Eliza Newlin Carney

Eliza Newlin Carney is a weekly columnist at The American Prospect. Her email is ecarney@prospect.org.


Recent Articles

Don’t Blame the Voters

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
rules-logo-109.jpeg What ails democracy, and who is to blame? Faced with the disruptive impulses that have given rise to Donald Trump and more recently to Great Britain’s disastrous exit from the European Union, a chorus of commentators has laid the blame not on out-of-touch elites, but on average voters. The real problem, we hear, is not that economic and political systems have concentrated power in the hands of too few, but that voters have too much sway over the process. In a widely-circulated New York Magazine article last month, Andrew Sullivan blamed a “hyperdemocracy” born of ever-expanding freedom and egalitarianism for the rise of Trump. The danger of “democratic wildfires” was precisely what led the Founding Fathers to establish checks and balances in the form of tightly circumscribed voting rights, the Electoral College, and the separation of powers, Sullivan argues. “To guard our democracy from the tyranny of the majority and the...

Report: Dark Money Surges in State and Local Elections

Undisclosed political spending is both more pronounced and more influential at the state and local level than it is in federal elections, concludes a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.

Also on the rise in state elections is what the report calls “gray money”—money that moves from one outside spending group to another, and can’t be immediately traced. Many political committees that are technically required to disclose their donors simply report receipts from other PACs or outside groups, the report found, obscuring the original funding source.

“Too often, even transparency is not fully transparent,” report co-author and Brennan Center senior counsel Chisun Lee told the Prospect.

The biggest source of undisclosed “dark” money is politically active tax-exempt groups, which operate outside the disclosure rules, and whose expenditures have exploded since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling to lift all limits on independent political spending. The report focused on six states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, and Massachusetts—where fully transparent outside spending plummeted from 76 percent in 2006 to merely 29 percent in 2014.

One of the biggest jumps was in Arizona, where undisclosed spending spiked from $600,325 in 2010 to $10.3 million in 2014. The report cites numerous examples of big-spending outside groups that wielded disproportionate influence on local decision-making involving such matters as electricity rates, rent control, and environmental regulations. In Arizona, for example, a state initiative to subsidize energy efficiency through solar panels was weakened after the state’s largest utility poured $3.2 million into ads whose funding source was undisclosed.

“For a relative pittance—less than $100,000—corporations and others can use dark money to shape the outcome of a low-level race in which they have a direct stake,” wrote Lee and Brennan Center deputy director Lawrence Norden in a New York Times op-ed unveiling the report.

The report underscores the overwhelming influence that unrestricted and often undisclosed outside spending wields in elections, despite speculation that big money may not matter so much given the millions that many high-dollar super PACs spent fruitlessly on losing primary hopefuls in this presidential race.

The Brennan Center report, titled “Secret Spending in the States,” points to one bright spot amid the rise in undisclosed political spending: the success of state disclosure laws, most notably in California. State efforts to improve political disclosure have rung alarm bells among conservatives, who argue that such efforts are designed to chill speech and will subject donors to harassment and intimidation. But Lee argues that disclosure laws in California and elsewhere strike a proper balance.

“It is possible to require transparency across the board,” says Lee, “but have reasonable accommodations for speakers who can show they have a genuine reason to be fearful.”

Who’s ‘Crooked’ Now?

Rex Features via AP Images
rules-logo-109.jpeg Under normal circumstances, the barrage of ethics attacks that Donald Trump leveled at Hillary Clinton this week might have given the former Secretary of State pause. In what he had billed as a major speech Wednesday, Trump called Clinton a “world-class liar,” accused her of running the State Department “like her own personal hedge fund,” and assailed her for making millions off speeches to Wall Street banks, lobbyists, CEOs, and foreign governments. Liberally citing Peter Schweitzer’s controversial book Clinton Cash , Trump ticked off companies that he said had won special favors from the State Department because of massive payments to Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. But Trump’s is anything but a normal presidential campaign, and Clinton essentially shrugged off his attacks, saying in a speech on Wednesday: "Donald Trump uses poor people around the world to produce his line of suits and ties." Brad Woodhouse, president...

Pain and Power: The LGBT Crucible

One year after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the Orlando shootings capture the challenges facing the LGBT community as their political clout continues to grow.

Albin Lohr-Jones/Sipa via AP Images
rules-logo-109.jpeg Was the mass shooting in an Orlando gay club by a self-proclaimed jihadist a hate crime or a terrorist act? The label affixed to the tragic violence that left 49 people dead Sunday matters greatly to politicians, lobbyists, and organizers all over the ideological map. To LGBT advocates, in particular, the notion that an anti-gay attack during Pride Week should trigger intensive debate over guns and homeland security, while sweeping hate crimes under the rug, adds insult to injury. “I think it’s incredibly distressing that LGBT people are being ignored,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, on the Diane Rehm Show Monday. The Orlando shootings by gunman Omar Mateen, an American who had pledged loyalty to the Islamic State, captures the challenges facing the LGBT community as their political clout continues to grow. One year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling has triggered...

Clinton’s Real 'Woman Card': Money

AP Photo/John Locher
rules-logo-109.jpeg Notwithstanding Donald Trump’s assertion that playing “the woman card” will somehow benefit Hillary Clinton, gender politics are sure to undercut Clinton’s historic presidential bid on more than one front. Research shows that women are held to a higher standard than men when it comes to both honesty and likeability —two areas of particular weakness for Clinton. But in one area that’s traditionally hurt women seeking public office—political fundraising—Clinton has turned the tables. Clinton is one of her party’s most successful rainmakers, enjoying access to a business and finance-sector donor class long dominated by men. She has also raised more than half her money —$55 million so far—from women, the first presidential candidate ever with a campaign account powered principally by female contributors. Clinton’s female donor pool is expanding at a time when women political contributors in both...