2014 Midterms

Money in Politics Debated in Midterm Elections

In Congressional races across the country, the issue of big money in elections is making its way into campaign speeches, debates and media coverage. Hundreds of millions have already been spent by anonymous sources through shadowy “dark money” groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors, and this influx of untraceable money will undoubtedly escalate as Election Day draws closer.  

In Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is locked in a close race with Democratic challenger Alison Grimes, the issue of big money in politics was recently brought up in a televised debate. “The only person Washington’s been benefiting is Senator McConnell and the millionaires and billionaires that have bankrolled him,” Grimes said, with McConnell essentially dismissing the assertion. Indeed, McConnell has repeatedly defended the role of outside money in politics, even going as far as to say that the current state of campaign finance is the “most free and open system we've had in modern times.” PFAW activists on the ground in Kentucky have been hard at work calling McConnell out for his record of blocking efforts to get big money out of politics.

At a recent debate in Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor criticized his Republican challenger Rep. Tom Cotton for taking money from political action groups that receive funding from billionaires like Charles and David Koch. Sen. Pryor went on to call out Rep. Cotton for praising the Koch network at an exclusive event hosted by the brothers this past summer, where he credited his political rise to the support of Koch-funded groups such as Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity.

In Kansas, the home state of Koch Industries, Senate candidate Greg Orman, who is running as an independent, has pledged to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. In response, Republican incumbent Pat Roberts has criticized him in a TV ad for supposedly seeking to take away free speech. Of course, the amendment would do nothing of the sort – it would simply restore legislators’ ability to set reasonable limits on money in elections.

If one thing can be learned from the 2014 midterms, it’s that without reform, the enormous amount of money being spent in elections will continue to grow. The need for a constitutional amendment is becoming increasingly clear, with public support on the rise. Over 550 towns and cities, 16 states, 200 members of Congress and nearly three and a half million people have called for an amendment. By the 5th anniversary of Citizens United, coming up in January, a diverse group of organizations seeks to gather over five million signatures and send a strong statement when the 114th Congress convenes next year.  

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PFAW

PFAW Announces 2014 Endorsements for Federal Office

PFAW is proud to announce 13 new endorsements. These candidates and officials, representing a diverse and broad swath of constituencies, are some of the best and brightest progressive champions in the country.

  • Pete Aguilar (CA-31)
  • Staci Appel (IA-3)
  • Alan Grayson (FL-9)
  • Mike Honda (CA-17)
  • Ted Lieu (CA-33)
  • Gwen Moore (WI-4)
  • Pat Murphy (IA-01)
  • Mark Pocan (WI-2)
  • Chellie Pingree (ME-1)
  • Martha Robertson (NY-23)
  • Jeanne Shaheen (NH-SEN)
  • Mark Takano (CA-41)
  • Rob Zerban (WI-1)

These candidates have fought against big money in politics, promoted economic fairness and equality for all, and called for increasing educational opportunities for workers and students. They promote civil rights and voting rights, support marriage equality and employment protections for LGBTQ Americans, and believe women should maintain choice over their own health decisions. Many are endorsed by multiple leading progressive, labor, civil rights, women’s rights, and equality organizations.

PFAW encourages all members to consider supporting these terrific candidates’ campaigns.

Visit our 2014 Federal Candidate Endorsements page for more information.

PFAW

As Mid-Terms Approach, New Data on Racial, Religious, Political Polarization

The Public Religion Research Institute has published a new report on inequality and economic insecurity. The report, released this week with a panel discussion at The Brookings Institution, is based on findings from PRRI’s 2014 American Values Survey, which was conducted in July and August. The survey showed that registered voters are roughly split in their partisan preferences for the congressional midterm elections, but that Republicans have a substantial advantage with regard to likely voters, highlighting the Democratic Party’s long-term challenge of getting the mid-term electorate to look more like the electorate in presidential election years.

The survey indicates that Americans’ belief in the continuing existence of “the American Dream” is slipping amid growing doubts about the future and a widely shared belief (about two-thirds of Americans) that neither the government nor the economy is operating in the best interest of all Americans. But on those issues, like nearly everything, there are strong partisan divides.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the economic system in the US unfairly favors the wealthy, but only one third of Tea Partiers and less than half of Republicans agree. More than two-thirds of Americans believe the government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor;  86% of Democrats and nearly two-thirds of independents say the government should do more, but less than half of Republicans and Tea Partiers agree.

