Citizens United v. FEC

PFAW Commends NH Senate for Passing Bill Supporting an Amendment to Get Big Money Out of Politics

Today the New Hampshire Senate unanimously passed a bill (S.B. 136) in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC. The bill also calls for a committee to study the proposed amendments currently being considering in the U.S. Congress.

“This is a big win for the people of New Hampshire,” said Lindsay Jakows, New Hampshire Campaign Coordinator for People For the American Way, who led a group of activists gathered in support of the bill at the State Senate today. “It shows that our state senators are listening to, and responding to, the voices of their constituents. New Hampshire residents have been calling loud and clear for an amendment to reclaim our democracy from the undue influence of corporations and billionaires. Today’s vote represents a big step forward in that grassroots movement.”

Support for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics is strong in New Hampshire, where in just the past two weeks eleven new towns have passed resolutions in favor of such an amendment. This brought the total number of New Hampshire towns on record in support of an amendment to 67.

People For the American Way has been working with ally groups to organize residents to speak out in favor of S.B. 136, including by encouraging New Hampshire PFAW activists to call their senators and urge them to vote in favor of the bill.

The bill now moves to the New Hampshire House. If it passes there, New Hampshire will become the 17th state calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.

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Shining a Light on Corporate 'Dark Money'

This op-ed was originally published at OtherWords.com.

If 2014 was the “Year of Dark Money” in elections, then 2016 is likely to be the “Year of Way, Way More Dark Money” — that is, unless something big changes soon.

One of the most troubling aspects of the explosion of big money in politics in recent years is the rapid rise in spending by groups that aren’t required to disclose their donors.

Right now, corporations and super-rich political donors like the Koch brothers can funnel millions into elections through groups that hide their identities, leaving voters and candidates unable to tell who’s behind the attack ads they buy in bulk, or what their agendas are.

More than $600 million of this so-called “dark money” has already been poured into our federal elections, and that’s only going to increase as we ramp up for the next presidential race.

Americans aren’t happy about this.

When President Barack Obama called in January for a “better politics” where “we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter,” he wasn’t just speaking for himself.

He was tapping into a deep-seated unease among everyday Americans who know that our political system can’t work for us when it’s awash in millions of dollars of untraceable money.

But President Obama can do more than simply call attention to the problem. He can take a big step toward fixing it by issuing an executive order requiring companies with government contracts to disclose their political spending.

That would mean that many of the nation’s biggest corporations — like Exxon Mobil, Lockheed Martin, AT&T, Chrysler, and Verizon, just to name a few — would have to let the American people know about their political spending. That would turn some of that dark money into plain old “money.”

As The Washington Post editorial board wrote earlier this year, disclosure is “the backbone of accountability.” The public needs to be able to follow the money trail, see who’s behind political spending, and call them out when they don’t like what they see.

Even the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate political spending with its 2010 Citizens United decision, has underscored the need for disclosure. Transparency, wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the ruling, “enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Today, only one-fourth of the country’s largest government contractors disclose their contributions to outside groups. That means that many of the corporations receiving the biggest government contracts — from taxpayer money — are likely doing a great deal of secret spending to influence elections.

President Obama is right: Ordinary Americans are tired of being pulled “into the gutter.” We’re tired of seeing corporations rig our political system with untold amounts of money from undisclosed sources.

The White House should issue an executive order to let voters see for themselves who’s trying to buy political influence to distort our democracy.

What are these corporations trying to hide? And why should We the People hand over our taxpayer money to help them hide it?

PFAW

Payday Loan Interests Funneled Dark Money into Fight Against Oversight

On Tuesday the Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal revealed that in 2012, the Online Consumers Network, an “arm of the online payday loan empire industry,” gave $200,000 to two dark money groups connected to top House Republicans during the industry’s push to roll back the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In other words, two years after the Citizens United decision that allowed for unlimited outside spending to influence elections, payday loan interests were funneling dark money political spending to benefit officials who could help in their efforts to fight oversight and regulation.

