Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 23, 2014

December 19, 2014

Bill O’Neill, Jerry Hogan: 2 Friends Taken in 2 Days

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Friends of O’Neill will gather at the Tune Inn Friday to toast their late friend. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The low odds of two friends in the same tight-knit community on Capitol Hill dying on consecutive days were mercilessly defied last week, as a sad 24 hours rocked the tech and telecom lobbying world — along with numerous other universes both inside politics and out.

News traveled fast on Dec. 8 that Jerry Hogan, 64, an assistant vice president of federal relations at AT&T, had died after a years-long battle with cancer. Given their close relationship, friends and colleagues of Bill O’Neill, 52, a principal at Ogilvy Government Relations, weren’t terribly surprised that day when he didn’t respond to their phone calls, emails and text messages, and never showed up to work. Full story

December 18, 2014

Jim Gerlach Exits Congress, Enters Venable | Downtown Moves

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(Scott J. Ferrell/ CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Retiring Rep. Jim Gerlach is heading to Venable LLP, where the Pennsylvania Republican will join other former lawmakers such as Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., in the legislative and government affairs firm.

Gerlach joined the Ways and Means Committee in 2011, and served on the Select Revenue and Health Subcommittees during that time. With tax reform possibly high on the agenda in the 114th Congress, and Republicans in charge of both chambers, Gerlach’s experience could come in handy at Venable.  Full story

December 16, 2014

Scott Weaver to Head Public Policy Practice at Wiley Rein | Downtown Moves

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Weaver, center, back in the day when he first came to the Hill to work for Sullivan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Scott Weaver has been promoted to lead the day-to-day operations of the Public Policy Practice at Wiley Rein LLP. Weaver previously served as the firm’s senior public policy adviser and will serve as co-chair of the Practice Group along with ex-Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., who joined the firm in 2009.

Weaver said the firm has traditional strengths in government contracts, trade, health care, telecommunications and insurance. “We hope to add additional capabilities in the national security, energy, tax, oversight and investigations, and transportation sectors, as well as foreign affairs,” he said in an email to CQ Roll Call. Full story

December 9, 2014

The Year in Government Ethics | A Question of Ethics

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The trial and convictions of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, stood out among the biggest ethics stories of the year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As long as there are governments, there will be government corruption. The temptations to abuse power are never going away, and neither is human frailty, which means government ethics will remain an important issue for, well, forever.

A look back on 2014 reveals yet another year of explosive government ethics stories, scandals and legal developments. As has been the custom for the year’s final column, I asked several of the top practitioners in the field to name the biggest government ethics stories of the year. Full story

Democrats Resurrect Call for Remote Voting | Procedural Politics

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Some members were outraged Duckworth was denied a proxy vote. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans may think they put proxy voting in its grave when they changed House rules in 1995 to ban it in committees. But the issue resurfaced last month when a dispute arose in the Democratic Caucus over Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s request to vote by proxy in caucus elections because she was about to give birth to her first child.

Three months ago another Democrat, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California urged the Rules Committee to put forward a new House rule permitting members to cast their floor votes electronically from their districts on non-controversial bills early in the week.

Some younger members are so attuned to high-tech solutions in their daily lives that they are beginning to think democratic decision-making can be carried-out more efficiently using electronic joy sticks. Why should elected representatives need to be in a particular place at a certain time to vote when they can more easily decide the matter remotely? What better way to eliminate hyper-partisan debates than to keep members out of each others’ faces? Full story

Clark Geduldig Adds GOP Energy Lobbyist Mike Catanzaro

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Catanzaro is moving on to Clark Geduldig. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The all-GOP lobbying shop Clark Geduldig Cranford & Nielsen is picking up a new energy policy hire with ties to House and Senate Republicans.

Mike Catanzaro, who previously handled energy and environmental issues for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and once worked as an aide on the Senate Environment and Public Works panel, will join the firm in the coming weeks. Full story

December 2, 2014

Fresh Round of Controversies for IRS

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Tester is the latest Democrat to propose legislation aimed at shedding more light on politically active tax-exempt groups. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The IRS faces growing pressure from critics on both sides of the aisle to come to grips with the role that tax-exempt “dark money” groups play in elections.

The challenge for the beleaguered IRS, which is bracing for a fresh round of controversies early in 2015, is that Republicans and Democrats regard both the problem and the solution in starkly opposing terms.

