Most Americans would agree that the news cycles are coming faster and more aggressively than ever, particularly as they relate to politics. With the 2020 elections looming, it can seem as if details of the 2018 midterms are in the far distant past, though (as of this writing) they are less than a year behind us.
It was an interesting moment in elections because it was one of the first in recent history that looked at each seat in Congress as a component of gaining control of a Chamber rather than in a state politics context. Take the campaign of Senator Jacky Rosen. She is the junior senator for Nevada, having won the seat during the recent midterms. A Democrat, she defeated her opponent not only in the ballot box but in fundraising, too.
According to an article from Fox News, “Rosen beat Heller in total fundraising by more than a million dollars…That doesn’t include money from outside groups, which also favor the Democrat by $23 million to $15 million.”
And while the spokesperson for her opponent insisted that her campaign was being “fueled and propped up by millions of dollars from California and New York,” and that she was “bought and paid for by the progressive elites who know they can count on her to be a reliable vote,” campaign finance experts disagreed. For example, “ MichaelMalbin, director of The Campaign Finance Institute, told Fox News, “It’s not about coastal elites. That’s a caricature. It’s because donors all over the country understand that control of the whole Senate chamber is at stake.”
Interestingly enough, the phrase “donors all over the country” translates in most minds as large-scale or wealthier donors. For the Democrats, though, this is not necessarily true. That is because of the resource known as ActBlue. This is a PAC or political action committee operating as a nonprofit and designed to “empower small-dollar donors”.
During the 2018 midterms, the organization brought in more than one billion dollars for the Democratic party, sending funds to campaigns, committees, candidates and other progressive 501(c) 4 organizations.
As that FoxNews article noted, “donations coming through ActBlue are often small-dollar donations,” meaning that Senator Rosen’s campaign was backed more by small donors than her competitor’s. And though this was a campaign funded (at least partially) by smaller-scale donations, it generated millions of outside spending. Politico noted that both “parties had seen the race as a dead heat that could hinge on the proficiency of the parties’ voter turnout operations, after a campaign that saw a whopping $65 million in outside spending pour into Nevada.”
The fact that Senator Rosen’s campaign can point to the enormous amount of smaller, more traditional donations is very relevant for two reasons:
- One of the things she has done as a Senator is seeking to overturn the Citizens United ruling; and
- It removes suspicions that she is influenced by mega-rich donors
And it is influence from the super-wealthy and mega-rich donors and corporations that is a point of significant concern. Influence, occurs in a surprising number of ways; it can be derived from access to a politician, unlike the access of the majority of voters. As an example, high-priced fundraising events that the average voter might never be able to afford but lobbyists can and use to gain access. Enormous, corporate, or private financial contributions to campaigns are also viewed as a form of influence.
It is the vast sums that are spent, at unprecedented levels, including funds often described as “dark money.” This is untraceable money directed towards political campaigning (usually by not for profit groups, which are not required to reveal the names of donors). Many of these groups are formed as PACs or Political Action Committees or Super PACs.
When a group receives and spends more than $2600 to influence a federal election, it becomes a PAC. Any PAC can give to parties, candidates or even to other PACs, and can donate unlimited sums independent of a party or candidate. Super PACs are similar, but they are not allowed to donate to parties or candidates. Instead, they can use donations in any amount towards ads and promotional campaigns and have no cap on how much they can receive from groups or individuals.
Unfortunately, recent changes in IRS rules make it easy for work around pre-existing FEC or Federal Election Commission Rules. This is occurring to such a degree that the Open Secrets website describes politically active nonprofits as “a major force in federal elections over the last three cycles…and though their political activity is supposed to be limited, the IRS – which has jurisdiction over these groups – by and large has done little to enforce those limits.”
The Center for Responsive Politics also reports that spending of this kind has increased from around five million dollars in the year 2006 to more than three hundred million dollars in 2012. Politically active, nonprofit organizations dumped almost $150 million in 2018, alone, and this figure did not include funds for ads before the election. They also spent around $175 million on super PACs.
