Posts Tagged ‘Campaigns and Elections’

Is it a Problem that the Vast Majority of our Electoral System is Financed by Men?

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A significant amount of journalistic attention is devoted to examining how campaign contributions influence who we elect to the U.S. Congress.  Such concern over the potential for “special interests” to exert inordinate amounts of power on our elected officials is clear; it is  antithetical to the notion of the “common interest” that underlies the foundation of our democracy (previously discussed here).   However, while it is often the case that special interests are presumed to be narrow interests  (i.e. “big oil,” unions, corporations, etc.), there is relatively less attention paid to how our campaign finance system affects groups that are too broad or cross-cutting to be called “special interest,” but may nevertheless be significantly impacted by the current campaign finance system. Specifically, the question I address here is whether it is possible that the campaign finance system is contributing to the gender disparity in Congress.  Is it a problem that the vast majority of our electoral system is financed by men?

Why the Gap?  How does the campaign finance system contribute to the problem?

Those that argue overt discrimination against women is a thing of the past note that women perform just as well as men in general elections. For example, no one was shocked this past April when Robin Kelly was elected in a special election to fill the seat previously held by Jesse Jackson Jr. in Illinois.  However it is also true that women generally have to raise more money to perform as well as men at the polls, while at the same time women perceive fundraising to be more difficult than men.  But why?

I suggest two reasons.  The first is the undisputed gender gap in resources: men make up a larger percentage of the work force and earn a higher income on average.  They therefore have more resources at their disposal to contribute to campaigns than women do.  The second, less obvious reason has to do with a particular FEC regulation governing the rules of “Separate Segregated Funds”  (SSFs), which comprise the vast majority of PACs that contribute to candidates and include corporations, membership organizations, unions, etc.  The regulation specifies that the only members of a company or organization that can be limitlessly asked to donate to the PAC are its executives, stockholders, and notably – their spouses.

While the 2012 Fortune 500 “boasted” a record number female CEOs, the grand total came to 18, just 3.6%.  The reality is that the majority of executives and stockholders are male, that in essence, are able to make contributions on their own accord as well as on behalf of their spouses. Taken to its furthest logical extent, the result is that a greater number of men enjoy de facto doubled contribution limits.

Gender of Contributor and Preferences Toward Male/Female Candidates

Of course for any of this to matter to gender fundraising disparity, it must be the case that women prefer female candidates and men prefer male candidates. To see whether there was any evidence for this, I took a sample that included 2975 individuals who made contributions to a subset of eight pairs of freshman candidates (one male and one female in each pair) within the critical first 100 days of the start of their respective campaigns.[1]

The table below presents the results of a quick analysis. I classified contributors that do not have employers and that list occupations such as “homemaker,” “self-employed,” “mother,” and “volunteer” as “working inside the home.”  Unsurprisingly, males constitute a higher proportion of overall contributors. When I exclude contributors (both male and female) that work inside the home, the average contribution for females declines substantially while the average contribution for males increases just slightly.  It also results in a decrease in the percentage of female contributors to 26%.  It is interesting to note that this percentage roughly corresponds to the percentage of women in Congress. (While this does imply causal relationship, it is nevertheless a fun number…not unlike Romney getting 47% of the popular vote in 2012).   Lastly, it is evident that females seem to prefer female candidates and males seem to prefer male candidates.

Does the Discrepancy Matter?

Arguably, the gender imbalance in Congress is only relevant insofar as it has an independent effect on legislative output that cannot be explained by other factors, such as partisanship.  In other words, if gender has no impact on an elected official’s behavior, then an imbalance, however disproportionate, may be functionally irrelevant.  Yet studies show female legislators devote more time and energy to what are informally referred to as “women’s issues,” including healthcare, children and families, women’s rights, gun control, and others.  Stylistically, women demonstrate more cooperative legislative strategies and collaborative approaches, while men tend to prefer more competitive, hierarchical tactics.  Thus it is reasonable to posit that a change in the proportion of women in Congress would have an impact on the nature and type of legislative output.