To Republicans, the problem is that the IRS has policed tax-exempt groups, particularly those run by conservative activists, too aggressively. Republicans on Capitol Hill are poised to redouble their investigation into the agency’s self-admitted targeting of tea party groups and others seeking tax-exempt status. Full story

December 1, 2014

Time to Strike a Fair Balance on Floor Amendments | Procedural Politics

The minority party in the House perennially complains it is treated unfairly when it comes to offering floor amendments. On some legislation it is not allowed to offer any amendments. That has been the case regardless of which party controls the House, and it’s gotten worse with each Congress dating back to the early 1990s.

The majority responds that governing such a large body is difficult but it tries to be both fair and efficient while advancing the majority’s legislative agenda. On bills of supreme importance to the majority, closed amendment rules are more and more common. On bills of lesser importance, structured rules are reported allowing only those amendments printed in the Rules Committee report. Completely open amendment rules are rare nowadays, confined mostly to appropriations bills. That can lead to a seemingly endless string of limitation amendments offered primarily by fiscal and policy conservatives.

So, what’s the real problem: too many amendments, too few, too much partisan gamesmanship, or too few actual policy debates over alternatives? The answer, as my wise grandfather would say (in the slightly different context of which kind of pie he wanted for dessert) is: “a little of each.”

I had occasion to re-examine this recently when I ran across an intriguing preliminary study by University of Miami political scientist (and friend), Gregory Koger (found here). His research, covering the 111th Congress through first session of this 113th Congress, reveals that minority party members actually offer more amendments on which roll call votes are taken than do majority party members. For the years 2009 through 2013, he found 1,038 House minority party amendments (including motions to recommit with instructions—the first in a two-step process to consider a final minority amendment) for 62.5 percent of total amendment roll calls. The majority party offered 622 such amendments or 37.5 percent of the total.

In a completely fair and open system those findings make sense because reported bills are majority party products, and the minority consequently has more reason to use the floor to offer all the amendments it lost in committee. But, since the minority complains that the majority increasingly restricts minority amendment rights, something could be amiss here.

I looked at this from a slightly different angle than Koger. I tallied all the amendments the House Rules Committee made in order to bills under special rules over the last three Congresses (2009-2014) without regard to whether they were subject to a roll call vote. My data shows the majority giving itself 1,204 amendments (45 percent), the minority 1,275 (48 percent), with 184 amendments (7 percent), bipartisan (see data here).

I have not factored-in either motions to recommit (which are not direct amendments) or amendments offered under open rules (which the majority does not control).

Interestingly, if you break this down by Congress, the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress allowed minority Republicans only 336 amendments (38 percent) while giving its own majority members 551 amendments (62 percent). Majority Republicans, on the other hand, in the 112th and 113th Congresses allowed 939 minority Democratic amendments (53 percent), their own GOP colleagues just 653 amendments (37 percent), and bipartisan amendment sponsors the remaining 10 percent.

Before you conclude that Republican majorities are more fair than Democratic majorities in allocating floor amendments, whoa back! There’s an anomaly cracker in my soup. In this 113th Congress, to date, majority Republicans have set an all-time record for the most closed amendment rules –67 which is 47 percent of all rules granted. That far surpasses the previous percentage high of 36 percent closed rules in both the Republican 112th and Democratic 110th Congresses.

It’s long past time for both parties to reverse this undemocratic trend of shutting-out free and (presumably) equal representatives from full participation in the legislative process. As the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform has recommended, the best way to ensure greater member involvement in a fair yet manageable floor process is through more modified open rules that require pre-printing of amendments in the Record and impose an overall time limit on their consideration.

Don Wolfensberger is a resident scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.

November 19, 2014

K Street Files: Democratic Lobbyists Still Have Value

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Pryor failed in his re-election bid, but as a moderate Democrat could land a top job on K Street, Ackley writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Democrats may have taken a pummeling in this month’s elections, but K Street still sees value in hiring them.

A disproportionate number of Democrats from Capitol Hill, soon-to-be ex-lawmakers and aides alike, are looking for jobs. With the Senate flipping to GOP control and House Republicans getting an even bigger margin, Democrats lose committee slots and clout. As a result, the K Street job market may not be as robust for the party’s denizens, as Republicans have seen a rise in their value downtown.

But there is still demand for Democrats.

If House and Senate GOP leaders are to pass some of the lobbying community’s signature legislative measures, such as fast-track trade authority or an extension of the Export-Import Bank, they will need to woo sufficient Democrats to make up for their Republican defectors, who often hail from the tea party wing. Full story

Money Dominates Committee and Leadership Races | Rules of the Game

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Boehner and Pelosi are fundraising titans in the House. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As House members finalize their senior leadership and committee posts, money is playing a decisive role in who occupies — and retains — the chamber’s seats of power.

