Saturday, February 16, 2019

NYC CFB Matching Funds Update

The New York City (NYC) Campaign Finance Board (CFB), has updated the New amounts voted in 2018, of its Matching Funds program.

The Voluntary Program Matches Small Contributions from NYC Residents allowing Candidates who participate to Receive up to $2,000 in Public Funds per Eligible Contributor.

Matching Funds provide Candidates with a Strong Incentive to Finance their Campaigns by Engaging with Average New Yorkers instead of seeking Large Contributions from Special Interests.

The Program Empowers more Candidates to Run for Office, even without Access to Wealth; ones who join can Build Viable, Competitive Campaigns for Office by relying on Support from their Neighbors. The Voluntary Public Financing Program matches Small-Dollar Contributions from Individuals who Reside in New York City, helping to Amplify the Voices of New Yorkers in City Elections. A $10 Contribution from a NYC Resident to a Participating Candidate in the 2021 Election could be worth as much as $90 to their Campaign.

Candidates for Elections through the 2021 Elections may choose to Participate in the Matching Funds Program under the Provisions that Existed Prior to the 2018 Ballot Referendum.

Who is Eligible?

Any Candidate running for Municipal Office: Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough President, and City Council, may join the Program. The program does Not Cover County District Attorney Offices or State/Federal Offices.

To receive Public Funds, Candidates Must:

1. Meet a Two-Part Fundraising Threshold:

- Collect a Minimum Number of Contributions, of $10 or more, from the Area they seek to Represent. For instance: Candidates for City Council must have 75 Contributors from their District; Candidates for Borough President must have 100 Contributors from their Borough.

- Raise a Minimum Amount of Qualifying Contributions from NYC Residents, only the Matchable-Portion of the Contributions Counts towards this Threshold.

2. Certify Agreement to and Demonstrate Compliance with the Requirements of the Act and Board Rules.

3. Be on the Ballot, and have an Opponent on the Ballot.

4. Submit a Personal Financial Disclosure Filing with the Conflicts of Interest Board.

What Is Required of Candidates Who Participate?

Spending Limits & Restrictions - Candidates who seek Public Funds agree to abide by Spending Limits, which ensure Money will Not decide an Election between Participating Candidates. The Spending Limit varies by Office Sought.

Early Payments

Candidates who Receive an Early Public Funds Payment may be Required to Return Public Funds if they:

1. Terminate their Candidacies prior to the Petitioning Period.

2. Fail to Get on the Ballot in the Primary and/or General Election.

3. Fail to Gather and Submit Petitions.

4. Eventually do Not Face Opposition on the Ballot.

Limits on Public Funds

There is a Cap on the Total Amount of Public Funds available to each Candidate. The Cap Ensures Candidates use a Combination of Public and Private Funds to Finance their Campaigns. Candidates may Only Spend Public Funds to further their Campaign, and must Agree to Return Public Funds that were Not Spent in Accordance with the Rules.

Accountability & Audits

After the Election, Candidates who have Received Public Funding must Return any Remaining Funds to the city. As a result, there are Strict Limits on what Publicly-Funded Campaigns can Spend after the Election. All Campaigns are Audited, and those who Receive Public Funds must provide a thorough Accounting of the way Public Funds were Spent. Those who fail to Comply with the Law may Face Penalties. Candidates with Outstanding Penalties or Public Funds Repayment Obligations from a Previous Election may Not Receive Matching Funds for the Current Election until Payment is made.

CLICK HERE to see what is New for 2019.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

Democrats Trying to Save TX Butterfly Sanctuary from Trump’s Wall Update

This is an update from a prior post.

On Feb. 14th, a Federal Judge had Dismissed the North American Butterfly Association’s Lawsuit against the Trump Administration, also Nullifying a Temporary Restraining Order filed earlier this week.

However, Elected Officials have been Paying Attention, and while the House and Senate Negotiated their Border Security Funding Package, one Democrat decided to Add some Important Language about the Issue to the Bill the President Signed.

Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-28th District) was able to Add Language to the Bill that would Prohibit “fencing at five major landmarks in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Those Landmarks are:

- The 100-Acre National Butterfly Center Preserve

- The Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and Birdwatching Site

- The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, already Technically Protected in last year’s Budget

- The La Lomita Historic Catholic Chapel, which had been Fighting the Border Wall

- A Section of Land that has been Earmarked to become the SpaceX Transportation Company’s “Commercial Spaceport”

The Excitement over this Revelation was Short-Lived, as the Trump Administration is now Arguing that, with Trump’s National Emergency Declaration, all bets are off, telling the Wall Street Journal that the “restrictions only applies to the $1.375 billion appropriated in that spending package, and that the other $6.625 Billion could be used without those restrictions.”

The Trump Administration has been as Opaque about where it actually Plans to Build this Wall.

But the Text of the Relevant Section of the Funding Bill, HJ Res 31, Title II, Sec 232, says “None of the funds made available by this Act or prior Acts are available for the construction of pedestrian fencing—“ and then goes on to List the 5 Areas including the Butterfly Sanctuary. So on the face of it, it looks like the Democrats managed to Protect the Butterflies from the Old Law too.

I think that the Courts would look Favorably upon an Argument that, given Congress’ Clear Statement of Intent, the Executive Branch cannot just Divert other Funding to Evade Congress’ Direct Instructions.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

Trump’s Intervention Fails to Save Coal-Fired Power Plant

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Board of Directors voted Thursday to Close the Last remaining Unit at its Paradise Coal-Fired Power Plant in Western Kentucky, ignoring calls from President Trump to keep the unit Open. The Board also Approved the Closure of its Bull Run Coal Plant in Eastern Tennessee.

The proposed Closures had drawn extra Scrutiny because TVA, a Regional Utility owned by the Federal Government, buys Coal to Fuel the Paradise Plant from Murray Energy Corp. The Company is Headed by Robert Murray, a Trump Donor and a Major Political Ally of the President.

Closing the Paradise Unit “isn’t about coal, this is about economics,” TVA CEO Bill Johnson said during the Board Meeting. The Unit can be Retired with “No Impact” on Reliability or Resilience, he said.

The TVA announced Last Summer that it was considering Closing down the Two Plants. In Internal Studies conducted over the past Six Months, Staff determined that the Two Coal Plants are No longer Economic and are Not needed in light of Cleaner, Less Expensive Energy Sources. They also concluded that Retiring the Coal Plants would Save Huge Sums of Money System-Wide, Lowering Electricity Rates for Customers and helping the Regional Economy. As a result, TVA Staff recommended to the Board of Directors that the Utility Close the Paradise Unit in December 2020 and the Bull Run Plant in December 2023.

On Monday, however, Trump tweeted that Coal is an important part of the Nation’s Energy Mix and that TVA Officials should give serious Consideration to All Factors before Officially deciding to Shut Down the Paradise Coal Unit.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevins (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also Urged TVA to keep the Paradise Unit Open as Part of their Efforts to Prop Up the Declining Coal Industry in Appalachia. TVA’s Proposal to Close the Bull Run Coal Plant in Tennessee faced little Resistance from Local and State Officials.

TVA Board Member Kenny Allen, who Voted Against the Retirement of the remaining Paradise Unit, warned that its Closure would have a Major Impact on the Local Economy and Employees at the Plant. “We’ve even heard from the president on this matter,” Allen said. “I’m not completely comfortable with the recommendation.”

Prior to getting Nominated by Trump to the TVA Board, Allen, who was the only Dissenting Vote in Thursday’s Plant Closure Vote, served as Chief Operating Officer for Armstrong Coal. In early 2018, Murray Energy Bought most of Armstrong Coal’s Mines after Armstrong Coal filed for Bankruptcy Protection. While working as Armstrong’s COO, Allen Criticized TVA’s Plans to Retire Two other Units at the Paradise Coal Plant, saying their Closure would have a “dramatic effect” on Local Coal Producers like Armstrong Coal.

