In response to the newly-released recordings of Mitch McConnell’s remarks at a secret gathering of conservative donors convened by the Koch brothers, People For the American Way Political Director Randy Borntrager released the following statement:
“These recordings make it crystal clear that Mitch McConnell cares more about pandering to the likes of the Koch brothers than he does about fighting for everyday Kentuckians.
“Rather than whining to billionaires about raising the minimum wage — which, by the way, people in Kentucky favor nearly 2-to-1 — Sen. McConnell should be listening to the needs of his constituents. We need elected officials who are going to fight for the priorities of ordinary Americans, not just pander to wealthy special interests.”
This summer, People For the American Way has been organizing in Kentucky to expose Sen. McConnell’s support of big money in politics.
Early this morning, The Nation published a leaked recording of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's remarks at a secret meeting of major conservative donors put together by the Koch brothers.
While the first reactions to the recording may highlight what this means for McConnell's Senate race against Alison Lundergan Grimes, the story carries deeper implications as well. At its core, this is a story about why we need to reform the way we finance elections.
In the audio recording, Sen. McConnell says everything that the Koch brothers want to hear. At the beginning of his remarks, he gushes to the brothers: "I don't know where we'd be without you." He rails against Senate votes on raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and tackling student debt. It's no coincidence that he has received heaps of cash from wealthy special interests that oppose action on those issues. (Reporting today from The Huffington Post shows that at the same Koch retreat, Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and state Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa -- both Republican nominees for U.S. Senate -- "directly credited donors present...for propelling them forward.")
This is increasingly what our political system looks like. Those who can bankroll candidates can help set the political agenda -- even if that agenda looks nothing like what the majority of Americans want it to look like. Research has shown that the wealthy have fundamentally different political priorities than those of everyday Americans, but when the preferences of ordinary Americans conflict with those of billionaire donors like the Koch brothers, it's the rich whose preferences carry the day.
And no one is a more vocal supporter of our broken campaign finance system than Mitch McConnell himself. In the secret tapes, Sen. McConnell says that the Citizens United decision (which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending) simply "level[ed] the playing field for corporate speech," even calling the proposed constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United "an act of true radicalism" from people who want to "use the power of the government to quiet the voices of their critics."
But Americans know that it's not billionaires or corporations who need the playing field to be leveled. Their priorities are coming through loud and clear in our democracy, thanks to politicians like Sen. McConnell who are fighting to ensure that those with the most to spend can continue to buy our elections. It's ordinary Americans, who increasingly cannot be heard over the roar of big money, whose voices need to be protected. And that "radical" push for a constitutional amendment, which will be voted on in the Senate on September 8, is actually supported by nearly three in four voters.
Maybe if Mitch McConnell weren't so busy pandering to billionaire donors, he'd be able to see the tremendous grassroots call to reform our money in politics system, with 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns already on record in support of an amendment. Then again, with true money in politics reform, maybe our senators wouldn't need to pander to billionaires at all.
In a fundraising email today, FRC Action — the Family Research Council’s political arm — announced that it is “working closely with Senator Ted Cruz to take the lead” in opposing a proposed constitutional amendment to roll back Citizens United and related Supreme Court rulings that struck down federal campaign finance rules.
FRC president Tony Perkins has also picked up Cruz’s talking points about the subject, claiming in the email that an amendment restoring the power of Congress to regulate election spending would “scrap” the First Amendment and ultimately allow liberals to “quash our freedom of speech; to silence our calls for liberty and self-government; to muzzle the Christian viewpoint; to make the debate totally one-sided; to brainwash the next generation into believing that this is how it should be.”
In reality, the amendment would return to Congress and state governments the ability to place reasonable regulations on campaign spending, a power they had until very recently.
I thought I'd seen it all.
I thought the First Amendment was settled. I thought freedom of speech -- the fundamental bulwark of liberty at the very heart of our republic -- was so basic to our American way of life, no liberal would have the audacity to suggest scrapping it.
But I was wrong.
It's utterly outrageous to suggest gutting the First Amendment. It is critically important to our national life. Freedom of speech, especially political speech, sets us apart from most other countries in the world. It keeps liberty alive.
It seems Democrats want "free speech" to consist only of government-authorized speech.
They claim they want to cut back on the influence of "special interests" in election campaigns. But of course, the "special interests" they want to silence are organizations like FRC Action. They want to muzzle you and me.
This is not about "election accountability." This is a naked power grab.
This amendment to the Constitution would give the foxes the keys to the henhouse. Those in power -- whom FRC Action is committed to holding accountable -- would now have the ability to silence us, to gag us, to strip us of our right to fully engage in the political process.
Interestingly, if such a far-fetched alteration of our Constitution were to actually take place, there is a particularly strong group that would be protected -- the press! Democrats' liberal allies in the mainstream media would retain their free political speech, while organizations like FRC Action would lose theirs.
Maybe you're thinking: they can't seriously think such a proposal would make it through Congress. And you would be right: they don't.
This is a bald-faced tactic for firing up the Democrats' base -- to get more liberal voters to swarm the polls in the midterm elections this November.
But if we remain silent, if we simply sit and roll our eyes at the absurdity of it all . . . liberals in Congress will be emboldened to keep pushing in this deadly direction.
The Left would love nothing more than to quash our freedom of speech; to silence our calls for liberty and self-government; to muzzle the Christian viewpoint; to make the debate totally one-sided; to brainwash the next generation into believing that this is how it should be.
We're working closely with Senator Ted Cruz to take the lead in exposing this outrage and in challenging any attempt to rewrite our Bill of Rights.
