Today Representative John Sarbanes was joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others in introducing legislation to help put our democracy back where it belongs: in the hands of “We, the People.” The Government by the People Act (H.R. 20) is a bill designed to empower everyday voters to make small donations to candidates, amplify those donations through matching funds, and make our elected officials accountable to all of us, rather than to wealthy campaign donors.
In the Washington Post yesterday, Representatives Pelosi and Sarbanes penned a powerful op-ed in the support of the bill, calling for solutions to the influx of money that has flooded our elections in the post-Citizens United world. That Supreme Court decision, they wrote, “shook the foundation of our democracy: the principle that, in the United States of America, it is the voices of the people, not the bank accounts of the privileged few, that determine the outcome of our elections and the policies of our government.”
But they note that we can, and must, push for solutions – including a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United:
We must disclose the sources of the money in our campaigns, amend the Constitution to reverse the grievous error of the Citizens United decision, reform our broken campaign finance system and empower citizens everywhere to exercise their right to vote.
The Government by the People Act would help build a politics and a government that answer to the people. Together, we can reassert the full promise of our ideals and restore confidence in our democracy.
PFAW has launched a petition to urge members of Congress to do all they can to support passage of the Government by the People Act.
WASHINGTON – In response to today’s introduction of the Government By the People Act (H.R. 20), legislation that would allow political candidates to rely on small contributions to fund their campaigns, People For the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker released the following statement:
“From protecting our environment to raising the minimum wage, progress on the issues most important to everyday Americans is being thwarted by the ability of big money donors to buy political influence. This bill would help change that, multiplying the influence of regular voters’ small donations and making politicians less dependent on – and, in turn, less beholden to – wealthy special interests.
“The bottom line is that elected officials should be accountable to their constituents, not corporate lobbyists. It’s high time for our democracy to be back in the hands of everyday Americans where it belongs.”
In recent weeks, People For the American Way has met with a number of U.S. Representatives to urge their support of H.R. 20 and has trained volunteers to do the same.
People For the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker is available for interviews with the press. To arrange an interview, please contact Layne Amerikaner or Miranda Blue at firstname.lastname@example.org / 202-467-4999.
In tomorrow’s State of the Union address, President Obama is expected to speak at length about growing income inequality in the United States, and his plans to address it. Any plan to address income inequality must also address the political inequality created by unrestrained spending on elections.
Income inequality affects not just individual lives, but our political system as a whole. In a series of cases beginning with the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, the Supreme Court has struck down commonsense campaign finance regulations designed to limit private economic power from dominating campaigns for political office – and thus dominating our country’s political process. Since that time, the income share of the top one percent of income earners has almost tripled, growing at a substantially higher rate than the income of the rest of the population.
This mounting wealth disparity has not resulted simply from the good fortune of the hardest working or smartest among us; it has been assisted through government policy. The capital gains tax sits at 23.8% for top earners despite the vast majority of Americans believing that it should be equal to the rate at which income is taxed. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage, whose real value has fallen about 30% since 1968, remains stagnant at $7.25 per hour, despite the fact that 71 percent of Americans want to see it increased; however, only 40 percent of the wealthiest Americans support such an increase.
As income inequality has ballooned, it has also become more difficult for even the most hard-working Americans to improve their economic prospects. State university systems that were once free are now approaching the cost of private institutions, while scholarships are going less often to benefit low-income students. Labor unions, which were instrumental in building the American middle class, are facing attacks from legislators backed by well-funded corporate interests.
Income inequality and political inequality go hand-in-hand. As This American Life has noted, the average member of Congress spends at least four hours a day calling wealthy individuals and organizations asking for money, a tally that does not even include the countless fundraisers they must attend. Average Americans don’t get these calls. They do not get the chance to meet with their representatives at intimate gatherings. Their voices go unheard.
The sad truth is that under our current system, time-intensive fundraising and the concessions that go along with it are necessary conditions for the ascension to political office in the United States. That is something we need to change if we are ever going to deal with income inequality or any of the other major problem facing our country.
That is why we here at People for the American Way Foundation are calling for “Money Out, Voters In” campaign and are working to pass a constitutional amendment that will allow our elected officials to work for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.
WASHINGTON – On the fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan issued the following statement:
“The deeply misguided Citizens United ruling four years ago brought immeasurable harm to our democracy, but it also inspired a re-energized national movement to get big money out of politics. In the four years since, sixteen states and 500 cities and towns have officially gone on record calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases and to take back our democracy from the outsized influence of wealthy special interests.
“Poll after poll shows that the American people are deeply disturbed by the big money in our political system. They want a real voice in our democracy, not one that is overwhelmed by billions of dollars in corporate and special interest spending. We’ll keep up the pressure for commonsense regulations on political spending and a democracy that is truly of, by, and for the people.”
PFAW and ally organizations hosted a Get Money Out of Elections advocacy training in Arlington on Monday afternoon to educate activists about reforms to restore the power in our democracy to the voters. For more information on PFAW’s money in politics advocacy work, please visit: http://www.pfaw.org/GovernmentByThePeople
WASHINGTON – On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, eight pro-democracy groups are speaking out about the need to amend the Constitution to overturn that decision and protect the integrity of our political system.
Four years ago, the Citizens United decision handed unprecedented political power to corporations and wealthy special interests, and the effects have been dramatic. Billions of dollars have poured into our democracy – often through “dark money” groups that obscure the identities of donors – to influence election outcomes and help set the political agenda.
But Americans don’t want a democracy that operates like an auction. Sixteen states and 500 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and related cases to put our democracy back into the hands of the people. Today, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Free Speech For People, Common Cause, the Center for Media and Democracy, U.S. PIRG, Demos, and Public Campaign are building on that momentum to renew the call for an amendment. The organizational statements are below.
“Americans don’t want a democracy of the corporations or a democracy of the well-heeled special interests – they want a democracy of the people,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “In order to fully repair the damage done by cases like Citizens United, we need a constitutional amendment to restore the ability of Congress and the states to put in place commonsense regulations on political spending. Sixteen states and hundreds of cities have already asked for this to happen. The question now is whether our elected officials are going to stand with big corporations and the super wealthy or stand with the people.”
“Four years after the travesty of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, the case has empowered corporations and the superrich to tighten their stranglehold over our infirm democracy, undermined the basic functioning capacity of our government – and united the American people in opposition,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “Citizens United kickstarted a fast-growing national movement for a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy and re-establish the political sovereignty of We, the People. That movement is now firmly entrenched in the political mainstream, and on its way to success.”
“Four years ago, a sharply-divided U.S. Supreme Court, through its Citizens United v. FEC ruling, unleashed unlimited corporate money in our elections and gave rise to the SuperPACs, leading to new distortions of our political process by the mega-rich and big money interests,” said John Bonifaz, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Free Speech For People. “But, the American people are fighting back to defend our Republic, demanding a constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United and reclaims our democracy. We have amended the Constitution before in our nation’s history to reverse egregious Supreme Court rulings. We will do it again.”
“Four years after Citizens United invited big money to take control of our elections, millions of Americans have called on Congress – at the ballot box or through their state legislatures – to reverse the decision with a constitutional amendment,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause Senior Vice President for Strategy and Programs. “While we applaud the introduction of amendment language in both chambers on Capitol Hill, we still need Congress to act. Americans deserve better, and in this election year, we’ll be looking for both parties to deliver it.”
“Since Citizens United, spending by billionaire-funded Super PACs and shady dark money nonprofits have skyrocketed, in some cases eclipsing disclosed donations to candidates,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “With Sheldon Adelson’s multi-million-dollar Super PAC donations and the Kochs’ sophisticated dark money shell games, the integrity of our elections is under attack, and only a constitutional amendment can rein in the power of the plutocrats and put the people back in control of their democracy.”
“Four years ago, the Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for big money in our elections, enabling a small number of special interests to drown out the voices of average Americans—but it also sparked a movement across the country to reclaim our democracy,” said Emma Boorboor, Democracy Associate at U.S. PIRG. “16 states and over 500 municipalities have already passed resolutions calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Make no mistake, we will restore political equality for all Americans.”
“The Supreme Court has misread the Constitution and distorted our democracy, so that the strength of a citizen’s voice depends upon the size of her wallet,” said Adam Lioz, Counsel at Demos. “It’s time for a new vision that empowers the People to fight the undue influence of big money in the name of political equality, accountable government, and fair representation for all regardless of wealth.”
“Public Campaign supports either changing the Supreme Court or changing the Constitution,” said Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign. “Otherwise, deep-pocket interests continue to bend public policy to its will, the voices of everyday Americans will be diminished, and our government will not be of, by, and for its people.”
In our continuing efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases and restore Government Of, By, and For the people, PFAW Foundation is helping coordinate the Students United For Democracy coalition – a group of student activists and good government groups working to raise awareness of our country’s money in politics problem and pass resolutions on college campuses calling for a constitutional amendment.
For far too long, students have been pushed to the margins of our political system. From rising education costs to uncertain environmental and economic futures, it is clear that government often fails to act in the interest of students and young people. As explained in PFAW Foundation’s report, “Students and the Movement to Amend the Constitution,” each of these issues is intricately connected to the role that big money plays in our political system. Rather than protecting the interests of all, public officials often look out for the interests of those who pay for their campaigns, and students – who are taking on record levels of student debt –students simply could not afford to “pay to play” even if they wanted to.
Yet the country and its young people are waking up. Sixteen states and 500 cities and towns have already passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases. In 2014, student governments will be adding their voices to this nationwide call.
On October 8th, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, which has the potential to be the most destructive campaign finance case it has considered since Citizens United v. FEC. In McCutcheon, the Court is examining the constitutionality of aggregate contribution limits and, depending on the decision it’s expected to release in early 2014, could allow even more money to be poured into our elections.
In addition to mobilizing its networks around the case, People For hosted a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court, where activists from a wide range of backgrounds and issue areas spoke about how moneyed politics affects our democracy. The rally was co-emceed by People For’s Marge Baker, and featured YEO Maryland State Director Craig Rice and YP4 Fellow Brendien Mitchell.
To learn more about People For the American Way’s campaign against big money in politics, visit our Government By The People page.
Thanks to some tax-return digging, ProPublica found this week that the Karl Rove-connected Crossroads GPS actually spent at least $11 million more on political activities last year than they told the IRS. ProPublica’s Kim Barker reported:
New tax documents, made public last Tuesday, indicate that at least $11.2 million of the grant money given to the group Americans for Tax Reform was spent on political activities expressly advocating for or against candidates. This means Crossroads spent at least $85.7 million on political activities in 2012, not the $74.5 million reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
But what’s an extra $11 million spent on political activities, right? Wrong. Tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare groups are limited in the amount of political spending they can do while maintaining their exempt status. And these developments about Crossroads GPS only underscore the need for more robust government oversight of political spending.
Unfortunately, this is an effort that has been made much more difficult in the wake of recent Supreme Court rulings. As Michael Keegan noted in May, the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision opened the door to an explosion of spending by c(4) groups like Crossroads GPS because it allowed them to run political ads as long as they weren’t using the majority of their money for electoral work.
Moreover, dark money groups sometimes attempt to underreport the political spending that they do undertake, which has not been helped by the IRS’s past reluctance to issue “bright lines” around what must be counted as political spending.
But that may change soon. The Treasury Department and the IRS are expected to issue guidance today specifying what “candidate-related political activity” entails and how much of it 501(c)(4) social welfare groups are allowed to do.
On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren co-sponsored Senator Udall’s amendment proposal, SJRES 19, adding a key progressive voice to the amendment movement. With Warren’s endorsement, the entire Massachusetts’s congressional delegation is now in support of amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
In a speech two months ago, Senator Warren decried the overwhelming influence of money in politics and noted that “Congress needs power to address all of the ways in which corruption threatens the health of our political system.” That notion – that Congress and the states should have the constitutional authority to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes – is at the heart of what the Udall proposal does.
To date, 16 states, 500 cities/towns, and over 150 members of Congress have called for a constitutional amendment. To learn more about the amendment movement, visit: www.united4thepeople.org.
The Democratic frontrunner in the 2014 Iowa Senate race, US Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA01), is placing the issue of money in politics front and center in his campaign.
On Sunday, Representative Braley sent an email to his supporters requesting they sign a petition to stand with him “to stop more money from flooding our election system.” The letter referred to McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case that the Court is hearing this term – and the infamous Citizens United decision, which Braley said is “destroying the election process.”
The American public overwhelmingly agrees with Representative Braley’s assessment, but Braley, a longtime supporter of campaign finance reform, has proven he’s not in the “money in politics” fight just because of public opinion.
Prior to Citizens United in the 111th Congress, Braley cosponsored the “Fair Elections Now Act,” a bill that provided for public financing of congressional campaigns. Following Citizens United, in 2010 and 2012 he cosponsored the DISCLOSE Act, which, had it not been blocked by Republican filibusters, would have stopped “dark money” social welfare organizations and trade associations from spending anonymously in federal elections.
Braley has personal experience with these Citizens United-empowered dark money groups. As People For the American Way documented in “Citizens Blindsided,” during the 2010 election, Braley was the target of a large influx of anonymous outside spending from the American Future Fund, a secretive group without an office or even a website.
In May 2012, Braley spoke about the attack ads in an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show. In the interview, Braley referred to Citizens United as the “worst thing to happen to democracy in [his] lifetime” and spoke about the implications of the decision:
… now, we can see that very powerful moneyed interests are trying to buy the government they want and have no restrictions—literally—on what they can spend. And that’s why Americans have to wake up and realize they need to ask the tough questions when they see these ads on TV and they have innocuous names – paid for by the American Future fund. Most people don’t realize that this is really a highly coordinated effort to get rid of people who speak truth to power and aren’t going to be swayed by some of these powerful special interests [emphasis added].
In 2014 in Iowa, voters have the chance to stand with Representative Braley and against “these powerful special interests.” They want to dominate the political process by buying it; he wants to keep the “for sale” sign off the US Senate.
The movement to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases continues to grow across the country and in the halls of Congress.
At the local level, over 500 cities and towns – including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, Chicago, San Jose, Austin, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Portland, Albuquerque, Tucson, and Miami, among others – have called for a constitutional amendment.
At the state level, either by passing legislative resolutions or by voting directly on ballot measures, 16 states (containing over 95 million people) have called upon Congress to send them an amendment bill for ratification.
At the federal level, 14 amendment resolutions have been introduced in the US Congress in the 113th session, and 124 representatives (directly representing 87 million people) and 35 senators (representing over 150 million people) have endorsed the amendment strategy since the Citizens United decision came down in January 2010. Furthermore, President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
To find out more about the amendment strategy and its progress, please visit www.United4ThePeople.org.
In September, Salt Lake City residents voted by mail on whether or not they want the Constitution to be amended to overturn Citizens United and related cases. Last week the results came in, showing resounding support for taking back our democracy. The ballot opinion question was supported by overwhelming 90 percent of Salt Lake City voters who participated in the election.
It was a huge victory for both residents and for the people who worked tirelessly on the initiative. The ballot measure was spearheaded by Move To Amend Salt Lake, who asked voters to support the People’s Rights Amendment, which states:
"Only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights,” and that “Money is not speech and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.”
Last year, Move To Amend Salt Lake gathered more than the required amount of signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. However, following City Council law, the initiative was rejected because it was non-binding. The grassroots group then worked with City Council members to change the process and was successful in putting forward the opinion question to voters in 2013.
By supporting the initiative, Salt Lake City joins the roughly 500 municipalities and 16 states that have called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
As the Supreme Court heard arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case in which the Court will decide whether to strike down overall limits on direct political contributions – a great crowd of PFAW and allies rallied outside the Court in support of getting big money out of politics. From students and small business owners to members of Congress – including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, and John Sarbanes – people from all backgrounds came together in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.
PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker kicked off the speeches by painting a picture of the “people versus money” nature of the case:
Inside the court – right now – one wealthy man is asking for permission to pour even more money directly into political campaigns. But we’re here, too, and we have a different ask. We’re asking the justices to protect the integrity of our democracy. We’re asking them to protect the voices and the votes of ‘We the People’….We’re here today saying loud and clear: our democracy is not for sale.
Also speaking at today’s rally was Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Maryland State Director of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Rice spoke about the effect of campaign finance laws on young political candidates:
As a young minority elected official, let me tell you: this [case] is extremely troubling….Young minority candidates throughout this country are routinely outspent and therefore denied the ability to serve in elected roles….Money should not determine who serves in office.
Howard University student Brendien Mitchell, a fellow in affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program, talked about the importance of being able to hear the political voices of young people in the midst of voter suppression efforts and massive spending by the wealthy in our democracy:
What about the freedom of young Americans who cannot donate grandiose sums of money to political candidates?....We gather to say that this is our country. And that in a case of money versus people, the answer should be apparent: the people.
One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Moral Monday demonstration leader Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action. Rev. Barber highlighted the millions of dollars Art Pope has poured into conservative projects and campaigns in his home state of North Carolina:
We [in North Carolina] know firsthand that when you undermine laws that guard against voter suppression, and you undo regulations on the ability for corporations and individuals to spend unchecked amounts of money to influence and infiltrate and literally infect the democratic process, it has extreme impacts.
Extreme impacts – and not only on the electoral process itself, but also on a whole host of issues shaping the lives of everyday Americans. Whether you care most about protecting voting rights, preserving our environment, or workers getting paid a livable wage, a political system where the super-rich can make six-digit direct political contributions harms us all.
And that’s why organizations and activists with focuses ranging from civil rights to environmental protection to good government issues came together today with a common message: our democracy is not for sale.
Supreme Court hearing case shows need for an amendment to protect integrity of our democracy, eight groups argue
WASHINGTON – As the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, eight pro-democracy groups are speaking out on the urgent need for amending the Constitution to protect the integrity of our democracy.
Three years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the door to a torrent of corporate and special interest spending to influence our elections, the high court is now considering a case that could bring further harm to our political system. In McCutcheon, the Court is being asked to strike down aggregate contribution limits and allow multi-million-dollar campaign contributions to flood our electoral process.
The case is a continuation of the attack on our democracy by wealthy interests. Plaintiffs challenging aggregate limits should clearly lose this case under current Supreme Court precedent, but the fact that the Court has agreed to hear their arguments at all underscores the need for amending the Constitution to restore the American people’s ability to limit corporate and special interest influence on elections and to promote a democracy of, by and for the people. To date, sixteen states and more than 500 cities and towns have gone on record in support of amending the constitution. Fourteen federal amendments have been proposed in the 113th Congress.
The organizational statements are below.
“After the most expensive election cycle in our country’s history, the ultra-conservative bloc of the Supreme Court continues to threaten our democracy,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Our constitution’s authors did not envision a government of corporations and the wealthy – they envisioned a government of the people. This case threatens the very foundations of that system. A democracy where the voices of everyday Americans are overpowered by the amplified voices of the rich and powerful is not the kind of democracy Americans want or expect. That’s why it’s so important that we help nurture the growing movement to take back our democracy and pass a constitutional amendment putting the power of our political system back where it belongs – in the hands of the people.”
“The Supreme Court may be poised in the McCutcheon case to follow its disastrous Citizens United decision and issue a new ruling which further allows big money interests to dominate our political process and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” said John Bonifaz, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Free Speech For People. “If it does that, it will only provide added proof that we the people must overrule the Court with a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy.”
“For nearly forty years, the Supreme Court has been driving us down a road that continues to take us further from our democratic values,” said Emma Boorboor, Democracy Associate for U.S. PIRG. “Americans believe that in a democracy the size of your wallet should not determine the volume of your voice. McCutcheon v. FEC could give a megaphone to small set of ultra wealthy donors, drowning out the voices of average Americans. Those challenging limits should clearly lose this case under current law. But, ultimately, we can only turn this car around by amending the U.S. Constitution to clarify to the Supreme Court that the first amendment was never meant as a tool for special interests to co-opt our democratic process.”
“The Supreme Court should not repeat the grave mistakes of its disastrous Citizens United ruling in the McCutcheon case by giving the richest few even more disproportionate influence over our democracy,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “The notion that anyone’s ‘speech’ rights are burdened because he can’t give more than $123,200 in campaign contributions is an absolute perversion of the First Amendment, and the fact that the high court would even consider such a claim demonstrates that we need to amend our Constitution to stop the distortions of big money in our elections and restore the primacy of the people in our democracy.”
“In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court will decide whether to double down on Citizens United to transform further our democracy – rule by the people – into a wealthocracy,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “We can only hope that this is one step too far for the Supreme Court. But we shouldn’t have to hope, and we shouldn’t have to live with a campaign finance system already corroded by Citizens United and other harmful court decisions. That McCutcheon is even being considered by the Court highlights the imperative of a constitutional amendment to protect our democracy.”
“McCutcheon is not about free speech, it’s about the buying and selling of political power,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Programs at Common Cause. “The case invites the court to give wealthy Americans permission to purchase political favors and influence like they purchase stocks or real estate. With apologies to Mark Twain, it would give us the best government money can buy.”
“Many in this country already question the Legitimacy of our supposedly ‘democratic’ republic and the Supreme Court itself,” said Bill Moyer, Executive Director of the Backbone Campaign. “Even the pretext of representation of the citizenry has be replaced with a blatant and shameless auction. Corporations and the aristocratic super-rich who hide behind their corporate shelters of liability are ‘coming out.’ McCutcheon v. FEC represents a shameless flaunting of oligarchic power and reflects disdain for even the illusion of a system that strives toward egalitarian system of, by and for the People.”
“The issue in the McCutcheon case is one of political bribery, which is outlawed in the US Criminal code. Yet, in the wake of Citizens United, we fear that the court’s attack on democracy in favor of corporate rule will continue when it rules in this case involving aggregate limits on individual contributions to candidates,” said David Delk, Co-Chair of the Alliance for Democracy. “Will it even limit itself to just that question? To end this series of court decisions favoring the corporatocracy, we must amend the US Constitution to make clear that corporations are not people and therefore have no constitutional rights, and that money is not speech.”