“Defining Parties Down”

May 8, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer
No one arguing about McCutcheon seems to question  the importance of healthy parties.  They merely disagree about what it means for parties to be healthy.  And from there, critics of the decision and of liberalized party financing move to the claim that legal restrictions on parties will strengthen them, or leave them in in no worse of a position than before. Parties are “defined down,” allowing for the anomalous conclusion that limited access to resources is the best thing for them, even if necessary to prevent their misuse to achieve corrupt purposes.  Making matters worse are unwieldy conceptions embedded in the Buckley constitutional framework that narrowly limit the ways that party activity—and spending—can be pictured.
Category: Political Parties
It certainly bears notice when the Federal Election Commission decides in bipartisan fashion a case brought by a Republican against a Democrat—(and vice versa, of course). The Commission did that recently, dismissing a Republican Senate candidate’s complaint that a Democratic gubernatorial candidate ran a soft-money attack ad against him.

The Kobach Case as Voting Rights Jurisprudence

March 21, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer
Make what you will of Judge Melgren’s analysis of preemption, or the hints of his constitutional stance on the federal-state balance of authority under the Elections Clause—his decision in Kobach v. The United States Election Assistance Commission is a mechanical exercise that leaves the reader without any sense of what this case is about. Kansas and Arizona have not merely made a “determination” of what they need to verify the citizenship of state residents seeking to become voters. The history behind this litigation is more complex, with more history to it, and the court knew it.  It chose, however, to follow example of the Supreme Court and to do as the High Court has done in other cases, like Purcell v. Gonzalez and Crawford v. Marion County, and leave the real world out.
Category: Voting Rights
In a Washington Post piece, Rick Hasen argues that if the aggregate individual contribution limits fall in the McCutcheon case, the results could be both good and bad.  To the good: parties could raise and spend more freely, and therefore would be strengthened when more vigorous parties are needed to temper polarization and alleviate governing gridlock.  To the bad: “more” corruption would result from expanded large donor influence over the political process.  Rick wishes that the two goals, clean but also functional politics, could be achieved in tandem, but with the Supreme Court’s  limitation on Congress’s authority to prevent corruption, he is convinced that we might have to accept more corruption in return for possibly better government.
Are parties now weaker, or holding their own if we just see them in the right way?  The question has engrossed political scientists, but more general interest is growing in direct proportion to the worry that healthy parties could play a constructive role in tempering polarized politics.  Rick Pildes argues for the view that parties are struggling through a period of political fragmentation, defined as a “diffusion of political power” away from the political parties and their leadership, and he see them as in need of help if they are to contribute to the management of polarization.  Seth Masket answers that parties still exert their power effectively, if in a new form, through a complex “network” composed of “candidates, officeholders, activists, major donors, media figures and others.”
Category: Political Parties