Don’t let the name fool you—the event is neither fancy nor a picnic in the park for politicos. “Fancy Farm” is actually the worlds largest BBQ and Kentucky’s biggest political event of the summer. For nearly 100 years, politicians from across the state have been making the pilgrimage to kickoff their campaigns, giving their best stump speeches and trading insults with opposing candidates.
In case you missed it, catch all the fun here.
This year, Kentucky’s got one of the most important Senate races in the country. Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes is trying to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell, the current minority leader, who has been the self-proclaimed “proud guardian of gridlock” for nearly 30 years. Some have estimated that it will cost over $100 million before all is said and done, making it the most expensive Senate race in American history.
That’s not how democracy is supposed to work—our elections shouldn’t go to the highest bidder. That’s why in-state PFAW members drove five hours to help ditch Mitch. Volunteers passed out progressive gear, collected petition signatures, and brought their energy and enthusiasm to the political speeches (check out the pictures below).
PFAW’s petition to get big money out of politics received wide support at the picnic. Even proud supporters of McConnell signed the petition, agreeing that we need to get big money out of politics.
Polls continue to show Grimes and McConnell neck and neck. As November draws closer, conservatives like the Koch brothers will dump millions of outside dollars into this election to save McConnell’s seat and attempt to take over the Senate. But with grassroots support and on-the-ground activism, we’re not going to let them.
Fancy Farm proved that the energy to change our political system is real and will continue to grow. PFAW’s growing in-state membership base will continue to lead the charge.
Most Americans recognize money in politics to be a pressing issue, but no one understands it quite like the candidates running for office to try and change our campaign finance system.
In a candidate forum yesterday at Netroots Nation, moderator and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker led panelists – Maine U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, Wisconsin U.S. House of Representatives candidate Kelly Westlund, and former California Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman – in a lively discussion of the role of money in politics in the 2014 elections.
Baker kicked off the discussion by noting both the magnitude of outside money flooding into the 2014 elections as compared to earlier elections, as well as the public will to quell this tide. She pointed out that nine in ten voters want to see their elected officials take action to fix our country’s money in politics problem.
The candidates began by telling the audience why they were inspired to make money in politics a central issue for their campaigns. Shenna Bellows, who said that her father was a carpenter and that her family did not have electricity or running water during her childhood, noted that “people like me” – those not from wealthy backgrounds – don’t often run for public office. This fact, she pointed out, contributes to the creation of laws tilted in favor of big business. Rick Weiland echoed that idea, and said that he believes money in politics is the number one issuing facing our country. For Kelly Westlund, the full weight of our country’s money in politics problem hit home for her when she approached her party about running for office and was asked whether she would be able to raise a quarter of a million dollars in three weeks. And Derek Cressman said that he was drawn to the opportunity of using the bully pulpit of a political office like secretary of state (or as Baker added, the platform of a being a candidate for that political office) to get support for measures like Proposition 49, a ballot initiative in California asking Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United that will now be on the ballot in the state in November.
Panelists also talked about fighting the cynicism and despair that can surround the issue of big money in politics for voters. Cressman said that while Americans already understand that this is a major problem, they are also eager to support solutions. He underscored the overwhelming grassroots energy around the issue. A number of panelists highlighted the importance of “connecting the dots” between money and policy – drawing the links for voters between progress on the issues they care most about and the creation of a political system not dominated by corporations and the super-rich. Multiple panelists also shared stories of the power of small dollar donors. For Bellows, a full half of the contributions her campaign receives are $6 or less. She lifted up the example of former senator and progressive hero Paul Wellstone, who she noted was outraised seven-to-one but still won his race.
As the panel wrapped up, panelists underscored the importance of pushing for a range of complimentary solutions to our money in politics problem, from the constitutional amendment now moving through the Senate to disclosure legislation to small-donor financing initiatives. As Westlund put it, it’s not enough to recognize the problems. We have to fight for solutions and get the right people at the table so that we can change the system and make sure the government’s policies reflect the will of the people.
Watch a video of the panel here:
The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”
People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.
While we may be accustomed to seeing charts and tables about the impact of big money in politics, it’s far less common to hear about the real-world stories of its influence. Yesterday researchers from Ohio State University released a new report on “The New Soft Money,” a first-of-its-kind look at the day to day impact of independent expenditures (such as spending by super PACs) on federal campaigns and governance.
Through interviews with former members of Congress, campaign and legislative staff, candidates, and other political figures, the report details — in the interviewees’ own words — the effects of the explosion of independent spending into our political system following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.
A few highlights from the report make clear the enormous impact outside spending has on the functioning of our democracy:
“No one’s saying, ‘Here’s $50 million for a good compromise.” -Former Rep. Dan Boren (pg. 93)
“When Club for Growth first came out we used to laugh about them, we used to chuckle on the floor… But, after the Citizens United case, they became….much more active….if you didn’t behave in a certain way they would come into your district and spend a lot of money to make sure you were defeated in the primary.” -Former Rep. Steve LaTourette (p. 87-88)
Some political insiders described the ongoing implicit threat of independent spending on attack ads as just as effective as an explicit threat would be:
“You’re already threatened.... You’re sitting there saying ... is Americans for Prosperity going to advertise against me in a primary, yes or no?....If you’re sitting there making a decision, [thinking]… we’d better do something about it, but if I do something about it, I know the Koch brothers are going to run an ad against me. I know they’re going to put a lot of money to try to defeat me in a primary. I know it… They don’t have to threaten me…the net effect is the same. I’m afraid to do what I think is right.” -Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who ran for Senate again in 2012 (p. 82)
The report was released on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution Subcommittee voted to move forward a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, serving as even more evidence of the pressing need to reform our campaign finance system.