In 2014, at a Greater Muhlenberg Chamber of Commerce Meeting in Kentucky, Allen argued that Retiring those Units would Impact both Coal’s Share of Power Generation in the State as well as Cost the State Hundreds of Jobs, those Units were Retired in early 2017, and Replaced by Natural Gas. In doing so, Allen effectively Argued that TVA’s Transition away from Coal, and towards Cheaper, Cleaner Sources of Energy like Natural Gas or Renewables, would Negatively Impact Armstrong’s Business.

At Thursday’s Meeting, TVA’s other Board Members Disagreed with Allen’s Assessment. The Board, however, instructed TVA Management to help Employees at the Plants find other Jobs within the TVA System and make sure Longtime Employees are offered Generous Retirement Packages.

Environmental Groups celebrated the TVA Board’s willingness to Resist Trump on the Plant Closures. “TVA made the right decision to ignore the political posturing and close these dirty, expensive, and unnecessary coal units,” Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a Statement. “The board ignored the political games, followed their statutory mission, and were guided by the facts laid out by their own experts. Now they’re paving the way for cleaner, more affordable energy in Tennessee and Kentucky.”

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy also welcomed Thursday’s vote. “We applaud TVA for making the right decision and for ignoring President Trump’s Tweet and misguided support for dirty, uneconomical coal,” Stephen Smith, Executive Director, said in a Statement. “This closure is an economic and environmental win-win; it is a good move for bill payers and for the environment.”

Smith hopes TVA continues Moving in the same direction, away from Fossil Fuels and toward Clean Energy. “There is an opportunity to continue the progress started today, and bolster communities that have relied on coal, by investing in a clean energy future and moving forward with additional coal retirements,” he said.

Paradise Unit 3, which entered service in 1970, is the Only Operating Unit remaining at the Paradise Plant Site. It has an Operating Capacity of 1,017 Megawatts. Bull Run is an 872-Megawatt Single-Unit Facility that began Service in 1967.

The Retirement of the Two plants will Lower Consumer Costs by $324 Million, according to John Thomas, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of TVA. Echoing CEO Bill Johnson’s Comments, Thomas said the closures will have No Impact on TVA’s Operations because the Federal Utility “has one of the most resilient fleets in the country because of its diversity in fuels.”

It is time for the U.S. to start Closing its Coal Mines and Coal Power Plants, Converting to Clean Energy and Renewables, and Retraining that Workforce to handle the new Growth of Renewable Clean Energy.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

Federal Court Finds MS State Senate District Violates Voting Rights Act

On February 13th, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves, an Obama Appointee, declared that the Mississippi State Senate District Boundaries concerning the 22nd District Violate the Voting Rights Act, and must be Changed.

Thomas v Bryant, s.d., 3:18cv-441. Here is the two-page Order, which says that a Full Opinion will be released soon.

Mississippi Elects All its State Legislators in the Odd years before Presidential Elections, which includes 2019.

The Filing Deadline for Primary Candidates is March 1st.

The Order says the Legislature may wish to Extend the Filing Deadline, at least as to District 22 and the Neighboring Districts, 21 and 23, whose Boundaries also will Change.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

Friday, February 15, 2019

NH Considers Less Destructive Primaries

A New Bill was introduced in the New Hampshire Legislature that would Implement Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) in the State’s First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primaries. However, the New Hampshire House Election Law Committee voted Wednesday to Hold-Off on a Vote for a year, giving Policymakers more time to Study the Proposal.

The Bill, (HB 728), is not dead. However, the Committee’s Decision does mean that RCV will likely Not be used in the 2020 New Hampshire Primaries.

“Unfortunately, the New Hampshire House Election Law Committee chose to retain the bill to bring ranked choice voting to the New Hampshire presidential primary, effectively delaying its decision on the matter for another year. While this outcome is a setback, the fight for this common sense democracy reform is far from over,” said Adam Eichen, Communication Strategist for Equal Citizens, a Principal Sponsor of HB 728.