While this is far from surprising in light of the current state of our campaign finance laws, it flies in the face of how regulation should work. From the chemical industry ramping up political spending as Congress takes up a bill overhauling the regulation of chemicals, to the payday loan industry throwing money against oversight efforts, industry interests should never be driving the legislative or regulatory process. The public good should be.

Fighting to make governmental action about protecting ordinary Americans rather than protecting the bottom line of major corporations shouldn’t be controversial. It’s simply expecting our political system to work as it was intended: for the people.
 

PFAW

Eleven NH Towns Pass Resolutions Calling for Amendment to Get Big Money Out of Elections

Last week, 11 new towns in New Hampshire passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC. The resolutions direct state and federal legislators to guarantee that Congress and states can once again regulate political spending, and also make it clear that  corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as people to spend money to influence elections.

People For the American Way – along with Open Democracy – has been working with New Hampshire citizens to collect signatures and organize in support of the town resolutions.

“After decisions like Citizens United allowed an unprecedented amount of money into our elections, citizens across New Hampshire are raising their voices in favor of amending the Constitution,” said Lindsay Jakows, New Hampshire Campaign Coordinator with People For the American Way, who has been working with town meeting resolution organizers statewide.  “The energy behind this push is enormous, and it’s growing nationwide. Citizens in 16 states and over 600 municipalities across the country have already passed resolutions in favor of such an amendment. Everyday Americans want to see real change and are willing to organize resolutions in their own towns to get us closer to a democracy truly of, by, and for the people.”

The towns that passed resolutions last week included Bedford, Canterbury, Gilmanton, Greenville, Madbury, Mason, Plainfield, Rye, Sandown, Walpole, and Westmoreland. In response to a citizen petition, the Derry Town Council also approved a resolution on January 20 by a 7-0 vote.

Fifty-six New Hampshire towns passed resolutions in previous years, including: Alstead, Amherst, Andover, Atkinson, Barrington, Bradford, Bridgewater, Bristol, Chesterfield, Conway, Cornish, Danville, Deerfield, Dorchester, Dublin, Durham, Eaton, Exeter, Francestown, Groton, Hampstead, Hancock, Hanover, Harrisville, Henniker, Hollis, Hudson, Jaffery, Keene, Kingston, Lee, Lyme, Milford, New Boston, New Durham, New London, Newfields, Newmarket, Northwood, Nottingham, Pelham, Peterborough, Piermont,  Plymouth, Rindge, Salem, Sanbornton, Sandwich, Sharon, Stratham, Tilton, Wakefield, Warner, Waterville Valley, Webster, and Windham.

The city council of Franklin and town of Newport will vote on similar petitions in April and May, respectively. City councilor Rob Werner is also working to pass a resolution through the Concord City Council, and other cities may follow Concord’s lead.

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Following the Money in Wisconsin and Beyond

On Monday, Wisconsin became the 25th so-called “right to work” state when Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill into law that undermines workers’ rights and is likely to reduce wages in the state.

This divisive bill, which would have more accurately been called a “right to work for less” bill, was fast-tracked by Republican leaders despite being met with intense resistance and had the support of major right-wing funders. Two outside groups in favor of “right to work” legislation, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, spent over $5.5 million in support of Scott Walker’s reelection bid. Analysis by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found that since 2013, Republican legislators in the state have accepted “$26 in contributions from business interests for every $1 in labor contributions.” And the right-wing Bradley Foundation has given millions to groups promoting “right to work” bills, including to a number of groups in Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin and across the country, when people can “follow the money” and see who is bankrolling elected officials and what their agenda is, it changes how they evaluate the bills being considered. But today it’s not always possible to follow the money. Major corporations can funnel an unlimited amount of money through “dark money” groups to influence the political process, and they can do so secretly.