Last June, presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Ted Cruz traveled to Iowa for an event convened by David Lane, a political operative who uses pastors to mobilize conservative Christian voters.
Lane is a Christian-nation extremist who believes the Bible should be a primary textbook in America’s public schools, and that any politician who disagrees should be voted out. Lane’s events are usually closed to the media, but he has given special access to the Christian Broadcasting Network’s sympathetic David Brody. Brody’s coverage of the Iowa event included short video clips of comments by brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who were identified only as members of Lane’s Pastors and Pews group.
CBN’s Brody reported, “The Wilks brothers worry that America’s declining morals will especially hurt the younger generation, so they’re using the riches that the Lord has blessed them with to back specific goals.” One of those goals may be David Lane’s insistence that politicians make the Bible a primary textbook in public schools.
Here’s Dan Wilks speaking to Brody: “I just think we have to make people aware, you know, and bring the Bible back into the school, and start teaching our kids at a younger age, and, uh, you know, and focus on the younger generation.” And here’s Farris: “They’re being taught the other ideas, the gay agenda, every day out in the world so we have to stand up and explain to them that that’s not real, that’s not proper, it’s not right.”
That was the first time we had heard of the billionaire Wilks brothers, who have become generous donors to right-wing politicians and Republican Party committees. While both Farris and Dan have given to conservative groups and candidates, it is older brother Farris whose foundation has become a source of massive donations to Religious Right groups and to the Koch brothers’ political network. Farris also funds a network of “pregnancy centers” that refuse, on principle, to talk to single women about contraception (married women need to check with their husband and pastor).
Like David Barton, Farris thinks conservative economics are grounded in the Bible. Like Mitt Romney, he says people shouldn’t vote for politicians who promise “free this, free that.” Like any number of Religious Right leaders, he saw Barack Obama’s re-election as a harbinger of the End Times and he believes God will punish America for embracing homosexuality. Unlike all of them, he’s on the list of the world’s richest people.
They’re Fracking Billionaires!
Dan and Farris Wilks became successful working in and then running the masonry business that was started by their father; they have now turned the company over to the next generation of Wilks men. But Dan and Farris really hit the big time when they got in on the ground floor with fracking, the controversial natural gas drilling technique that has boomed over the past decade.
The fracking boom has produced a surge in wealthy Texans. In 2002, the Wilks brothers created Frac Tech, which produced equipment used in fracking, or in industry parlance, “well stimulation services.” In May 2011, Dan and Farris sold Frac Tech to a group of investors led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund for $3.5 billion. Their share was reportedly 68% of that total, and they showed up on the 2011 Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans with an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion each. The most recent Forbes list put their estimated wealth at $1.5 billion each. (In our gilded age, that puts them near the bottom of the Forbes 400, and barely gets them into the top 40 in Texas. But you can still do an awful lot with $3 billion.)
The Wilks brothers have gone on a land-buying spree out West, amassing huge holdings in Montana, Idaho, Texas, Kansas, and Colorado. In December 2012, the Billings Gazette reported that they had amassed more than 276,000 acres in Montana, or more than 430 square miles; more recent reports say they own more than 301,300 acres in the state. Among their purchases was the historic 62,000-acre N Bar Ranch, which had been listed for $45 million.
The brothers reportedly started building an airstrip that summer across from the N Bar Ranch headquarters to make travel to their property on their 18-passenger corporate jet a little easier. The Wilks brothers have proposed a land swap with the Bureau of Land Management to consolidate their holdings; last month their attorney said they were “blindsided” when BLM said it would not trade the 2,700-acre Durfee Hills after hunters complained about losing access to the land and its elk.
In January 2013, they bought a nearly 18,000-acre ranch in Idaho, which brought their total in that state to almost 36,000 acres. In 2011, Farris was reported to have paid $16 million for what was then the most expensive ski-accessible home in the history of Snowmass Village, Colorado.
An Aspen newspaper reported in 2012 that Dan owned two homes in Aspen, one worth $8.3 million and another worth $4.9 million. At the end of 2012 they bought the Advancial Tower, a 17-story skyscraper in Dallas reportedly appraised at $16.25 million. And last August, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the Wilks brothers had bought 122 acres of land in a business park in Southlake, Texas. Farris also reportedly paid to have a “world class” recording studio installed in his 20,000-square-foot home and to have his church’s audio-visual system similarly upgraded.
Members of the Wilks family have been philanthropists in their hometown over the years, funding, for example, a community center and mobile emergency command post for local fire departments. More recently they have distributing their wealth in support of right-wing causes and conservative politicians. According to Forbes, Dan has six children, Farris has 11.
A(nother) Foundation for the Far Right
The Wilks brothers and their wives have stashed a sizeable chunk of money in charitable foundations: Farris and his wife Joann created The Thirteen Foundation, while Dan and his wife Staci started Heavenly Father’s Foundation. The Thirteen Foundation has become a major funder to Religious Right organizations and to right-wing political outfits that are part of the Koch brother’s network.
