Mike Kueber's Blog

June 2, 2011

Congressional-redistricting surprise – the politicians win while the voters lose

The Republicans in the Texas legislature have finally released their congressional redistricting proposal for the 2012 elections, and Rich Dunham has provided an excellent analysis of the winners and losers.   According to Dunham, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and the Valley were the big winners while Austin, Houston, and Dallas were the big losers.

Because of the state’s (mostly Hispanic) population gains, Texas will have four additional House districts, for a total of 36.  Three of the new districts will be in Ft. Worth, San Antonio, and the Valley, and local politicos are already plotting their next moves.  Dunham categorizes Austin,
Dallas, and Houston as losers because they were carved up and mixed with voters from outlying areas to diminish their ability to effect the election of big-city politicians.

There is a new saying in politics that, because of gerrymandering, voters no longer pick the politicians, but rather the politicians pick their voters, and this latest round of gerrymandering certainly proves that point.  A cursory look at the redistricted map shows that the new congressional districts are inexplicably configured.   The only way you can make sense out of the map is to know whether an area has Republican voters or Democratic voters.

Republican map-makers have drawn the district boundaries so that there are just enough Republicans in a district to win the election, but not so many as to win a landslide.  By contrast, a few districts are packed with huge percentages of Democrats to ensure the election of a fire-breathing
extremist in those few districts.  As the districts have now been re-drawn, Texas is expected to elect 26 Republicans and 10 Democrats to Congress.

Gerrymandering is horribly unfair to the voters because it makes a mockery of the principle that voters in a district should have a community of interests.  District 23, which I ran in last year, is a perfect example.  One-third of its voters live in far northwest San Antonio, which is primarily filled with Anglo Republican voters and another third live in far south San Antonio, which is primarily filled with Hispanic Democratic voters.  The final third of its voters live is west Texas, stretching 500 miles from the outskirts of San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso.  This ranching area
is filled with approximately equal amounts of Hispanic Democrats and Anglo Republicans.

Because of the configuration of District 23, the ranching West Texas community of voters is assured of having a distant outsider represent them, and either the north or the south sides of San Antonio are assured of having a congressman who is antithetical to their interests.

If you think District 23 sounds like a competitive district, you would be correct.  In fact, it is one of the few competitive districts in Texas.  In 2008, it voted for Obama and re-elected a Democratic congressman (Rodriguez), but in 2010 it voted for Democratic candidate for governor (White), but threw out the Democratic congressman and voted in a Republican (Canseco).

With Republicans in charge of drawing the boundary lines for 2012, you know that they did some tweaking to squeeze a few more Republicans into this erstwhile competitive district and to squeeze out a few Democrats.  According to the reported numbers, the newly re-drawn District 23 voted for Rick Perry for governor in 2010, so that should make the district safely Republican in 2012.

Texas has a history of being lackadaisical about fair redistricting.  In fact, it went 30 years from the 1920s to the 1950s without redistricting its legislature until the federal courts finally decided to require “one person, one vote” throughout the nation.  And because Texas has a history of not being fair with the voting rights of minorities, Texas is still subject to prior-approval of all redistricting plans under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  For an excellent review of Texas’s redistricting history and laws, see the white paper by the Texas Legislative Council (TLC).

This white paper by the TLC explains that gerrymandering of congressional districts is even more distorted than state districts because the federal constitution fails to provide any restrictions on the process whereas Section 26 of the Texas constitution wisely provides the following:

  • The members of the House of Representatives shall be apportioned among the several counties, according to the number of population in each, as nearly as may be, on a ratio obtained by dividing the population of the State, as ascertained by the most recent United States census, by the number of members of which the House is composed; provided, that whenever a single county has sufficient population to be entitled to a Representative, such county shall be formed into a separate Representative District, and when two or more counties are required to make up the ratio of representation, such counties shall be contiguous to each other; and when any one county has more than sufficient population to be entitled to one or more Representatives, such Representative or Representatives shall be apportioned to such county, and for any surplus of population it may be joined in a Representative District with any other contiguous county or counties.

