Marge Baker

National Candidates Share Their Views on Money in Politics in the 2014 Elections

Most Americans recognize money in politics to be a pressing issue, but no one understands it quite like the candidates running for office to try and change our campaign finance system.

In a candidate forum yesterday at Netroots Nation​, moderator and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker led panelists – Maine U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, Wisconsin U.S. House of Representatives candidate Kelly Westlund, and former California Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman – in a lively discussion of the role of money in politics in the 2014 elections.

Baker kicked off the discussion by noting both the magnitude of outside money flooding into the 2014 elections as compared to earlier elections, as well as the public will to quell this tide. She pointed out that nine in ten voters want to see their elected officials take action to fix our country’s money in politics problem.

The candidates began by telling the audience why they were inspired to make money in politics a central issue for their campaigns. Shenna Bellows, who said that her father was a carpenter and that her family did not have electricity or running water during her childhood, noted that “people like me” – those not from wealthy backgrounds – don’t often run for public office. This fact, she pointed out, contributes to the creation of laws tilted in favor of big business. Rick Weiland echoed that idea, and said that he believes money in politics is the number one issuing facing our country. For Kelly Westlund, the full weight of our country’s money in politics problem hit home for her when she approached her party about running for office and was asked whether she would be able to raise a quarter of a million dollars in three weeks. And Derek Cressman said that he was drawn to the opportunity of using the bully pulpit of a political office like secretary of state (or as Baker added, the platform of a being a candidate for that political office) to get support for measures like Proposition 49, a ballot initiative in California asking Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United that will now be on the ballot in the state in November.

Panelists also talked about fighting the cynicism and despair that can surround the issue of big money in politics for voters. Cressman said that while Americans already understand that this is a major problem, they are also eager to support solutions. He underscored the overwhelming grassroots energy around the issue. A number of panelists highlighted the importance of “connecting the dots” between money and policy – drawing the links for voters between progress on the issues they care most about and the creation of a political system not dominated by corporations and the super-rich. Multiple panelists also shared stories of the power of small dollar donors. For Bellows, a full half of the contributions her campaign receives are $6 or less. She lifted up the example of former senator and progressive hero Paul Wellstone, who she noted was outraised seven-to-one but still won his race.

As the panel wrapped up, panelists underscored the importance of pushing for a range of complimentary solutions to our money in politics problem, from the constitutional amendment now moving through the Senate to disclosure legislation to small-donor financing initiatives. As Westlund put it, it’s not enough to recognize the problems. We have to fight for solutions and get the right people at the table so that we can change the system and make sure the government’s policies reflect the will of the people.

Watch a video of the panel here:

PFAW

Filibuster of Hobby Lobby Bill Sends Clear Message: Republicans Value ‘Rights’ of Corporations Over Rights of Women

WASHINGTON — Today the Senate failed to overcome a Republican filibuster of the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act (S. 2578), a bill to fix the harm done by the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision.

People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“With today’s filibuster, Senate Republicans aligned themselves with the Supreme Court’s conservative majority in valuing the ‘rights’ of corporations over the rights of real women. And once again, they’ve refused to allow a critically important issue even to come up for a yes-or-no vote.

“This blatant obstruction is unacceptable. The majority of Americans understand that businesses shouldn’t be able to deny women health care. But Congressional Republicans sent a clear message to women: your access to birth control is less important than pushing our own right-wing agenda.”

More than 100,000 people have signed People For the American Way’s petition urging Congress to override the damaging Hobby Lobby decision.

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PFAW Calls Senate Hearing on VRA Legislation an “Important Step"

WASHINGTON –Chairman Patrick Leahy announced yesterday that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on June 25 on the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), legislation intended to repair damage done by the Supreme Court last year in Shelby County v. Holder. People For the American Way's Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“Chairman Leahy and the Judiciary Committee should be commended for taking an important step toward correcting the damage done by last year’s Shelby decision. The right to vote is the most fundamental right in our democracy, which is why we need a modern, effective Voting Rights Act to protect it. We urge the Senate to move quickly on this, and the House to follow suit. With another national election looming, now is the time to move forward to protect the right to vote for all.”

The day of the Senate hearing will mark one year since the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in its Shelby decision. While a bipartisan group of House members joined Chairman Leahy to introduce the VRAA in January, the House Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule a hearing.

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PFAW Applauds Confirmation of David Barron

The Senate today voted to approve the nomination of David Barron to First Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 53 to 45.

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way issued the following statement:

“The Senate should be applauded today not just for confirming a well-qualified nominee, but for taking another important step towards addressing the persistent issue of vacancies on our nation’s circuit courts. For years, Republicans have blocked, delayed, and obstructed the confirmation of judges to our circuit courts at every opportunity. In recent months, Majority Leader Reid and the Democratic Caucus have been making real strides in processing the backlog of nominees.

“We need to continue to push hard to make sure Americans find fair-minded judges waiting for them when they turn to the federal courts to protect their rights.”

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People For the American Way's Marge Baker Stands With Congressional Leaders To Call For Amending the Constitution To Overturn Citizens United

This Tuesday at a press conference in the US Capitol hosted by Brave New Films and featuring Robert Greenwald’s latest documentary, “Koch Bros Exposed,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Bernie Sanders and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker made a resounding call for amending the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s egregious decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC.

“We need our voices heard… we need to change the status quo,” Majority Leader Reid stated after calling for an amendment.

“We need a government by the many, not a government by the money,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed. She went on to declare, “the time to amend the Constitution is now!”

Comparing the amount the Koch brothers spent in the 2012 election cycle to the amount they made, on average, over the past three years, Sen. Sanders pointed out: “$400 million is not a lot of money when you make $11 billion a year.”

Following Sen. Sanders, People For the American Way’s Executive Vice President for Policy and Program, Marge Baker, took the podium and stated, “The time has come to discuss solutions.”  She highlighted the growing support for the amendment strategy, the momentum behind the small donor empowering Government By the People Act, the push at the state level for disclosure and campaign finance law, and the growing movement around the country of everyday citizens who are working to build a more democratic government.

 

PFAW

PFAW Opposes Nomination of Michael Boggs to be Federal Judge

Federal district court nominee Michael Boggs of Georgia had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The hearing was his opportunity to address the many serious concerns we and others have had about his record. When he first ran for office as a state judge, he assured voters that they could know where he stood by looking at his legislative record, including his opposition to marriage equality. But judges aren’t supposed to let their personal political beliefs determine how they rule on cases. In addition, the legislative record he cited is deeply disturbing.

Unfortunately, his testimony in response to senators’ questions only deepened our concerns. So in a letter Wednesday to members of the Senate, People For the American Way expressed strong opposition to this confirmation. PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon delineated the reasoning behind the organization’s opposition to Boggs’ confirmation.

“[Boggs’] record makes clear that senators should not confirm him to a lifetime position as a United States judge,” the letter states. “…we do not believe Michael Boggs has demonstrated that he would be able to bring to his service as a lifetime judge on the federal courts the requisite impartiality necessary for such a position.”

The five page letter discusses the problems around Boggs’ ability to perform in the role of judge and his actions relating to LGBT equality, reproductive rights, and government promotion of religion. It also discusses the controversy around his support for the inclusion of Confederate imagery in the Georgia state flag, as well as his candor before the Judiciary Committee. You can read the full text of the letter here.
 

PFAW

PFAW Praises Senate for This Week’s Action on Judicial Confirmations

After a two week recess, the Senate has made significant progress in judicial confirmations on its first week back. This is not due to a drop in Republican obstruction, but instead to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s determination to overcome that obstruction. Only one week during President Obama’s administration has seen more judicial confirmations. Since Monday, over GOP filibuster efforts, the Senate has confirmed eight district court nominees and one circuit court nominee, while breaking the filibuster of a second circuit court nominee. Nancy L. Moritz’s nomination to the Tenth Circuit is scheduled for Monday, May 5.

Clearing so many of President Obama’s judicial nominations is a nearly unprecedented occurrence for a Senate that has been bogged down by Republican obstruction every step of the way. People For the American Way’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“This was a good week for our justice system, with nine judges confirmed to the bench. Americans saw critical advancement in confirming the circuit court nominees who have been denied a vote for months. A Ninth Circuit judge was confirmed, and the filibuster of a Tenth Circuit judge was broken. We applaud the Senate for moving forward on these confirmations, which are crucial for our justice system to run efficiently and serve everyday Americans. It is heartening to see the Senate taking this important step to strengthen our judiciary.

“Senator Reid’s efforts to prioritize this issue and clear President Obama’s judicial nominations are making an impact. Despite Senate Republicans blocking nominees and delaying votes from the beginning, Senator Reid has pushed to move these nominations forward and this week, we’ve seen that work pay off.

“We hope to continue to see the Senate working for the benefit of American citizens by giving them the fully functioning courts they deserve.”

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Obstruction 2.0: How Republican Senators Continue to Block Judicial Nominations Post-“Filibuster Reform”

Tuesday afternoon, PFAW hosted a special member telebriefing on the continued GOP obstruction of judicial nominees. The briefing featured PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon. They discussed how Republicans’ obstruction has reached staggering levels, despite changes in Senate filibuster rules.

Marge gave a brief background on the issue of GOP obstruction of judicial nominations, explaining how important federal judgeships are for deciding many issues that affect everyday Americans and defining why Republicans are determined to continue obstruction confirmations of judicial nominees. Their underlying goal is to keep as many seats empty as possible so a President Cruz or Rubio can fill them with right-wing ideologues.

She addressed the current narrative that President Obama has had more confirmations at this time than Bush had, and explained that these numbers need to be put in the context of the fact that Obama has had around 70 more vacancies to fill than his predecessor. That means for Obama’s confirmation results to be seen as equivalent to those of President Bush, he would have had to have many more nominees confirmed at this point in his presidency.

Paul began a discussion of some of the choke methods Republicans are employing to block the confirmation of President Obama's nominees to the bench. Paul delineated how all too often, GOP senators do not cooperate with the White House to suggest candidates for nomination, delaying the process from the very beginning. Once nominees are made and are sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, we have seen GOP Senators delay the hearing by not submitting their blue slips, an unofficial tradition that gives home state Senators an opportunity to express their support for the nominee.

Marge explained ways in which Republicans are delaying the process once nominees are in committee, where the minority is allowed to request one-week delays. To express the magnitude of the obstruction, Marge explained how of the 270 nominees who have had a vote during President Obama's term, only 11 have had their votes held on time.

Once on the Senate floor, the situation doesn't get better as senators are able to filibuster nominees by refusing to give unanimous consent to the simple act of holding a yes-or-no confirmation vote. To offset these delays, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been forced to file for cloture. Since the rules change in November, there have been cloture votes on all the nominees, adding hours of senate time in post-cloture debates (30 hours per circuit court nominee).

Marge highlighted that if all 30 nominees on the floor were voted on today, which is possible, then the number of current vacancies would drop precipitously, down to the level at this point in George W. Bush’s presidency. It is essential that these be voted on now, and that confirmation votes for nominations coming out of committee be voted on expeditiously.

Fielding questions from PFAW members, Marge and Paul discussed particular cases of obstruction like that of William Thomas's nomination in Florida, where Senator Marco Rubio withheld his blue slip in support of the nominee-–one that he himself had recommended in the first place. Members also made the connection between the effect of big money in politics and the motivations for GOP senators to obstruct confirmations, and attempted to find ways in which everyday Americans can make their voices heard to their senators regarding the issues of obstruction in judicial nominations. Paul used the example of the DC Circuit Court fight, where with the activism from people across the country rallying together helped get all the court's vacancies filled.

Marge and Paul, along with PFAW members, emphasized how as activists, we can intervene in the fight to take back our democracy by letting Senators know that average Americans are paying attention, watching how they respond and vote on judicial nominations, and considering who may be pulling their strings. For instance, a caller in Florida wanting to influence Marco Rubio could call his office and ask him to prevent a delay in a committee vote for nominees to fill four emergency vacancies. And everyone, regardless of whether there are vacancies in their state, can call their senators and call for the quick confirmation of the large number of nominees awaiting a floor vote. She also highlighted what is at stake in this mid-term election since the officials we elect today will help confirm the judges that will decide important cases that affect average Americans. For this reason, it is important to have demographic and experiential diversity in the courts so judges making decisions understand the impact of the law on regular Americans.

Click here more information on our Fair and Just Courts campaign.

PFAW

Over 1,000 Law Professors Condemn Senate Vote on Debo Adegbile’s Nomination

Last month, the US Senate failed to invoke cloture on the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department after a right-wing smear campaign that attacked Adegbile for helping provide legal representation at the appellate level to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted murderer, while working at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Every Senate Republican and seven Democrats voted to filibuster Adegbile’s nomination, effectively blocking the nomination and throwing out the window the constitutional ideal that all criminal defendants should have access to quality legal representation.

People For the American Way’s vice president Marge Baker called the filibuster a “triumph of demagoguery.”

Last week, over one thousand law professors came together to publicly condemn the vote by writing a letter to the Senate where they explain the ramifications of the vote for law students, lawyers, and the legal profession as a whole. The letter – dated April 25, 2014 – states:

[W]e are deeply concerned that the vote and the rationale publicly articulated by a majority of Senators rejecting Mr. Adegbile sends a message that goes to several core values of the legal profession. These include the right to counsel, the importance of pro bono representation, and the importance of ensuring that constitutional protections are afforded to every criminal defendant regardless of the crimes for which they are accused.

As law teachers we are particularly concerned about the disquieting message conveyed to law students and graduates entering the profession who may fear that their engagement with pro bono representation of unpopular clients may imperil their future eligibility for federal government service.

…We believe that the criticism of Mr. Adegbile, based on his representation of a death row inmate, is unjust and inconsistent with the fundamental tenets of our profession. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the assistance of counsel to persons charged with crimes, and all accused defendants are entitled to zealous representation by competent counsel.

The highest calling of any lawyer is to ensure that the Constitution is applied fairly and in accordance with the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court to every defendant.

…The debate surrounding Mr. Adegbile’s confirmation also threatens to undermine the widely-recognized importance of lawyers providing pro bono representation to meet unmet legal needs. Providing representation to defendants on death row is among the most challenging, resource-intensive and critically important pro bono counsel a lawyer can provide. Lawyers engaged in this work should be commended rather than denounced for their hard-work and commitment to ensuring that the protections of the Constitution are extended even to those accused of heinous crimes.

…Finally, as every lawyer knows – including the 57 in the U.S. Senate – we are not our clients. The constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel would be turned on its head if the contrary view were advanced. Indeed, had past candidates for public office been held to the Senate’s unjust standard, our nation would have been deprived of the likes of President John Adams (who defended British soldiers charged with killing Americans in the Boston Massacre), Justice Thurgood Marshall (who defended countless black men on death row in the Jim Crow South), and Chief Justice John Roberts (who represented convicted serial killer John Errol Ferguson).

Simply put, the rule of law cannot succeed if attorneys are judged guilty by association with their clients. In rejecting a qualified nominee for public service based on conduct which reflects the best of our profession, the Senate has done a grave disservice to the legal profession and those who seek to enter it.

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Rally for Democracy at the Supreme Court

As the Supreme Court heard arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case in which the Court will decide whether to strike down overall limits on direct political contributions – a great crowd of PFAW and allies rallied outside the Court in support of getting big money out of politics.  From students and small business owners to members of Congress – including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, and John Sarbanes – people from all backgrounds came together in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.

PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker kicked off the speeches by painting a picture of the “people versus money” nature of the case:

Inside the court – right now – one wealthy man is asking for permission to pour even more money directly into political campaigns. But we’re here, too, and we have a different ask.  We’re asking the justices to protect the integrity of our democracy. We’re asking them to protect the voices and the votes of ‘We the People’….We’re here today saying loud and clear: our democracy is not for sale.

Also speaking at today’s rally was Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Maryland State Director of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.  Rice spoke about the effect of campaign finance laws on young political candidates:

As a young minority elected official, let me tell you: this [case] is extremely troubling….Young minority candidates throughout this country are routinely outspent and therefore denied the ability to serve in elected roles….Money should not determine who serves in office.

Howard University student Brendien Mitchell, a fellow in affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program, talked about the importance of being able to hear the political voices of young people in the midst of voter suppression efforts and massive spending by the wealthy in our democracy:

What about the freedom of young Americans who cannot donate grandiose sums of money to political candidates?....We gather to say that this is our country.  And that in a case of money versus people, the answer should be apparent: the people.

One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Moral Monday demonstration leader Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action.  Rev. Barber highlighted the millions of dollars Art Pope has poured into conservative projects and campaigns in his home state of North Carolina:

We [in North Carolina] know firsthand that when you undermine laws that guard against voter suppression, and you undo regulations on the ability for corporations and individuals to spend unchecked amounts of money to influence and infiltrate and literally infect the democratic process, it has extreme impacts.

Extreme impacts – and not only on the electoral process itself, but also on a whole host of issues shaping the lives of everyday Americans.  Whether you care most about protecting voting rights, preserving our environment, or workers getting paid a livable wage, a political system where the super-rich can make six-digit direct political contributions harms us all.

And that’s why organizations and activists with focuses ranging from civil rights to environmental protection to good government issues came together today with a common message: our democracy is not for sale.

PFAW

Obama Nominates Three to Illinois District Courts

President Obama yesterday nominated three highly qualified candidates to federal district court judgeships in Illinois. The nominations of Colin Stirling Bruce, Sara Lee Ellis and Andrea R. Wood underscore the president’s commitment to bringing qualified, diverse candidates to the federal bench. Two of the three nominees, Ellis and Wood, are African-American women. Wood brings unique professional diversity to the bench: she currently works for the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which helps keep financial companies accountable to voters and consumers.

PFAW

PFAW Celebrates Passage of Maine Resolution to Overturn Citizens United

A resolution supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Trade Commission and related cases was passed by the Maine Senate and House today, making Maine the thirteenth state to call for such an amendment.  The vote was bipartisan in both chambers.

“As more and more states call for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and related cases, it becomes increasingly clear that the American people are serious about taking back our democracy from wealthy special interests,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way.  “In Maine and across the nation, Americans are working to protect our democracy from the flood of corporate and special interest spending ushered in by the Citizens United decision. The passage of this resolution is an exciting step forward for Maine and for the country.”

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GOP Report Shows Party is Out of Touch With Americans on Threats to Democracy: Money in Politics and Voter Suppression

WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee released a report today reviewing its losses in the 2012 election cycle and laying out a roadmap for the future of the party.  People For the American Way Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“This report highlights what we already knew: that the Republican party is out of touch with America. Instead of addressing the party’s anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-worker policies that voters resoundingly rejected in 2012, today’s report calls for a complete gutting of campaign finance reform – in essence calling for even more big money to be poured into our elections.  If the Republican party were listening to Americans, they would know that the country supports finding systemic solutions to the problem of unregulated money in our political system.  The answer is certainly not to gut the regulations we already have in place.  Instead, we need to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC and related cases so that we can create more effective regulations to get big money out of our democracy. 

“The GOP report’s recommendations on voting rights also underscore a continuing focus on keeping certain voters from the polls.  After an election cycle overflowing with examples of discriminatory voter suppression efforts aimed at historically disenfranchised communities, the report recommends an ongoing focus on so-called  ‘ballot security training initiatives.’  This is simply another phrase for the same voter intimidation tactics used in the name of preventing supposed ‘voter fraud.’  It’s baffling that the GOP thinks it can improve its image with people of color while still working to block their access to the ballot box.

“This report is yet another example that the GOP’s ‘soul-searching’ hasn’t gotten them very far.  It’s time to refocus our efforts on getting the big money out of elections and the voters into the voting booth.”

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Of, By and For Actual People

In 2011 comedian Stephen Colbert announced his plan to form a political action committee, noting that he believed in "the American dream."

"That dream is simple," he joked. "That anyone, no matter who they are, if they are determined, if they are willing to work hard enough, someday they could grow up to create a legal entity which could then receive unlimited corporate funds, which could be used to influence our elections."

While this may have been Stephen Colbert's satirical "American dream," this weekend we saw communities around the country pursuing a true American ideal -- a democracy of, by and for the people that is not undermined by unlimited corporate and special interest political spending. A democracy that encourages all people to participate. A democracy in which the voices of everyday Americans are not drowned out by massive -- and often secret -- outside spending in our elections, such as the out-of-state money that flooded down ballot federal races in the 2012 election cycle.

It is a fitting coincidence that this year, both Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the third anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC fell on the third weekend in January. Corporate money in politics and voter suppression are interrelated threats to the foundations of our democracy. That's why, under the banner of Money Out/Voters In, Americans carried out more than 100 "Day of Action" events in 33 states this past weekend, drawing attention to the appropriate juxtaposition of two of the most pressing issues facing our country.

In Wichita, Kansas, organizers held a mock trial to re-decide the damaging Citizens United decision. In cities including New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia and Buffalo, ministers led teach-ins on voter suppression and Citizens United from a faith perspective. In Lancaster, PA, they held Money Out/Voters In street theater. And in Richmond, California, activists marched to the Chevron refinery to demonstrate against the excesses of corporate power in our political system.

These organizers were building on a momentum to restore our democracy that has been gathering even more steam in recent months. On Election Day we saw Americans defying efforts to suppress their vote, standing in lines for hour upon hour to exercise their fundamental right as citizens. Despite the restrictions on early voting and voter ID laws targeting those who have traditionally faced disenfranchisement, the 2012 election saw historically high African American and Latino turnout. Youth voters defied all predictions and turned out in record numbers.

Election Day also saw organizers in cities and states across the country successfully push for legislative remedies to the influx of corporate and special interest money in our democracy. In Colorado, Amendment 65 -- an initiative instructing the state's congressional delegation to support a Constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United -- was approved, with more than seven in ten Colorado voters in favor of the amendment. Voters in Montana approved a similar initiative instructing their congressional delegation to propose a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. The measure was approved overwhelmingly. All in all, eleven states and over 350 local governments have passed legislative resolutions or ballot initiatives to overturn Citizens United.

Because, in fact, corporations are not human beings, and democracy is a system made for people. Americans are demonstrating in city after city that we understand this and that we demand solutions.

Stephen Colbert's satirical "dream" may be one of corporate political influence, but my dream -- and one that I share with the American people, as has been so clearly demonstrated in recent months -- is one of taking back our democracy from special interests and restoring political power to everyday Americans.

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

PFAW

PFAW Joins Allies at Conference to Fight Money in Politics

Super PACs and corporate lobbyists, beware.

Earlier this month, organizations from around the country working to fight back against the influence of big money on our democracy gathered to share ideas and make plans for action. The conference, associated with the Money Out/Voters In Coalition – of which People For the American Way is a leading member – provided a forum to discuss Constitutional and legislative solutions to the growing problem of corporate influence in politics. As AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld described it:


“Last Saturday in Los Angeles saw the most detailed, ambitious and encouraging discussion of exactly how to approach campaign finance and lobbying reform that I’ve seen in two decades of reporting on the decline of American democracy.”


Conference-goers grounded their discussions in the notion that corporations should not have the same constitutional rights as people to spend money to influence elections. They noted that constitutional and other remedies are needed to prevent powerful and wealthy special interests from undermining our democracy.

And national polls have consistently found that Americans want solutions. Earlier this year, the Brennan Center for Justice found that three in four Americans “believe limiting how much corporations, unions, and individuals can donate to Super PACs would curb corruption.” Another recent poll found that nine Americans out of ten agree that there is too much corporate money in politics.

As People For the American Way’s Marge Baker put it:



“This is happening because the people want it to happen.”


It is clear that Americans realize we have a problem on our hands. And as movement leaders come together, float plans, and debate proposals, it is also clear that those who care about repairing our democracy will continue to fight back against corporate influence in politics until we as a country have enacted viable solutions.

