All posts by James O'Keefe

Thoughts on the Fair Elections Financing Act

Someone asked me what I thought about about the Fair Elections Financing Act .  On a first read through and based on my experience running under the Clean Elections Law in 2002, the proposed law has serious flaws. 

Problems with the Clean Election Law

First problems with the previous and now dead Clean Elections law:

1.  While there was a significant amount of money available, if you didn’t qualify, and it isn’t easy to qualify, you were stuck.  Either, you run under the individual contribution limits, look like you are
sticking to your principles and raise little money or you chuck the limits and look like an inexperienced opportunist.

2.  Most voters don’t pay attention to campaigns until Sept., but the law required that a candidate be certified in April/May.  The primary isn’t even until Sept.  Setting things up this way helps people who already have a large network, or are willing to sacrifice everything for the first part of the year to build a network.  If you have a family & job, i.e. are a citizen who isn’t an activist, you don’t have
the time for this and you might as well not apply.

3.  It was never clear to me how a write-in candidate qualifies. Looks like they don’t.  Another strike against the now defunct system.

What is different with the new proposed law

The new system still suffers from these problems, but adds an additional hurdle to qualify (the aggregate contribution threshold) and doesn’t give you much money to run a campaign. 

The aggregate contribution threshold requires that in addition to a state rep. candidate getting 200 people to give a contribution, she also has to raise a total of $5000.  For state senate, both requirements are doubled.

Under the Clean Elections Law a candidate would get a large amount of money if they had a primary opponent and more if they had a general election opponent.  The proposed law would limit the amount given out to three dollars for every one dollar the candidate raises.  Under this scheme, it is unclear to me how a candidate gets more public money after they comply should they raise more money.

How I would make the proposed law better

Since the law changes from a lump sum to a matching format, which is a reasonable, though not ideal change, I would suggest that the law give people much more time to qualify, drop the aggregate contribution limit and drop the established opponent requirement.

1.  How about a candidate can qualify up to two weeks (a month max) before general election day?  If you cannot get things organized before then, well sorry, the OCPF (the nice folks who oversee the Commonwealth’s election laws) needs to be able to process the paperwork.  If you do not make it past the primary, then less paperwork, unless you mount a write-in campaign.

This way, write-ins get supported, candidates have more time to get organized and more people will be encouraged to run.

2.  I would also drop the aggregate contribution threshold.  If some state rep candidate gets 200 people to give them $5, then the max the state is out is $3000.  No great loss to the Commonwealth considering the money we waste in corporate subsidies and tax loopholes.  Indeed it would still take 5 such candidates to use the same amount of money as one candidate under the proposed aggregate contribution threshold.  However, my guess with our winner take all election system (whomever has the most votes wins even if that isn’t a majority), having an incumbent face five poorly financed opponents in a primary is more likely to unseat the incumbent than one moderately financed opponent.

3.  Drop the requirement to have an established opponent.  I would rather that some Dem has no opponent and gets clean election money (the remainder they have to give back at the end of the election anyway), then some Dem has no opponent and takes boat loads of money from developers and the rich so they can amass a war chest.  If they use too much public money, well then their opponent can use that against them in two years.  This way also does not penalize a complying candidate who faces a serious write-in candidate coming in at the last minute.

Those are my thoughts for now.

And now for something closer to home

New Standard News reports that Environmentalists Attack Massachusetts Wetlands Bank.  Specifically:

At issue are state-run wetlands mitigation banks, a concept that gives
"mitigation credits" that permit the destruction of otherwise protected
lands in exchange for present or future promises to restore, enhance,
preserve or otherwise improve wetlands elsewhere. Critics argue that
mitigation credits provide financial and regulatory cover for
development projects that harm vital ecosystems and. [sic]

From an economic stand point allowing flexibility in allocation of resources is a good thing.  However, it is difficult for humans to create, nevermind restore, etc. a wetland.  The webs of life are too complex for our modern mind attuned to putting things in little orderly compartments. 

As such, the wetlands we destroy won’t be as good as those  we create.  All in all, "migration credits" sounds like a horrible idea.

More effects of climate change: Slower Gulf Stream

The Independent reports that the:

ocean "engine" that helps to drive the warm waters of the Gulf
Stream and keeps Britain relatively mild in winter has begun to slow
down, say scientists.

Uh oh.  This would be bad news because:

Scientists estimate that the detected 30 per cent weakening of the
Atlantic currents could lead to a fall of about 1C in Britain’s average
temperatures over the next 20 years.

Specifically, the article notes that the rate of flow has fallen 30%
from 20 million tons of water flowing per second to 14 million tons of
water flowing per second.  Continuing this process could have dire implications:

They also warn that the weakening could be the first signs of an
accelerating trend that could eventually lead to a more drastic change,
including a complete shutdown of the currents. If this were to happen,
average temperatures in Britain could fall by between 4C and 6C,
leading to winter temperatures similar to Newfoundland in Canada, which
is on the same latitude as the UK but does not benefit from the Gulf

Such a change could also hurt New England, but Europe would bear the brunt of such a slow down in the current.

Common Dreams has another copy of the article.


Why Fusion is still a dead end.

jflashmontana stated that my first two objections to the MA fusion ballot initiative were incorrect and looking at the revised ballot initiative, he is correct.  My mistake, glad to see that they listened to my comments when this ballot initiative was first put forth.  However, political designations do not have state committees as legal entities, so how party oversight works for them is unclear. 

Additionally, the description on the Sec. of the Commonwealth’s web site is not clear whether the state party can choose another candidate or can only object to the winner.