And while dubious origins for donations are bad enough, experts agree it isn’t so much sources as it is amounts that should be a matter of concern.
After all, whether it is money from outside a candidate’s home state or outside of the United States, influence needs balances and checks. After all, how can a politician give a $100 donor the same attention and effort as the donor who provides hundreds of thousands?
This represents a form of influence, and as Robert Dion, chairman of the University of Evansville’s political science department said, access and influence often relate to “subtle things that are less top of mind, less likely to be in the news — some amendment tucked into a larger bill…[and] greater access for friendly lobbyists.”
It is why so many seek to overturn the Citizens United ruling. This is a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 that ended any ban on corporations and unions spending enormous sums on political campaigns. Deciding it was a matter of free speech, the court (in a five to four ruling), determined it was appropriate for labor unions and corporations to “spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate,” according to an article from The Center for Public Integrity.
The ruling looked at “laws that prevented corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds for independent “electioneering communications” (political advertising),” and essentially gave tremendous power to PACs and SuperPACs by allowing them to accept enormous sums.
According to the same source, the ruling “generated intense controversy outside the court. Some hailed it as a resounding victory for freedom of speech, while others criticized it as an overreaching attempt to rewrite campaign finance law.” A major opponent to the change was then-President Barack Obama who described the decision as opening “the floodgates for special interests…to spend without limit in our elections.”
Senator Rosen agrees, and in an article posted to The Mesquite Local News, she has “long been a proponent of overturning Citizens United…saying ‘Washington hasn’t been listening to the needs of Nevadans because billionaires and special interests are drowning out the voices of real people in our communities. If we’re going to make real progress on issues like climate change, gun violence and health care, then we need to bring some transparency and accountability to our broken campaign finance system…I will stand up for Nevadans by speaking out for real reform and a reversal of this catastrophic Supreme Court decision.”
Her “Democracy for All Amendment” introduced in August of 2019 is a follow up on such a statement and seeks to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling. So, she is one of the least likely Senators to succumb to influence from her backers. But, does it mean we should not scrutinize her as we might s? In a word: No. We will search for any signs of influence by examining several specific criteria:
- Her publicly stated priorities and issues
- Senator Rosen’s committee and caucus activities
- Her critical sources of campaign funding
- Senator Rosen’s most recent legislative items sponsored or co-sponsored
It is only b doing so that we can accurately gauge if her campaign backers, rather than constituents, have influenced her policies and actions. We will also use other data to reach our conclusions, including bipartisanship ratings, approval ratings, and more.
For example, Senator Rosen is a freshman senator, and so has no appearance in the Lugar Center Bipartisanship Index. However, her Senate bio indicates she was the “fifth most bipartisan freshman member of the House,” during the previous Congress. That demonstrates that legislation she authors often attracts Republican support, and in turn, she supports some of their legislation, too.Her approval rating in the Senate is not fantastic, at 84th place. She is in the negatives with Republicans and holds a score of 58 within her party.
About Senator Jacky Rosen
Born in 1957 in Illinois, she headed to the University of Minnesota to get a bachelor’s in psychology. Her family relocated to Nevada, and her first job was a corporate gig nearby. She went to community college to take a degree in IT and computing and was soon operating a private consulting firm. Her political life did not begin until 2016 when she was asked by Senator Harry Reid to seek a House seat that same year. She won the election with 60% of the vote, but quickly entered a Senate race in late 2017. She defeated the incumbent by a 5% margin. This made her one of the few freshman House Reps to turn around and take a Senate seat.
Her official website says that she has “worked to secure a pay increase for our men and women in uniform and introduced bills to help servicemembers find good-paying jobs after leaving the military… she passed bipartisan legislation through the House to improve early childhood STEM education… led the effort to defend the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s coverage protections for people with pre-existing conditions and … introduced nearly two dozen pieces of legislation, including bills to help create jobs at small business tech startups, cap out-of-pocket prescription drug costs, combat workplace sexual harassment, and protect jobs in the solar industry from harmful tariffs. She also introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the VA that was signed into law as part of a larger VA reform package. During her first two years serving in Congress, more than 50 pieces of legislation sponsored or co-sponsored by Rosen passed the House, with nine becoming law.”
