Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The GOP's numbers problem

For two years, Republicans had been working to correct one of the party’s greatest embarrassments of recent years: the flawed polling that led so many in the party to believe Mitt Romney was on the cusp of victory in 2012. But after dramatically underestimating Democratic turnout in 2012, it was now obvious that the GOP had erred in the other direction in 2014. Their pollsters had understated Republicans’ leads in a number of states, causing the RNC and GOP campaign committees to pour money into places where it wasn’t needed and hold money back from places where it might have made a difference — such as Virginia, where Republican Ed Gillespie lost by less than a percentage point. “It’s just as bad to be wrong by being too conservative,” said Shields. “It’s just as big a mistake to tell a client that you’re only winning by one point when they’re winning by eight. Especially at the party committee level, there are just too many decisions being made … That money can be used elsewhere.” Republicans, it turned out, weren’t the only ones with polling problems: The Democratic internals and public polls also overestimated the Democratic turnout. But the GOP, in particular, had spent months refining its methods just to avoid this problem.

Source: The GOP's numbers problem - Steven Shepard - POLITICO

Government Contractors Rely on FEC Ruling to Evade Federal Law Against Pay-to-Play

In response to a complaint filed last year by Public Citizen against Chevron – a major government contractor – the FEC ruled that a separately incorporated member of a corporate family may dip into corporate coffers to make campaign contributions if it holds no government contracts, while another separately incorporated subsidiary or affiliate solicits and receives lucrative government contracts. Chevron and a handful of other government contractors relied on this ruling to make campaign contributions in the 2014 elections to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely aligned with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) dedicated to electing Republican candidates to Congress. The petition (PDF) Public Citizen filed today calls on the FEC to recognize the damage done to the pay-to-play law by the agency’s flawed decision on the Chevron complaint and issue a new rule to close the loophole the decision created. “The FEC ruling effectively gutted the federal ban against federal contractors attempting to curry favor among lawmakers by giving money to candidates, parties and PACs,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Any large company easily can create artificial distinctions between its various divisions so that one entity makes the endearing contributions while another pulls in the government largess.”

Source: Public Citizen Press Room

2014 Midterms Defined by Low Voter Turnout

Preliminary data indicate that national turnout was below 37 percent. That means nearly 2 in 3 eligible voters, or approximately 144 million American citizens—more than the population of Russia—chose to sit this election out. The nation hasn’t seen turnout this low in any federal general election since 1942. Even in recent midterms, when the turnout was remarkably low, it still exceeded 40 percent, meaning millions more Americans voted in 2006 and 2010 than in 2014. Examples of the problem can be seen in New Mexico and Nevada, which, despite high-profile statewide races at several levels (governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, etc., as well as a U.S. Senate race in New Mexico), saw their lowest turnouts in a federal election since before 1980. Nevada in particular stands out: Turnout there plummeted to less than 32 percent, a drop of almost 10 percentage points compared with 2010. While the overall numbers are dismal, Republicans’ efforts to turn out the vote appeared to be far more successful than Democrats’. In Colorado and Nevada, where the majority of votes are cast by mail or in person in advance of Election Day, data show that Republicans voted at much higher rates than Democrats.

Source: 2014 Midterms Defined by Low Voter Turnout

Facebook shutting down a key path Obama used to reach voters

Then in the spring of 2014, Facebook — responding to growing privacy concerns — cracked down on how much information third-party applications could gain about those who installed the apps. “We've heard from people that they're often surprised when a friend shares their information with an app,” wrote Facebook engineering manager Jeffrey Spehar in a blog post. “So we've updated Facebook Login so that each person decides what information they want to share about themselves, including their friend list.” Today, when Facebook users choose to share their friend list with an app, only those friends who also use the app become visible, Facebook spokeswoman Tera Randall told Yahoo News. The changes went into effect for new apps on April 30, and existing apps were given a year before the change applied to them. (In technical terms, what Facebook is doing is changing its Graph application programming interface, or API, as well as the terms of service for app developers.) What this means in practice is that a group like Ready for Hillary, the grass-roots network of supporters for a Clinton presidential run, has been able to use targeted sharing over the past year. That means it has the Facebook friend lists of all the people who’ve installed Ready for Hillary’s app on the social network. But when the API and terms-of-service changes become permanent for all apps, Ready for Hillary — as well as any campaign that has bought its voter information — won’t be able to keep up to date with its supporters’ most recent lists of friends, and will learn nothing about the Facebook friends of new supporters. Facebook’s change becomes permanent on April 30, 2015.

Source: Facebook shutting down a key path Obama used to reach voters - Yahoo News

When the Obama campaign created a Facebook-based app in 2012 that would scour users' friend lists to figure out who most needed to be contacted prior to Election Day (your friends in Florida and Ohio, for example), privacy groups were not excited about it. The app compared friend lists from Facebook to publicly available voter lists, which, Electronic Privacy Information Center associate Director Lillie Coney told the National Journal, "widely crosses the line" of protecting privacy. (That Florida friend could be a non-voter because of a prior felony, for example, which he'd rather you not know about.) News broke Monday that Facebook would turn off the key function that made the Obama app work. (It had been announced by Facebook in the Spring.) No longer will campaigns be able to skim your friend lists as that app did, a development that will make relationship mapping by campaigns slightly less easy than it was two years ago — but not impossible. Facebook has proven the utility of online social networks in increasing turnout. It just prefers campaigns to use its data in ways that help its bottom line.