President Obama can, and should, take a big step to shine a light on dark money by issuing an executive order requiring companies that contract with the federal government, companies like Verizon and Lockheed Martin and Exxon Mobil, to disclose their political spending. No matter the issue, voters deserve to know who is trying to buy influence in their state or national government.

PFAW

Jeb Bush's version of #GetMoneyOut more like #SaveItForLater

In telling his super-rich donors to hold off – for now – on seven-figure contributions, Jeb Bush shows just how outsized an influence money holds over our democracy. They are ready to give that and far more, and they will, but everyday Americans could work a whole lifetime and never come close to that kind of political spending.
PFAW

PFAW and 50+ Allies Ask Obama to Require Government Contractors to Disclose Political Spending

Yesterday People For the American way joined more than fifty other organizations in sending a letter to President Obama asking him to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose all of their political spending.

Right now, corporations with government contracts are able to funnel unlimited sums of dark money to influence the elections of those who can put pressure on the officials deciding who is awarded future contracts. Contracts should be awarded to those best for the job, not those who can shell out the most political cash.

But with the stroke of a pen, President Obama could require that government contractors disclose their political spending. This would increase transparency and accountability in our democracy and bring us closer to the “better politics” the president called for in his State of the Union address – a politics in which we “spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter.”

And we are indeed drowning in dark money. In 2014's ten most competitive Senate contests, more than 70 percent of outside money spent in support of the winner was from dark money groups.

As the letter notes,

Six years into your presidency, and five years after the Supreme Court issued its tragically misguided ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, we’re now living in a Wild West campaign spending world… Against this backdrop, it is imperative that you act.

You can add your name to the chorus of voices calling on the president to issue an executive order and read the full text of the letter here.
 

PFAW

President Obama Underscores His Support for an Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

In an interview with Vox released today, President Obama expressed his support for constitutional remedies to our country’s worsening money in politics problem.

The president said:

I would love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, and maybe even improve it.

This isn’t the first time the president has weighed in on the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United. In 2012 during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, President Obama made a splash when he said that “over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United.” As the Vox article notes, today’s comments go a step beyond his previous remarks.

Agree with the president? Share our graphic and show your support:

You can watch the full interview with President Obama here:

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Advocate for Amendment to #GetMoneyOut in New Hampshire

PFAW activists joined with allies from Public Citizen, Open Democracy, and others last Thursday at public hearings on New Hampshire House and Senate bills calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.

About 50 supporters of a constitutional amendment attended each hearing, creating standing room only and overflow in the small room reserved for the House bill hearing.

Speakers included small business owners, activists who passed local town resolutions in favor of an amendment, and high school students.  Not a single person testified in opposition to the proposed legislation, underscoring the deep support among Americans of all backgrounds for fixing our big money system.

The bills (HB 371 and SB 136) call for the state legislature to recommend a constitutional amendment to the state’s congressional delegation, as well as for public hearings in geographically diverse areas across the state to decide the exact language for such an amendment.

A committee in the New Hampshire House will vote on the bill in an executive session on Wednesday afternoon, while the appropriate Senate committee has not yet set a date for a vote. PFAW activists and allies will be back at the state capitol next week for a lobby day to meet with key representatives and senators on Wednesday, February 4th.

Interested in joining us? For more information and to RSVP, email Lindsay Jakows at ljjakows@gmail.com.
 

PFAW

Democracy For All Amendment to #GetMoneyOut Becomes Bipartisan Bill

On Monday the push for the Democracy For All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and allow legislators to put reasonable limits on money in elections, became a bipartisan effort in Congress when Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) signed on as a cosponsor of the legislation.

While this is a historic step that deserves celebration, in many ways it is long overdue. Washington is the only place where the fight to get big money out of politics is a partisan issue, and it hasn’t always been that way.

Similar amendments proposed in the past have found bipartisan support in Congress, including from Rep. Jones. Republican elected officials across the country have been advocating at the local and state level to get big money out of politics. In fact, a recent report from Free Speech For People highlights the more than 100 Republican officials nationwide who favor an amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United.

Among voters, it’s also a bipartisan movement, with Americans of all political stripes speaking out against a democracy unduly influenced by corporations and billionaires. A 2014 poll found that in Senate battleground states, almost three in four voters favor a constitutional amendment to undo the harm of decisions like Citizens United, including majorities in “even the reddest states.” This support did not waver among Republican voters polled: amendment supporters outnumbered opponents by a 26 percent margin.

Still, Rep. Jones’ decision to become a cosponsor of the Democracy For All Amendment is an important step forward. Money in politics is an issue that affects all of us, and one that Americans of all political backgrounds feel strongly about. It’s only fitting that our federal elected officials in both parties listen to the voices of their constituents and join the movement to take our democratic process back from the grips of wealthy special interests.

PFAW

Democracy Reform Package Reintroduced in the 114th Congress on Citizens United 5th Anniversary

On Wednesday (1/21), at a press event on Capitol Hill, Congressional leaders focused on solutions to the money in politics problem by announcing the reintroduction of a host of pro-democracy bills in the 114th Congress, including small donor empowerment, disclosure, and a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. For the first time, members of the House and Senate introduced these separate bills together as a democracy reform package, emphasizing in their remarks that the individual pieces of legislation reinforce one another in creating a democracy truly of, by and for the people.  

One key theme of the event was the American public’s growing appreciation that money in politics is an underlying, systemic issue that must be addressed in order to confront the many important challenges of our time. States and municipalities across the country are already passing resolutions and ballot initiatives supporting reform, and millions of Americans are on record in favor of these solutions.

Reform groups are also coming together around a range of approaches to tackling big money in politics. More than 130 organizations have signed onto a Unity Statement of Principles, expressing their support for the values underlying many of the solutions discussed at the event today. The unity statement serves as a foundation for collaboration among diverse organizations, including environmental groups, labor unions, social and economic justice groups, business groups, and communities of faith. By mobilizing these broad constituencies around a common set of solutions a political force with the potential to enact pro-democracy reforms can be set in motion.  

Members that spoke included Sen. Tom Udall, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Sen. Jon Tester, Rep. Ted Deutch, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. John Sarbanes, Rep. David Price, and Rep. Michael Capuano. The bills reintroduced include the Democracy for All amendment, DISCLOSE Act, Government by the People Act, Real Time Transparency Act, and Shareholder Protection Act, among others. In the coming months PFAW will continue to work with a broad set of partners to mobilize around these solutions in Congress.

PFAW

Reform Groups Commend Congressional Leaders on Reintroduction of Money in Politics Legislation

The undersigned organizations commend today’s reintroduction by key Congressional sponsors of the “Defending Democracy” legislative package, a suite of proposed solutions to the problem of big money domination of our elections (full list below). We congratulate these members of Congress for moving forward on critical reform measures, from the disclosure of political spending to small donor public financing to a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC.  Millions of Americans are calling for change, and we applaud the Congressional leaders who are heeding that call through needed legislation.

Signed:

African American Ministers In Action
Alliance for a Just Society
American Association of University Women
Common Cause
Communications Workers of America
Courage Campaign
Daily Kos
Democracy 21
Democracy Matters
Demos
Endangered Species Coalition
Every Voice
Franciscan Action Network
Food and Water Watch
Free Speech For People
Friends of the Earth
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Main Street Alliance
Money Out Voters In
MoveOn.org
New Progressive Alliance
OurTime.org
People For the American Way
Public Campaign
Public Citizen
Responsible Endowments Coalition
Say No To Big Money
US PIRG
Voices for Progress

“Defend Democracy” Legislative Package:

1. Democracy for All Amendment: Provides Congress and the states with the authority to determine reasonable regulations on campaign financing and distinguish between natural persons and other artificial entities under campaign finance laws. Key sponsors: Sens. Udall, Sanders, Tester/Reps. Deutch, Edwards, McGovern.