In 2011, Farris and Joann each put $50 million into The Thirteen Foundation, and they started writing huge checks. In 2011 and 2012, the last year for which giving records are publicly available, the foundation gave away more than $17 million. Here’s where much of it went:
Media Revolution Ministries (Online for Life) $2,242,857
American Majority Inc $2,114,100
State Policy Networks $1,526,125
Focus on the Family $1,400,000
Franklin Center for Gov't and Public Integrity $1,309,775
Life Dynamics Inc. $1,275,000
Liberty Counsel $1,000,000
Heritage Foundation $700,000
Family Research Council $530,000
Texas Right to Life Committee Education Fund $310,000
Texas Home School Coalition $250,000
Heartbeat International $197,000
Wallbuilders Presentations, Inc $85,000
National Institute of Marriage $75,000
These gifts amount to a massive infusion of funds into some of the most aggressive right-wing organizations that are fighting legal equality for LGBT people, access to contraception and abortion services for women, and promoting the Tea Party’s vision of a federal government that is constitutionally forbidden from protecting American workers, consumers, and communities by regulating corporate behavior.
American Majority, the Franklin Center, the Heritage Foundation, and the State Policy Networks are all part of the Koch brothers’ right-wing political network, promoting policy attacks on public employees and their unions, outsourcing public resources for private profit, privatization of public education, and more:
The Thirteen Foundation’s gifts are a boon to some of the most extreme Religious Right groups in the country. Among the recipients:
See the section on the War on Women below for information about anti-choice organizations on the list. Other gifts supported Prime Time Christian Broadcasting, Inc., which runs God’s Learning Channel, “a satellite network dedicated to bringing the gospel of the kingdom into the entire world and teaching everyone about the Torah and the true roots of Christianity“; the Wounded Warrior Project; and a number of local churches that seem to be affiliated with the church at which Farris is an elder. One gift that seems like an outlier was $50,000 to the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, which funds legal services for the poor, advocates for immigration reform, and filed a lawsuit on behalf of a binational same-sex couple.
Farris’s brother Dan and his wife Staci each gave $55 million to their Heavenly Father’s Foundation, according to the group’s 2011 990 form. That year the foundation reported $110 million in income but only $309,000 in disbursements, mostly to the Mountain Top Church in their hometown of Cisco ($287,000) with smaller amounts to a pregnancy center called the Open Door ($20,000) and to the American Diabetes Association ($2,000).
Its 2012 contributions were primarily to several churches but also included ministries that provide meals to the poor, a five-year pledge to a local domestic violence crisis center, $20,000 to the Open Door pregnancy center, $1.7 million to a drug and alcohol treatment center whose 30th anniversary celebration in May featured Mike Huckabee, and intriguingly, $100,000 to the Eastland County District Attorney’s office to cover “budget shortage.”
Of course, individual contributions that Wilks family members make to advocacy organizations are not publicly reported.
In Politics, Paying to Play
The Wilks brothers made a bit of a splash in Montana when it was revealed that they were the top donors to 2012 Republican legislative candidates in the state. A February 2013 report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that Dan and Farris Wilks and their wives “donated to more than 70 candidates, all Republicans, and generally gave the maximum contribution allowed by law to legislative candidates, $160 for a general election.”
The report said that 70 percent of Republican legislators got contributions from the Wilkses. (AP noted that all bills aimed at regulating fracking in the 2011 legislature were killed by Republican-led committees.) According to the Institute, 64 of the state-level candidates they supported won – 63 legislators and Attorney General Tim Fox.
The Wilkses also gave heavily to Dennis Rehberg, a former Republican U.S. congressman from Montana who gave up his seat to mount an unsuccessful challenge against Sen. Jon Tester in 2012, and to Steven Daines, the Republican who won the House seat vacated by Rehberg and who is now running to for U.S. Senate.
Collectively, Dan and Farris and their wives gave the Rehberg and Daines campaigns each $10,000 in 2012, with another $37,500 going to the Rehberg Victory Committee, a joint fundraising committee that funneled money to Rehberg’s campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Farris and Joann have together given $10,400 toward Steve Daines’s 2014 reelection.
Their political giving has not been limited to Montana. In Texas, according to state campaign finance records, the brothers each gave $25,000 to Texans for Rick Perry in 2012. Farris also gave $2,500 to State Rep. Stefani Carter, the first Republican African American woman to serve in the state House; Farris and Joann also gave $5,000 to the failed Supreme Court campaign of Steve Smith.
Last year, Perry announced he would not run for a fourth term as governor. Earlier this year, state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor, reported nearly $31,000 in in-kind contributions from Farris and Dan for use of an airplane. Farris also gave $1,000 in January to the Texas Home School Coalition PAC.
This year, in the election for California’s 44th Assembly District, Dan, Staci, and Farris Wilks have given thousands to the campaign of Rob McCoy, a conservative evangelical pastor who is also backed by Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee. In the June 3 primary, the Wilks-backed McCoy came in second place to Democrat Jacqui Irwin, a City Councilwoman from Thousand Oaks, beating the more moderate Republican candidate, businessman Mario de la Piedra. Irwin and McCoy will face off in the general election.
During the 2012 election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission’s database, the brothers and their wives together contributed $125,000 to the Romney Victory Committee, a joint fundraising committee benefitting the Romney campaign and the Republican Party.
Joann also contributed $25,000 to the Faith Family Freedom Fund, a “soft money” fund run by a former Family Research Council executive and housed in FRC’s Washington, DC building. The fund makes independent expenditures for or against candidates; in 2012 it spent in support of Todd Akin, George Allen, Steve King, and other right-wing candidates, and against Claire McCaskill, Tim Kaine, Barack Obama, and other Democratic candidates.
