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The DI Report: McCutcheon, NY Public Finance, and National Voter Registration Act

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Welcome to the second installment of the Democracy Initiative’s newsletter. We have continued our fast pace and remain actively engaged on the critical issues facing our country. This has been a tough month in the wake of McCutcheon, but we remain determined to save our democracy from big money and special interests.

Please continue reading for an update on our recent work.

Supreme Court Hands Down Disappointing Decision in McCutcheon v. FEC

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On April 2, the Roberts Court dealt a blow to our democracy by further undermining the campaign finance regime.In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that long-standing aggregate contribution limits were unconstitutional. These caps prevented donors from contributing more than $123,000 in total to federal candidates and national parties.

In a national show of solidarity, Americans organized more than 150 rallies in 41 states, demonstrating citizens’ engagement to fight for equal speech rights and not sell our democracy to the highest bidder. In Washington DC, the Democracy Initiative, People for the American Way, Sierra Club, NAACP, CWA, Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech for People, and US PIRG held a rally that was joined by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) on the Supreme Court steps to voice outrage at the Court’s continued erosion of campaign finance restrictions. 

Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, the Roberts Court continues to strike down restrictions on money in politics, while simultaneously eroding voting rights for millions of people. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne stated, “If Congress tries to contain the power of the rich, the Roberts Court will slap it in the face. And if Congress tries to guarantee the voting rights of minorities, the Roberts Court will slap it in the face again.”

The McCutcheon decision is precisely why the Democracy Initiative coalition must continue fighting to elevate people over money. 

Money out, voters in!

New York Fair Elections
Over the last few months, the Democracy Initiative actively engaged in the New York Fair Elections fight to establish a public financing system for state elections.

In 2010, Governor Cuomo promised to bring fair elections to New York, and the Democracy Initiative worked tirelessly alongside the New York Fair Elections coalition to amplify and increase pressure on Albany to include these critical campaign reforms in its state budget.

The Democracy Initiative sent a letter signed by 23 organizations urging Governor Cuomo to keep his promise and fight for publicly financed Fair Elections. This effort served as a galvanizing force among organizations and individuals to come together and fight the corrupting influence of money in our political system.  DI groups sent more than 250,000 emails in New York, prompting thousands of calls into the governor’s office calling for reform.  In addition, DI prompted high level contacts from among its member organizations to Governor Cuomo.  

It was a long, drawn-out fight in the statehouse and when the dust settled, Governor Cuomo caved on his promise.  This was disappointing, but certainly not the end of the road for advocates of fair elections. Many lessons were learned and Governor Cuomo is being held accountable.

Going forward, the Democracy Initiative will keep fighting for fair elections on the state and national level. This is not the end, but the beginning of a movement aimed at taking back our democracy.

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Affordable Care Act Compliance with the National Voter Registration Act
In March, 32 organizations called on President Obama to ensure that millions of Americans applying for benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are also provided their federally-guaranteed opportunity to register to vote.

The organizations expressed concern that the application process for benefits through federally-facilitated healthcare exchanges currently violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), and urged the administration to take immediate steps to ensure compliance with this important federal law. 

The letter stated, “As staunch supporters of voting rights, we believe that it is critical for the ACA to meet these legal requirements now and offer voter registration to the millions of Americans who will be shopping for insurance on the exchanges in the coming months and years.” 

The NVRA—widely known as the “motor voter” law—was enacted 20 years ago with strong bipartisan support from Congress. It made voter registration more accessible by requiring convenient voter registration opportunities to be provided in certain instances when Americans interact with their government. For the last 20 years, states have offered voter registration services in tandem with driver’s license transactions, Medicaid, and other government programs. It has provided an important and significant source for registration and more than 140 million Americans have applied to register to vote through provisions of the NVRA. 

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Fix the Senate Now Campaign
As the Senate continues its glacial pace in confirming nominees, the Fix the Senate Now coalition is committed to reforming the Senate rules to make the congressional body functional in the wake of last November’s changes to the nominations process.  These delay and obstruction tactics have significant consequences for national security and the delivery of justice.

The Democracy Initiative’s Fix the Senate Now coalition has been calling for the U.S. Senate to explore additional reforms. In particular, we highlighted the need for changes to “blue slips,” a courtesy practice not mentioned anywhere in the Senate’s rules that allows senators to block consideration of federal judicial nominees from their home states. It only becomes more frustrating as the Senate GOP shows selective memory as they continue to foster gridlock in the chamber

Democracy Initiative Around Town
This March, the United States Student Association (USSA) held its annual National Grassroots Legislative Conference in Washington DC. Thanks to the generosity of CWA and NAACP, students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities located in states previously covered by Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act joined more than 300 students from around the country to participate. The Democracy Initiative’s Greg Moore briefed the convening on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (HR3899) to equip the students to advocate for the VRAA in meetings on Capitol Hill along with other USSA legislative priorities.  

The Democracy Initiative partnered with USSA, the NAACP Youth and College Division, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to brief participants on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (HR 3899) prior to the students lobbying Capitol Hill.  


Thank you again for supporting the Democracy Initiative and reading our newsletter. Feel free pass this on to anyone who may be interested in our work. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter! (@Unite4Democracy)