Her site also identifies key issues of concern for Nevadans, including:
- Civil Rights and Liberties
- Financial Services
- Foreign Affairs
- Gun Violence
- Health Care
- Women’s Empowerment
- Jobs and Economy
- National Security and Armed Services
ProPublica tracks all Senators to determine how they vote, the most common subjects of bills they sponsor and even what issues appear in press releases. They have identified that Senator Rosen focuses on the following in her legislative work:
- Science, Technology, Communications
- Labor and Employment
The Senator’s press releases and the topics most discussed in her press releases about policy issues include:
- Civil Rights and Liberties, Minority Issues
- Armed Forces and National Security
There is a bit of overlap here, which is an excellent sign that she is not “speaking from both sides of her mouth,” but let’s consider the sort of influence she might have by looking at her committee assignments.
Senator Rosen’s Committee Work
For the 116th Congress, Senator Rosen is assigned to the following committees and subcommittees:
- Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
- Subcommittee on Aviation and Space
- Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet
- Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection
- Subcommittee on Security
- Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
- Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety
- Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security
- Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
- Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
- Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management
- Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship
- Special Committee on Aging
- United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
These too align with her stated priorities and critical issues, which means it is time to scrutinize who helped her take that Senate seat – her different campaign supporters.
The Top Industries Funding Senator Rosen Campaign Efforts
For 2018, Senator Rosen’s campaign raised $25,627,243.99 and spent $25,463,471.30. This support came from an array of industries, and we’ll look at those contributors in three distinct groupings:
- The industries in which the Senator was a “favorite,” or top recipient in the last campaign cycle (2018)
- The industries that contributed the largest amount of financial support
- Individual organizations that donated the most
According to the Open Secrets Website, Senator Rosen was an industry favorite among many industries, including:
- Hedge Funds (#1)
- Human Rights (#1)
- Women’s Issues (#1)
- Architectural services (#2)
- Book, newspaper & periodical publishing (#2)
- Computer software (#2)
- Electronics Manufacturing and Equipment (#2)
- Internet (#2)
- Miscellaneous Unions (#2)
- Motion Picture production & distribution (#2)
- Non-Profits (#2)
- Publishing (#2)
- TV production (#2)
- TV/Movies/Music (#2)
- Venture capital (#2)
She was also given support by major industries that were, in ranking order:
- Lawyers/Law Firms
- Women’s Issues
- Securities & Investment
- Real Estate
- Health Professionals
- Business Services
- Printing & Publishing
- Leadership PACs
- Electronics Manufacturing and Equipment
- Non-Profit Institutions
- Civil Servants/Public Officials
- Miscellaneous Finance
- Miscellaneous Business
In addition to the general industries making contributions, individual organizations also supported the campaign, and those that gave the most are listed below. NOTE: None of these organizations or groups donated directly to the campaign. Instead, they worked with PACs or had direct employee contributions for the 2016 election.
- EMILY’s List – “An American political action committee (PAC) that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office. It was founded by Ellen Malcolm in 1985. According to the Washington Examiner, EMILY’s List is “the nation’s most influential pro-choice political action committee.”
- Democracy Engine – “A flexible, completely self-contained donation platform. With a suite of simple and effective online tools, we provide a solution for anyone who donates to candidates, organizations, committees, or causes, particularly more than one at a time. Democracy Engine is the most inclusive platform in the industry—donors have the freedom to contribute to organizations, candidates, and causes at any level, from individual donations in local races to multi-candidate contributions in national campaigns. Democracy Engine is a nonpartisan entity, so you can donate regardless of political affiliation.”
- Google Inc – “An American multinational technology company that specializes in Internet-related services and products, which include online advertising technologies, search engine, cloud computing, software, and hardware. It is considered one of the Big Four technology companies, alongside Amazon, Apple, and Facebook.”