 

PFAW

PFAW Commends Senate Hearing on Citizens United and Voting Rights

Washington, DC – People For the American Way today commended the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding an important hearing on the tremendous impact the Supreme Court will have on whether the American people will be allowed to retain control of our own democracy. Today’s hearing will focus on the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC and the role of the courts in preserving individual citizens’ voting rights.

Citizens United has profoundly reshaped our elections, opening them up to limitless corporate cash, secret money, and risk of corruption,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Citizens United has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented control over the public debate preceding our elections. At the same time, new threats are arising to the right to even cast a ballot, as individual citizens are seeing their voting rights taken away by suppressive laws targeted at traditionally disenfranchised communities – especially those who corporate interests fear will vote ‘the wrong way’.

“Our federal courts have an important role in ensuring that the rights of Americans to control our own democracy are preserved. It’s encouraging that the Judiciary Committee is giving these issues the attention they deserve.”

Earlier this year, People For the American Way and allied groups delivered 1.9 million petitions to congressional leaders urging them to move forward on amending the constitution to overturn Citizens United.


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Big Government the Right Likes: The Kind That Keeps People From Voting

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government -- with the obvious exceptions of denying marriage equality and massive government oversight of women's medical decisions. But there is another kind of big government that the party has overwhelmingly, enthusiastically gotten behind: expensive and intrusive attempts to make it harder for Americans to vote.

A trio of federal court decisions in Florida, Ohio and Texas last week ripped the lid off the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to limit opportunities for low-income people, minorities and students to vote -- especially, and not coincidentally, in swing states. These decisions, from even-handed and moderate federal judges across the country, show just how far the Right has gone to use the power of government to disenfranchise traditionally disenfranchised groups.

In Florida, a federal judge permanently blocked a law that had made it almost impossible for good government groups to conduct voter registration drives -- which had led groups like the venerable League of Women Voters to all but shut down operations in the state. In Ohio, a federal court ordered the state to reopen early voting in the three days before November's election, which Republicans had attempted to shut down. Early voting on the weekend before the election was enormously successful in 2008 -- especially among African Americans -- and the judge found that Republicans had no legitimate reason to want it to stop.

And finally a federal court, which is required to review changes in election policy in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination, ruled that Texas' new voter ID law couldn't go forward because it "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas."

The effort that Republican governors and legislatures across the country have gone through in the past two years to make it more difficult for citizens to vote is truly remarkable. They have been willing to buck both the law and the spirit of our constitutional democracy to bar groups of people from participating in it. And they have been willing to set up extra layers of government and bureaucracy -- things they claim to despise -- in order to keep people from the polls.

There are plenty of areas of genuine disagreement in our politics, but the right to vote shouldn't be one of them. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, said "there should be public outcry" and a "sense of righteous indignation" at what is happening to our elections. He's right.

It's astounding that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination at the polls, it's still needed as a shield against such egregious violations of its principles. And it's astounding that the self-proclaimed party of small government wants to use government's power to keep people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.

PFAW

Activists Deliver 1.9 Million Petitions Calling for Constitutional Amendment to Protect Democracy

Today, concerned citizens and organizations delivered 1,959,063 signatures calling for overturning Citizens United and related cases by amending the Constitution. The petitions were delivered in connection with hearings held by the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine the impact of Citizens United, Speech Now and related cases and the need for constitutional remedies to restore the democratic promise of America. The millions of Americans whose names appear on these petitions reflect the deep-seated public concern about the state of our democracy and the growing grassroots movement to restore government, of, by, and for the people.

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way:

“The interests of the American people should be front and center in our elections, and today, 1.9 million Americans made that point loud and clear. But despite the message we sent Congress today, all over the country, our voices are being drowned out by the powerful corporations and the super wealthy. Short of changing who sits on the Supreme Court, amending the Constitution is the only way to undo the damage done to our democracy by Citizens United. The American people overwhelmingly support that idea, and by holding these hearings, our elected representatives are honoring the millions of Americans who are calling for a Constitution that ensures that “We the People” means all the people, not just the privileged few.”

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Ministers in Action, a program of People For the American Way:

“This petition drive proves that our collective voice can be the spark of change. Because millions of people have signed their names to proclaim that our democracy is not for sale, this grassroots movement has the power to take back our elections and ensure government by people through fair and transparent elections. We’ve made it clear to our elected representatives that a constitutional amendment is necessary to uphold that ideal. These hearings show how far this movement has come.”

Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen:

“The choice is simple: We can have a working democracy, in which the people rule, or we can have a Citizens United-facilitated plutocracy, in which giant corporations and the super-rich dominate elections. Rescuing our democracy requires that we overturn Citizens United and other decisions that constitutionalize the “right” of corporations and the super-rich to buy elections. With no prospect of the Court revisiting the damaging decisions it has inflicted, we need a constitutional amendment to reestablish the simple principle that Democracy is for People.”