2. DISCLOSE Act: Establishes a system of disclosure of campaign spending and the sources of those funds for all entities that make independent expenditures (at any time) and electioneering communications (in calendar year of an election for Congress; 120 days before the primary for presidential elections). Key sponsors: Sen. Whitehouse/Rep. Van Hollen.

3. Empowering small donors and increasing political participation: Matching public funds for small dollar contributions, and various other provisions. “Government by the People Act” (congressional elections), key sponsor: Rep. Sarbanes. “Empowering Citizens Act” (congressional and presidential elections), key sponsor: Rep. Price. “Fair Elections Now Act” (congressional elections), key sponsor: Sen. Durbin.

4. Prohibit campaign coordination: Clarifies the definition of “coordination” to include the close relationships and ties between a candidate and outside group or super PAC. Key sponsors: Sen. Tester/Rep. Price.

5. Real Time Transparency Act: Requires all political committees, including joint fundraising committees, to disclose electronically within 48 hours all cumulative contributions of $1,000 or more in a calendar year. Key sponsors: Sen. King/Rep. O’Rourke.

6. Sunlight for Unaccountable Nonprofits Act (SUN Act): Makes public the donors who give more than $5000 to tax-exempt groups that engage in election activities.  Key sponsor: Sen. Tester.
 
7. Shareholder Protection Act: Requires corporations to disclose to shareholders and the public spending of funds for independent expenditures and electioneering communications, even if such spending is indirectly done through a third party. Key sponsors: Sen. Menendez/Rep. Capuano.

A growing coalition of organizations has recognized that there is no silver bullet in the fight to get big money out of politics. Rather, there are many solutions which work together toward the same end goal: a democracy in which everyone participates, everyone’s voice is heard, everyone knows who is trying to buy influence, and everyone plays by common-sense rules and is held accountable to those rules. More than 130 organizations have signed on to a Unity Statement of Principles in support of those values.

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On Eve of Fifth Anniversary of Citizens United, Advocates Reach 5 Million Signatures Calling to Overturn Decision

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, reform groups announced today that they have now collected five million petition signatures in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn that decision and related cases. The Citizens United ruling on January 21, 2010 paved the way for corporations to spend unlimited sums of money influencing elections and was quickly followed by a nationwide campaign calling to reverse it.

In recent years, People For the American Way has partnered with a diverse group of organizations to compile the signatures. Groups contributing petition signatures include:

MoveOn.org, Daily Kos, People For the American Way, CREDO Action, American Family Voices, American Association of University Women, American Sustainable Business Council, Avaaz, Brave New Films, California Clean Money Campaign, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Media and Democracy, Coffee Party, Common Cause, Common Cause Colorado, Common Cause Massachusetts, Common Cause Montana, Communications Workers of America, Conference of Major Superiors, Corporate Accountability International, Courage Campaign, Democracy for America, Democracy Matters, Democrats.com, Endangered Species Coalition, Food and Water Watch, Franciscan Action Network, Free Speech For People, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, Left Action, Money Out Voters In California, Move to Amend, National Jobs for All Coalition, OurTime.org, Pay 2 Play, People's Email Network, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Progressive Democrats of America, Public Campaign/Every Voice, Public Citizen, RootsAction, Sierra Club, Sisters of Mercy, StampStampede, Teamsters, The Other 98%, The Story of Stuff Project, The Young Turks/Wolf – PAC, Unitarian Universalists Association, US Public Interest Research Group, USAction, WAmend, Young Democratic Socialists.

For more information on the nationwide movement to get big money out of elections, please visit http://www.getmoneyoutaction.org/.