- League of Conservation Voters – “An American environmental advocacy group. LCV says that it “advocates for sound environmental laws and policies, holds elected officials accountable for their votes and actions, and elects pro-environment candidates.” The organization pursues its goals through voter education, voter mobilization, and direct contributions to political candidates. LCV includes 29 state affiliates.”
- JStreetPAC – “A nonprofit liberal advocacy group based in the United States whose stated aim is to promote American leadership to end the Arab–Israeli and Israeli–Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically.”
- Womencount PAC – “A United States Federal Political Committee. The Committee exists to aggregate contributions from members or employees and their families to donate to candidates for federal office.”
- DE Shaw & Co – “A multinational investment management firm founded in 1988 by David E. Shaw and based in New York City. The company is known for developing complicated mathematical models and sophisticated computer programs to exploit anomalies in the market.”
- Stanford University
- Microsoft Corp – “An American multinational technology company with headquarters in Redmond, Washington. It develops, manufactures, licenses, supports and sells computer software, consumer electronics, personal computers, and related services. Its best known software products are the Microsoft Windows line of operating systems, the Microsoft Office suite, and the Internet Explorer and Edge Web browsers. Its flagship hardware products are the Xbox video game consoles and the Microsoft Surface lineup of touchscreen personal computers.”
- Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee – “The Democratic Hill committee for the United States Senate. It is the only organization solely dedicated to electing Democrats to the United States Senate.”
We can see that there is no real in-state backing, and that can be a sign of trouble, but also may mean nothing at all. To complete our search for signs of influence, then, we must turn our attention to the legislation Senator Rosen has introduced and sponsored during the current Congress.
9 Items Senator Rosen Has Sponsored During the 116th Congress – To Date
For the 116th Congress, to date, Senator Rosen has 270 pieces of legislation with her name appearing; she has sponsored 13 of them, and the remaining 257 she has cosponsored. The Senator’s official Congressional page indicates that her emphasis in this Congress has been, as ProPublica noted, health, immigration, crime and law enforcement, government operations and politics, and education.
S.537 —Hire Student Veterans Act
Introduced on February 25, this bipartisan bill with seven cosponsors would “expand the existing Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to ensure that all student veterans using their GI benefits can take advantage of valuable paid internships or work opportunities while in school,” according to a press release from Senator Rosen.
As that release explains, “Rosen first filed the bipartisan legislation last year after speaking directly to Nevada veterans and community leaders about the challenges veterans face during a roundtable discussion. Currently, the WOTC is limited in its application to hiring veterans. Employers can only qualify for the credit by hiring veterans who have a service-connected disability or have been unemployed for more than four weeks. There is also a stringent 400-hour per year work requirement. As the law stands, the WOTC does not incentivize employers to hire student vets part-time during the school year or for a summer job and does not reflect the reality of today’s job environment in which new college graduates often need work experience in order to obtain even an entry-level career-track job.”
This bill would change the situation and “incentivize businesses to hire more student veterans,” by:
- “Automatically qualify employers who hire student veterans using their GI Bill benefits for WOTC’s 40% tax credit on the first $6,000 of a new employee’s first-year wages.
- Reduce the existing tax credit’s 400-hour work requirement to 120 hours if a newly-hired employee is a veteran using their GI Bill benefits, allowing a student veteran to work part-time, including in a paid internship during the summer or semester; and
- Directly incentivize employers to hire more student veterans for part-time work and paid internships.”
Speaking of it, Senator Rosen said, “I decided to introduce bipartisan legislation to incentivize businesses to hire our student vets who are currently using their GI benefits to study,” said Senator Rosen (D-NV). “I’ve met with organizations like Work for Warriors and UNLV Rebel Vets on how we can help veterans find good-paying jobs. I’m confident this commonsense legislation will put student vets on the pathway towards success and will continue working on bipartisan solutions to help our veterans transition back to civilian life.” It was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
S.737 — Building Blocks of STEM Act
Introduced on March 11, this bipartisan and bicameral legislation seeks to “expand upon STEM education initiatives at the National Science Foundation (NSF) for young children, including new research grants to increase the participation of girls in computer science.”
