Saturday, January 20, 2018

Twitter Admits Russian Propaganda More Widespread

Twitter has identified an additional 1,062 Accounts linked to the Russian Agency accused of Meddling in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, the Company announced Friday night. In a Blog post, Twitter said it has suspended all of the Accounts for Violating the Site's Terms of Service and has handed over the Accounts to Congress.

The Social Network said it had identified 3,814 Accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian Troll Farms. Ahead of Congressional Hearings in October, Twitter initially said it had found roughly 2,700 Accounts affiliated with the Election Interference.

Twitter had previously said Automated Accounts were responsible for 1.4 Million Election-related Tweets that received 288 Million Views.

Twitter said it will email 677,775 Users in the U.S. who Liked or Retweeted Messages from Russian-linked Accounts to let them know the Accounts had spread Misinformation or Divisive Messages. Since the Company began its Investigation, it said it found a total of 3,814 IRA-linked Accounts that sent approximately 175,993 Tweets and said 8.4% of the Tweets were related to the Election in the time period they investigated. Twitter also found 13,512 Russian-linked Bots, or Automated Accounts, making a total of 50,258 Automated Accounts.

Twitter shared examples of the Tweets sent out from the Russian-linked Accounts. One from the handle @Crystal1Johnson featured a Default Image of a smiling Black Woman with a Tweet that read: "Cops have killed 68 people in 22 days since #Kaepernick started protesting. 68 in 22 days… have no words #KeithLamontScott."

Twitter said it is working to improve its Security so it can stay one step ahead of "those who would abuse it."

Ahead of the Midterm Elections, Twitter said it will Verify Major Candidates for Office and Major Political Parties, Improve the Company's Anti-Spam Technology and Monitor Spikes in Election Conversations that could have been Manipulated.

Both Facebook and Twitter have faced criticism from Washington about the way their Platforms were used during the 2016 Elections. In September, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner called Twitter's Presentation to Congress "deeply disappointing."

"The notion that their work was basically derivative, based upon accounts that Facebook had identified, showed [an] enormous lack of understanding from the Twitter team of how serious this issue is, the threat it poses to democratic institutions, and again begs many more questions than they offered," Warner said.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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An Insidious Foreign Dark Money Threat

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating whether a Russian Banker close to the Kremlin steered Funds through the National Rifle Association (NRA) to help Trump win the White House. The likelihood that Foreign Funds, which are Illegal in U.S. Elections, would Secretly flow through groups like the NRA and into Political contests has burned in bright neon for years, because the Nation’s fractured Election Laws practically invite such subterfuge.

Just days after the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision allowing Unlimited Outside spending in Elections, President Obama, in his first State of the Union address, warned that the decision “will open a floodgate for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”

Justice Samuel Alito, who was sitting in the Chamber alongside his fellow Supreme Court Jurists as Obama spoke, “winced at the accusation and muttered ‘Not True.’” The New report raises the specter that Obama’s Fears have been Realized.

Since Citizens United, over $800 Million in “Dark Money” has poured into Federal Elections. The source of these Funds is largely Untraceable for the Public because it has been Funneled through Secretive Nonprofits, such as the NRA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. For many years now, Good-Government groups and Campaign Finance Experts have warned that Illegal Foreign Funds could be hiding in that Dark Money.

That’s because, in Federal Races, Political Spenders that go dark are exploiting a Loophole between the Campaign Finance system overseen by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which typically insists that All Donors to Campaigns Identify themselves, and Charities the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows to collect Funds donated Anonymously.

Once the Donation arrives at a Nonprofit, either a so-called Social Welfare Organization, such as the NRA, or a Trade Association like the Chamber, the Nonprofit is free to spend the money on Politics, so long as the group can show that influencing Elections isn’t its main reason for being. Then the Public can’t trace the Money back its Original source.

Foreigners are not allowed to spend in American Elections, not in Presidential Races, not for State or City Officials, not for Dog Catcher. But a Nonprofit playing this Dark Money shell game could easily hide an Illegal Foreign source of Money as just another Anonymous Donor. Some Liberal groups also play the Anonymous Donor Election Game, from the Sierra Club to the Human Rights Campaign.

But the NRA’s spending in the 2016 Elections was historically unprecedented at $54 Million, $31 Million of it spent in support of Trump’s Election and the rest on Congress. The Total was more than double what the NRA spent in the 2012 Election.