In 2011, Farris gave the National Republican Congressional Committee $2,500, and he gave $7,600 to the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund between 2010 and 2012. In 2010 Farris gave Nevada Senate candidate and Tea Party darling Sharron Angle $1000 and in 2008 he gave $2,500 to the McCain-Palin Victory Committee.
Wilks and the War on Women
As Kate Sheppard reported last August for Mother Jones, The Thirteen Foundation’s 2011 gift to Life Dynamics, a Texas-based anti-abortion group, funded a campaign to mass-mail DVDs to lawyers encouraging them to sue abortion clinics into oblivion. Crooks and Liars blogger Karoli has noted that Life Dynamics “actively engages in espionage against organizations serving women” and operates campaigns to harass doctors who perform abortions.
The more than $2 million that The Thirteen Foundation gave to Media Revolution Ministries in 2012 allowed for a vast expansion of the group, which had only an $80,000 budget the year before. The group, also known as Online for Life, says it “implements cutting-edge Internet and traditional marketing outreaches to connect with abortion-determined women and men.” In other words, they try to “intercept” women who search for abortion information and send them to anti-choice “pregnancy centers.”
Those funds may have been used to help “pregnancy centers” buy ads on search terms like “abortion clinics” to “intercept” women who went online. NARAL Pro-Choice America cited Online for Life’s Google ads when it announced in April that its investigations had led Google to take down ads from crisis pregnancy centers that violated the search engine’s rules against deceptive advertising.
The Thirteen Foundation also gave $450,000 in 2011 to Care Net, a network of Christian “pregnancy centers” whose “standards of affiliation” include this requirement:
The pregnancy center does not recommend, provide, or refer single women for contraceptives. (Married women seeking contraceptive information should be urged to seek counsel, along with their husbands, from their pastor and physician.).
The Wilks are also backers of Open Door, a local Christian “crisis pregnancy center” to which the Thirteen Foundation gave more than $90,000 in 2012. Farris and Joann have also been benefactors of Texas Right to Life.
The Wilks Worldview
With the exception of the brief interaction with CBN’s David Brody, the Wilks brothers have generally been media-shy. But the worldview of Farris, the older of the two brothers, whose foundation is backing the Religious Right and Tea Party movements, is quite clearly revealed in the sermons he preaches.
In addition to his business ventures, Farris, the older brother, is also a pastor at the church founded by his father, The Assembly of Yahweh (7th Day). The church’s doctrine seems to be an amalgam based on the elder Wilks’ anachronistic interpretations of the Bible. It combines biblical literalism with a heavy emphasis on the Old Testament: The church celebrates its Sabbath on Saturday, follows the dietary rules laid down in Leviticus, and celebrates Jewish holidays but not “the religious holidays of the Gentiles,” which include “Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, White Sunday, Good Friday, and Halloween.” (I had to look up White Sunday, which is a traditional Samoan holiday. There’s a significant Samoan community in Texas). Women may not speak during worship.
The church’s doctrinal points align with the Religious Right on many policy issues. Abortion is “murder,” including pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. Homosexuality is “a serious crime – a very grievous sin.”
A number of Farris Wilks’ sermons can be heard through his church’s website. Back in November 2012, he was pretty despondent about the re-election of Barack Obama: “I do believe that our country died that Tuesday night, to all that’s honorable, that’s good, that’s ambitious, and that has justice. The old way of life that we will take care of ourselves, we will be self-sufficient as much as we are able, the pride in pulling your own weight, or paddling your own canoe.” The sermon includes small-government quotes from Thomas Jefferson, anti-socialist quotes from Winston Churchill, and a bootstraps approach to poverty. “The best way to get out of poverty is to go to work,” he says. “That is one of the simplest ways to make it go away.”
Wilks said he was “refreshed” by biblical texts about the End Times, speculating that the election went the way it did “because maybe it’s time to wrap up some things, maybe it’s time to move on to the next one thousand years.” And he warned of persecution against Christians:
I will tell you now that you need to be ready for a little bit more scoffing and ridicule than maybe we’ve experienced in the past, because I think not only us but the Christian community at large is coming under attack, not only in America but throughout the world. We see it on the late night talk shows. One man in particular. And some time you think, man, it would almost be nice if the judgment would happen so we can see what would happen to those people. …for the things they are saying, which are so vulgar and violent against Yahweh…his mercy must be inexhaustible to put up with that…
Several months later, after his participation in the David Lane event in Iowa, Wilks was feeling motivated to do more to impact the future of America. In a July 2, 2013, sermon he referred to claims made by discredited Religious Right “historian” David Barton about the country’s founders and Barton’s assertion that many of our laws come from the scriptures. And in a sermon he described as a “study of Sodom and Gomorrah,” he laid out his belief that the country is facing a clear choice:
As most of you probably know by now, we are in a battle for our society. Will we follow the secular religion of man, him being supreme, and evolving, or will we submit to Elohim, who has the right to give us laws and commandments to follow since he is the one who created us? Who is in charge? Is it man, or is it our creator?
He read scripture passages that referred to the story of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in what he said was punishment for “base and demented” sexual practices, the tolerance of which in America “could bring about the end of our nation.” He warned that allowing same-sex couples to get married would soon lead to bestiality being promoted and accepted. “I do believe we live in a nation that will start to vomit some of its people out,” he warned. After reading a passage from Isaiah in which the land and its inhabitants are cursed for their depravity, he said:
I fear that that is where we are as a nation. We have been in the blessed part of our nation, but I think we’re coming to the point now…we’re going to reap what we have sown, and what we have sown has not been good…what it says here, that the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants. Think of all the murder that has happened in this country….all the babies that have been murdered…think of all the perversions in the realm of sexual perversion of all kinds…all the breaking of Yahweh’s covenant….and so you recognize that at some point Yahweh’s going to say it’s time to wrap up… it’s time to move on to a kingdom of people that want to serve me, that want to be redeemed, that want salvation…we have to draw some lines in the sand for ourselves….