Republicans are most likely (52%) to report being in excellent or good financial shape themselves, but the least likely (15%) to believe the economy has gotten better over the last two years. Less than one-third of Republicans (32%) live in households facing moderate or high economic insecurity, while more than 4-in-10 Democrats (42% do). More Americans than not believe their children’s generation will be worse off than their own, with the most pessimistic being Americans who most trust Fox News for information about current events. African Americans and Hispanic Americans are more optimistic about the economy getting better than white Americans.

On specific economic policies: about 8-in 10 Americans favor requiring companies to provide full time employees with paid leave for birth or adoption of a child and paid sick days if they or an immediately family members gets sick; about 7 in 10 favor increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour; about 2/3 of Americans agree government should to more to reduce the gap between rich and poor; about 6-in-10 Americans, but only 4-in-10 Republicans, favor increasing the tax rate on Americans making more than $250,000 per year.

On racial justice, the survey showed significant movement between 2013 and 2014 in the number of Americans who don’t think blacks and other minorities get equal treatment as whites in the criminal justice system, from 47 to 56 percent. But there are huge partisan, racial, and generational divides. Large majorities of Black Americans (84%), Democrats (69%), and Young Adults (63%) disagree that minorities get equal justice, while only minorities of Republicans (38%) and Seniors (44%) say the same. The number of white Americans who don’t believe minorities get equal justice rose from 42% in 2013 to 51% in 2014.

On the question of so-called “reverse discrimination,” 45% of Americans believe that discrimination against white Americans has become as big a problem as discrimination against black Americans and other minorities, with large majorities of Republicans (61%), Tea Partiers (73%), white evangelical Protestants (63%) and older white Americans (59%) agreeing. Almost 60% of white working class Americans believe discrimination against white Americans has become as big a problem as discrimination against black Americans and other minorities.

Henry Olsen, a conservative and a Senior Fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, said that the data sends a message to Republican leaders that the standard GOP playbook will not be enough for the party. Opposing gay marriage won’t energize enough voters as long as the Party is not addressing the serious economic anxieties facing white working class people who make up a substantial part of the electorate in key swing states. There is a disconnect, he suggested, between people who are feeling left out economically and many party leaders’ ideological opposition to government support programs. There is a reason, he says, that every swing state Republican governor has embraced Medicaid expansion.

Joy Reid, host of the Reid Report on MSNBC, said that southern Democratic politicians used to be better at having a “dual conversation” that would address the fact that rural white voters still had needs from the government. Many southern whites who had supported the New Deal, she said, saw the Johnson Great Society programs as a betrayal. Today, she says, many white working class people are voting more out of a sense of cultural identity than on the details of economic policy.

Among the commenters was Alan Abramowitz of Emory University, who said that partisan polarization in America is the highest it has ever been. Forty or fifty years ago, people liked their own political party more than their opponents, but they respected the other party. Now, he says, we not only hate the leaders of the “other” party, we hate their voters, too.

Abramowitz said that stark racial divides are driving political polarization. The Democratic Party, he said, is already a majority-minority party, and the GOP seems to be doing nothing to improve its appeal to non-white voters. Reid said that if the Republican Party continues its current behavior, and Democrats and their progressive allies are able to do more to improve voter turnout among Hispanics, the 2020 election will be “Armageddon” for Republicans.

In the arena of religion and politics, Americans are equally split on whether they are more concerned about government interfering with the ability of people to freely practice their religion or about religious groups trying to pass laws that force their beliefs on others. White evangelical Protestants (66%) and Hispanic Protestants (57%) are the only groups with a majority that is more concerned about the government interfering with the ability of people to freely practice their religion, while White Mainline Protestants and White Catholics are more evenly split. Black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, Jews, and Unaffiliated Americans are more likely to be concerned about religious groups trying to pass laws that force their beliefs on others.