Eichen explained in a Podcast Interview that RCV in a Presidential Primary would serve a slightly Different Function than it does in the Dozen Cities where it is currently used and Maine Elections.

The Mechanics are the same as other uses of RCV, or called Instant Runoff Voting, throughout the U.S. The way Presidential Primaries work, though, is a bit more Complicated than other Primary and General Elections.

“Each party requires a certain percentage of the vote to receive delegates,” Eichen explained. The Delegates go on to the National Convention to Pick the Party’s Nominee. “The Democratic Party requires 15%. That means if you don’t get 15% of the vote, you are not entitled to any delegates. If you get 14.9%, no delegates for you.”

“What this bill would do is any candidate that gets below the threshold, their votes get reallocated according to [their voters’] second choice, starting with the last place finisher, and on and on until every candidate remaining has above 15% of the vote total.”

So, instead of a System to get a Majority Victor when the most Voters Participate, how RCV is used elsewhere, it is a System that is Designed to Strengthen the Impact Primary Voters have on the Delegate Allocation Process.

“In a crowded presidential primary field, every candidate is going to be splitting the vote of someone who is ideologically similar,” Eichen continued. “You can see that a majority of votes could be cast for someone under the 15% threshold because there are just so many candidates.”

That was almost the Case in the 2016 New Hampshire Republican Primary. Only Two Candidates actually Received more than 15% of the Vote, Trump and John Kasich. Combined they took 51.1% of the Vote, while nearly Half Voted for someone else.

The Rules for the Republican Party are Different than the Democratic Party. Delegates were Allocated down to the Last Candidate who Received over 10% of the Vote. However, under the same Rules as the Democratic Party, 48.9% of the Votes would Not have Counted at all. It is Not Unreasonable to Speculate that this Scenario will Play Out in a Democratic Primary with 11+ Candidates on the Ballot, especially since many of the Candidates are so Ideologically similar.

“Competition is a good thing. We want competition, but we also want to make sure that competition is not the enemy of democracy,” said Eichen.

The New Hampshire Bill would also Affect All Primary Voters and Impact the Entire Delegate Count.

Whether Reformers talk about RCV for Regular Elections or Presidential Primary Elections, they Argue the Reform offers the same Benefits: Better Representation, Greater Accountability, and a more Civil Campaign Environment.

Advocates point to Research and Historical Evidence that show that RCV Diminishes the Temptation to Run a Negative Campaign against Opponents. If a Candidate is Campaigning for a Voter’s Second or Third choice, they are Not going to Risk Bashing that Voter’s First Choice. “When we explain to people why this is so important, why ranked choice voting can help the presidential primary process, the lightbulb goes off — people understand it,” Eichen explained. “There is real incentive to play strategically and talk about policy, and it means someone who is ideologically similar, but not identical is not your enemy, but there is a way to work together and figure out the most constructive way to do things.” He added that People see Primaries as Potentially Destructive. Instead of Leaving the Party Emboldened, he explains, the Primary can leave the Party bruised. “No one wants that. That is not good for our politics,” he said. “A healthy debate and ideological battling is good, but personal attack ads and doing whatever you can to bruise your opponent or at least your opponent’s image is not good.”

It is part of the reason Advocates say RCV leads to Higher Turnout in Elections. Voters are largely turned Off by Negative Campaigning. It doesn’t just Sully how Voters View the Candidates, but the Democratic Process at large. Changing this Campaign Culture, however, Restores Confidence in the system. And this doesn’t just Apply to the Democratic Party. Eichen and other Advocates point out that this could Benefit the Republican Party as well, which was indeed Bruised after the 2016 Presidential Primary, a Primary that got extremely ugly at times.

RCV will likely Not be used in the 2020 New Hampshire Presidential Primary. However, New Hampshire is just one of 14 States with RCV as a Legislative Agenda Item in 2019. Since its Passage and use in Maine, RCV entered the Mainstream, Elevating the Conversation on Reforming the Choose-One voting method used in most Elections in the U.S.