Although Section 26 doesn’t specifically provide for compactness, it indirectly accomplishes this by its so-called “county line” rule, and this is reflected by the Texas House redistricting map.    Unfortunately, the Texas legislature does not apply the county-line rule to congressional redistricting because that would limit their ability to effectively gerrymander the districts to maximize the number of Republican members in Congress, which is all they care about.  They don’t care that voters in rural El Paso will always be represented by a congressperson who lives 500 miles away in San Antonio.

Of course, Democrats are not innocent victims here.  As pointed out by Rich Dunham in the analysis cited above, Democrats engaged in gerrymandering just as egregious until they lost control of the legislature a decade ago.

I have no doubt that the voters of Texas believe in election fairness and have nothing but antipathy toward gerrymandering, but it’s an issue analogous to term limits and lawmaker pay & pensions – i.e., lawmakers are able to obfuscate and filibuster to thwart the will of the people.  Representative democracy has its limitations.

One solution to all of this dysfunction would be for Texas voters to have a right to initiatives and referendum.  I can’t think of a more significant to improve the functioning of government in Texas.

January 10, 2011

Campaign financing – two more bones to pick

Because there can be no doubt that money in politics affords undue influence to those willing to give money to politicians, I am a supporter of campaign-finance reform, especially public financing.  Ironically, one of the people most associated with campaign-finance reform – John McCain – is one of the people I have a bone to pick with:

John McCain

John McCain ran for president in 2008, and prior to the general election he agreed with Barack Obama to conduct their general-election campaigns with public financing and the concomitant limits.  Barack Obama, however, after realizing how easy he could significantly out-raise McCain with private financing, reneged on that agreement and decided to run his campaign with much more expensive private financing. 

After losing the presidential election, McCain was faced with a quasi-competitive senatorial race from talk-show host, ultra-conservative J.D. Hayworth.  Because I had given money to McCain presidential race (although I eventually voted for Obama), I was on the receiving end of countless, never-ending requests from McCain for money “to combat the distortions of his record by my opponent.”  Obviously, I had no interest in giving money to McCain to claim that he was more conservative than his opponent.  Besides, I subscribe to the philosophy of a young Barack Obama that a well-known, long-term legislator should be able to run on his record and should not need to wage an expensive public-relations campaign.

Eventually, after spending $20 million in the primary, McCain prevailed against Hayworth by 56%-32%, but that didn’t stop his requests for money.  During his lopsided race against Democrat Rodney Glassman, McCain continued to implore me to send money to ensure his vital election.  In November, the result was another lopsided victory for McCain, 59%-35%. 

You can imagine my shock when I heard recently that John McCain had more than $7 million left in the bank following his election.  That means he was begging for money, ostensibly for urgent needs, while he was actually socking the money away for future use.  If I had given him money for his senatorial race, I would be incensed.  Even though I didn’t give him money for his senatorial race, I think his incessant requests were fraudulent. 

Candidate mortgages

The principal opponent in my congressional race was Quico Canseco, a wealthy banker/lawyer/developer who loaned himself over a half a million dollars in a 2008 congressional-primary race.  Undeterred by a convincing defeat by Lyle Larson, Canseco ran again in 2010.  This time, because Lyle Larson lowered his sights to the Texas House, Canseco won the Republican primary and then, as a part of the Republican landslide of 2010, won the general election against Ciro Rodriquez.  In achieving the 2010 victories, Canseco loaned his campaign another half million dollars.  

Shortly after his election victory, Canseco traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend a fundraiser to begin eliminating his campaign debt.  Among those he collected money from were Goldman Sachs ($5,000), American Association of Anesthesiologists ($5,000), Conoco ($3,000), General Electric ($1,000), and U.S. Oncology ($1,000). 

Obviously, these companies were not giving Quico money to help him secure an election that he had already won.  Rather they were paying for access to Quico in the future.  But contributions towards debt-elimination are even more egregious than purchases of access.  Instead of providing money for a candidate to use in future campaigns, this money may go indirectly to the politician’s bank account (repaying his personal loan).  Candidates who lose their races will obviously never be able to pay off their loans (e.g., Hilary Clinton) while candidates who win their races (e.g., Quico Canseco and Julian Castro) will be able to sell their power and influence to pay off their loans to themselves.  