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PFAW Edit Memo: The Growing Movement to Defend Democracy Five Years After Citizens United

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Date: January 20, 2015
Re: The Growing Movement to Defend Democracy Five Years After
Citizens United

Five years ago this week, the Supreme Court handed down its destructive decision in Citizens United v. FEC, a ruling that set the stage for an influx of outside spending in our democracy. This trend was on display in the 2014 election cycle, which saw the most outside spending of any midterm in our country’s history.

While Citizens United wrought unprecedented harm on our political process, it also ushered in a nationwide movement seeking to undo this harm. In just five years, more than 600 cities and towns as well as 16 states have officially called for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, and more than 4.5 million Americans have signed their name to a petition calling for such an amendment.

While undoing the damage the Supreme Court has done to our country’s campaign finance laws – and our electoral democracy as a result – requires either a constitutional amendment or a fundamental change in the court’s composition or jurisprudence, there are a number of other measures advocates are pushing to help mitigate the damage in the short term. The fifth anniversary shines a spotlight on a movement that has unified in unprecedented ways – a movement that has moved beyond a focus solely on the problem of big money in politics toward a focus on the broad range of solutions. While Americans understand the problem, there is a hunger for solutions.

Many of these solutions are on display this week as Congressional leaders come together to reintroduce a package of reform measures that work in tandem to address the big money domination of our political system. From small donor empowerment measures to the disclosure of political spending to a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, the joint reintroduction of these reform measures (outlined below) highlights the fact that each is an integral part of the long-term solution:

1. Democracy for All Amendment: Provides Congress and the states with the authority to determine reasonable regulations on campaign financing and distinguish between natural persons and other artificial entities under campaign finance laws. Key sponsors: Sens. Udall, Sanders, Tester/Reps. Deutch, Edwards, McGovern.

2. DISCLOSE Act: Establishes a system of disclosure of campaign spending and the sources of those funds for all entities that make independent expenditures (at any time) and electioneering communications (in calendar year of an election for Congress; 120 days before the primary for presidential elections). Key sponsors: Sen. Whitehouse/Rep. Van Hollen.

3. Empowering small donors and increasing political participation: Matching public funds for small dollar contributions, and various other provisions. “Government by the People Act” (congressional elections), key sponsor: Rep. Sarbanes. “Empowering Citizens Act” (congressional and presidential elections), key sponsor: Rep. Price. “Fair Elections Now Act” (congressional elections), key sponsor: Sen. Durbin.

4. Prohibit campaign coordination: Clarifies the definition of “coordination” to include the close relationships and ties between a candidate and outside group or super PAC. Key sponsors: Sen. Tester/Rep. Price.

5. Real Time Transparency Act: Requires all political committees, including joint fundraising committees, to disclose electronically within 48 hours all cumulative contributions of $1,000 or more in a calendar year. Key sponsors: Sen. King/Rep. O’Rourke.

6. Sunlight for Unaccountable Nonprofits Act (SUN Act): Makes public the donors who give more than $5,000 to tax-exempt groups that engage in election activities. Key sponsor: Sen. Tester.
 
7. Shareholder Protection Act: Requires corporations to disclose to shareholders and the public spending of funds for independent expenditures and electioneering communications, even if such spending is indirectly done through a third party. Key sponsors: Sen. Menendez/Rep. Capuano.

As elected officials are coming together around policy solutions, advocates are coming together around shared values and goals. Last week, a wide range of pro-democracy groups issued a unified declaration of principles on money in politics reform. This “Unity Statement of Principles” has been signed by more than 130 organizations and represents the largest collection of organizations ever united in support of such an extensive range of solutions on these issues. Further, in cities across the country activists are hosting more than 60 events on the week of the anniversary to raise their voices against big money in politics.

We urge your editorial board to take advantage of the Citizens United anniversary to highlight for readers not only the growing problem of the big money domination of our elections, but also the solutions taking root across the country.

For the latest polling information, fact sheets, and updates about grassroots money in politics activism, please visit http://www.getmoneyoutaction.org/.

