Use Sunlight Tools to track civil rights issues


As the nation focuses on the 50th anniversary of the historic March for Jobs and Freedom that culminated with Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, we decided to look at the subject of civil rights through the prism of some Sunlight tools:

It's a party affair. According to searches on our Capitol Words tool, which allows users to search text on the Congressional Record, Democrats talk more often about voting rights than Republicans do. Dems also own “Martin Luther King,” “redistricting,” “voter registration,” “civil rights” “Jim Crow,” “Selma,” and “March on Washington.” Republicans talk about election fraud more than Democrats do, but some of these mentions refer to unrest overseas. Voter fraud is a mix, although Democrats still bring the term up more than Republicans do. "Color blind" gets equal mentions from both parties, but is not uttered much.

Labor puts money into ads.  A number of labor unions that are among the biggest donors to Democratic candidates and causes are showing support for the civil rights movement generally in a series of ads they've posted that we picked up on Political Ad Hawk, our mobile app that archives advertising by groups active in politics. One from Teamsters DRIVE PAC and another from the National Education Association focus on the history of the march. But this video from the SEIU links the march to a current controversy, charging that an effort is underway to suppress minority voters.

State legislators are grappling with voting laws. Open States, our tool that gathers together legislative information from all 50 states, is useful for tracking voting related legislation. This year, according to the Brennan Center, restrictive voting legislation was considered in most of the states that, before this summer's Supreme Court decision, were formerly required under the Voting Rights Act to get approval from the federal government before enacting such policies.

  • Alabama. SB 155 and HB 162 proposed limiting voting registration times. The legislature adjourned in late May.
  • Arizona. HB 2568 would have reduced the period of time for ballot distribution and HB 2350 would have required notarization of requests for early ballots.
  • Louisiana. SB 69 would have instituted more verification requirements for voter registration.
  • South Carolina. SB 227 requires proof of citizenship to register to vote.
  • Texas. The Texas legislature considered HB 927, HB 1253, HB 3074, HB 2106, and HB 2093, which would toughen photo id laws, enact new restrictions for voter registration, and require proof of registration of citizenship, among other measures. A strict voter id law passed in 2011 is now under challenge by the Justice Department
  • Virginia. The legislature approved sweeping changes with SB 1008, SB 1256, and HB 1337, which includes a photo identification requirement before a person can vote. 

Some of the sponsors of voter ID bills are significant fundraisers, Sunlight's Influence Explorer database shows. State Sen. Troy Fraser, sponsor of the Texas voter ID law, has collected more than $3.9 million — an eye popping sum that reflects both his long legislative tenure (he was first elected in 1996) and his state's wide-open campaign laws (there are no limits on campaign contributions in the Lone Star State).  His contributors include blue chip corporations such as Occidental Petroleum, Nationwide Insurance and the drug manufacturer Astrazeneca. He got more than $100,000 from mega-GOP donor Bob Perry, who died earlier this year. 

Sen. Mark Obenshain, an original sponsor of Virginia's voter ID law, has raised more than $700,000 with major support from the bankers and trial lawyers in his state as well as himself and members of his family. 

Rep. Kerry Rich, sponsor of the Alabama voter ID law,  has collected more than $200,000 — including more than $50,000 from the Alabama Republican party during the 2010 election cycle. He owns a "contemporary Christian" radio station in Alabama and was endorsed by the Tea Party.

Rep. Harry Warren, a sponsor of North Carolina's voter ID law, collected $171, 616 — nearly $38,000 of which came from his state Republican party.