Once determined by seniority alone, chairmanships and leadership spots are now just as much a function of which member can raise the most money for colleagues and party committees. Chairmen and leaders also scoop up the most contributions, often from lobbyists with business before them, cementing their seniority. The upshot is a system that’s remarkably resistant to change.

“Money begets power, and power begets more money, and that then begets more power,” said Kathy Kiely, managing editor for the Sunlight Foundation, which recently released a tally of which House members most generously supported their respective party committees.

Not surprisingly, senior players such as Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California tend to top the list. Boehner doled out $8.3 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee from his campaign committee alone. Pelosi gave $1 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee through her campaign arm.

Both also hosted fundraisers all over for the country for their colleagues, hit up donors through email blasts and doled out millions through their leadership PACs and so-called joint fundraising committees. It’s a drill now familiar to any lawmaker hoping to climb the leadership ladder. For Boehner, this translated to $102 million donated to and raised on behalf of GOP candidates and committees. Pelosi’s haul for Democrats reportedly totaled $101.3 million, including $65.2 million for the DCCC.

All this helps explain why recent leadership and committee elections are yielding virtually no turnover. Conservatives publicly pledged to oust Boehner more than once this year, but all that talk faded after Election Day. Pelosi, despite having presided over crushing losses for her party in the House, faced no challenge to her post.

It also sheds light on why soon-to-be Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada faces no insurgency, despite some grumbling. Reid donated $100,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee through his campaign committee, and gave $289,550 to 32 candidates through his leadership PAC, according to Political MoneyLine. He also reportedly held 116 events in 14 cities to help raise money for the leading Democratic super PAC, Senate Majority Fund.

And what of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the fiery progressive elevated by Reid to a newly created Senate leadership post, to the bafflement of some of her Democratic colleagues? Warren’s swift rise coincides with her emergence as a fundraising powerhouse. The Massachusetts Democrat barnstormed nationwide this cycle, including in “red” states that President Barack Obama did not visit, and raised $2.3 million on behalf of 28 Democratic candidates, according to Real Clear Politics.

“There’s no question that the role of money has been elevated,” said Christopher J. Deering, a professor of political science at George Washington University. The trend began a few decades ago, but sped up after House Republicans imposed term limits on committee chairmen in 1994, he said.

The emphasis on money over seniority has intensified polarization on Capitol Hill, said Eleanor Neff Powell, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It substantially benefits members from safe districts — essentially members who don’t have to spend any money on their re-election campaigns,” said Powell, who is writing a book on the topic. “Members who face close races are disadvantaged, both formally and informally, in the leadership race process.”

That rankles some House members. The issue came to the fore in the contest between New Jersey’s Frank Pallone Jr. and California’s Anna G. Eshoo to be ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, a post held by retiring Democrat Henry A. Waxman. Pallone is the more senior of the two. Both he and Eshoo have donated several hundred thousand dollars to dozens of Democratic House members and candidates through their campaign committees and leadership PACs.

Last week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to colleagues that “those who through years of service have gained significant expertise and knowledge should be given priority to lead our committees and subcommittees.” Several CBC members are in line to serve as ranking members in the 114th Congress, the letter noted. As a group, CBC members tend to represent districts less populated by wealthy donors.

Even prolific fundraisers face a high bar to advancement. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, doled out $4.6 million, directly and indirectly, to GOP candidates and party committees, determined to shine as a rainmaker in his bid to be chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

But Brady’s haul was no match for the $12.3 million that Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, handed out and raised for Republicans. Ryan is on track to be chairman of Ways and Means — though under a new House rule he may have to give the post up if he runs for president. That is, unless he receives a waiver from that term limit, as he did after six years as Budget chairman. The final call will no doubt rest heavily on how much money Ryan ponies up for his colleagues this time around.

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November 18, 2014

Erica Elliott Couldn’t Quit the Press | Downtown Moves

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Elliott recently moved from Crowell and Moring to Franklin Square Capital Partners. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Ask Erica Elliott what she’s looking forward to in her new role as vice president of public affairs for Franklin Square Capital Partners and she’ll tell you she’s excited about the future of the company she’s moving to. Give her another chance and she’ll add another reason that likely won’t surprise the Washington press corps that worked with her when she was in now-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office.

She’s excited to work with journalists again.