Where did the New Money come from? So far, the Public doesn’t know. A further Unknown is whether the reported FBI Probe will be folded into the larger Investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Links between Russia and the 2016 Election.

We don’t know what Evidence the Feds have yet. The Report about an NRA connection could turn out to be a lot of smoke with no underlying fire. But it could also be the nightmare scenario Obama warned about: a Foreigner exploiting our Campaign Finance Disclosure Loopholes to spend Illegal Money in American Elections.

If this turns out to be true, Congress should Act to protect our Democratic Electoral Process with greater Transparency. Two Reforms would help enormously to shine a light on where Political Money is coming from.

1. Pass a New Law that requires All Political Spenders to Name their Financial Backers through the FEC.

2. Pass a New Law that requires Corporations to inform the Public where they are Spending in Politics through the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Without these Reforms, the Public will be left in the dark, while Foreign Criminals will wield ever more Power to Interfere with our Democracy.

There also should be a requirement of all Public companies to allow the Stock Holders decide if their shares of stock percentage should be used for Political Spending.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Friday, January 19, 2018

No NY State Money for Early Voting in Budget

When New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed Reforms to make Voting easier in New York State, including allowing Early Voting before Election Day, he left something out, The Cost.

His proposed 2018-2019 State Budget doesn't include any Money for launching the Initiative, but an estimated $6.4 million in Costs are to be Paid collectively by County Boards of Elections, which Administer the Local Election Systems. It is exactly what County Officials had feared. Counties say that isn't fair to them, and Voting Rights Advocates who had been hopeful there would be Money for the Initiative were disappointed. "It's an assumed cost for the counties," said Jennifer Wilson, Policy Director for the League of Women Voters of New York State. "It's essentially a new state mandate."

The Cost, if it were divided equally among the State's Counties, would work out to just over $100,000 per County.

Cuomo's Proposal includes "Early Voting", allowing People to Vote before Election Day, including No-Excuse Absentee Voting, Same-Day Registration, and Automatic Voter Registration. But some of these Changes would require Approval from the State Legislature, and in some cases a State Constitutional Amendment. They are all, however, items that Advocates believe would get more People to vote.

"We should make voting easier, not harder," Cuomo said in his Annual State of the State Address in Albany earlier this month.

Counties already have a number of Grievances with the State over Expenses forced on them without Reimbursement. County Leaders often Complain that Unfunded Mandates Account for 75% of the Average County Tax Bill. "The state's got to get it right, and the Proposal that was presented is not right. It is not fair to local governments, in this case county governments, that are being forced to assume the cost," said Stephen Acquario, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties. "We believe we've made the case about the unfunded burden that is placed on us, and here we go again. Voting is a matter of state concern, and the government that sets the rules should pay for it."

The idea of Early Voting has come up before, though it very difficult to adopted in a State where a Republican-controlled Senate often Blocks Democratic Initiatives. Advocates believe Early voting would Increase Voter Turnout because Work, School, and Personal commitments keep some People from Voting on Election Day. They also believe it could Reduce pressure on Polling Sites, where in some Cases there are Long Lines. In 2016, about 67% of Registered Voters turned out for the Presidential Election, but that percentage has been trending downward over time. Presidential year Turnouts are typically higher than Turnouts in other years.

Under Cuomo's Proposal, every County in the State would need to have at least One Polling Place open in the 12 days leading up to Election Day. Counties would need to have One Early Polling Place for each 50,000 Residents, with the Locations being determined by the County Board of Elections.

The League of Women Voters Plans to Fight to have the Costs picked up by the State between now and next month, when Cuomo's Budget Office is due to Submit what are called "30-day Amendments". "We will be pushing for getting that $6.4 million. It's not that much in the grand scheme of things," Wilson said.
Acquario expressed a concern that the Burden of Paying for Early Voting would be heaviest for Small, Rural Counties like Montgomery, Fulton, and Schoharie, but Montgomery County's Democratic Elections Commissioner, Terry Bieniek, said the County could probably do it with a Single Early Polling Place in Fonda, the County Seat. "We would need to hire workers and be open on weekends," Bieniek said. "It would be a bit of financial strain, but we could do it. It would be nice if [the state] would [fund] that, but I don't think it will happen."

