Political Campaign Contributions and Congress: A Legal Primer

Political Campaign Contributions and Congress: A Legal Primer. Congressional Research Service. L. Paige Whitaker. September 8, 2020

To help curb corruption in the political process and safeguard First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association, Congress has enacted laws that regulate political campaign contributions. These laws include political patronage and campaign finance laws.

Federal political patronage laws serve to protectfederal employees—including congressional staff—from being required to make campaign contributions as a condition of employment. These criminal laws include a prohibition on Members of Congress, congressional candidates, and congressional staff from knowingly soliciting federal office campaign contributions from another such officer, employee, or  person receiving compensation for services from money derived from the U.S. Treasury. Similarly, federal law prohibits congressional staff from making contributionsto a Member of Congress who is the staffer’s employer.Members of Congress and congressional staff are also prohibited from discharging, demoting, or promoting, or threatening to do so, another congressional employee for making or failing to make a campaign contribution to candidates for federal, state, and local office. Relating to federal workspace, federal law prohibits any person from soliciting or receiving a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a federal, state, or local election from anyone located in federal workspace. In support of the policy underlying such laws, the Supreme Court has determined that, with the exception of policymaking and confidential government positions, personnel decisions made solely on the basis of political party association violate employee First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association.

[PDF format, 34 pages].

Identifying TV Political and Issue Ad Sponsors in the Digital Age

Identifying TV Political and Issue Ad Sponsors in the Digital Age. Congressional Research Service. Dana A. Scherer. September 9, 2020

Since the 1930s, both Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have imposed specific requirements on the transmission of political and issue advertising by broadcasters. These rules, which now apply to broadcast radio and television stations, cable and satellite television distributors, and satellite radio services, mandate that the sponsors of political and issue ads be clearly identified within each announcement and that media organizations maintain files of political advertisers’ requests for advertising time and make those files available for public inspection.

[PDF format, 34 pages].

Foreign Interference in the 2020 Election: Tools for Detecting Online Election Interference

Foreign Interference in the 2020 Election: Tools for Detecting Online Election Interference. RAND Corporation. William Marcellino et al. October 8, 2020.

Given past threats to U.S. elections, it is possible that foreign actors will again try to influence the U.S. political campaign season of 2020 via social media. This report, the second in a series on information efforts by foreign actors, lays out the advocacy communities on Twitter that researchers identified as arguing about the election. It goes on to describe what appears to be an instance of election interference in these communities using trolls (fake personas spreading a variety of hyperpartisan themes) and superconnectors (highly networked accounts that can spread messages effectively and quickly). Although the origin of the accounts could not be identified definitively, this interference serves Russia’s interests and matches Russia’s interference playbook. The report describes the methods used to identify the questionable accounts and offers recommendations for response. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 32 pages].

Federal Election Results: Frequently Asked Questions

Federal Election Results: Frequently Asked Questions. Congressional Research Service.   Sarah J. Eckman, R. Sam Garrett, Karen L. Shanton. October 8, 2020. 

Several states have implemented new election administration processes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that could affect how and when ballots are counted. Even under normal circumstances, finalizing federal election results takes days or weeks after election day. Among other steps, state, territorial, and local election officials canvass votes to ensure that ballots are valid and counted accurately. Election observers, audits, and other processes are designed to enhance transparency. This report addresses frequently asked questions on these and related subjects. The discussion emphasizes the period between the time a voter casts a ballot and when election officials certify, or finalize, the results.

[PDF format, 17 pages].

Election Day: Frequently Asked Questions

Election Day: Frequently Asked Questions. Congressional Research Service. Ben Leubsdorf. June 12, 2020

Election Day is the day legally established to select public officials in the United States. General elections for federal offices—President, Vice President, and U.S. Congress—are held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years. Citizens vote for President and Vice President every four years, Representatives every two years, and Senators every six years; this excludes special elections to fill unexpired terms. State and local elections are often but not always held on the same day as federal elections.

This report provides responses to frequently asked questions about the history and current legal status of Election Day. It discusses how the first federal elections were held, how a single Election Day for federal offices was established in the 19th century, why the Tuesday after the first Monday in November was selected as Election Day, and related issues.

[PDF format, 7 pages].

Election Night Marks the End of One Phase of Campaign 2020 – and the Start of Another

Election night marks the end of one phase of campaign 2020 – and the start of another. Pew Research Center.  Drew Desilver. October 22, 2020.

On Nov. 3, millions of Americans will trek to their local polling places to cast their ballots for the next president. That evening, after the polls close, they’ll settle down in front of their televisions to watch the returns roll in from across the country. Sometime that night or early the next morning, the networks and wire services will call the race, and Americans will know whether President Donald Trump has won a second term or been ousted by former Vice President Joe Biden.

Just about every statement in the previous paragraph is false, misleading or at best lacking important context.