Particularly in a political time in which fundraising continues to grow in importance, it is important to be aware of how seemingly non-discriminatory formal institutions, such as the campaign finance system, may nevertheless result in discriminatory outcomes.

Contribution Statistics by Gender

Recipient Candidate

Male

Female

Total

Proportion

Average

Contributor

Male

1165 (58%)

870 (42%)

2035

68%

$899

Female

448(47%)

492 (53%)

490

32%

$920

Excluding Contributors Working Inside  Home

Recipient Candidate

Male

Female

Total

Proportion

Average

Contributor

Male

1150 (57%)

867 (42%)

2017

74%

$911

Female

336 (46%)

382 (54%)

718

26%

$799

Gender and Work Status of Contributor and Gender and Party of Recipient Candidate

Total

Mean

Work Inside

Average

Work Outside

Average

Males

To Male Democrats

801

$869

15

$582

786

$875

To Female Democrats

598

$857

3

$1525

595

$852

To Male Republicans

364

$1091

0

$0

364

$1094

To Female  Republicans

272

$901

0

$0

272

$901

Females

To Male Democrats

316

$1028

70

$1493

246

$874

To Female Democrats

379

$791

82

$972

297

$727

To Male Republicans

132

$1219

42

$1591

90

$942

To Female  Republicans

113

$795

28

$1019

85

$692


[1] The eight pairs, or sixteen total candidates, consist of individuals competing for Congressional office for the first time.  All chosen candidates won their elections in 2008 and subsequently were sworn-in during the 111th Congress.  The pairs were chosen based on the similarity of their ideology, district qualities, and partisan orientation.

 

By Erinn Larkin, Compliance Director, PACs and Parties

The latest challenge to McCain-Feingold: McCutcheon v. FEC

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A recent article by in the Huffington Post by Jay Pinho alludes to the thorny spot that progressives have found themselves in vis-a-vis campaign finance rules, ever since the Supreme Court decided the Citizens United case in 2010.  He discusses the recent victory of Robin Kelly the IL-2 special primary election, and the instrumental role that Michael Bloomberg played in Kelly’s electoral success.  Bloomberg flooded the race with money in order to make good on his promise to support gun control advocates.  The point he makes is this: how do Democrats celebrate these progressive victories, while at the same time, work to reverse the rules the allowed them the power to get their message out in the first place?

Pinho also mentions the frustration felt among progressives in knowing that the Supreme Court has the potential to further roll back campaign spending rules when it hears the McCutcheon vs. FEC case in October.  He states, “in conjunction with the Court’s notorious Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision from 2010, which lifted the ban on corporate expenditures and led to an explosion of outside spending during last year’s election campaigns, such a ruling in McCutcheon would augur a decisive transformation of American electoral norms — from “one person, one vote” to something approaching ‘one dollar, one vote’.”

The McCutcheon case challenges the constitutionality of individual aggregation limits, which refer to the maximum amount that one individual can contribute to parties, PACs, and candidates during any two year election cycle.  For the 2013-2014 election cycle, this amount is $123,200.  Of this amount, no more than $48,600 can go to candidates; the remainder must go to either PACs or party committees.  This limit should not be confused with the maximum amount that candidates are allowed to receive for their campaigns, which remains unchallenged, and at $2600 per election.  If the Supreme Court sides with McCutcheon, then this limit will be abolished, and individuals will be free to contribute the maximum allowable amount to as many candidates as they choose.   Thus, the case can perhaps be better  understood as an attempt to abolish the limit on the number of candidates individuals can support, rather than the amount of money they can spend per se.

There are several reasons that progressives should take pause before automatically lambasting all individuals, organizations, or proposals to alter extant campaign finance regulation.  First, the practical effects of eliminating individual aggregation amounts is likely to be minimal.  At the current limit, individuals can “max-out,” in other words, contribute the maximum amount of $2600 to both the primary and general elections of a particular candidate, to no more than nine congressional contenders during a two year period.   Of the very small percentage of Americans that contribute to congressional elections at all, an even smaller amount max-out to any one candidate.  The number of individuals who max-out to nine candidates, and exhaust their $48,600 allowance, is minuscule in proportion.

Second, if candidates are to become less reliant on Super PACs and other outside groups, then measures that make it easier to raise money in a transparent way, and in accordance with contribution limits, could be a beneficial thing.  It is impossible for one organization, party, or even Congress, to control the political messages that make it to the airwaves.  What these organizations can control is who is accountable for the messages that are made, and their level of transparency.   Unlike ad hoc organizations like Super PACs, elected officials and candidates are accountable for the statements they make and their legitimacy is dependent upon it.  Therefore measures that empower candidates relative to outside organizations perhaps deserve a second look by progressives that desire an improved campaign finance system.

 

New Apps Explain Super PAC Spending

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As they do every four years, presidential candidates are beginning to appear much more frequently during our favorite TV shows’ commercial breaks.

With the November election mere months away, the likes of adorable Subaru commercials and creative Google spots have been overrun by political attack ads funded by Super PAC groups such as American Crossroads or Priorities USA.  While it’s no secret that prime-time advertising space on network channels is extraordinarily expensive, average Americans do not know very much about the groups who sign the checks to put these attack ads on the air.

In an effort to make Super PAC information more transparent and inform the general public, Sunlight Foundation – an educational organization committed to increasing transparency in US government – and Glassy Media – a new business founded by two grad students from Harvard and MIT – recently released mobile applications called Ad Hawk and Super PAC Apps, respectively.  Using the same audio recognition technology as apps such as Shazam, these apps can listen to a political advertisement and – within seconds – give users a comprehensive bio of the group that paid for it.  Both Ad Hawk and Super PAC App include a detailed summary of the group’s mission statement and business plan, how much money the group has raised and spent to date, and how much cash on hand the group has in the bank.  They also show how much money the PAC is spending on negative ads versus positive ads and which political candidate the group supports or opposes.

Political attack ads – from both sides of the aisle – have often had a tendency to border on the line of truth.  Few would go so far as to say the ads are littered with flat-out lies, but many would agree it’d be fair to say they typically look at large issues through a very tiny window.  And in today’s Digital Age, with information spreading so rapidly on so many different channels, it’s very difficult for average voters to find the truth.  Super PAC Apps has a solution to that problem.  After listening to an ad, the application gives viewers a list of information, statistics, or claims the advertisement made with links to reputable sources that either back up or disprove the content in the commercial.  This – in my opinion – will be the most important and most helpful feature of the new app.

Obviously, these new apps won’t stop the contributions from flowing into the PACs, and they certainly won’t stop the attack ads from going on the air.  They could, however, provide average voters with information they may not have obtained otherwise, and an informed general public is never a bad thing.  So far this election year, over $300 million have been contributed to various Super PACs across the country. Thanks to the Citizens United decision, these multimillion dollar contributions remain anonymous, prompting the media to coin the phrase “dark money.”  This isn’t to say Super PACs are “bad,” but the regulations at which they are permitted to operate have loopholes that have been found and exploited at the expense of the average voter.  Since the FEC has continued to show their unwillingness to update their disclosure regulations, technological innovation has stepped in to fill in the cracks.

These two apps, if they’re used by enough people, will accomplish their goals of increasing transparency between the government and the American people.

The donors may still be anonymous, the money still dark, and the ads still factually shaky.  But now, armed with our iPhones, at least we’ll know a little more about the groups who paid for them.

 

 

 

Yes, Moneyed Interests Gained an Advantage After Citizens United, But Why Else is it Important?

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Considerable attention has been given to groups that gained a direct advantage as a result of the Citizens United case.  Significantly less has been devoted to understanding how the case affected other political institutions and what the implications may be.  Political parties are the wheels of democracy; they mobilize voters,  structure vote choices, recruit candidates, and function as a means of turning political preferences into policy.  In this article in Campaigns and Elections, Neil Reiff discusses how parties have been negatively impacted by recent campaign finance regulation (specifically since the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002) and why the outcome of the Citizens United case further exacerbates the problem.