Montgomery County's Board of Elections has an Annual Budget of about $400,000, but Bieniek said most of the Costs are charged back to the Towns where Elections take place, and the Cost of Early Voting could probably be passed along, as well.

Early Voting is currently allowed in 36 States. But the State Election Commissioners Association declined to Endorse the idea during a Meeting two weeks ago in Albany.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Thursday, January 18, 2018

States with Illegal Voting Poll Taxes

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are being denied the Right to Vote because they are poor.

In Ten States, Republican Legislators have enacted Laws that Disenfranchise anyone with outstanding Legal Fees or Court Fines.

For example, in Alabama more than 100,000 People who owe Money, roughly 3% of the State’s Voting-Age Population, have been struck from Voting Rolls.

And Nine other States: Arizona; Arkansas; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Iowa; Nevada; Tennessee, anyone who has lost the Franchise cannot regain it until they Pay Off any Outstanding Court Fines, Legal Fees, or Victim Restitution.

This is Unconstitutional. In 1964, the 24th Amendment abolished the Poll Tax, a Jim Crow tactic used to bar Poor Blacks from Voting.

These New Laws are a modern reincarnation of that Unconstitutional system, disproportionately Disenfranchising People of Color.

Income and Wealth should have no bearing on the Right to Vote. Many Americans are struggling to make ends meet. But they still have a Constitutional Right to make their Voices heard.

Preventing People from Voting because they owe Legal Fees or Court Fines muzzle Low-Income Americans at a time in our Nation’s History when the Rich have more Political Power than ever.

These State Laws are another form of Voter Suppression, like Gerrymandering, Tougher Voter ID Requirements, and anyone with Felony Convictions, bars Voters from Voting.

The Supreme Court Case Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) Ruled that the Poll Tax was Unconstitutional at every Level, not just for Federal Elections.

The Harper Decision relied upon the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Twenty-Fourth Amendment. As such, Issues related to whether Burdens on Voting are Equivalent to Poll Taxes in Discriminatory effect have usually been Litigated on Equal Protection grounds since.

We must Not let them Stand.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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More States Take Up Statewide RCV Bills in 2018

With the new year, begins a new Legislative Session. Legislators have the opportunity to use this time to introduce Bills to Empower Voters in their State.

Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) continues to expand as New Bills have been introduced in the Indiana, Missouri, Utah, and Virginia Legislatures.

Indiana - RCV was recently introduced on Jan 9th. State Senator Mark Stoops (D-40th district) proposed SB 400: Ranked Voting, which permits Municipalities to implement RCV for all of the Municipality’s Elected Offices and establishes the Procedure for Voters to Rank Candidates in Order of Preference.

Missouri On Jan. 3rd, State Representative Dan Stacey (R-31st District) introduced HB 1346: It requires all State and Federal Offices to use RCV, adding one New Section relating to RCV. The provisions in the Bill would become effective on Jan. 1, 2019.

Utah, HB 35: is a Municipal RCV Pilot Project Bill that creates a Pilot Project to permit a Municipality to conduct Non-Partisan Races using RCV. The Bill also includes Standards and Requirements for evaluating Voter’s Ballot choices.

Virginia - On Jan. 8th, Delegate Nick Freitas (R-30th District) introduced HB 553: Elections for certain Offices will use RCV. The Bill requires Members of the United States Senate, United States House of Representatives, the General Assembly, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General to be Elected by RCV.

I anticipate even more Bills being brought forth this year to advance RCV in States across the Country.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Over 20 States Sue to Stop FCC Net Neutrality Repeal

The Attorneys General of more than 20 States filed a Lawsuit on Tuesday to Stop the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) decision to Repeal Obama-era Net Neutrality Protections. "The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers -- allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a Statement announcing the Lawsuit.

First Approved by the FCC in 2015, the Net Neutrality Rules require Internet Service Providers (ISP) like Comcast and Verizon to treat all Online Content the same. Providers are barred from deliberately Speeding Up or Slowing Down Traffic from specific websites, and from putting their Own Content at an Advantage over Rivals.

The Republican-led FCC voted to Overturn the Rules last month. Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman appointed by President Trump, pitched the Repeal as a way stop the Federal Government from "micromanaging the internet."

The FCC's Decision to Overturn these Protections has been Championed by the Telecom Industry, but widely criticized by Technology Companies and Consumer Advocacy Groups.

