Archive for April, 2013

Helping Rhode Island’s Marriage Equality Bill Gain Momentum

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The issue of same-sex marriage is an argument that all of us have heard, and most of us have strong opinions on. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “marriage is a basic human right. You cannot tell people they cannot fall in love.” While he said this in reference to marriage between races, the same can be said about homosexuals.

Public attitudes toward gay marriage are a mirror image of what they were a decade ago: in 2003, 37 percent favored gay nuptials, and 55 percent opposed them.  According to the Washington Post, national support for marriage equality is trending upwards with 58% of Americans being in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage as of March 2013.

CFO Consulting Group is proud to be the public affairs team fighting for marriage equality within Rhode Island.  There are currently nine states, plus the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is legal.  In addition to this, 3 states are considering bills to legalize same-sex marriage; Delaware, Illinois, & Rhode Island.  In January, the Rhode Island House of Representatives & House Speaker Gordon Fox overwhelmingly passed legislation to allow gays and lesbians to marry in the only New England state where they can’t.

The Rhode Island Senate will be next to address the issue of gay marriage when they return from their recess this week for the final work of their annual session.  The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider legislation allowing gay couples to wed. The session is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 23rd. Also up for consideration is a bill that would place the question of allowing gay marriage on next year’s ballot.

The two bills before the Senate Judiciary Committee take different paths.  One would reaffirm Rhode Island’s constitutional  protection of religious liberty.  The other has a long lists of special exemptions and carve-outs,

The major issue keeping Rhode Island from becoming the tenth state to legalize same-sex marriage, and why there are two bills being considered, is the question of how will those that oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, including religious institutions, businesses, and hospitals, be affected if same-sex marriage is approved?  More specifically, questions regarding the legality of a business or religious institution denying service to same-sex couples because of religious beliefs will be up for debate this Tuesday.

CFO is looking forward to seeing the Rhode Island Senate vote in favor of the bill and allow all people in Rhode Island, regardless of their sexual orientation, to possess equal rights.

By Brett Smiley, founding partner of  CFO Consulting Group

What Can We See in Q1 Reports?

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In addition to being tax day, April 15 was the deadline for federal campaign committees to file their first fundraising report of 2014.

The amount of activity contained in these reports helps us speculate about what implications these numbers may have with respect to the 2014 elections.

Power of Incumbency – One of the most obvious signs of these early reports demonstrates is the advantage of being an incumbent. This past January, eighty-one freshman members of the US House were sworn in. Of those eighty-one, twenty-five raised over $250,000 in the first quarter of this year. Many of these incumbents are expected to be somewhat vulnerable heading into the next election.    Challengers simply do not have the resources and apparatus to  raise the kind of money that incumbents can at such an early point in the election cycle; many of them have yet to even declare their candidacy.

Therefore,  incumbents have the benefit of a de facto head-start in the fundraising race. Only a handful of vulnerable members have opponents eighteen months before the next election.   This means that  incumbents often have somewhere between a  $300,000-$500,000 head start before they even have a declared opponent.

A Glimpse of the Future – These numbers may also provide insight into whether an incumbent is considering a run for higher office in 2014.

House members Gary Peters (D-MI) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) are two potential examples of this. Peters proved his fundraising ability by netting $371,000, and in turn, demonstrated that his legitimacy as a possible contender to replace the retiring Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Cotton is rumored to be considering a challenge to Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR); he raised $526,000 over the past three months, which places him at the front of the pack for Senate challengers.

These reports also show the opposite; that some incumbents are not ready or willing to make a run for higher office. Many in the Tea Party had dreams of Steve King (R-IA) running for the open Senate seat in his state, even though the Republican establishment was rooting for his colleague Tom Latham (R-IA). Latham seems to have won this round by raising $300,000 – more than three times what King raised(amounting to just under $93,000).