He also mocked environmentalism and the effort to save certain animals or the polar caps. “We didn’t create the Earth so how can we save it?” When you realize that Yahweh is in control, “it’s much simpler,” he says. “You can turn over some of those responsibilities to him.” Maybe the melting of polar ice is us “getting a little scorched here” as a message from God.
Later last summer he returned to the Sodom and Gomorrah theme, denouncing the gay pride movement as an example of lust and defiance of authority described in the Bible. “What we’re fighting against today is not a sexual revolution particular to our own enlightened age, but it’s a return to pre-Christian pagan sexual immorality or perversion.”
And Farris sounded like the most extreme anti-gay Religious Right leaders in portraying gay people as child predators:
If we all took on this lifestyle, all humanity would perish in one generation…So this lifestyle is a predatorial lifestyle in that they need your children and straight people having kids to fulfill their sexual habits. They can’t do it by their self. They want your children….But we’re in a war for our children. They want your children. So what will you teach your children? A strong family is the last defense.
And, he said, they won’t stop, predicting that pedophilia and bestiality will soon be legal.
Just before Christmas he preached on spiritual apathy in America. He warned that apathy is closing church doors in America just as liberalism and secularism. He railed against people forgetting the Sabbath and spending too much time on entertainment. He warned that God would lift his “mantle of protection” against the U.S. because it is no longer protecting the family.
Earlier this year, Farris preached on “Government That We Can Believe In.” In that sermon, he proclaimed that he loves America but that all nations fail at some point. The founding fathers did a good job, but the nation’s cornerstones are now crumbling: “It’s because of the lack of morality, the lack of continuity of one like belief in our heavenly father – those are the things that are bringing our nation to its knees.”
But this sermon focused less on sexual immorality and more on the threat of socialism. Yahweh, he preached, is “someone who respects private ownership” and the Torah is “set up on the free enterprise system.”
He said “there are only two basic ideas in the whole world” – and those are free enterprise and socialism. The U.S., he warned, is “inching closer to socialism.” You either have more government or more freedom; the more money taken from you in taxes, the fewer choices you have in life. He acknowledged that he has a “personal stake” in this, saying he pays a “huge amount” in taxes.
He urged congregants not to vote for politicians who promise “free this, free that,” saying that would lead us to become one of the poor nations of the world. “Yahweh never intended for us as a people to be afraid and reliant on government.”
An Answer to Prayer?
Televangelist James Robison recently told participants in a Tea Party Unity conference call that he is praying for a merger of the Tea Party and the Religious Right. It’s enough to make one wonder where Robison has been for the past few years. There has always been a overlap between the Tea Party and the Religious Right movements. And since the early days of the anti-Obama Tea Party organizing, right-wing strategists like Ralph Reed and Rick Scarborough have been trying to more fully merge the organizing energies of the two movements into an electoral machine.
Groups like the Family Research Council and Heritage Foundation have worked hard to limit the influence of libertarians in the conservative movement by portraying social and economic conservatism as “indivisible,” while Republican activists like “historian” David Barton have claimed that there is a biblical underpinning for the far-right’s anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government agenda.
Maybe the miracle Robison was really looking for was a big pile of cash to fund his next project. In which case, the answer to his prayers might be found in the person of Farris Wilks, preacher, right-wing activist, and billionaire.
As the news of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising loss last night to Tea Party challenger David Brat sinks in, Brat’s anti-immigrant extremism is increasingly coming into the spotlight. Today Right Wing Watch wrote that Brat actively sought out the endorsement of ALIPAC, an anti-immigrant hate group whose leader has suggested that violence may be necessary to quell President Obama’s supposed war on “white America.” Brat campaigned on the claim that a vote for Cantor was “a vote for amnesty.”
But there is another aspect to the race also worth paying attention to: Brat’s focus on corruption in Washington. This morning our friends at Public Campaign pointed out that Brat, who was vastly outspent by Cantor, consistently made speaking out against political corruption a part of his campaign. In his victory speech, Brat said to supporters: “What you proved tonight was dollars don’t vote — you do.”
The overwhelming majority of Americans (92 percent of voters, according to a November 2013 poll) think it’s important for elected officials do more to reduce money’s influence on elections — a statistic we often highlight in our work for urgently-needed campaign finance reforms. What last night’s news brings to the foreground is the obvious fact that this 92 percent cannot possibly reflect Americans of only one political leaning. A commitment to fighting corruption and the outsized influence of big money in politics is a deeply-held belief of people of all political stripes, whatever their other beliefs may be.
This morning Politico proclaimed, “Big money couldn’t save Eric Cantor.” And despite Brat’s extremism, there is something hopeful about the fact that people can fight back against the tidal wave of cash flooding our electoral system. To be sure, this outcome is the exception rather than the rule. More than nine times in ten, the better-financed congressional candidate wins. In the post-Citizens United and post-McCutcheon campaign finance landscape, to pretend that money doesn’t matter hugely in the outcome of elections — and in who has access to and influence over politicians once the election is over — is to be willfully blind.
But it’s also important to be reminded that when voters set their minds to it, they still have the power to reshape our nation — for good or ill.