There are not very many efforts right now, however, to get RCV in Presidential Primary Elections. Eichen and other Advocates believe such a step is Critical to Boosting the Reform’s presence in the National Media Narrative, and getting more Voters and Candidates behind Broad, Systemic Election Reform Efforts.

“Now is the time to start educating people that they can start movements in their own states for democracy. Every person has the capability of really fighting for democracy in any state that you’re in,” said Eichen.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

Judge Revives Lawsuit Over Casino Blocked Under Zinke

An American Indian Tribe can Revive a Lawsuit arguing that Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke responded to Improper Political Pressure to Block a New Casino, a Federal Judge ruled on Friday.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe has contended that the Interior Department acted Illegally when the Agency Refused to Sign-Off on its Plans to Open a New Casino in Partnership with the Mohegan Tribe. After an Initial Lawsuit was Dismissed last year, the Judge on Friday allowed the Tribe to add New Claims of Political Interference and Refile the Case. Allowing the Case to Proceed means Interior will have to Produce an Administrative Record explaining its Decision.

The “vague, cursory reasoning” in a 2017 Letter to the Tribe “provides the Court with no basis, at this stage, to conclude that the decision … was based on appropriate considerations,” Judge Rudolph Contreras, of the U.S. District Court for D.C., wrote in Friday’s Opinion.

Contreras ordered the Mashantucket to File an Amended Lawsuit by Feb. 22nd, and there will likely be Additional wrangling between the Parties before Documents are Produced.

“The administrative record or other evidence may ultimately demonstrate that the alleged political pressure did not occur or affect the Secretary’s decision,” Contreras wrote. “But at this stage, Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that significant political pressure was brought to bear on the issue and the Secretary may have improperly succumbed to such pressure.”

The Two Tribes each Operate a Casino on their Reservations in Connecticut, but the Proposed Third Off-Reservation Property encountered Fierce Opposition from MGM Resorts International, which owns a Competing Casino nearby.

The Tribes say Lobbying from MGM and Lawmakers from Nevada, where the Company is based, led Interior to Block their Plans based on Inappropriate Considerations. The Tribes also say Interior’s Decision is “arbitrary and capricious” on its face, in Violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

In September 2017, Interior Refused to Act on Requests from the Tribes to Approve Amendments to their Existing Revenue-Sharing Agreements with the State of Connecticut that were required for the New Jointly-Owned Casino to move forward.

That Decision apparently was made at the 11th hour by Trump Administration Political Appointees and Contradicted the Recommendations of Career Officials. MGM and its Allies had Direct Access to Zinke and other Top Officials in the Runup to that Decision. Interior later Approved the Mohegan Amendments, but it has Refused to Address the Mashantucket one.

Interior's Inspector General's Office also has been Investigating the Casino Decision, including Conducting Interviews with Zinke. The Justice Department is also Reportedly looking into Allegations that Zinke Lied to Investigators, and House Democrats want to Question the Former Secretary who Departed the Trump Administration in early January.

Zinke has Denied any Wrongdoing related to the Probe.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

HI Committees Pass Bills Requiring Presidential Candidates to Reveal Income Tax Returns

Thanks to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News for this post.

First, The Hawaii House Judiciary Committee had Passed a Bill (HB 712). It Requires certain Executive Branch Candidates to Disclose their Federal Income Tax Returns in Order for their Names to Appear on an Election Ballot. It also Prohibits Electors for the Offices of President and Vice President of the United States to Vote for Candidates who have Not Disclosed their Federal Income Tax Returns.

On February 12th, the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee Passed (SB 94). It Requires Candidates for President and Vice President of the United States to Post their most Recent Income Tax Return on the Internet at least Sixty Days prior to and continuing through the Date of the General Election for Free Access by the Public in order to be Included on the State Ballot, Subject to certain Conditions. Prohibits Electors from Voting for a Candidate for President or Vice President of the United States unless the Candidates have Posted their most Recent Income Tax Return on the Internet at least Sixty Days prior to and continuing through the Date of the General Election for Free Access by the Public, subject to certain Conditions.

But neither Bill has had a Floor Vote yet.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker