Citizens United v. FEC

Small Businesses Support ‘Major Changes’ to Campaign Finance Laws

Small business owners are in favor of reforming our current campaign finance system, according to a new opinion poll from the Small Business Majority. In a nationwide survey last month, 77 percent of small business employers said that “big businesses have a significant impact on government decisions and the political process,” and nearly as many (72 percent) said they believe major changes are necessary to reform campaign finance laws. Only four percent of respondents said they believe no changes are necessary.

Yesterday Sam Becker from the Wall Street Cheat Sheet highlighted the conclusions of the survey:

[T]here is significant concern about the political and economic landscape, and the growing influence of corporate power on the parts of small business owners. With nearly three-quarters of small businesses saying they feel that they are at a disadvantage because of corporate influence in politics, it lends extra credence to the notion that our election process — which typically tends to cater heavily to the small business crowd — is in need of some serious reforms.

This is a good reminder that when enormously powerful corporate interests claim to speak for “the business community,” they are not necessarily speaking for the small businesses that play such an important role in our economy and in our communities. The results of this survey underscore the idea that campaign finance reform enjoys broad support among Americans of diverse professions and backgrounds. Religious organizations, labor unions, and business associations – in addition to many groups in the progressive nonprofit community –  are mobilizing around solutions to big money in politics. These solutions include transparency in political donations and public financing of elections, as well as a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in politics.

PFAW

Citizens United President Claims Decision “Leveled the Playing Field”

Today Right Wing Watch reported on Citizens United president David Bossie bragging that the Supreme Court decision bearing the organization’s name “leveled the playing field, and we’re very proud of the impact that had in last night’s election.”

It’s pretty hard to figure how Citizens United, the 2010 decision that opened the floodgates for unlimited outside political spending, could be understood to have “leveled the playing field.” As outside spending has skyrocketed in the years since that disastrous decision, it has become increasingly hard to hear the voices of everyday Americans over the roar of big money. Far from leveling the field, decisions like Citizens United have drastically tilted the field even more toward wealthy special interests and away from ordinary people.

But Bossie is right about one thing: Citizens United certainly had a big impact on the 2014 midterms. In an election where Republicans beat Democrats across the board, the millions spent by conservative outside groups “dwarfed” that spent by liberal groups, Politico’s Kenneth Vogel noted today. “Establishment Republican money finally got what it paid for,” he wrote.

That Bossie is proud of the decision’s impact on an election expected to go down as the most expensive midterm in history reveals a very different agenda behind the conservative organization’s work. Hint: it’s not about a level playing field.
 

PFAW

In Kentucky McConnell Campaign Benefits Big From Dark Money

With the Kentucky Senate race a major point of focus in the upcoming midterms, and potentially determining control of the Senate, the issue of big money in politics has been repeatedly raised in debates and interviews by Sen. Mitch McConnell’s challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell, for his part, has defended Citizens United v FEC and the influence of big money in politics.

It’s not hard to see why. A recent article by the Center for Public Integrity details the enormous amount of cash that has been spent in support of Sen. McConnell’s reelection campaign by outside “dark money” groups. One group in particular, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, has spent $14 million since the beginning of 2013. Groups like the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition are granted tax-exempt status by the IRS as “social welfare organizations” and are not required to disclose their donors.

According to The Center for Public Integrity:

Despite having effectively no physical presence, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition now ranks among the largest social welfare nonprofits in Kentucky — bringing in more money, according to Internal Revenue Service records, than some of Kentucky’s more high-profile nonprofits, such as the Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky Derby Festival, the group behind two weeks’ worth of events surrounding the Kentucky Derby.

Of the more than 12,000 ads put on air by the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, every single one of them specifically mentions either McConnell or Grimes. About half, 53 percent, expressed approval of Sen. McConnell while the remainder criticized Grimes. These massive ad buys have all occurred since early 2013. Prior to then the organization was almost inactive. Incorporated in 2008, during its first five years the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition never reported more than $50,000 in annual receipts. 

The article continues:

When it applied for tax-exempt status as a social welfare nonprofit, the group told the IRS that it did not have any plans to spend any money “attempting to influence” the election of any political candidates. It added that it would be “operated exclusively for public and social welfare purposes.”