45 US Senators now support a constititutional amendment to undo the harm of decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon. Do yours?
|California||Sen. Diane Feinstein|
|Colorado||Sen. Michael F. Bennet|
|Connecticut||Sen. Richard Blumenthal|
|Connecticut||Sen. Christopher Murphy|
|Delaware||Sen. Christopher A. Coons|
|Hawaii||Sen. Mazie K. Hirono|
|Hawaii||Sen. Brian Schatz|
|Illinois||Sen. Richard Durbin|
|Iowa||Sen. Tom Harkin|
|Maine||Sen. Angus S. King, Jr.|
|Maryland||Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin|
|Maryland||Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski|
|Massachusetts||Sen. Elizabeth Warren|
|Minnesota||Sen. Al Franken|
|Minnesota||Sen. Amy Klobuchar|
|Montana||Sen. Jon Tester|
|Montana||Sen. John E. Walsh|
|Nevada||Sen. Harry Reid|
|New Hampshire||Sen. Jeanne Shaheen|
|New Jersey||Sen. Cory A. Booker|
|New Jersey||Sen. Robert Menendez|
|New Mexico||Sen. Tom Udall|
|New Mexico||Sen. Martin Heinrich|
|New York||Sen. Charles E. Schumer|
|New York||Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand|
|North Carolina||Sen. Kay Hagan|
|North Dakota||Sen. Heidi Heitkamp|
|Ohio||Sen. Sherrod Brown|
|Oregon||Sen. Ron Wyden|
|Oregon||Sen. Jeff Merkley|
|Rhode Island||Sen. Jack Reed|
|Rhode Island||Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse|
|South Dakota||Sen. Tim Johnson|
|Vermont||Sen. Patrick Leahy|
|Vermont||Sen. Bernard Sanders|
|Washington||Sen. Patty Murray|
|Wisconsin||Sen. Tammy Baldwin|
|West Virginia||Sen. Joe Manchin|
|West Virginia||Sen. John D. Rockefeller, IV|
For more elected officials who support an amendment, visit United4thePeople.org.
The following is a post by Gabriela De Golia, Advocacy Associate for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.
Last week, in a speech in support of a constitutional amendment to reduce the influence of big money on our political system, Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “No one should be able to pump unlimited funds into political campaigns.” On political spending, Sen. Reid noted, the “Koch brothers are in a category of their own.”
Indeed, the Koch brothers’ influence in shaping our national political dialogue is stronger than many realize. In March the Center for Public Integrity wrote about David and Charles Koch’s financial investments in colleges and universities—the nation-spanning “campus of Koch Brothers Academy.” By pouring millions into schools across the country, the Koch brothers bankroll academic programs to promote their economic and social ideologies. They champion regressive political philosophies and create a pipeline for youth to become engaged in conservative activism. In effect, the Koch brothers are leading a crusade to funnel young people into the conservative movement.
However, we in the progressive movement are also investing in our youth. Despite not having as much money as oil tycoons, key players in the progressive movement understand the power of youth and are fighting back with a long-term progressive infrastructure. Programs like Young People For (YP4) of People For the American Way Foundation provide young progressive leaders the tools to create systemic change, roll back conservative advances, reclaim our democracy, and fight for justice.
By teaching young adults to identify key issues in their communities, create concrete action plans, and mobilize others through organizing and advocacy, YP4 helps Millennial change-makers build power to win on progressive issues. For example, through our program’s Money in Elections campaign, young activists have held rallies, gathered petitions, protested banks, and spoken at national events in support of reclaiming our democracy. Ariel Boone, a 2009 YP4 Fellow, lead a successful campaign urging the University of California at Berkeley to divest $3.5 million out of Bank of America and reinvest these funds in a local bank that contributes millions to the surrounding community. Last year 2013 Fellow Brendien Mitchell spoke alongside Senator Bernie Sanders and other pro-democracy movement leaders at a rally to get big money out of politics on the steps of the Supreme Court. These are but a couple examples of how YP4 is supporting young people in taking a stand against corporate influence in our political system.
As YP4 enters its tenth year, we continue to recognize that to build a movement, you need to think long-term. From recruiting youth from marginalized communities into our Fellowship program, to assisting them in getting more voters to the polls through our voter engagement programs, to training them to run successful campaigns through our Front Line Leaders Academy, we support youth every step of the way of their leadership journey.
Often in conversations about politics and civic participation, young adults are afterthoughts, considered an “apathetic” audience that doesn’t vote. But Millennials are far more engaged than given credit for. In fact, today’s young adults are anything but disengaged. Despite being the first generation to be economically worse-off than their parents through no fault of our own, Millennials are far more likely to do community service than older generations. About half of us vote, and we currently account for over 20 percent of the voting-eligible population in the US – and that number is growing as more of us turn 18. We must constantly overcome conservatives’ best attempts to keep us from the polls, efforts which in themselves show how much power we hold over the political process – no one would try to disenfranchise us if we didn’t matter. And last but certainly not least, we are the most diverse and progressive generation in recent history.
Ironically, two individuals who spend enormous amounts of money to influence the civic lives of young adults represent political leanings at odds with much of the Millennial generation’s values. The Koch brothers singlehandedly influence the US political arena more than almost anyone else thanks to their nearly limitless pool of oil money. They are two of the most radical and influential right-wing leaders today who are attempting to abolish the minimum wage, get rid of Social Security, defund the Affordable Care Act, equate money with speech, and lead the transformation of American democracy into an oligarchy. As shown in the Center for Public Integrity report, in 2012 they gave nearly $13 million in tax-deductible donations to higher education institutions, including many that are often considered “liberal,” to promote their ideologies.