The solution to this mess is simple.  There should be a law that all loans to a campaign must be paid before the election.  If the loan is not repaid prior to the election, the candidate should be prohibited from collecting on the loan. 

A rich candidate may have the right to try to buy an election, but that candidate should not have the ability to pay for a campaign by giving a mortgage on his future votes.

October 21, 2010

Campaign spending in the 23rd Congressional District of Texas

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 6:40 pm
Tags: , ,

Following the loss of my congressional race this spring, I sent the following email to supporters explaining why, in my opinion, I lost: 

  1. I was running as a moderate/pragmatic against a strong anti-government feeling among Republicans.  The other candidates argued continually against taxes and for the 10th amendment.  How do you argue against that?  I don’t know if that is viable long-term for the Republican party, but it may be good enough this year.
  2. I was not polished and effective as a communicator for moderation/pragmatism.  My oral-communication skills were easily the worst of the candidates.
  3. I did not raise or spend a lot of money.  Hurd and Canseco both raised and spent over $200,000; Lowry was @ $40,000; whereas I spent a little less than $15,000.
  4. My campaign strategy was misguided.  I spent all my money to distribute a comprehensive, informative brochure and to buy some newspaper adds.  The other guys spent most of their money on TV/radio and signs, and their brochures were more high-level, focused on mood instead of issues and qualifications.

In hindsight, I could have communicated better and spent my money better, but I am a pragmatic and want to reduce the role of money in campaigns, so I was operating under a couple of significant “gravity” issues.  (At USAA, we used the term “gravity” to describe factors that can’t be changed and must be accepted.) 

As the general election approaches in the 23rd Congressional District (early voting is already underway), I am getting more and more discouraged about the role that money plays in campaigns.  Quico Canseco, who won the Republican primary, and Ciro Rodriguez, the Democratic incumbent, are filling the airwaves with negative ads.  Their TV ads have very little positive to say and nothing remotely substantive.  Most of the ads are devoted to attacking the opponent by characterizing him as incompetent at best or sleazy at worst.  About half the ads are paid for by independent groups, and those ads are usually indistinguishable from the candidates’ ads except for their disclaimer.

If the ads aren’t bad enough to make you want to wash your hands, then just think of the candidates having to raise the money to pay for the ads.  These people must spend half their time asking fat-cat donors to donate.  Although some of these donors are donating because of civic virtue, I suspect that most expect some sort of quid-pro-quo.  If you disagree, ask yourself how much money would be donated if the money had to be donated anonymously. 

I previously wrote in favor of public financing, and I continue to think that is the answer.        https://mkueber001.wordpress.com/?s=campaign+finance.   If I run again, my campaign will not revolve around money, and I will again ask the voters, as I did in my first campaign brochure, to stop rewarding the person who raises the most money and uses the nasties ads.

Information about the financing of the 23rd Congressional race is available on the FEC website.  In the most recent quarter (July-August), Canseco took in $350k from individuals and $100k from PACs, while Rodriguez took in $135k from individuals and $180k from PACs.  These numbers suggest that Canseco is doing exceptionally well in connecting with the well-to-do activists/partisans while Rodriguez is using the power of his position to obtain money from lobbyists.  

For the entire election cycle, Canseco has taken in $865k from individual contributors, $120k from PACs, and $859k from personal loans, while Rodriguez has taken in $690 from individual contributors and $1.268M from PACs.  In addition to showing how well Canseco is doing with activists/partisans, these numbers reflect the vast personal wealth of Canseco and the vast amount of money that Rodriguez has been able to obtain from lobbyists throughout his two-year term.

A more detailed summary of receipts and expenditures is as follows for Quico Canseco: 

  • In the most recent quarter (July – August):
    • Canseco received $287k in itemized individual contributions (over $200), $65k from unitized individual contributions (less than $200), and $103 from PACs and political-party committees for total receipts of $455k.
    • Canseco spent $290k and repaid loans for $345k, for total disbursements of $635k.