The McConnell campaign has refused to acknowledge or discuss the impact of the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition until recently, after a mid-October debate, when a campaign staff member responded to a question about how Sen. McConnell would be doing without the support from the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, replying “We’d be winning just like we are right now.” Recent polling shows McConnell and Grimes locked in a close race, with McConnell leading by just a few percentage points.

Without reforming the way elections are financed, shadowy dark money groups like the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition will continue to funnel millions of dollars into elections on the local, state and federal level. While the Supreme Court may have ruled that money is speech, most Americans don’t buy it. A majority of the public thinks there is too much money in politics and three in four people support a Constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v FEC. Whether this overwhelming support for reform translates to progressive candidates getting elected next week remains yet to be seen.

One thing, however, is clear. Mitch McConnell doesn’t just favor the current system of campaign finance: he benefits from it.

PFAW

Florida GOP Politicians Get Big Bucks from Fossil Fuel Interests, Dodge Climate Change Questions

This weekend Common Cause Florida Chairman Peter Butzin published an op-ed calling out Florida Republicans such as Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush for repeatedly ducking questions on climate change while taking big money from dirty energy donors to fund their campaigns. Butzin noted:

Rising sea levels threaten all of Florida’s popular coastal areas and could alter the freshwater supply that feeds our cities and agriculture. Too many elected officials not only refuse to address climate change, they won’t even acknowledge it as legitimate. Meanwhile, they happily take campaign checks from business interests that benefit the most from their inaction.

Fossil fuel interests spent $116 million nationally on political campaigns in 2012, and are on track to spend even more in 2014. Since many of Florida’s major population centers are along the coastline and are barely above sea level, climate change presents a particularly high stakes risk for residents of the state.

At the end of his op-ed, Butzin highlights the important connection between action on climate change and campaign finance reform.

If we really want to save our state and our planet we must first reform the system we use to elect our representatives in Washington and Tallahassee. Floridians need a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Once that happens, Florida politicians will have no excuse to deny the science of climate change.

You can read the full op-ed here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article3358904.html#storylink=cpy

PFAW

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.  

Have you added your name?

PFAW

Even Michele Bachmann Is Fed Up With The ‘Bizarre And Absurd’ Level Of Money In Politics

We know from polls that Americans on the left, right and everywhere in between are fed up with the destructive role of big money in politics and are ready for a solution to the unchecked flood of spending that has been released by a recent string of Supreme Court decisions.

But that idea got a surprising endorsement from Rep. Michele Bachmann, the ultraconservative Minnesota Republican, who in response to a question after a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday (10/15), lamented the “ridiculous,” “crazy,” “bizarre and absurd” level of money that is now saturating elections.

Money in politics clip starts 49 minutes in:

“I think it’s ridiculous the amount of money we spend on these elections,” she said. “It’s gone into the level of the bizarre and absurd.”

Recalling her 2010 reelection battle, for which she raised over $13 million, Bachmann said, “That’s crazy money. That’s crazy that any candidate should have to raise that kind of money.”

“Money is buying influence rather than real people going to the polls,” she said.

Bachmann didn’t propose any solution to the surge of money in politics, except hinting at spending limits for campaigns — which were struck down by the Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision. But her comments mark a rare occasion in which a Republican member of the 113th Congress – a Tea Partier no less – has gone on record to acknowledge the troubling influence of big money in politics.

PFAW

Fairer Elections Through Public Financing: Montgomery County, Maryland, Leads the Way

It’s no secret that our country’s elections have been taken over by out-of-control spending, and this year’s rapidly approaching midterms are no exception. Maybe that’s why it’s so refreshing to read about some recent progress in the fight to reclaim our democracy from corporations and billionaires. Today the Montgomery County Council in Maryland is set to vote on legislation that would create a system of small-donor public financing for local elections — and it’s looking likely to pass.

It’s a system based on a simple premise: swap in lots of small donations from local community members in place of a handful of large donations from powerful interests. Encourage local people to give money to candidates they support by matching those donations with public funds. Not only does this empower regular people to get involved in campaigns, since they see their dollar going further, but it makes it smart for candidates to seek support from, and be accountable to, their own community members rather than wealthy special interests.

The Baltimore Sun explains how it would work in Montgomery County:

Beginning in 2015, candidates for county executive or council would qualify to have their political campaigns publicly funded if they attracted a sufficient number of small contributions of $5 to $150. In the case of a council race, for instance, it would be 125 donations adding up to at least $10,000. After that, campaigns would be largely publicly financed on a matching basis….The system would be voluntary, but participants would not be able to accept donations larger than $150 or from political action committees or labor organizations.

Public financing has worked in other cities across the country. Take New York City as an example. A 2012 Brennan Center analysis of the effects of the city’s public finance model found that the matching system helped “bring participants into the political process who traditionally are less likely to be active.” The study suggested that the model encouraged candidates to reach out to a more diverse group of people to support their campaigns, rather than centering all of their efforts on the wealthiest donors.

And when candidates start getting into office because of the support of their constituents, rather than because a few wealthy special interests have bankrolled their campaigns, the policy agenda can shift from one designed to keep powerful interests happy to one designed to serve the common good.

Legislators across the country should take note of what’s happening in Montgomery County. Polling consistently shows that the overwhelming majority of voters want to see elected officials work to lessen big money’s impact on our elections. In other words, Americans understand the problem but are hungry for solutions. Along with long-term fixes like pushing to amend the Constitution to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing can be a way to put everyday Americans’ voices at the center of our political process, where they belong.

PFAW

Justice Ginsburg Would Overturn Citizens United

In a recent interview with the New Republic, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reiterated her belief that Citizens United v. FEC was the worst ruling to be handed down from the Roberts court:

“If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United. I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.”

The interview goes on to cover a range of topics, including her growing notoriety as an internet sensation as well as her plans to stay on the court as an active justice.

“As long as I can do the job full steam, I will stay here. I think I will know when I’m no longer able to think as lucidly, to remember as well, to write as fast. I was number one last term in the speed with which opinions came down. My average from the day of argument to the day the decision was released was sixty days, ahead of the chief by some six days. So I don’t think I have reached the point where I can’t do the job as well.”

In previous interviews Justice Ginsburg has described this Court’s campaign finance decisions as its biggest mistakes, alluding to the way in which money is “corrupting our system.”

Our affiliate PFAW Foundation recently released a report examining Justice Ginsburg’s vital role dissenting against the increasingly conservative rulings of the Roberts Court.

PFAW

Atlanta in Support of Constitutional Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

On Monday city council members in Atlanta overwhelmingly passed a resolution (12-2) in support of the Democracy for All amendment, joining the list of more than 550 towns and cities across the country that have called on Congress to address our broken campaign finance system. Last week 54 senators voted in support of the proposed amendment, which would overturn decisions like Citizens United and allow legislators to set reasonable limits on money in election. One additional cosponsor of the bill was unable to attend the vote, so the total number of U.S. Senate supporters is 55.

The recent votes in Washington and in Atlanta indicate a clear trend: people are tired of big money buying influence in our elections. Local and state victories are a key step toward the passage of a 28th amendment, which requires approval of 2/3 of Congress and ¾ of the states. A growing coalition of organizations are mobilizing their members around this issue, with groups now working together on the local, state and national level.  

Passing a constitutional amendment is no easy feat, though with concerted effort and determination history has proven it can happen, as it has 27 times thus far. In less than five years since the Citizens United v. FEC decision was handed down, the progress that has been made in enacting a solution is substantial: 3.2 million people, 55 senators, 16 states and over 550 municipalities have all called for a constitutional amendment. Through the continued leadership of cities such as Atlanta, the will of the people can be made unmistakably clear to those in Washington. This is a debate, and an amendment, that the American people are willing to fight for.

 

PFAW

Edit Memo: Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Decisions Like Citizens United Debated in U.S. Senate, 55 Senators in Support

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Date: September 16, 2014
Subject: Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Decisions Like Citizens United Debated in U.S. Senate, 55 Senators in Support


On Thursday, September 11th the U.S. Senate had a historic vote. After a week of debate about 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, 54 senators went on record to stand up for the voices of everyday Americans. Including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), an amendment cosponsor who was not able to be there for the vote, there are now 55 senators on record in support of the amendment.

The 55 senators in support put amendment proponents only 12 short of the 67 votes needed to pass a constitutional amendment through the Senate. While no Republican senators voted in support of the amendment, Washington D.C. appears to be the only place in the nation where the issue is partisan. Past amendments that similarly attempted to restore the ability of Congress and the states to enact reasonable campaign finance regulations until recently enjoyed bipartisan support from Congress and an amendment continues to be widely popular among the general public. According to a recent poll, nearly three-fourths of voters, including Republicans by a margin of 26%, are in favor of a constitutional amendment to limit the influence of big money in our elections.

This vote in the Senate marks an important milestone, with a majority of senators responding to a grassroots movement calling for an amendment to curtail the influence of money in politics. Less than five years after the Supreme Court made its radical decision in Citizens United, this proposed 28th Amendment has already had a majority vote on the Senate floor. This victory resulted from a massive mobilization of grassroots activists and progressive organizations, a coalition consisting of civil rights, social justice, environmental and labor advocacy groups.

Amending the Constitution is not a simple or fast process, as well it shouldn’t be. Yet, nearly every generation has amended the Constitution to address some of the most serious issues of their day. Money in politics is the underlying problem that prevents progress on many of the major issues of this generation, such as climate change, healthcare, minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work. This effort will likely take years, perhaps even decades.

Many inside the Beltway media have portrayed the Democracy for All amendment in a cynical light. What Washington insiders fail to grasp is that this is the debate that everyday Americans want to have, and this is the beginning of a long-term, concerted effort to protect American democracy.

The New York Times Editorial Board made this point in an editorial last week:

“They are not under the illusion that it will become the 28th Amendment soon, if ever. But their willingness to undertake a long and difficult effort shows the importance they attach to restoring fairness to American politics by reducing the influence of big money … and amending the Constitution should not be taken lightly. It is a last resort to fix a grave civic problem. But the backers of this amendment recognize that the nature of American democracy is at stake.”

We urge you to use the opportunity created by this historic vote to tell the story of the grassroots movement to get big money out of politics and to hold your senators accountable for their votes. To aid in that process, below you will find a list of facts about the grassroots movement to overturn Citizens United, as well as links to some of the media coverage of the Senate vote.

Facts About the Grassroots Movement for an Amendment

•  Americans have protested the Citizen United decision consistently for nearly five years including 150 rallies in 41 states on the day of the McCutcheon decision.
16 states and 550 cities have passed resolutions urging Congress to begin the process of amending the Constitution.
•  3.2 million Americans have signed petitions calling for an amendment.
•  159 local, state, and federal Republicans have criticized Citizens United and/or called for an amendment, including former Senator Alan Simpson who endorsed the Democracy for All Amendment on the first day of debate, and former communications director to President George W. Bush, Mark McKinnon, who said of the amendment, “We have to battle [money in politics] on every front every single day.”
•  A diverse coalition of citizen organizations and small business leaders representing millions of Americans have issued statements of support.

Media Coverage (Full list here)

Amendment to Cut Political Cash by New York Times Editorial Board:

“Republicans, fearful of deflating their cushion of cash, are trying to portray the amendment as an assault on the Bill of Rights. But writing unlimited checks on behalf of politicians was never part of the American birthright. This measure defines protected “speech” as it had been understood in the First Amendment for 185 years until the Buckley decision: actual words uttered or written by natural persons, not money spent, and certainly not from corporate treasuries.”

Bipartisan case for a Constitutional amendment on campaign finance by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and Sen. Tom Udall in The Hill:

“Our founders...would be appalled by corporate spending in elections and unlimited personal donations by billionaires. The solution is to clarify the Constitution so that the people may decide how, when and why to regulate campaign finance…Amending the Constitution is difficult – as it should be – but it is long past time to have an honest and thoughtful national dialogue about our broken electoral process and how we voters can fix it.”

This Is a ‘Pivotal Moment’ for the Movement to Remove Big Money From Politics by John Nichols at The Nation:

“Make no mistake, there will be a Twenty-Eighth Amendment; there must be if the American experiment is to survive as anything akin to a democratic republic. As with past amendments, however, this initial proposal for updating the Constitution will likely be altered—with language strengthened or weakened based on the ability of mass movements to place demands for more or less radical change.”

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Final day of Senate debate to #GetMoneyOut

The opposition lobbed a few final blows, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senators David Vitter of Louisiana and Mike Lee of Utah, repeating the same specious arguments made all week, but Democracy for All supporters stood firm.
PFAW

Across the Country Activists Support Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

 

While billionaires and corporations have been busy buying airtime to influence midterm elections, average Americans have been active in letting politicians know that they are sick and tired of big money in politics. As the Democracy for All amendment gets debated and voted on in the Senate this week, an ongoing grassroots push has helped shape the conversation.

On Monday over 3.2 million petition signatures calling for a constitutional amendment were delivered to Congress, gathered by more than two dozen progressive organizations. This diverse coalition includes groups such as the Communications Workers of America, MoveOn.org, Sierra Club, Daily Kos, CREDO Action, Common Cause, Corporate Accountability International, Public Citizen and People For the American Way.

More than 25 local actions have happened across the country, delivering petitions to the district offices of target senators in key states. These events have been hugely successful, with solid attendance at a small spirited event at Senator Murkowski’s office in Juneau, Alaska to a large rally at Senator Kirk’s office in Chicago, IL and a marching band that showed up to help provide support for an event at Senator Ayotte’s office in Portsmouth, NH.

These events have earned a great deal of  media coverage, so much so that most of the five remaining Democrats who have not cosponsored the Democracy for All amendment have now made commitments to vote for it – in large part as a result of the events in their states. Four even put out public statements in connection with the events.

Additionally more than 15,000 calls have been made this week to Senators’ offices asking them to support the Democracy for All amendment. These are only the reported calls, many more have likely been made without being counted. This is an average of over 300 calls per Senate office.

Perhaps most exciting of all – things are just getting started – this first milestone vote on the Democracy for All amendment marks the beginning of what will be a truly historic push to protect the promise of American democracy.

PFAW

Majority Senate Vote for Amendment to Get Big Money Out of Politics is Historic Milestone for Democracy

WASHINGON — Today a majority of the Senate voted in support of the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United and allow Congress and the states to set reasonable limits on money in elections. While there were not sufficient votes to pass the proposed amendment, the vote itself represents a historic step forward for the movement to restore the power in our democracy to the people. People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“Less than five years after the Citizens United decision sparked national outrage, we have seen the movement to get big money out of politics go from local, grassroots organizing to a vote in the United States Senate. Today’s historic majority vote is a remarkable milestone for this movement and a platform for taking the fight to the next level. The debate in the Senate this week is a debate that Americans across the country who are passionate about fixing our broken democracy have wanted to see.

“The fight for a constitutional amendment is never easy. It’s not supposed to be. The women’s suffrage amendment ratified in 1920 was first introduced in Congress in 1878. But the grassroots activists pushing for this — who made more than 15,000 calls to Senate offices on the amendment this week alone, who have pushed successfully for hundreds of state and local resolutions, and who have signed more than 3.2 million petitions — aren’t afraid of a tough fight.

“We know that powerful, entrenched interests will continue to try to block the amendment, but we won’t stop pushing until it becomes a reality. Anyone who doubts that underestimates the American people.” 

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Third day of Senate debate to #GetMoneyOut

While America's foreign policy challenges and other critical issues dominated the Senate floor on Wednesday, debate on the Democracy for All amendment continued for a third day. Those opposed to getting money out of politics are even sounding like they're on our side. They ignore the fact that their points are very much among those that inspired Democracy for All in the first place.
PFAW

Second day of Senate debate to #GetMoneyOut

When Senators returned to the floor on Tuesday for the second day of debate on the Democracy for All amendment, supporters continued to build a strong case for getting money out of politics, while the opposition ramped up its hyperbole.
PFAW

No, Ted Cruz, The #GetMoneyOut Amendment Wouldn’t Censor SNL

Sen. Ted Cruz has been known to make some pretty outlandish comments about the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment being debated in the Senate which would overturn decisions like Citizens United, but his latest may take the cake. “Lorne Michaels [of Saturday Night Live] could be put in jail under this amendment for making fun of any politician,” Sen. Ted Cruz claimed on the floor of the Senate this week.

Luckily, a number of more grounded voices were able to set the record straight about Cruz’s wild and inaccurate remark. Last night, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said:

I think [Cruz] is wrong… This amendment is simply about restoring the old status quo about campaign contributions… I think his point…really has very little, if anything, to do with the constitutional amendment that the Senate is debating.

Amendment sponsor Sen. Tom Udall clarified that “[n]othing in the amendment would permit the arrest of anyone for engaging in political speech,” and pointed out that the proposal intends to bring the country’s campaign finance rules back to what they were in 1975, when Saturday Night Live began.

Other responders were a little more fiery, including former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, who on Monday published an op-ed with Sen. Udall in support of the Democracy for All Amendment. Simpson called Cruz’s remarks about Saturday Night Live “outrageous,” and urged Sen. Cruz to “read the damn amendment. That would be a wonderful thing.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders also joined the conversation on The Ed Show last night, noting that Sen. Cruz “sounds like he is on Saturday Night Live. It’s a very funny skit.” He pointed out that “Citizens United is a little over four years old; Saturday Night Live has been on the air for decades. And I don’t recall too many people on Saturday Night Live going to jail for making fun of politicians.” Sen. Sanders added that it’s a “preposterous argument” and “just another scare tactic.”

Indeed, as Sen. Udall said in a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, quoting People For the American Way President Michael Keegan:

‘A good rule of thumb in politics is that the scarier someone sounds, the more you should doubt what they’re saying.’ We heard some scary things in the last couple of days. Lorne Michaels is going to jail. And he’s sharing a cell with the little old lady who put up a $5 dollar political yard sign. Books and movies are banned. The NAACP, Sierra Club, and Moveon.org have been prohibited from speaking about politics. Scary stuff. But none of it is true. [emphasis added]

Here’s what is true: the proposed amendment is supported by 73 percent of voters, including a growing body of grassroots activists who have pushed for hundreds of state and local resolutions and who are making senators’ phones ring off the hook this week with thousands of calls expressing their support for fixing our democracy.

So if the best that amendment opponents like Sen. Cruz can do is to push wild-eyed myths about comedic producers being thrown in jail, it’s clear that the American people are winning this fight.
 

PFAW

Campaign Finance Reform Key to Confronting Climate Change

The science is settled – climate change is here and is already happening. For the past three decades climate scientists have warned that we must dramatically reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to avoid catastrophic climate destabilization. And yet the United States has yet to pass the legislative framework needed to shift away from a carbon-based economy.  

With the threat of climate change staring us in the face, it’s not hard to understand why there has been so little progress on this issue: enormous political spending by the fossil fuels industry, which has prevented the passage of CO2 regulation. As our friends at Common Cause recently pointed out,  since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, political debate around climate change has changed significantly. Prior to the Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to corporate spending in  elections, there was legislation with bipartisan support to put a market-wide cap on carbon dioxide pollution. The House of Representatives even passed a “cap and trade” bill in 2009. In 2000, even George W. Bush campaigned on climate change, although he reneged on his promise as soon as he got elected. Fast forward to 2014 – climate change is rarely mentioned by many members of Congress – and sometimes denied outright.

"The polluters give and spend money to keep polluting," says U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), quoted in a recent article by Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. "Not truth, not science, not economics, not safety, not policy, and certainly not religion, nor morality ‒- nothing supports climate denial. Nothing except money. But in Congress, in this temple, money rules; so here I stand, in one of the last places on Earth that is still a haven to climate denial."

Fortunately there’s a solution. The Democracy for All Amendment would give Congress and state legislatures the ability to set reasonable limits on the amount of money that can be spent in political elections. To date, over three million Americans have signed a petition calling for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics, and dozens of organizations have begun collaborating around the need for campaign finance reform.

To deal with global challenges like climate change – the United States must be able to pass laws and lead with the best interests of the people in mind – not the best interests of multinational corporations. As many environmental groups now realize, the best way to combat climate change may be to pass campaign finance reform. 

PFAW

Ted Cruz’s Favorite List of Political Donors is Missing One (Huge) Thing

In the ongoing Senate debate on the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, Sen. Ted Cruz has taken to waving around a list of top political donors that ranks Koch Industries as the 58th largest donor. But what Cruz has not been saying is that this list, compiled by our friends at the indispensable Center for Responsive Politics, has — by its own admission — a big piece of the puzzle missing.

The list details “heavy hitters,” organizations that have sent large amounts of money to candidates, parties, and PACs between 1989-2014. But the list points out that it doesn’t include dark money or other outside spending, such as money given to a super PAC. In the article’s own words:

It's also important to note that we aren't including donations to politically active dark money groups, like Americans for Prosperity, a group linked to the Koch brothers, or the liberal group Patriot Majority — because these groups hide their donors; see a list of top donors that we've been able to identify to such groups. We are working to revise this list to take into account the new realities of campaign finance created by the Citizens United decision, but as it currently stands, there are significant omissions.

When you do take into account outside spending, which exploded in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United decision, the picture changes dramatically. For example, the Koch-backed network raised more than $400 million in 2012 alone — a figure that towers over the $19.7 million in Koch Industry’s direct contributions over a 25-year period to candidates, parties and leadership PACs noted on the list Cruz references. In fact, the $407 million they funneled into 2012 political activity alone is more than the top six organizations on the list have sent to candidates, parties, and PACs in the past 25 years combined. And as Washington Post reporter Matea Gold noted earlier this year, “[T]he network of politically active nonprofit groups backed by the Kochs and fellow donors in the 2012 elections financially… matched the long-established national coalition of labor unions.” To put it simply: when you look at the full landscape of political spending, it would be difficult to argue that the Koch-backed network is not among the top “heavy hitters” in our democracy.

Sen. Cruz can continue to cherry-pick the stats he finds most convenient for his quest to block meaningful Congressional action on big money in politics, but the American people know better.

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Money in Politics Fuels Student Loan Debt

Wall Street has found another way to make money at the expense of our future: student loan debt. The amount of debt held by recent graduates increased an astonishing 20 percent from 2011 to 2013, reaching a total of more than $1.2 trillion. Meanwhile, big banks and financial institutions that profit from student loan debt are spending more than ever to influence political elections and to prevent policy solutions from being are enacted. Wall Street companies rake in an estimated $45 billion off higher education each year, with a significant portion derived from student loans.

One measure to deal with the student loan crises, proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, would allow over 25 million students to refinance their loans at a better rate. Senator Warren’s bill has stalled, along with similar proposals, due to gridlock and obstructionism fueled by special interest spending. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, between 2008 and 2012 the amount of money Wall Street institutions funneled into Congress through political donations nearly doubled, from $55.9 million to over $108 million. That’s a direct result of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which lifted restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections. 

The overwhelming increase in outside political spending is taking a toll on young Americans, as the weight of their debt limits their options post-graduation. Recent graduates are already faced with a daunting reality — with more than half of them currently unemployed — while the job market is flooded with people who have years of experience. If young Americans are fed up with special interest money robbing them of opportunity, their frustration can best be directed toward passing campaign finance reform… and supporting the Democracy for All Amendment.

This proposed amendment, which is being debated and voted on in the Senate this week, would allow Congress to regulate of the out-of-control spending in political elections. It currently has the support of 50 senators.  While not sufficient to secure the 2/3 of the Senate needed for passage, this weeks’ vote on  the Democracy for All Amendment is a historic  step towards passing the 28th amendment, and a major milestone in the fight to for better federal policies regarding student debt.

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First day of Senate debate to #GetMoneyOut

Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois was there to set the record straight, about the true reality of this debate, and about the seriousness with which Democracy for All supporters have approached this historic step forward in the movement to take back our democracy from powerful corporations and billionaires.
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