Source: The (increasingly) complicated relationship between Facebook and politics - The Washington Post

Top Spenders On Capitol Hill Pay Billions, Receive Trillions

How much power should corporations wield in Washington? It's an enduring question — and now the Sunlight Foundation has devised a new way to gauge that power. The foundation took the 200 corporations most active in Washington, analyzed the years 2007-2012 and applied several metrics: what the companies got in federal contracts and other federal support, what they spent on lobbying, how much their executives and political action committees gave in campaign contributions. Bill Allison, the Sunlight Foundation's editorial director, says there aren't permanent majorities governing in Congress and the executive branch — "but there really are permanent interests in Washington," he says. With some companies, a policy of giving big to political campaigns might seem pretty obvious; at other companies, it's less obvious. "But federal spending is a big part of their business model," Allison says. He says the top 200 corporations accounted for nearly $6 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions. Those same corporations benefited from more than $4 trillion in federal contracts and assistance.

Source: Top Spenders On Capitol Hill Pay Billions, Receive Trillions : NPR

How the GOP used Twitter to stretch election laws

Republicans and outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data ahead of the midterm elections, CNN has learned, a practice that raises questions about whether they violated campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination. The Twitter accounts were hidden in plain sight. The profiles were publicly available but meaningless without knowledge of how to find them and decode the information, according to a source with knowledge of the activities.

The practice is the latest effort in the quest by political operatives to exploit the murky world of campaign finance laws at a time when limits on spending in politics are eroding and regulators are being defanged. The law says that outside groups, such as super PACs and non-profits, can spend freely on political causes as long as they don't coordinate their plans with campaigns. Sharing costly internal polls in private, for instance, could signal to the campaign committees where to focus precious time and resources.

The groups behind the operation had a sense of humor about what they were doing. One Twitter account was named after Bruno Gianelli, a fictional character in The West Wing who pressed his colleagues to use ethically questionable "soft money" to fund campaigns. A typical tweet read: "CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52-->49/476-10s." The source said posts like that -- which would look like gibberish to most people -- represented polling data for various House races.

Source: How the GOP used Twitter to stretch election laws - CNN.com

The definition of "coordinated" in campaign spending sits on murky legal territory. In this case, since the tweets were posted publicly, albeit quietly, it's unclear whether any rules were violated. The GOP accused Democrats of skirting campaign laws when tweets posted by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's accounts later showed up in ads funded by outside groups. It does seem like the people behind the Twitter accounts had a sense of humor. As CNN explains, one of the now-deleted accounts was named after the fictional West Wing character Bruno Gianelli, who attempted to fund campaigns with possibly unethical cash.

Source: The GOP used Twitter to skirt campaign finance laws, CNN says | The Verge

The issue was thrust into the spotlight Monday after CNN reported that the House Republicans’ campaign arm and two of the biggest outside groups that support GOP candidates – American Action Network and American Crossroads – used anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data, citing a source with knowledge of the activities.  The Twitter accounts that broadcast the poll data during the 2014 cycle had such names as brunogianelli44 – named after a character on the TV show “The West Wing” – and broadcast in extreme shorthand, with one tweet on polling data in a California House race reading “CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52–>49/476-10s,” according to the CNN story. The Twitter accounts, which couldn’t be easily linked back to their authors, were deleted shortly after CNN contacted the groups about their existence, CNN said. The House GOP fundraising arm–the National Republican Congressional Committee–and the two groups declined to comment on the CNN report. Both American Action Network and American Crossroads are staffed heavily by former campaign aides to the NRCC and tend to complement the party’s official political activity by running campaign ads in weeks when the party is dark. House Majority PAC occupies a similar role for the Democrats. Campaign-finance laws prohibit these groups that collect limitless sums, called super PACs, from coordinating directly with individual campaigns or the party committees supporting them. As a result, Republican and Democratic groups have devised a series of workarounds to publicly communicate polling and strategy, using press releases, Web videos and other means. Whether the groups’ reported actions could be illegal depends on two factors, said Kenneth Gross, the former head of the Federal Election Commission’s enforcement division. The first is whether the groups exchanged a decoder in order to understand the tweets. “The real thing that’s a problem is if there’s some sort of prearrangement,” he said. “If you put gibberish out on the street, that in and of itself is not a problem—if someone can figure it out.” The second question, Mr. Gross said, is whether publishing data in a public forum, but through an obscure account, counts as public information. “That’s a question that would have to be addressed,” he said. Sharing nonpublic polling data with another committee is generally treated as a contribution, said Jan Baran, a campaign-finance lawyer with Wiley Rein. The sharing of information via Twitter accounts, therefore, could be considered as a contribution from a super PAC to a party committee, which the FEC prohibits. The groups could also run into trouble for having failed to report the exchange as a contribution on their filings.

Source: Sharing Data on Twitter Raises Campaign-Finance Questions - Washington Wire - WSJ

Saturday, November 15, 2014

14 From ’14: Quick Takes on the Midterm

This cycle featured the largest average miss by the two major poll aggregators, RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster, in recent competitive Senate races. This isn’t a slight toward them — after all, they simply use the data that’s available, and it seems the data may be getting worse.

Source: 14 From ’14: Quick Takes on the Midterm