Justin Ruben, Executive Director of MoveOn.org Political Action:

“We've seen this summer how a handful of billionaires are trying to buy the election. That's one of the reasons nearly 700,000 MoveOn members have spoken out in favor of overturning Citizens United, getting big money out of our elections, and preventing our democracy from being sold to the highest bidder.”

Becky Bond, Political Director of CREDO Action:

“How can the American people have an equal voice in our democracy when corporations are flooding the political system with millions in secret campaign donations? We must pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, end corporate personhood and help get shadowy money out of politics for good.”

Bob Edgar, President & CEO of Common Cause:

“Super PACs have transformed our elections into the sport of kings. Billionaires and corporations are pooling unlimited sums of money into joint accounts, pledging astronomical sums in support of or opposition to candidates, and recklessly drowning out the voices of the American people. These corporations and mega donors are motivated by an expectation of influence and access, often at the expense of the public interest. We cannot afford to auction off our vibrant democracy to the highest bidder.”

Lisa Graves, the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy/ ALECexposed.org:

"While billionaires are openly writing million-dollar checks to Super PACs, millions more is being secretly funneled to front groups whose ads may affect who wins and wields power over people and policy. Deceptively named nonprofit groups are becoming the Swiss bank accounts of elections, receiving secret multi-million dollar gifts that buy ads to influence how Americans vote. We may never know the true identity of those attempting to buy our elections through such shadowy groups -- whether they are corporations or people, domestic or foreign -- but we do know American democracy is increasingly for sale and that's why We the People are demanding that the Constitution be amended to fight this corruption."

Peter Schurman, Campaign Director at Free Speech For People:

“For a campaign we all knew would be difficult, the Senate hearing today is a major milestone: it shows that the growing movement for a constitutional amendment is starting to make a dent in Washington. It's time for Congress and the states to overrule the Supreme Court and make it clear that we the people, not we the corporations, are in charge of American democracy.”

Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, National Field Organizing Director, Move to Amend

"In community after community citizens are making clear through ballot initiatives and resolutions that they want their elected representatives to pass an amendment to overrule the Court by abolishing corporate personhood and the doctrine of money as free speech. These hearings are one step toward achieving that amendment, and we won't stop our efforts until the majority of the members of Congress are behind us and show that they understand that their job is to serve the people, not corporations or the privileged few."

David Levine, American Small Business Council CEO and Co-Founder:

“Business leaders would rather invest their money to create jobs than have to compete with big business bank accounts to be heard, and they are fighting back. More than 2,000 business leaders have joined the American Sustainable Business Council's (ASBC) Business for Democracy campaign to fight for a constitutional amendment that overturns the Citizens United decision.”

Eric Byler, President of the Coffee Party Board of Directors:

“Public awareness about money in politics is growing rapidly and crossing all cultural and political divides. Just like the founders of this nation, we are responding to an abuse of power by elite profiteers who feel entitled to govern over people. The task before us is to finish what our founders started — not to start a revolution but to complete one — by amending the Constitution and reestablishing the right to self-governance for people; not profiteers.”

Blair Bowie of U.S. PIRG:

“For nearly forty years, the Supreme Court has been driving us down a road that will inevitably dead end in the demise of American democracy. In equating money with speech the Court rejected the notion that in a democracy the size of your wallet should not determine the volume of your voice. Instead it enshrined the rights of artificial entities and ultra-wealthy individuals to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens in a flood of often secret cash. Ultimately, we can only get out of this judicial rut by amending the U.S. Constitution to clarify to the Supreme Court that the first amendment was never meant to be used as a tool for special interests to co-opt our democratic process. Today’s hearing and the massive citizen mobilization across the country since Citizens United show that the American people are ready to turn this car around.”

Stephanie Taylor, Co-Founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee:

"An unprecedented amount of secret money is already surging through our political system because of the Citizens United ruling. As we’re demonstrating today, there is huge public support for passing a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Americans want to take our democracy back from big corporations and billionaires. Passing this amendment is a critical first step.”

Bob Fertik, President of Democrats.com:

“The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United was catastrophic for American democracy. The American people now see the results in the form of endless TV attack ads, most of which are aimed at destroying President Obama. The Super PAC Billionaires who bought these ads remain largely anonymous, like hidden puppeteers pulling on strings. One million members of Democrats.com are united in our determination to pass a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United and replace Super PACs and other corrupt election money with clean public funds. Money out, voters in!”

Christopher Campbell, Wolf PAC:

"Our democracy is in serious trouble. It's time to change that. It's time we end the corporate takeover of our government. The only way to do that is to bypass the corporate-owned Congress and Supreme Court – and pass a constitutional amendment. We must pass a 28th Amendment saying that corporations are not people and they do not have the right to buy our elections."