PRRI’s Jones noted that Latinos are becoming less Catholic, and that shift is going in two directions: some are becoming evangelical Protestants but some are also joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated. Jones noted that white evangelical Protestants are a shrinking part of the electorate, making up about 3-in-10 seniors but only 1-in-10 millennials. Today, he said, white evangelical Protestants are about the same size in the electorates as people with no religious affiliation.

That data point provides a bit of counterpoint to recent headlines – “More Americans Favor Mixing Religion and Politics” for example -- generated by a Pew survey showing that more Americans wanted churches and other houses of worship to get involved in social and political issues. Americans are about equally split on that question, but almost two-thirds, 63%, still believe that churches should not endorse candidates.

PFAW

2014 Midterm Elections: PFAW Holds Member Telebriefing with Political Strategist Celinda Lake

People For The American Way hosted a telebriefing Thursday evening to update PFAW members on the electoral landscape for 2014.  The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured prominent pollster and political strategist and current President of Lake Research Partners Celinda Lake, as well as PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager and Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Lake discussed the political climate in Congress and the general frustration voters feel toward both political parties. She emphasized multiple times throughout the call that in this election “the key is voter turnout.” In Kentucky, for instance since most undecided voters are leaning towards Alison Lundergan Grimes, turnout will be critical to help unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Political Director Randy Borntrager discussed the work PFAW is doing to make the biggest impact possible in the most pivotal races to help progressives win this election. Lake and Borntrager emphasized that increasing awareness to voters of what is truly at stake – from reproductive rights to potential Supreme Court vacancies – will help make a difference come November.

Questions from callers also focused on other critical races including gubernatorial races in Florida and Wisconsin, the Senate race in North Carolina, and contests in Alaska and Iowa, among others.

In closing, Drew Courtney noted that the telebriefing shows that “we have some challenges ahead, but we are going to fight hard and push forward, and we’re not going to go back to the way things were before.”

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.
 

PFAW

Thanks to the Roberts Court, “Big Money” in Our Elections Is Only Getting Bigger

2014 is looking to be a bumper year for election spending. After the Citizens United ruling in 2010, that year’s midterms became a test case for how the newly-minted Super PACs and newly-empowered “dark money” groups would use their strength. They must have liked what their spending bought them, because this year they are back with a vengeance.

According to Open Secrets, spending by outside groups as of May 6th in this election cycle has approximately tripled from the amount outside groups spent in the same time period leading up to the 2010 midterms (leaping from $16.6 million in 2010 to $72.7 million in 2014). In 2006, this number was $2.5 million – that’s a twenty-nine-fold increase in just two midterm cycles.  At this rate, outside spending on this year’s midterms is set to far outpace even outside spending in the 2008 presidential election cycle.

The influence of outside spending groups has increased so much that in some races they are spending far more than the candidates themselves. Forty-nine percent of all election spending on this year’s midterms so far has come from outside spending groups. In hotly contested races, the proportion is even higher. In the North Carolina U.S. Senate race – which is the most expensive so far this cycle – 90 percent of all spending has come from outside groups, 58 percent of which are “dark money” groups not required to disclose their donors like Super PACs do.

The new era of “big money” election spending disproportionately benefits conservative candidates. Seventy-two percent of donors who had maxed out their aggregate contribution limits before the Supreme Court struck down those limits in April had contributed only to Republicans. Forty-five percent of these donors were in the finance industry.  In addition, Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-linked “dark money” group, accounts for nearly one third of all independent expenditures on television advertising so far in this election cycle. 

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, just as reformers predicted, the Republican Party is forming “super joint fundraising committees” that pool large checks from big donors and – now unrestrained by aggregate contribution limits – redirect that money to long lists of candidate campaigns.

The consequences of the influx of “big money” into our elections are clear for the vast majority of Americans who can’t afford to write large check to candidates: they’re being squeezed out of the process. According to the Brennan Center, in current “high-dollar” federal races, only nine percent of funds have come from donations of $200 or less.

Simply put, these trends are disturbing. Even before Citizens United, it was becoming clear that money played an outsized role in our politics. The continued ability of corporations, special interests and wealthy individuals to spend limitlessly on elections calls into question the health of our democracy. The concentration of power away from the voters and towards the donor class creates the specter – and very real threat – of a Congress wholly populated by those elected by dollars, not votes. 

PFAW Foundation
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