In speaking of a topic close to her heart, Senator Rosen said, “It is so important for young children, especially our girls, to be introduced to opportunities available to them in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. As a computer programmer, I faced adversity in what has long been considered a male-dominated field and I’m working to break down those barriers for our current and future generations. This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that our children are prepared with the education necessary to succeed in a 21st-century economy while also taking steps to close the gender gap in STEM. I will continue to be an advocate for investing in STEM education initiatives so that we are better equipped to address our changing economic and national security needs.”
If enacted into law, it would “would direct NSF to more equitably distribute funding for early childhood education in its Discovery Research PreK-12 program, which seeks to enhance the learning and teaching of STEM and address the immediate challenges that are facing PreK-12 STEM education…direct NSF to award research grants to increase understanding of the factors that contribute to the participation of young girls in STEM activities and to develop interventions in pre-K and elementary school classrooms to increase the participation of young girls in computer science.”
The bill was ordered to be reported without amendment favorably.
S.1466 — Cyber Ready Workforce Act
Introduced on May 14, this is yet another bipartisan/bicameral bill from Senator Rosen, and it would “direct the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to award grants to workforce intermediaries to support the creation, implementation, and expansion of registered apprenticeship programs in cybersecurity.”
It would achieve its goals, if passed into law by establishing “a grant program within the Department of Labor whereby the Secretary of Labor shall award grants, on a competitive basis, to workforce intermediaries – such as colleges, non-profit organizations, workforce development boards, and businesses – to support the creation, implementation, and expansion of registered apprenticeship programs in cybersecurity. In addition to developing the curriculum and technical instruction, grant funding could be used to provide support services to apprentices including career counseling, mentorship, and assistance with transportation, housing, and childcare costs.”
Of the bill, Senator Rosen said, “We must take action to address the shortage in our cybersecurity workforce in order to fill the gaps in our cyber-defense and meet the demands of a growing industry that creates good-paying jobs…[and] continue to work on finding forward-thinking solutions that provide our businesses, communities, and government with the skilled workforce they need to strengthen our nation’s cybersecurity infrastructure and protect Americans’ data from bad actors.”
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
S.1921 – Provider Training in Palliative Care Act
Introduced on June 20, this bill aims to “update the National Health Service Corps program to include palliative care medicine as an eligible primary care service,” according to a press release from Senator Rosen.
As she noted about the bill, “Countless patients facing serious illness or injury can benefit from the practice of palliative care. Palliative care is an option that does not get the attention it deserves and is proven to improve outcomes as well as reduce the cost of treatment. This bipartisan legislation will help strengthen the skills of our medical workforce in Nevada and across the country to better meet the needs of patients and families in need, especially those in rural and underserved areas.”
This news release also indicated that the National Institute on Aging noted that “palliative care ‘can be helpful at any stage of illness and is best provided from the point of diagnosis.’ Palliative care works well alongside curative treatment for a range of conditions and helps complete the circle of meeting a patient’s needs as a whole. Reduced discomfort and disability, better care coordination, and improved outcomes are all positive aspects of integrating palliative care.”
It was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
S.2085 — Never Again Education Act
Introduced on July 10, this bipartisan bill would “establish a dedicated federal fund to provide teachers with resources and training necessary to teach our students the important lessons of the Holocaust.”
It would achieve its goals, according to a news release about it, by establishing “federal fund at the Department of Education – the Holocaust Education Assistance Program Fund – which will finance grants to public and private middle and high schools to help teachers develop and improve Holocaust education programs. The funding could cover training for educators, textbooks, transportation and housing for teachers to attend seminars, transportation for survivors to be brought to a school, and field trips. The bill would also direct experts at the Department of Education to work with trained Holocaust educators to conduct regional workshops to help teachers incorporate the sensitive subject of the Holocaust into their classrooms.”