Larry Cohen, President of Communications Workers of America:

“Our electoral process should be about the rights of individuals to participate in our nation's politics. That's what democracy looks like. The Communications Workers of America commends elected officials at every level of government who are fighting to restore fairness to our political process. The role of money in politics must be completely overhauled. Today it dwarfs everything else and is distorting our democracy. Working with other progressive organizations, CWA is committed to stopping the flow of secret cash to political campaigns and making it clear to all dollars are not speech. This effort will require constitutional changes and other measures to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for secret spending and today enables billionaires to buy our nation’s elections. We also will work for the public financing of elections, because without these very real changes, the one percent will continue to control our politics.”

Natalie Foster, CEO of Rebuild the Dream:

"Throughout U.S. history, whenever something in our democracy hasn’t been working, we’ve amended the Constitution. We’ve amended the Constitution to protect and extend the right to vote. Even basic rights we take for granted, like freedom of speech, are from amendments. Now, we must get big money out of our politics. This is another moment to make history and form a more perfect union together. "

 

The vast majority of Americans oppose Citizens United and related cases, and a grassroots movement calling on public officials to take action is growing stronger. This year, 51 organizations submitted a letter to congressional leaders calling for these very hearings, and more than 1,800 public officials from 41 states are already on record in support of constitutional remedies. More information on the effort to amend the Constitution can be found at www.united4thepeople.org.

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Gridlock or Bust: How the Senate GOP Has Abandoned Its Own Nominees for the Sake of Obstruction

To: Editorial boards and journalists

From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way

Subject: Gridlock or Bust: How the Senate GOP Has Abandoned Its Own Nominees for the Sake of Obstruction

Date: July 19, 2012

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got into a shouting match on the Senate floor, each of them accusing the other of purposefully stalling Senate business.

One of them was right. The other was making flimsy excuses.

Senate Republicans under McConnell’s leadership have routinely stalled the government’s business even on matters on which they agree with Democrats. Nowhere is this clearer than in the obstruction of  nominees to the federal courts, particularly those with strong bipartisan support. And nowhere is that clearer than the senseless filibuster of the nomination of Oklahoma’s Robert Bacharach to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bacharach has the strong support of both of Oklahoma’s Republican senators. He was approved by a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Yet McConnell, citing a nebulous so-called rule named after South Carolina segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, refuses to hold a vote on Bacharach’s confirmation. (Under Senate rules, the majority cannot schedule a vote without the consent of the minority party. Denying that consent for President Obama’s judicial nominees has been standard operating procedure for McConnell. This quiet filibuster is usually hidden from the public unless the majority calls for a cloture vote to end it.)

Oklahoma’s Robert Bacharach and the 20 other highly qualified judicial nominees awaiting confirmation deserve swift up-or-down votes from the full Senate.

McConnell is misleading Americans on the extent of his own obstruction.

In their exchange yesterday, Sen. McConnell accused Sen. Reid of “basically trying to convince the American people that it’s somebody else's fault, that the Senate is not doing the basic work of government.”

The Senate is not doing the basic work of government. But the blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of McConnell and his party.

Look at the progress on the confirmation of President Obama’s judicial nominees: the average federal court nominee under President Obama has waited 103 days after committee approval just for an up-or-down vote from the Senate. The average wait for George W. Bush's nominees at this point in his first term was just 34 days. The result is that only 153 Obama nominees have been confirmed so far, compared with 197 Bush nominees at the same point in his term. While Bush cut the judicial vacancy rate by over one third during his first term in office, Obama is set to end his first term with more vacancies than he started with, capping off a historically long period of high vacancy rates.

McConnell, unsurprisingly, has been trying desperately to hide these numbers. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, he and Sen. Charles Grassley claimed that the Senate today “already has confirmed 152 of his lower-court nominees, compared to only 119 of Bush's under similar circumstances.”

What they call “similar circumstances” is what the rest of us would call “apples and oranges.” The senators are comparing the confirmation rate in Obama’s first term to that in Bush’s second term – when, because of a cooperative Senate he had many fewer judicial vacancies to fill.

McConnell is prioritizing obstruction over the wishes of his fellow GOP senators.

Tenth Circuit nominee Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma has the strong support of both of his home-state GOP senators. In fact, Sen. Coburn has publicly spoken out against the needless obstruction of Bacharach’s nomination, calling McConnell’s delays “stupid.” Bacharach’s position is similar to that of First Circuit nominee William Kayatta of Maine, who is being filibustered by the Senate GOP despite support from home-state Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Both nominees received bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both have earned the American Bar Association’s highest rating.

Yet Kayatta has been waiting for a Senate vote since April and Bacharach since June. And if McConnell continues to have his way, neither nominee will even reach a Senate vote this year. Why? The Minority Leader arbitrarily announced last month that he would block all Circuit Court nominees until after the presidential election.

Sen. McConnell is trying to fool the American people with his creative statistics and denials. Under his leadership, the Senate GOP has become a force of gridlock, stopping even routine government business at every opportunity. If Sen. McConnell wants to prove that current Senate dysfunction is not the fault of his party, he can start by allowing a vote on Robert Bacharach.

Press contact: Miranda Blue, media@pfaw.org, (202) 467-4999

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