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#DemandDemocracy Video Blog: Big Money in Politics Affects Climate Change

Our new video series explores how big money in politics undermines critical issues like gender equality, economic justice, and the environment.
PFAW

#DemandDemocracy Video Blog: Why Money in Politics is a Women’s Equality Issue

Our new video series explores how big money in politics undermines critical issues like gender equality, economic justice, and the environment.
PFAW

Wall Street Giveaway in Spending Bill is Big Money Political Influence at its Worst

It’s hard to know where to begin when running down the list of harmful special interest giveaways in the omnibus spending bill narrowly passed by the House yesterday. Earlier this week, we wrote about a rider in the bill that would allow the amount of money rich donors can give to political parties to skyrocket. The legislation moving through Congress also includes a provision that would have the effect of allowing mountaintop mining companies to keep filling Appalachian streams with toxic waste. Yet another rider is a “Wall Street giveaway,” actually drafted by Citigroup’s lobbyists, that would repeal a piece of financial regulation and let banks take part in more kinds of high-risk trading deals with government backed money.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren railed against the Wall Street rider on the Senate floor:

[Americans] see a Congress that works just fine for the big guys, but it won’t lift a finger to help them. If big companies can deploy armies of lawyers and lobbyists to get the Congress to vote for special deals that benefit themselves, then we will simply confirm the view of the American people that the system is rigged.

It is, as Sen. Warren says, hard not to think that “the system is rigged” when members of Congress use a spending bill to sneak through major policy shifts that benefit wealthy political donors, Wall Street executives, and big businesses, while leaving the majority of Americans with an even weaker political voice.

This is especially true when you consider that those who voted for the rider-filled spending deal were, by and large, the members who received bigger contributions from the benefitting industries. The Washington Post compared the House spending bill votes with Center for Responsive Politics data on campaign contributions to each representative from the finance, insurance, and real estate industries. What they found is disheartening, but not surprising:

On average, members of Congress who voted yes received $322,000 from those industries. Those who voted no? $162,000.

And that doesn’t even take into account the dark money whose source is unknown to the public (but likely known by the officials who benefit from it).

It’s one more example of the influence that money can buy in our current system, where big gifts from corporate spenders pave the way for corporate political victories. When Wall Street lobbyists can literally write the laws they want, no matter the impact on ordinary Americans, it’s clear that we need serious reform to the rules governing money in politics.
 

PFAW

New Report Highlights the Racial Inequities of Big Money in Politics

The infusion of big money into our democracy is helping to perpetuate racial inequalities, according to a report released yesterday by Demos. As we have seen in recent election cycles, the most aggressive and influential political donors are overwhelmingly white and affluent, paving the way for elected officials to be beholden to a donor class and far less concerned about the needs of most Americans.

While the economic biases of money in politics are clear, the report, called “Stacked Deck: How the Racial Bias in Our Big Money Political System Undermines Our Democracy and Our Economy,” also highlights some unsettling information on how elections dominated by wealthy special interests impede efforts for a more racially diverse and responsive political system:

Elections funded primarily by wealthy, white donors mean that candidates as a whole are less likely to prioritize the needs of people of color; and that candidates of color are less likely to run for elected office, raise less money when they do, and are less likely to win. Ultimately, people of color are not adequately represented by elected officials.

• A recent study of black candidate success concluded that “the underrepresentation of blacks is driven by constraints on their entry onto the ballot” and that the level of resources in the black community is “an important factor for shaping the size of the black  candidate pool.”

• Candidates of color raised 47 percent less money than white candidates in 2006 state legislative races, and 64 percent less in the South.

• Latino candidates for state House raised less money than non-Latinos in 67 percent of the states where Latinos ran in the 2004 election cycle.

• In a typical election cycle, 90 percent or more of the candidates who raise the most money win their races.

• Ninety percent of our elected leaders are white, despite the fact that people of color are 37 percent of the U.S. population.

...