Over the years, Americans have gotten used to their election nights coming off like a well-produced game show, with the big reveal coming before bedtime (a few exceptions like the 2000 election notwithstanding). In truth, they’ve never been quite as simple or straightforward as they appeared. And this year, which has already upended so much of what Americans took for granted, seems poised to expose some of the wheezy 18th- and 19th-century mechanisms that still shape the way a president is elected in the 21st century.[Note: contains copyrighted material].

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An Assessment of State Voting Processes: Preparing for Elections During a Pandemic

An Assessment of State Voting Processes: Preparing for Elections During a Pandemic. RAND Corporation.  Jennifer Kavanagh et al. August 5,2020.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has presented a severe threat to state election plans in 2020 for primaries and for the general election. To conduct an election during the COVID-19 pandemic, states need registration and voting options that minimize direct personal contact and that reduce crowds and common access to high-touch surfaces. Another way to think about preparedness for conducting elections during a pandemic is to consider the flexibility that state election processes afford in terms of where, when, and how voters can get registered and cast votes. Particularly valuable to flexibility in the pandemic context are options that allow for the registration and voting processes to happen remotely or in ways that reduce person-to-person contact. In this report, the authors summarize state election laws on early voting, remote voting, and voter registration and discuss the potential implications of these laws for the execution of the November 2020 general election under conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This report is part of RAND’s Countering Truth Decay initiative, which is focused on restoring the role of facts, data, and analysis in U.S. political and civil discourse and the policymaking process. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 82 pages].

Key things to know about election polling in the United States

Key things to know about election polling in the United States. Pew Research Center. Courtney Kennedy. August 5, 2020.

A robust public polling industry is a marker of a free society. It’s a testament to the ability of organizations outside the government to gather and publish information about the well-being of the public and citizens’ views on major issues. In nations without robust polling, the head of government can simply decree citizens’ wants and needs instead.

After the 2016 presidential election, some observers understandably questioned whether polling in the United States is still up to the task of producing accurate information. Errors in 2016 laid bare some real limitations of polling, even as clear-eyed reviews of national polls in both 2016 and 2018 found that polls still perform well when done carefully.

One way to help avoid a repeat of the skepticism about surveys that followed the last presidential election is to narrow the gap between perception and reality when it comes to how polling works. People have many notions about polling – often based on an introductory statistics class, but sometimes even less – that are frequently false. The real environment in which polls are conducted bears little resemblance to the idealized settings presented in textbooks.  [Note: contains copyrighted material].

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Attitudes on Voting in 2020: Preparing for Elections During a Pandemic

Attitudes on Voting in 2020: Preparing for Elections During a Pandemic. RAND Corporation.  Jennifer Kavanagh, C. Ben Gibson, Quentin E. Hodgson. August 27, 2020.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has presented a severe threat to state election plans in 2020 for primaries and for the general election. To conduct an election during a potentially continuing threat from COVID-19, states need to consider how to conduct voter registration and provide voting options. How voters perceive and respond to these measures could affect turnout. RAND authors analyzed responses from 2,389 survey respondents about their expectations for public safety, election integrity, and the preparedness of local officials to manage the November 2020 election in the pandemic context. Responses indicate that both demographic characteristics and political partisanship influence respondent attitudes toward election safety, integrity, and preparedness. Although most voters say they believe that voting will be safe and that their vote will be counted despite the pandemic, those who question election safety and some who question election integrity appear less likely to vote. This report is part of RAND’s Countering Truth Decay initiative, which is focused on restoring the role of facts, data, and analysis in U.S. political and civil discourse and the policymaking process. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 96 pages].

Utilities for Democracy: Why and How the Algorithmic Infrastructure of Facebook and Google Must Be Regulated

Utilities for Democracy: Why and How the Algorithmic Infrastructure of Facebook and Google Must Be Regulated. Brookings Institution. Josh Simons and Dipayan Ghosh. August 2020

In the four years since the last U.S. presidential election, pressure has continued to build on Silicon Valley’s biggest internet firms: the Cambridge Analytica revelations; a series of security and privacy missteps; a constant drip of stories about discriminatory algorithms; employee pressure, walkouts, and resignations; and legislative debates about privacy, content moderation, and competition policy. The nation — indeed, the world — is waking up to the manifold threats internet platforms pose to the public sphere and to democracy.

This paper provides a framework for understanding why internet platforms matter for democracy and how they should be regulated. We describe the two most powerful internet platforms, Facebook and Google, as new public utilities — utilities for democracy. Facebook and Google use algorithms to rank and order vast quantities of content and information, shaping how we consume news and access information, communicate with and feel about one another, debate fundamental questions of the common good, and make collective decisions. Facebook and Google are private companies whose algorithms have become part of the infrastructure of our public sphere. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 28 pages].