As the third female Jewish Senator in U.S. history, Senator Rosen spoke of the bill, saying, “There is overwhelming evidence that anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States and across the globe. In order to ensure that an event like the Holocaust never again occurs we must take concrete steps to address this growing epidemic of hate, and that begins through education and understanding of one of the most horrific chapters in history. I will continue to support and develop bipartisan policy solutions to fight hate in whatever form it takes because Never Again must mean Never Again for anyone.”
With ten cosponsors, the bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
S.2100 — Veterans Jobs Opportunity Act
Introduced on July 11, and still further bipartisan legislation introduced by the Senator, this bill seeks to “create a small business startup tax credit to help veterans who establish small businesses in underserved communities,” according to a press release about it.
The release explains that there “are roughly 2.5 million veteran-owned small businesses in the United States representing approximately 9.1 percent of all U.S. businesses, with an estimated $1 trillion in revenue…This bipartisan legislation would provide veterans starting a small business with a 15% tax credit on the first $50,000 of their small business’s startup costs.”
Speaking about it, she said, “We owe it to our veterans to provide assistance in making the transition into the civilian workforce. This bill will assist our heroes by providing a tax credit to those who open up a small business in underserved communities in Nevada and all across our country. I will continue to support commonsense legislation that provides our veteran communities with the resources needed to pursue their American dream when they return home.”
With four cosponsors on both sides of the aisle, it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Finance.
S.2154 — JROTC Cyber Training Act
Still further bipartisan and bicameral legislation appears with this bill, introduced on July 17 and seeking to “direct the Secretary of Defense to carry out a program to enhance the preparation of students in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) for careers in computer science and cybersecurity,” according to the press release about it from Senator Rosen’s office.
A bit of background information about the legislation explains that by “2026, the Department of Labor projects there will be 3.5 million computing-related jobs, yet our current education pipeline will only fill 19% of those openings.
The bipartisan JROTC Cyber Training Act would direct the Secretary of Defense to carry out a program to enhance the preparation of high school students in JROTC for military and civilian careers in computer science and cybersecurity. This bill tasks the Secretary of Defense to create activities such as: targeted internships and cooperative research opportunities, as well as funding for training with emphasis on computer science and cybersecurity education.
This bill has the potential to bring evidence-based computer science and cybersecurity education to 500,000 students at 3,400 JROTC high schools across the U.S.”
Endorsed by a long list of organizations that include “AnitaB.org, Code.org, the College Board, Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), CSforALL, the National Girls Collaborative Project, and the National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT),” it was read twice and referred to the Committee on Armed Services.
S.2309 — U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Center of Excellence Act
A bipartisan bill, this legislation was introduced on July 29, and if enacted would “require the State Department to investigate potential benefits of establishing a joint US-Israel cybersecurity center,” according to Senator Rosen’s press release about it.
The reason for the bill, according to that same release is to “leverage the expertise of institutions of higher education, the private sector, and government entities in both countries in the areas of cybersecurity and protecting critical infrastructure. A similar joint center of excellence already exists for energy and water technology.”
Speaking of it, the Senator said, “Cybersecurity continues to be a growing threat, and we must address it immediately. By collaborating with our allies, we can better strengthen our cybersecurity defenses. This bipartisan legislation would help us take much-needed steps towards establishing a joint cybersecurity research center with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle-East and a major hub for new and emerging cybersecurity technologies. I will continue working on forward-thinking policies that defend our nation from cyber-threats and strengthen our key national security alliances.”
The bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations
By examining the work she has done as a freshman senator, it is evident that Senator Rosen has no major corporate or large-scale donors using influence to shape her legislative efforts. She has looked at such issues as workforce development, health, international affairs, cybersecurity, and education, and there are no direct or apparent beneficiaries apart from her constituency and the people of the United States. Senator Rosen did receive tremendous support from outside of her home state, but as noted, it was small donors using an array of PACs and similar resources to ensure that control of the Senate was in the hands of one party of another.
The direct benefit of this sort of support is that politicians like Senator Rosen are given the opportunity to see their many great ideas and initiatives brought to fruition. As one of the more bipartisan senators at this time, she is also anexcellent balancing personality in a very fractured Congress.