• In a 2011 study, researchers found that white state legislators of both major political parties were less likely to reply to letters received from assumed constituents with apparently African American names (like “DeShawn Jackson”).

Tellingly, a governing body that skews heavily white also creates policies that can have detrimental impacts on racial minorities. The report also compiled case studies that demonstrate how big money disrupts progress on racial equality on a variety of issues, including:

• Private Prisons and Incarceration. Incarceration in the U.S. has increased by 500 percent over the past three decades, with people of color vastly over-represented in our nation’s prisons and jails. This is the result of policies that have put more people in jail for longer sentences despite dropping crime rates, policies boosting the bottom line of the growing private prison industry.

• The Subprime Lending Crisis. Because of rampant discriminatory lending practices, the subprime-lending crisis hit people of color especially hard. Banks and other mortgage lenders used millions of dollars of political contributions and lobbying to weaken and circumvent consumer-friendly regulations, resulting in the largest loss of wealth in communities of color in American history.

• The Minimum Wage. The federal minimum wage has remained stagnant, losing real value over the past several decades. Raising the wage to $10.10 an hour would lift more than 3.5 million workers of color out of poverty, but Congress has instead prioritized policies favored by the wealthy.

As money continues to dominate the process by which we elected public officials, our government moves further away from the true definition of a democracy and continue to serve only a very narrow segment of Americans.
 

PFAW Foundation

Proposed Spending Bill Would Let Wealthy Political Donors Give Even More

Just what our country needs after the most expensive midterms in history: a bill that lets big political donors spend even more money.

The government spending bill released by the House last night includes a rider that would drastically increase the amount of money the super-rich can give to national party committees. The language included in the spending deal would allow wealthy donors to give ten times the current limit to political parties.

Adam Smith at Public Campaign put the potential new limits into perspective in a powerful graphic:

With the new annual individual party limit expected to be more than six times the median household income, it’s clear that this shift is simply about handing the wealthiest political donors even more power and access. A tiny fraction of the country already dominates political spending; these changes would make it even harder for ordinary Americans to have a seat at the table.

What’s more, these provisions, which would have major implications for the health of our democratic process, were not even debated by Congress. They were simply snuck into an omnibus spending bill – a quiet attack that threatens to further undermine what’s left of our country’s common-sense rules limiting big money in politics.

After the midterm elections, exit polls found that nearly two-thirds of voters said that our system already favors the wealthy. Americans are ready for a government that works for everyone. But it looks like what we’re getting instead are Congressional leaders increasing committed to big money donors at the expense of everyone else.

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Soon-To-Be Senate Majority Leader McConnell Tests the Waters on Further Gutting Campaign Finance Laws

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is poised to become the new Senate Majority Leader when Republicans take over the Senate in January, is well known for his opposition to limits on big money in politics – whether through his unabashed support for the disastrous Citizens United ruling or his filibusters to prevent Senate votes on laws requiring more campaign finance disclosure. Now, before he even becomes Majority Leader, McConnell has already tried to further dismantle commonsense rules on money in elections.

McConnell attempted to add a rider to an omnibus appropriations bill – which must pass in order to prevent another government shutdown – that would “effectively chip away at direct contribution limits for candidates.” After opposition from sitting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-NY), Senator McConnell has backed off his proposal for now. Nonetheless, the writing is on the wall. McConnell wants to further deregulate the spending of private money in political campaigns.

Under current law, contributions to candidates in a two-year cycle are limited to $5,200 per donor. Donors can also give $20,000 to state party committees and more than $60,000 to national party committees. Currently candidates are limited in their ability to coordinate spending with the party committees that support them. If passed, McConnell’s measure would have effectively allowed party committees to fully coordinate with candidates in spending campaign funds.

While Senate Democrats rejected the rider, Sen. McConnell’s actions clearly show his intentions to further roll back existing campaign finance laws and threaten efforts to limit big money in politics when Republicans take charge of the Senate in January. This is likely a preview of what’s in store for us in the coming years.

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