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China’s Leaders Quash Hong Kong’s Hopes for Democratic Election Reforms – CRS Insights (September 5, 2014)

September 29, 2014 Comments off

China’s Leaders Quash Hong Kong’s Hopes for Democratic Election Reforms – CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. Department of State Foreign Press Center)

An August 31 decision by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) placed strict conditions on any possible electoral reforms in Hong Kong—setting the stage for a contentious and difficult process as the city’s political bodies begin work on possible legislation to alter the rules for selecting Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.

Reactions to the NPCSC’s decision varied widely. While Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying welcomed the “precious offer” from the NPCSC, pro-democracy advocates expressed a mixture of disappointment and outrage at the decision. While all concerned, including the NPCSC, accept that the Chief Executive may be elected in 2017 by universal suffrage for all eligible Hong Kong voters, there is sharp disagreement over procedures for the nomination of candidates.

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The Business of American Democracy: Citizens United, Independent Spending, and Elections

September 25, 2014 Comments off

The Business of American Democracy: Citizens United, Independent Spending, and Elections
Source: Social Science Research Network

In Citizens United v. FEC (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations and labor unions are unconstitutional. We analyze the effects of Citizens United on state election outcomes. We find that Citizens United is associated with an increase in Republican election probabilities in state House races of approximately four percentage points overall and ten or more percentage points in several states. We link these estimates to “on the ground” evidence of significant spending by corporations through channels enabled by Citizens United. We also explore the effects of Citizens United on reelection rates, candidate entry, and direct contributions. Implications for national elections and economic policy are discussed.

Public Sees Religion’s Influence Waning; Growing Appetite for Religion in Politics

September 24, 2014 Comments off

Public Sees Religion’s Influence Waning; Growing Appetite for Religion in Politics
Source: Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project

Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade. And most people who say religion’s influence is waning see this as a bad thing.

Perhaps as a consequence, a growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics. The share of Americans who say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues is up 6 points since the 2010 midterm elections (from 43% to 49%). The share who say there has been “too little” expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders is up modestly over the same period (from 37% to 41%). And a growing minority of Americans (32%) think churches should endorse candidates for political office, though most continue to oppose such direct involvement by churches in electoral politics.

Shining a Light on State Campaign Finance: An Evaluation of the Impact of the National Institute on Money in State Politics

September 19, 2014 Comments off

Shining a Light on State Campaign Finance: An Evaluation of the Impact of the National Institute on Money in State Politics
Source: RAND Corporation

The National Institute on Money in State Politics collects, processes, and makes public information on campaign contributions made to state-level candidates for public office. The Institute asked the RAND Corporation to probe user perspectives on the Institute and its data, on how the data are being used, and on how the utility of the data might be improved in the future. Drawing on experiences of a variety of users, as well as a review of the publications that have used the Institute’s data and research reports, this report provides an evaluation of the Institute’s impact on the public discourse over campaign finance at the state level. It is our view that the Institute serves an important purpose — to undertake the collection, centralization, and dissemination of state-level campaign finance data. No other organization has been successful in this effort or is likely to be so. All the audiences that the Institute seeks to engage have found value in the Institute’s efforts. The most successful of these are the scholarly, journalistic, and advocacy communities. The interviewees we spoke with were impressed, felt indebted to the Institute, and expressed an inability to do the sort of research, reporting, and advocacy on state campaign finance without the Institute. Overall, a variety of influential users engaged in campaign finance and public policy view the Institute’s work as being of high quality and adding value.

Heated Battle for U.S. Senate Draws Deluge of Outside Group Ads, Most Are Dark Money

September 19, 2014 Comments off

Heated Battle for U.S. Senate Draws Deluge of Outside Group Ads, Most Are Dark Money
Source: Wesleyan Media Project

With prognosticators giving even odds that Republicans will take over the U.S. Senate after this November’s elections, outside groups are taking notice. Almost 52 percent of ads aired in favor of Republican candidates have been sponsored by interest groups, and that figure is 40 percent on the Democratic side. Groups have spent an estimated $97 million on advertising in Senate races this election cycle, which is up from the estimated $78 million spent to this point in the 2012 election cycle. Table 1 provides total ad counts by sponsor in Senate races in the current and the 2012 election cycles, including all ads aired through August 30 in each cycle.

CRS — Delayed Federal Grant Closeout: Issues and Impact (September 12, 2014)

September 18, 2014 Comments off

Delayed Federal Grant Closeout: Issues and Impact (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Federal outlays for grants to state and local governments have grown from $15.4 billion in 1940 (in constant FY2009 dollars) to $509.7 billion in 2013 (in constant FY2009 dollars). The number of congressionally authorized grant programs has also increased over time, with over 2,179 congressionally authorized grant programs currently being administered by federal agencies. Recently, congressional interest has focused on the efficient and effective management of federal grant programs. A recent congressional hearing evaluated the impact of alleged inefficient grant management which, according to a GAO report, resulted in more than $794 million in undisbursed federal grant funds in expired grant accounts. GAO concluded that federal agencies needed to improve the timeliness of federal grant closeouts to address the undisbursed funds issue. However, there may be underlying causes, other than inefficient grant management, that might help to explain why undisbursed funds may end up in expired grant accounts. Furthermore, it is possible, if not likely, that the estimated amount of undisbursed funds in expired grant accounts may be inflated. While the undisbursed grant funds identified by GAO represent significantly less than 1% of annual outlays for grants to state and local governments, the existence of undisbursed grant funds in expired grant accounts is an indicator of a systemic grants management challenge; suggesting a lack of coordination between the financial and program management of federal grants.

CRS — Legislative Actions to Repeal, Defund, or Delay the Affordable Care Act (September 12, 2014)

September 18, 2014 Comments off

Legislative Actions to Repeal, Defund, or Delay the Affordable Care Act (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report summarizes legislative actions taken to repeal, defund, delay, or otherwise amend the ACA since the law’s enactment. The information is presented in three appendices. Table A-1 in Appendix A summarizes the authorizing legislation to amend the ACA that has been approved by both chambers and enacted into law. Table B-1 in Appendix B summarizes the ACA provisions in authorizing legislation that passed the House in the 112th Congress (2011-2012) but was not approved by the Senate. It also lists the ACA-related legislation that the House has passed to date in the 113th Congress (2013-2014), but which has not been taken up by the Senate. Table C-1 in Appendix C summarizes the ACA-related provisions in enacted annual appropriations acts for each of FY2011 through FY2014. Also included is a brief overview of all the ACA-related provisions added to appropriations bills considered, and in most cases reported, by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees since FY2011.

To help provide context for the information presented in the appendices, the report continues with some background on the core provisions of the ACA. That is followed by an overview of the law’s impact on federal spending. This report is updated periodically to reflect legislative and other developments. A companion CRS report summarizes administrative actions taken by CMS and the IRS to delay, extend, or otherwise modify implementation of certain ACA provisions.

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