 

  • For the entire election cycle:
    • Canseco received $745k in individual contributions, $120k from PACs and political-party committees, and he loaned his campaign $598k for total receipts of $1.471M.
    • Canseco spent $859k and repaid loans for $345k, for total disbursements of $1.2M.
    • Cash on hand is $281k.

 

A detailed summary of receipts and expenditures is as follows for Ciro Rodriguez:

  • In the most recent quarter (July – August):
    • Rodriguez received $127k in itemized individual contributions (over $200), $8k from unitized individual contributions (less than $200), and $182k from PACs and political-party committees for total receipts of $322k.
    • Rodriguez spent $911k.

 

  • For the entire election cycle:
    • Rodriguez received $690k in individual contributions, $1.268M from PACs and political-party committees for total receipts of $1.980M.
    • Rodriguez spent $1.538M.
    • Cash on hand is $108k.

July 20, 2010

Is San Antonio ready for public financing of political campaigns?

Several weeks ago, there was a column in the SA Express-News endorsing the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA), a bill in Congress that provides for public financing of congressional campaigns.  The premise of the FENA is that the corrupting influence of money in politics will be reduced by public financing of campaigns.  Because I agree wholeheartedly with this premise, I wrote to my congressman Ciro Rodriguez urging him to support the bill.  Rodriguez responded with a lengthy description of the bill, but failed to indicate whether he would support it.  (See his response attached below.)

The issue of public financing of campaigns was fading from my radar until I saw an article in the NYTimes about NYC’s Campaign Finance Program.  The article prompted an obvious question – why not adopt public financing of campaigns for local elections in San Antonio?  Voters in San Antonio are so cynical about corruption in city government that they have adopted a draconian term-limits ordinance.  Although this has helped some, there is still a prevailing view that people with money have too much influence in San Antonio government.  Public financing of political campaigns would potentially minimize that influence.

How does the NYC program differ from the federal proposal?  Qualifying in NYC is much less onerous.  Whereas the federal proposal requires 1,500 in-state contributions of no more than $100 each for a total of at least $50k, the NYC program requires only 75 in-district contributors of no more than $175 for a total of at least $5,000.  The federal payout to the campaign is also much larger – $360k for a primary, $540k for a general election, plus $4 for every dollar raised above $50k.  By comparison, the NYC program pays candidates $6 for every $1 of qualifying contributions, up to a maximum of $92.4k in public financing and $168k total campaign spending.  Both programs allow non-qualifying contributions above the $100/$175 qualifying caps.  The NYC program seems clearly preferable for two reasons:

  1. Accessibility.  The qualification requirements of the NYC program enable candidates without broad-based, well-organized campaigns to benefit from public financing.  Because of the onerous requirements in the federal proposal, the rich will get richer and the poor will be marginalized even more. 
  2. Controlling spending.  The NYC program attempts to control the costs of campaigns by limiting participating candidates to absolute maximums, whereas the federal proposal merely sweetens the pot without placing any absolute maximums.   

While researching the NYC program, I learned that two states – Maine and Arizona – have more than a decade of experience with public financing of campaigns and that two cities – Albuquerque, NM and Portland, OR – have experience with public financing since 2005.  All four of these jurisdictions have adopted what is generally called “Clean Elections” systems.  Under a generic Clean Elections system, candidates wishing to receive public financing must collect a certain number of small qualifying contributions, usually $5, from registered voters. In return, the candidates are paid a flat sum by the government to run their campaigns, and they agree not to raise money from private sources.  The following is a thumbnail description of each jurisdiction:

  • Maine adopted its Maine Clean Election Act via voter initiative in 1996.  Legislative candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 60 voters in a state rep’s district and 175 for a senator.  The total payout to the campaign equals the average campaign costs in the two previous elections.  The qualifying period is more than three months and there is a $100-contribution limit on seed money to assist in collecting contributions, up to a total of $500 for state reps and $1,500 for senators. 
  • Arizona adopted its Citizen’s Clean Election Act via a voter initiative in 1998.  Legislative candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 220 voters.  A qualified candidate is entitled to $14,319 in the primary and $21,479 in the general election – approx. 20×1.  Seed money is limited to a total of $3,580, with $140 per contribution and $640 for a personal contribution.
  • Albuquerque, NM adopted its Open and Ethical Election system in 2005.  Candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 1% of the registered voters in their district during a 45-day window.  In the mayoral contest, a candidate would need to obtain $5 contributions from 3,280 registered voters and then would receive $328,000 for the campaign.  Essentially the public financing is 20×1. 
  • Portland, OR adopted its Voter-Owned Elections system in 2005.  Candidates qualify for public financing if they obtain $5 contributions from 1,000 registered voters.  They are also allowed to collect seed money of up to $100 ($20k total).  Qualified candidates receive $200,000 (less their seed money and qualifying contributions) for their campaign – 40×1.  The qualifying period is over four months long.

From the four jurisdictions with Clean Election laws, we can glean that qualifying contributions of $5 seems to be a good number.  For some reason, the two cities require a relatively high number of qualifying contributions (around 1% of the voters), whereas the two states require a more attainable number.  All the systems place an absolute cap on the total amount of spending allowed, and private money plays no role except as “seed money.”  The amount of the cap seems to depend on the cost of communications in the jurisdiction.

How would public financing work in San Antonio.  Currently, the only campaign restrictions in SA are contribution limits of $500 for council positions and $1,000 for mayor.  The municipal code provides the following objective for these limits:

  • “It is essential in a democratic system that the public has confidence in the integrity, independence, and impartiality of those who are elected to act on their behalf in government. There is a public perception that a relationship exists between substantial contributions and access to elected officials. To diminish the perceived or actual connection between contributions and influence, the City adopts this Campaign Finance Code to promote public confidence and, it is hoped, a greater degree of citizen participation in the electoral process.”

Although the $500 limit on contributions to council elections avoids the most egregious forms of political corruption, there can be no question that lowering the contribution limit to $5 would truly level the playing field.  The main issue is whether the number of required contributions should be set (a) high so that only broad-based, well-organized campaigns can qualify for public financing or (b) low so that new, unknown candidates are encouraged to enter the arena.  Because the latter is clearly preferable, I suggest a threshold of only .5% of the registered voters, which would be about 300 contributors for a council district in San Antonio.  (I collected 600 signatures in 60 days to get on the 23rd Congressional district ballot, and that was no mean feat even without a $5 contribution.) 

The second most important issue is to establish a maximum amount that a campaign is authorized to spend.  According to 18-month campaign finance filings by SA’s current council members, their campaign spending varies significantly from district to district – from a low of $16k in District 5 to a high of $58k in District 1, with an average of about $40k.  From this we can conclude that $45k is enough to run an adequate campaign.  If we were to allow candidates to collect up to 600 $5 contributions, and then match each contribution with public financing of $70, a campaign could have a total of $45k when combining public financing and $5 contributions.        

This is a winning plan that I will present to the Council for their consideration.  I will also need to follow-up with Ciro to suggest that, although public financing is a good idea, the federal Fair Elections Now Act is seriously flawed.

Ciro’s responsive email

Ciro provided me with the following lengthy response, but didn’t really take a position:

Dear Mr. Kueber:

Thank you for your support of H.R. 1826, the Fair Elections Now Act. I appreciate your comments and I am pleased to respond to your inquiry.

The Fair Elections Now Act was introduced by Rep John B. Larson (D-CT) on March 31, 2009. This legislation amends the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA). The purpose of H.R.1826 is to encourage federal candidates to run for office without depending on big donors for contribution. This will limit influence on elected officials as well as limit “political paybacks.” Furthermore, this will encourage candidates to seek support from their communities, and pay attention to the needs of their community.

In brief, the bill would create a Fair Election Fund to match small contributions of less than $100 from individuals in their state.  Qualified candidates would receive Fair Elections funding in the primary, and if they win, in their general election at a level to run a competitive campaign.

Please be assured that I understand the importance of curbing campaign contributions from corporations, which may lead to an unfair election process. It is imperative to hold lawmakers accountable to the American people. The citizens of this country should be able to trust the integrity of the Houses of Representatives and their elected officials.  This act attempts to address these concerns. 