Still, these changes alter point 3 only partially.  If a "Working Families" party got the "progressive Dem" and the Democrats got the "conservative Dem", they would still be left with the issue of do they endorse the "progressive Dem", run no one, or, if this is allowed, put the "conservative Dem" on because the Republican is so bad, thus subverting the will of their own voters.

Fusion also does not change the more fundamental issue which is:

How does a party advance its ideas if they endorse the candidates of other parties and not their own parties?

Debates can be pretty important, as well as candidate advertising and events.  Having your own candidate helps to get your ideas across to a wide group of people.  I am sure that grassroots door-knocking can be effective, and have seen Greens and others use it effectively.  However, having someone articulate your parties ideals along with grassroots door-knocking seems more effective than just grassroots door-knocking for another party’s candidate.

I checked as jflashmontana suggested.  A lot of good comments on the problems with Fusion and how IRV is a better approach.  Thanks for the link.

Time Management for Anarchists: The Movie

I went looking for action figures (aka dolls) for Liam that were not your standard knight/star wars character/monster/transformer.  I searched for Gandhi action figures and didn’t find anything.  They I searched for anarchist action figures and I am still looking.  Along the way I came across Time Management for Anarchists: The Movie.  Very funny and highly useful.  Enjoy.

The deadend of fusion

A bunch of unions are trying to get a ballot initiative on the 2006 Massachsetts ballot that will implement fusion (aka cross-endorsement voting) in Massachusetts.  The Working Families Party has used it in New York and is trying to export it to Massachusetts and other New England states.

The fusion ballot initiative is poorly thought out.  A couple of problems:

  1. It is entirely possible for a candidate to win all ballot-status party primaries, and be placed on the ballot under a party designation. 
    If you think this is far fetched, just look at the 2004 Nantucket County Sheriff race where Richard M. Bretschneider ran as a write-in candidate in all four party primaries.  While the Green-Rainbow and Libertarian Party primaries were uncontested, the Democratic and Republican primaries were very contested with five and four candidates respectively.  Mr. Bretschneider won all four party primaries. 
    If Fusion had been in place, and there were no independents, then he could have run unopposed.  If you don’t think this is a problem, then consider that in this situation a minority of voters would have chosen the only candidate to appear on the ballot in the general election.  While other candidates could run as write-ins, write-in campaigns are very difficult, especially in the general election.
  2. Since there is no party oversight of who is on its primary ballot (except for the constitutional offices were it is pretty difficult just to get on the ballot), it is entirely possible for a monied, conservative Democrat to get on the Green-Rainbow party primary and if we don’t run a candidate, be our nominee
    whether we like it or not.  After all there isn’t a None of the Above option on the ballot. Party identify and self-determination go out the window.
  3. Fusion will not perform as expected for a "Working Families" type party.  In a highly contested Democratic primary, mutiple Democratic candidates may decide to contest the "Working Families" primary.  What happens if the two primaries pick different Democratic candidates?  Does the "Working Families" candidate not run if there is a Republican in the general election.  What if the conservative
    Dem. wins the "Working Families" primary, the "progressive" Dem. wins the Democratic primary and the conservative Dem. decides to contest the general election?

Prior to the Working Families Party, fusion resulted in insider deals with "minor parties" that could bring votes to one of the major parties.  Thanks, but we don’t need more corrupt politics.

The Dems control the Massachusetts legislature with over 80+% of the seats and the best we get on the Health Care front is a mandatory "low cost" health care.  I doubt that fusion will change much in politics when most races are uncontested or practically uncontested.

NY is different from MA.  The election laws aren’t the same and the politics aren’t the same. 

True electoral reform would be Instant Runoff Voting and Proportional Representation, not some 19th century electoral system that is not used anywhere else in the world and makes minor parties dependent on the "major parties".

Antarctic glaciers calving faster into the ocean and more

The New Scientist reports that:

The edges of the Antarctic ice sheets are slipping into the ocean at an
unprecedented rate, raising fears of a global surge in sea levels,
glaciologists warned on Monday.

The findings confound predictions made just four years ago, by the
UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that Antarctica
would not contribute significantly to sea level rise in the 21st century. 


one area, around the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica, glaciers are
dumping more than 110 cubic kilometres of ice into the ocean each year,
Eric Rignot of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, US, told
a meeting at the Royal Society in London, UK. This loss, which is
increasing each year, is many times faster than the ice can be replaced
by snowfall inland, he says.

Antarctic glaciers are much bigger than those in warmer climates.
They are up to a kilometre thick, tens of kilometres wide and hundreds
of kilometres long. Connected to inland ice tributaries, they drain the
continent’s ice caps, which are the largest stores of frozen water on
the planet.


many places, the glaciologists reported that the recent acceleration in
glacier flows has been triggered by the break-up of a series of
floating ice shelves at the continent’s edge. These shelves acted like
a cork in a bottle, holding back the glaciers.

Got this article via the New Standard News news summary page.  A great source of news.

The Guardian also reports on an article in Science (not available without a login) that scientists using new techniques for analyzing satellite images of the Amazon Rainforest have concluded that the rate of destruction of the Amazon is twice what we had estimated.  They were able to identify the areas where single or several high value trees were pulled out resulting in increased drying in that area and the attendent destruction around the tree.

Why Can’t the Left Face the Stolen Elections of 2004 & 2008?

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman have an interesting article entitled Why Can’t the Left Face the Stolen Elections of 2004 & 2008? They talk about how various "left" pundits and magazines (The Nation and Mother Jones being the ones they mention) are trying to convince us that the Republicans did not steal the 2004 election (with the Democrats acquiescence).

Thankfully, the David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate, the Libertarian Party presidential candidate and hundreds of volunteers attempted to get to the truth.  You can find what they found at the Vote Cobb website.