that.

    First, the editorial selectively quotes UCLA professor Rick Hasen, whose piece in The Washington Post explains that while "money doesn't buy elections," it "increases the odds of electoral victory and of getting one's way on policies, tax breaks and government contracts." His article continued:

    And the presidential race is the place we are least likely to see money's effects. Looking to Congress and the states, though, we can see that the era of big money unleashed by the Supreme Court is hurtling us toward a plutocracy in which the people with the greatest economic power can wield great political power through campaign donations and lobbying.

    Hasen's argument was backed up by a recent release by U.S. PIRG, which found that "87.5% of higher fundraising candidates won their congressional [primary] race and now head to the general election."

    Even the New York Times piece the Times-Dispatch's editorial dismisses is grounded in reality. In the 2012 election, a majority of the money spent in the election by both parties and super PACs spiked in October, the month before the general election. The Times piece argues -- again in a section left out of the Dispatch's editorial -- that major donors "like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will come off the sidelines" in the general election.

    There are real impacts to more money in politics. When elected members of the judiciary know their rulings could be used against them during an election, they are less likely to rule in favor of defendants and more likely to hand down longer sentences. And as the Brennan Center for Justice explained in a blog post, even though there is a scientific consensus around man-made climate change, those who are less likely to believe the scientific consensus are more likely to receive money from "dirty energy sources."

  • Despite Jeb's Defeat, Money In Politics Still A Major Problem

    Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    In the wake of Donald Trump's resounding victory in South Carolina, and Jeb Bush's exit from the presidential race, some in the media rushed to declare that money does not play the dangerous role in politics many feared it would in the wake of Citizens United. These media voices claimed that voters were effectively "overturning" the Citizens United ruling by supporting non-establishment candidates: Trump, who reportedly rejected the super PACs that had formed to support him, and Bernie Sanders, who has raised record amounts from small donors. But this view underestimates some of the unique qualities about this election cycle and ignores the importance of money in congressional, state, and judicial elections.

    Bush's exit from the race after his super PAC had raised nearly $100 million led parts of the media to draw the conclusion that outside money has less influence than was thought. While interviewing Sanders on Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked, "The guy who had the biggest super PAC of all time had to drop out of the race. ... [Aren't] the people already overturning Citizens United?" Fox News host Tucker Carlson made a similar statement on Fox & Friends Weekend, saying Bush's defeat and Trump's victory are "basically the end of the meaning of Citizens United. Money is supposed to determine the outcome in politics; the opposite has happened here."  

    If this sounds familiar, it's because much of the same was said back in September when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made an early exit from the Republican presidential race with millions still left in the super PAC supporting him. Like with the Bush backing Right To Rise PAC, media pointed to the millions raised by the Walker-supporting Unintimidated PAC as proof of "the idea that the power of super-PACs and their billionaire boosters has been overstated." But both Walker's and Bush's cases demonstrate that weak candidates and mismanaged campaigns can doom a campaign whether or not super PACs have a chance to flex their financial muscle.

    Much of Walker's early failure was attributed to bungled management that left his campaign struggling to make ends meet while the super PAC was raising millions. The New York Times reported, "Super PACs, Mr. Walker learned, cannot pay rent, phone bills, salaries, airfares or ballot access fees." In Bush's case, his failure to connect with the party's base and a questionable management strategy within his super PAC demonstrated that fundraising is only so valuable without the right candidate or staff.

    Plus, dismissing the influence of money in this presidential campaign ignores some of the special circumstances that are unique to this election cycle. Trump's celebrity and the media's infatuation with his campaign have reduced his need for outside support from a super PAC. Super PACs spend much of their money on advertising, but any free air time candidates can generate allows them to push their platforms without spending a dime and counterbalances their opponent's paid efforts.

    Trump's star power and his ability to generate media through outlandish comments have translated into massive amounts of free air time. Fox News has devoted more than 28 hours to the candidate since May 1, 2015, and other outlets like MSNBC provided him with exceptional opportunities to be in the media without having to buy advertising. And while Bush and others have been relatively ineffective despite super PAC fortunes, history shows that a major portion of outside spending in the post-Citizens United presidential races is saved for the general election.

    Citizens United Impact Not Limited To Presidential Race

    When media cite the failures of Walker and Bush as signs that the Citizens United decision allowing a flood of corporate political spending had an overestimated impact on politics, they are ignoring a major portion of the decision's influence. Congressional, state, and judicial races have all seen significant increases in outside spending as a result of Citizens United.

    According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan public policy institute, "Outside spending on Senate elections has more than doubled since 2010, increasing to $486 million in 2014." This money is having a real impact on campaigns as corporations and unions target competitive races, accounting for more spending than that of either candidate campaigns or political parties in 10 of the races analyzed. Furthermore, candidates who won 11 of the most competitive Senate races in 2014 benefited from outside money that was donated without disclosure of the donors -- so called "dark money." This dark money made up over 70 percent of the nonparty outside spending made on behalf of winning campaigns.

    Political spending does not just distort national races. Since 2010 there has been a concerted effort by Republicans to take over state legislatures in order to push conservative agendas on a more local level. The effort has been successful as the GOP has won "historic majorities in state legislatures," according to Vox. Research by professors at the University of Alberta and Emory University has shown that Republicans were helped in their efforts by Citizens United, especially as the ruling overturned laws banning corporate and union spending. They report, "Citizens United is associated with a significant increase in Republican election probabilities in states that banned corporate or union independent spending prior to 2010."

    Also troubling is Citizens United's impact on judicial elections and the impact outside money is having on the justice system. According to the Brennan Center, the decision led to "special interest groups and political parties [spending] an unprecedented $24.1 million on state court races in 2011-12 -- an increase of over $11 million since 2007-08." Much of this money is spent on negative advertising by outside groups. Experts note that justices who face negative ad campaigns are "less likely to rule in favor of defendants in criminal appeals" and that judges facing re-election may hand down longer sentences in an attempt to appear tough on crime. Furthermore, law advocates have found that "empirical evidence suggests that campaign contributions to candidates for judicial office can affect judicial decision-making and case outcomes."

  • How PBS Can Continue Explaining The Crisis Of Money In Politics During Thursday's Democratic Debate

    ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER

    Across all nightly network broadcasts, PBS has consistently provided the most coverage of the crisis of money in politics and campaign finance reform over the last 16 months. During Thursday night's debate, PBS can continue its much-needed emphasis on the issue by asking the candidates what steps they will take to address money in politics if elected president.