H.R. 1826 has been referred to the House Committees on Energy & Commerce, Administration, and Ways & Means of which several committee hearings have been held. Although I do not sit on those committees, should the H.R. 1826 come up in the House for a vote, I will keep your concerns in mind. Again, thank you for your comments regarding this issue. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact my office.    

Sincerely,

Ciro D. Rodriguez

Member of Congress

July 19, 2010

An open letter to the Express-News re: their coverage of Quico Canseco

Your coverage of Quico Canseco’s inspiring congressional campaign has been disgraceful.  Although your opinion columnists are entitled to have opinions, their continual abuse of this decent man goes beyond the pale.  For example: 

  • On January 22nd, columnist Scott Stroud started the onslaught by highly recommending Canseco’s heretofore unknown opponent, Will Hurd.  Stroud warned that voters might have a hard time comparing Hurd to Canseco because Canseco was a moneybags who would dominate the media advertizing.  Stroud described Hurd as “out-financed and little known….  He’s impressive enough to give GOP voters something to think about before they vote for the candidate they see on TV the most.  That’s likely to be Francisco ‘Quico’ Canseco, who bankrolled his own campaign.”  The truth of the story was that the Hurd campaign would out-spend Canseco’s. 

 

  • On January 26th, several weeks before the primary election, Bruce Davidson wrote in his E-N blog that Canseco was being cocky because he loaned his phone bank to Scott Brown in Massachusetts for a few days to support Brown’s critical campaign.  The title of the blog entry – “Cocky Canseco campaigns in Massachusetts.”  Has there ever been a more apt example of “no good deed goes unpunished”?

 

  • On February 14th, shortly before the primary election, Maria Anglin wrote a column complaining about excessive robo-calls.  Her column focused almost exclusively on calls from Canseco’s campaign, and she said the disrespect for her time was enough to cause her to vote for someone else.  With Davidson complaining that Canseco loaned out his phone bank and Anglin complaining that Canseco called too much, what’s a guy to do?

 

With the primary and run-off completed, the Express-News seemed to let up on Canseco for a while, but now it has started again:

  • On July 8th, I woke to see Quico’s picture on the front page of the Express-News with some headline about tax liens and wondered what he was being indicted for.  Upon reading the fine print, the story was much ado about nothing and seemed intended as a subterfuge to re-report some unseemly campaigning that occurred during the Canseco-Larson campaign two years earlier.  This material might be appropriate for a Rodriguez campaign mailer, but front-page news in the Express-News?

 

  • On July 16th, Gary Martin wrote a story about the status of local congressional-campaign finances, but instead of reporting the important story (which would be pro-Canseco), he focused on two misleading facts (that were anti-Canseco).  The misleading facts were that (1) Rodriguez had more cash on hand (because Canseco he had recently competed in a competitive primary and run-off) and (2) Canseco had a large debt to himself from his previous congressional campaign (which is totally irrelevant to this campaign).  The important story that should have been reported was that Canseco had replenished his campaign coffers by actually raising more money in the last quarter than did Rodriguez, and that Canseco’s money came almost exclusively from individual contributors, whereas Rodriguez’s came primarily from out-of-state PACs.

 

  • Finally, on July 18th, Maria Anglin urged Canseco and his general-election opponent Ciro Rodriguez to start campaigning like grown-ups.  What was their immature behavior?  At a town-hall meeting, Rodriguez had exploded at two female constituents who suggested that he was not telling the truth.  Rodriguez’s explosion had been video-taped, and it was shown on nationwide cable TV.  There was also a link to it on Canseco’s website.  What was Canseco’s immature behavior?  According to Maria, Canseco shouldn’t have publicized the incident.  Does anyone believe Rodriguez’s rant didn’t deserve publicity?  Obviously, the news people at the Express-News thought it was newsworthy because they covered it.       

 

Quico Canseco is a well-qualified, mainstream Republican who is waging a serious campaign against a mainstream Democrat in a swing district.  Please don’t gang up on Quico.  If you have substantive reasons for supporting Ciro Rodriguez over Quico, please state them.  But spare us from further snarky, oblique innuendo.     

Mike Kueber

San Antonio

210.380.7436