In a sign that criticism of the Rules goes beyond Party Lines, the Coalition of Attorneys General joining Tuesday's Lawsuit represent both Red and Blue States. The list includes: California, Mississippi, Kentucky, Maine, and North Carolina, among others.

The potential for a Legal showdown comes as Federal and State Lawmakers are looking for Legislative Solutions.

Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, announced Tuesday that 50 Senators have now Signed on to a Resolution that would Overrule the FCC decision and Restore the Net Neutrality Rules. It would only need one more Senator to Pass.

The Resolution would then need to be Approved by the House of Representatives, which could be more of an uphill battle. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania, said Tuesday he has 81 Members of Congress willing to Cosponsor Legislation to Protect Net Neutrality. Traditionally, a Bill needs 218 votes to pass in the House.

Even if Congress Approves it, Trump would need to Sign Off. But the White House has repeatedly Supported the FCC's Net Neutrality Repeal.

Lawmakers in States like New York, Washington, and Massachusetts have also proposed State Bills in recent weeks to enforce the Principles of Net Neutrality within their Borders.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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NY Gov. Cuomo Seeks Tax Revisions to Thwart Federal Changes

New York State would End Income Taxes on Wage Earners and make up the Revenue with an Employer Payroll Tax that’s Federally Deductible as part of a Restructuring Plan that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is recommending to Mitigate harmful effects of the New U.S. Tax Code.

The New Federal Law limits Deductions for Individuals’ State and Local Taxes, raising Levies 25% on all New Yorkers, no matter where they Live, Cuomo said Tuesday. The Federal Changes could push Residents and Businesses out of State, the Democratic Governor said as he presented a Budget for the next Fiscal year.

“We’re doing everything we can to thwart the effects of the federal plan,” Cuomo said. “This is going to be the most difficult challenge that we’ve had to take on because it’s the most complicated, but I have no doubt that this is the fight of New York’s future.”

Earlier this month, Cuomo said his Administration would File a Lawsuit seeking to Repeal the New Federal Tax Law, arguing that it Discriminates against States with High Local and State Taxes. In his Budget speech, Cuomo for the first time fleshed out his Plan to further Reduce the Impact of the Federal Law by changing the way the State Taxes Wage Earners’ Income.

In the Tax-Overhaul Legislation that President Trump signed last month, the Republican-controlled Congress Limited the Deductions that Individuals can take for State and Local Taxes, including Income and Property Levies to $10,000. That so-called SALT provision is widely viewed as an Attack on Democratic-leaning States, which tend to have Higher Taxes. On Tuesday, Cuomo called the SALT Cap “an economic missile” aimed at New York, which he said pays $48 Billion more to the Federal Government than it gets back each year. The Changes will add $14 Billion more to that tally this year, Cuomo said. “It targets New York with a penalty,” He said. Overall, He said 12 States would be targeted by Limiting the SALT Deductions to help Pay for other Cuts. “Coincidentally, they all happen to be Democratic.”

In response, Cuomo said his Proposal, the “New York State Taxpayer Protection Act,” would Eliminate the State Income Tax on Wage Earners. Instead, the State would Levy a Wage Tax on the Employer. By doing so, the Tax Burden would Shift from Workers, who face New Limits on their ability to Deduct State Income Taxes, to Employers, who could still take full Deductions for such Payroll Taxes. The Legislation would spell out which kinds of Companies would be Eligible for this Treatment. “It may actually reduce the liability because it may bring the worker down to a lower income bracket,” Cuomo said.

The Plan would apply only to Wage Earners. For other Sources of Income, including Investment Gains, the State would continue to Run its Personal Income Tax system, Cuomo said. The State Department of Taxation will spell out more Details Wednesday, he said. Cuomo also said he intends to create State Charitable Funds for Education and Health Care, which would allow Individuals to get State Tax Credits for their Donations. This would Mitigate the Impact of the Federal Tax Plan on High-Income Earners, he said. California and New Jersey Officials are considering similar Proposals.

The Governor also proposed Deferring Tax Credits for Companies that receive $2 Million or more in Credits for One year, which would raise $300 Million in State Revenue, He said. The Federal Tax Changes, which cut the Corporate Tax Rate to 21% from 35%, will more than make up for that change, He said. “They weren’t expecting the tax cut; they got the tax cut,” Cuomo said. “It’ll more than offset the deferral of our credits.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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