The 31-year-old, who moved to D.C. from Atlanta in 2008 to look for a public policy job, left the Capitol halls in January, much to the dismay of her counterparts with notepads and recorders. She set up shop at Crowell and Moring, then shortly after the elections announced she was headed to Franklin Square. ”I’m most looking forward to talking to reporters that cover the financial services again,” Elliott said. “You really have to know your stuff to engage with them.” Full story

November 11, 2014

What Does a Gift Tag Have to Do With Breaking the Law? | A Question of Ethics

Q. I worked on the campaign of someone who has just been elected to the House of Representatives for the first time, and I expect to work for him in the House as well beginning in January. I recently met with some experienced staffers to learn the ins-and-outs of working on the Hill. One thing they filled me in on is how strict the gift limitations are, but what really stuck out was that the permissibility of a gift supposedly can depend somehow on the language of the tag or card that comes with it. I had trouble wrapping my head around this. Is this really true?

A. First, congratulations to you and your boss. Exciting times ahead.

As for your question: Yes, believe it or not, the language on a card attached to a gift can impact the legality of accepting it. In fact, some language on a gift tag could expose you and the donor to serious liability.

There are several sources of the limitations on gifts and other benefits members and staffers may receive, and it is important to consider them all any time you are offered a gift. One is the House gift rule. Broadly, the gift rule forbids you from accepting anything of value from anyone unless an exception applies. There is a long list of exceptions, including things such as gifts from family members, widely available opportunities and more. You should certainly familiarize yourself with the rule and the exceptions as you prepare for your job on the Hill.

But, complying with the law doesn’t end there. Just because a gift meets an exception to the House gift rule does not mean that it might not violate some other restriction. Bribery law, for example, criminalizes gifts given to influence an official act regardless of whether they might meet a gift rule exception.

The law that it sounds like the staffers you met with have in mind is a subsection of the federal bribery statute governing what have become known as “gratuities.” It provides that, as a government official, you may not accept anything of value given because of an official act you perform. Some have described it as a prohibition on a reward for an official act that has already been performed. The Supreme Court has said what makes a gratuity illegal is “a link between a thing of value and a specific official act for or because of which it was given.”

What does this have to do with gift tags? The House Ethics Manual has a few examples to illustrate.

Suppose you help introduce a bill, and you do so solely because you and your member believe it will be good for the country. Suppose also that there is a lawyer who favors the bill because it will benefit some of his clients. The lawyer sends you a small gift that meets one of the exceptions to the House gift rule, and attaches a note stating, “In appreciation for your good work on the bill.” According to the ethics manual, this would violate the ban on gratuities, and you would have to return the offering in question to the lawyer.

Another example involves a caseworker who helps a constituent with a Veterans’ Affairs claim. The following week, the constituent sends a modest restaurant gift certificate, with a note saying: “I’ll never be able to repay you for what you’ve done for me.” Again, the manual says this is an illegal gratuity and the caseworker must return it to the constituent.

In contrast, suppose during the holidays you receive a small gift from a lawyer that again meets one of the exceptions to the gift rules. This time, the gift tag says, “Season’s Greetings to you and peers!” Accepting this gift, the manual says, “is not prohibited by the bribery and illegal gratuity statutes.” This is because there is no apparent link between the gift and any official act.

Does any of this really matter? Yes.

Violations of the bribery and gratuity statues are federal crimes, and carry stiff penalties including fines and jail time. Several members who have been convicted of violations of the gratuity ban have gone to jail.

So, as you tackle all of the tasks that you and your member must accomplish to prepare for your time on the Hill, here’s one more to add to your to-do list. Learn the rules about gifts, bribery, and gratuities. They matter. And, some of them may surprise you.

C. Simon Davidson is an attorney with the law firm McGuireWoods. Submit questions to Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice.


How to Land a Job Working for a New Member of Congress

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November 10, 2014

Lame-Duck Sessions Don’t Hatch Procedural Quackery | Procedural Politics

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talks with Don Stewart, spokesman for presumed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Lame-duck sessions of Congress are those that occur after an election and before the new Congress. The lame ducks, of course, are those members who will not be returning in the next Congress due to retirement, defeat or running for other office. Oh, they still get paid and are still expected to vote (and most do). But, they have less incentive to show up regularly or vote the party line. That throws an element of uncertainty into lame-duck sessions and is why leaders would prefer to avoid them altogether. Nowadays, however, they are all but impossible to avoid given an appropriations process infected by an unchained malady looping in an unfinished symphony. 

