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Maryland lawmakers hope to boot foreign influence from state elections

Curbing overseas influence in Maryland's elections is top of mind for two state lawmakers on the cusp of a new legislative session.

The pair of Democrats introduced legislation this week that would prohibit foreign-influenced corporations from making contributions to candidates or political committees in state elections.

Prospects for the bill are not clear. But if it's enacted, the state adjacent to Washington (where foreign influence in politics is a top-tier concern that's not been matched with any federal legislative response) would become the first in the country with such campaign finance restrictions.

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The Maryland law regulating online political ads was written by lawmakers seeking to prevent a repeat of the sort of online misinformation campaigns by Russians and others that sullied the 2016 election.

First state regulation of online political ads struck down in federal appeals court

A Maryland law intended to prevent foreign election interference by regulating online political advertising has been struck down by a federal appeals court.

At a time when controlling the surge of misleading campaign spots on social media and news sites has proved easier said than done, Maryland was the first state to expand disclosure mandates. Its General Assembly enacted a law in time for the closing months of the 2018 midterm campaign requiring such platforms to publish information about ad purchases and keep records for the state to review.

But a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals says the law unconstitutionally singles out political expression for special scrutiny and promises a "chilling effect" on free speech. The unanimous ruling on Friday, upholding a federal trial judge's position, is the latest in a series of federal judicial decisions against efforts to regulate campaign financing.

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Baltimore is posed to be the next city to adopt a matching funds system for municipal elections.

Baltimore ready to join the movement for public election financing

Baltimore is on the cusp of becoming one of the biggest cities in the country that gives taxpayer money to candidates willing to wean themselves off other sources of campaign cash.

The City Council approved legislation Monday creating a system of public matching funds for people running for local office who forswear donations from political action committees, corporations or unions — or from constituents wanting to give more than $150. Unless Democratic Mayor Jack Young rejects the bill, which seems unlikely, the system will take effect in the 2024 municipal campaign.

While the idea is effectively a dead letter at the federal level, public funding has gained steady popularity in states and localities, where advocates have successfully sold the idea as a way to stanch the sway that big money contributors exert on policymakers. Fourteen states and at least as many cities and counties now use grants, matching funds or vouchers to steer candidates away from private money.

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While baby ducks are cute, Ohio's 4th District shouldn't be shaped like one.

The 12 worst House districts: What experts label gerrymandering's dirty dozen

How do you know when you've seen a gerrymandered district? Maybe it looks like a duck or a snake, or a pair of earmuffs. Or maybe there's no obvious sign that the mapmakers played games with the contours in order to ensure a particular electoral outcome inside those boundaries.

The last contests using the current set of congressional maps are a year away. After that, the results of the 2020 census will be used for the redistricting of the entire country — assuring a fresh burst of gerrymandering by politicians with the power to draw maps designed for keeping themselves in power.

We asked half a dozen people who have studied the way American political maps are drawn to reveal their best examples of the most flagrant current gerrymandering. Of course there are plenty of ways to approach that task. In some cases, the really odd shapes make it easier. In others, experts need to dive deep into demographic data to discover the most egregious examples of packing and cracking.

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