Thinking about a Comeback? – We can also look at the reports of members who lost in November to see who is plotting a comeback bid. The quickest way to identify a candidate not considering a bid is to look at who has terminated their campaign committees. Already over 100 campaign committees from 2012 have closed including defeated incumbents on both sides of the aisle.

We can also look at committees that remain open to see who might be thinking of a comeback or considering retirement. The outspoken former Congressman Allen West is likely not considering another bid; his committee transferred $400,000 from his committee to his non-profit foundation. There are also signs from losing candidates that might be considering another bid. Those committees tend to hold onto as much of their cash-on-hand as possible and spend on some limited expenses like polling, fundraising, and paying down debt that could inhibit a future run.

By Nick Daggers, Vice President, Fundraising

Why is the Senate Electronic Filing Bill Deemed Unlikely to be Enacted Despite Near Consensus?

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Few issues or policy realms have the power to bring together alliances like those witnessed in the now infamous Citizens United case, which pinned the ACLU, NRA, AFL-CIO, and Chamber of Commerce against an alliance that included the American Independent Business Alliance, the DNC, and Senator John McCain (among others).  Even fewer have the ability to kindle bipartisanship and consensus in a political landscape characterized by polarization and gridlock. Yet the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act introduced by Senator Jon Tester earlier this year has indeed managed to receive bipartisan support.   The bill would compel Senate candidates to electronically file campaign finance reports along with the other federally registered committees that have been doing so since 2001 (PACs, Parties, and House Members). The bill would save time, tax dollars, and improve disclosure and transparency.

So why do organizations like GovTrack.us, which track the statistical probability of legislation being enacted, give the bill a 10% chance of success?

In 1971 when the FEC Act was originally enacted, the law dictated that Senate candidates file their reports with the Secretary of the Senate who would then forward them to the FEC. All other committees were to report directly to the FEC. In 2001 when the FEC required that almost all committees file their reports electronically, the Senate was exempted from the law and has continued to file on paper ever since.

Why shouldn’t the Senate be allowed to continue filing on paper?  There are several reasons why compelling the Senate to file electronically is a common sense law. First, the current procedure is inefficient. The candidate sends their report to the Secretary of the Senate, who then forwards the report to the FEC. The FEC then sends it to a third party firm that re-types the reports, enters them into a database, and sends the information back the FEC. Only then is the information available to the public.  By contrast, reports thatare uploaded electronically are instantly available to the public.

Second, the current procedure is costly.  The FEC estimates that having the Senate file electronically would save tax-payers just under $500,000 per year. It would undoubtedly save candidates the expense of printing and sending hundreds of pages worth of reports at-least four times a year.  It also unnecessarily wastes the time of government employees.  Because the Senate reports need to be re-typed, every time a campaign finance analyst finds a potential violation, they must then locate the paper image to ensure it corroborates with the re-typed data.  Such a time-consuming, redundant process is obviated by electronically filed reports.

Lastly, it would provide greater transparency.  While the FEC pays for the service of re-typing the data, it is entirely for their own review purposes. The formatted data is never made available to the public. Therefore, individuals interested in reviewing Senate reports must scroll through hundreds of pages of text-unsearchable PDF images.  For all these reasons, the measure to compel the Senate to file electronically has received widespread support and near consensus among all parties involved.

Why might the bill fail regardless of such widespread support? Those interested in the passage of the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act of 2013 should pay attention to the behavior of Senator Mitch McConnell and his role in the failed Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act of 2007.  Senator McConnell first placed an anonymous hold on the bill (when pushed, he later revealed his identity).  He then attempted to attach an amendment that would loosen coordinated expenditure laws between parties and candidates.  In short, he sought to negotiate for policy reform when the matter at hand concerned procedural reform, which to many, was simply too unreasonable and unequal of an exchange.  Observing McConnell’s disposition toward the current bill may provide insight into its chances of ever getting past committee and on to the floor for a vote.

 By Erinn Larkin, Compliance Director, PACs and Parties