Counting the current lame-duck session, there have only been 20 such sessions (out of 40 possible) since 1935 when the 20th amendment to the Constitution took effect.  That amendment changed the date for commencement of Congress to January 3, eliminating routine lame-duck “short sessions” between early December and early March.  Nine of the 20 lame ducks occurred in this and the preceding eight Congresses.  In all but three, Congress was forced to return after an election due in part to an “incomplete” on its appropriations report card. The three exceptions were 1998 for impeachment, 2008 for the economic meltdown, and 2012 for the fiscal cliff. This year Congress enacted none of its regular appropriations bills before the election recess, forcing government by continuing resolution through Dec. 11 and a lame-duck session beginning this week.

While presidents and an assortment of interest groups have long lists of items they would like a lame-duck session to consider, leaders prefer confining the agenda to “must pass” legislation: appropriations bills, and expiring tax and authorization laws. The exceptions are when an election takes control of Congress away from the president’s party as in 2006 and 2010.  That sets up a last-chance-for-legislative-romance dance between the branches. 

The lame-duck Congress in 2012 was also unusually productive given the action-forcing mechanism of the fiscal cliff. The current lame-duck round is unlikely to replicate its predecessor in legislative activity. That’s because of the lack of crisis, the president’s weakened status as a lame duck himself and Republicans’ better chances for success next Congress. 

No one is in an advantaged position this year to extract anything from a lame duck whose unsynchronized left and right wings have essentially grounded Congress for the better part of the past four years. Better to let it limp off stage with a minimal modicum of respect still intact.

That is not to say the leaders will have an easy time passing even a minimalist, must-pass agenda in the final days. While leaders might be expected under such time-sensitive conditions to pull out all the stops on procedural gimmicks and shortcuts and resort to what I call “procedural quackery” to get things done, quite the opposite has been true. An examination of the past eight Congresses reveals that most legislation considered during a lame-duck session is handled in a fairly straightforward manner. That’s because heavy-handed procedural gamesmanship late in the game can produce unnecessary partisan strife, delay and even defeat.   

Granted, there are no open amendment rules in the waning days of a session — continuing and omnibus appropriations and tax measures are traditionally closed, whether pre- or post-election. Members are more accepting of expedited procedures given the urgency of the agenda and the siren song of families beckoning them home for Thanksgiving and the religious holidays.

So, if you hear any duck calls emanating from Congress over the next month, don’t consider it a procedural quackery alert. More likely they are being sounded by the masters of the flock herding their fine feathered followers toward the exits until the last duck drops.

Don Wolfensberger is a resident scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.

Roll Call Results Map: Results and District Profiles for Every Seat

November 3, 2014

#GOTV Critical on Twitter in North Carolina Senate Race

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Tillis calls potential voters in North Carolina. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Midterm elections are often won or lost on how effective the parties are at the get-out-the-vote ground game.

As political data-munchers work overtime to process how increased early voting numbers in the tossup North Carolina Senate race — up 20 percent on the 2010 midterms with 1.2 million voting — may impact tomorrow’s result, Verifeed parsed Twitter conversations to see what candidate has the social edge.

According to the U.S. Election Project, Democratic share of the early vote is up 1.3 percent, and registered Democrats are up 15.7 percent in North Carolina. An analysis of influence, trends and sentiment on Twitter about early voting and get-out-the-vote efforts by both parties confirms this trend.

In the lead-up to the start of early voting Oct. 23, Verifeed analysis found Democratic “influencers” on Twitter engaged 3.2 million North Carolinians in active conversations with pleas to vote early, compared with just 412,113 Twitter users engaged by the GOP. And in the past week, Democrats have continued to dominate conversations about early voting and efforts to drive Tuesday’s voter turnout — actively engaging 487,714 people on Twitter, more than four times the GOP’s 103,567.

Full story

By Melinda Wittstock Posted at 3:21 p.m.

October 30, 2014

Twitter Trends, Influencers in North Carolina Senate Race

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Ebola is an issue in the North Carolina Senate race. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Millions of social conversations between North Carolina voters, candidates and big money special interest groups on Twitter provide compelling clues as to why Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan maintains a sliver of a lead over her Republican opponent, state Speaker Thom Tillis.

It may be surprising to learn that just 20 people were able to reach more than 23 million people in four weeks of Twitter conversations by directly engaging 5,936 North Carolinians who, in turn, amplified those tweets with viral precision to their friends, their friends’ friends and far beyond.

How will that viral influence impact the outcome on Tuesday? Verifeed pointed our social search and pattern recognition algorithms at understanding what issues were resonating with voters, who influences and amplifies sentiment, and how opinions change over time.

It’s education, stupid!

Full story

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