These contributions show that conservative leaders do understand the power of youth and the return they get from investing in youth leadership development opportunities. By shelling millions into programs for young conservatives since the 1970s and focusing on long-term capacity building rather than just mobilization during elections, conservatives see the fruits of their labor in congressional dysfunction and the weakening of our democratic processes.
But programs like YP4 are doing the work to turn this tide by developing young progressive leaders. As Andrew Gillum, Director of Youth Leadership Programs at People For the American Way Foundation, wrote earlier this year: “Investing in progressive young people is the key to ensuring our movement’s capacity to create and sustain social change for years to come.”
Creating change is hard and takes time, especially when up against big money like that of the Koch Brothers. But by investing in young people, the progressive movement can make a real difference in both the short and long terms. We simply cannot afford to not invest in youth.
Decision Could Balloon Spending In State Elections
WASHINGTON – Campaign spending in states with aggregate contribution limits will likely soon balloon in the wake of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision, according to a new report by People For the American Way Foundation.
The report analyzes the anticipated state impacts of the high court striking down limits on the total amount a donor can give directly to candidates, parties, and committees at the federal level in the McCutcheon ruling. It forecasts a spending explosion in states whose aggregate limits on contributions to state candidates will soon be challenged or nullified in light of the decision. Among other data, the report finds:
• In New York, the current limit is $300,000 per two years. We estimate big donors will now be able to contribute $2,531,600 per election cycle, more than eight times the previous limit.
• In Maryland, the current limit is $10,000 per four-year election cycle. We estimate big donors will now be able to contribute $768,000 per four-year election cycle. This is a greater than 76-fold increase.
The states analyzed in the report are Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
“The McCutcheon decision didn’t only undercut our federal campaign finance laws, it has ramifications for states across the country,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way Foundation. “Allowing wealthy donors to put exponentially more money into state elections tilts the playing field even more starkly in their favor and strikes at the very foundation of our democracy.”
The report is available here: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/how-supreme-courts-mccutcheon-decision-could-balloon-spending-state-electi
People For the American Way Action Fund has announced an endorsement of Derek Cressman’s candidacy for California Secretary of State.
“Derek Cressman has been a consistent progressive leader, standing up against big money in politics and for fairness and the people’s voice,” said PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager. “He will serve the people of California well as Secretary of State.”
Cressman is one of five primary candidates for Secretary of State. He served as director of the Democracy Program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and the state PIRG organizations, fighting for the environment, open government, and fair elections. He subsequently founded Earth Tones, an environmentally friendly communications company that donates 100 percent of its profits to environmental groups.
In 2006 Cressman began working with Common Cause on its groundbreaking voting rights and elections programs, eventually directing the organization’s Citizens United information campaign. While at Common Cause, Cressman led 35 state chapters as vice president for states. During his tenure, Common Cause expanded its coordination of grassroots organizing and advocacy on money in politics across all of its local chapters, pursuing local ordinances and referenda as a strategy to draw more attention to the issue.
Derek Cressman’s positions on women’s health, comprehensive immigration reform, public education funding, equality for all Americans, and money in politics – among other issues – distinguish him as quality progressive candidate for California Secretary of State. His campaign website is http://www.derekcressman.com.
WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy announced today that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing June 3 on a constitutional amendment to restore the ability of Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money on elections. People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:
“Today’s announcement is an important step forward in the movement to reclaim our democracy from wealthy special interests. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which allowed even more money to flood our elections, this work is more urgent than ever.
“Passing a constitutional amendment is never an easy process – nor should it be. But this is a moment in our nation’s history where “we the people” must act to protect the integrity of our democracy. We applaud Sen. Leahy, Sen. Reid, and Sen. Udall on their leadership in moving this critical process forward.”
For more information on People For the American Way’s Government By the People work, please see: http://www.pfaw.org/GovernmentByThePeople
A new analysis by a campaign finance watchdog group has revealed that wealthy donors could have flooded Wisconsin with $6 million each to candidates in 2010 and 2012 elections if the state’s $10,000 aggregate annual limit had not existed.
The Money Out/Voters In Wisconsin Coalition, of which PFAW is a member organization, highlighted the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s findings at a press conference last week reacting to the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which was announced early last month. In McCutcheon, the court struck down aggregate federal limits on the amount wealthy donors can give to candidates, political parties, and political action committees per election cycle.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s analysis found that without Wisconsin’s state limit of $10,000, in 2012 millionaire and billionaire donors could have given an estimated 680 times more, at least $6.8 million each to candidates in about 4,700 state and local elections, 386 PACs and 157 political committees. In 2010, the comparable number is as high as $6.1 million.
Most notably, Money Out/Voters In Wisconsin and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign noted that only about 299 individuals gave $10,000 or more to state candidates in 2010 and 2012—about .005 of 1% of Wisconsin’s 2012 population. That number included 173 people who don’t even live in Wisconsin.
Check out the video of the press conference here:
MADISON – Wisconsin Senate President State Senator Mike Ellis’ announcement Friday that he will not seek re-election, which arrived after Ellis was caught on camera claiming he might set up his own political action committee to attack his Democratic opponent, is evidence of the big money assault on the Wisconsin Legislature, said People For the American Way Regional Political Coordinator Scott Foval.
“Mike Ellis apparently felt he had no choice but to raise big cash just to compete, and allegedly was willing to compromise his ethics in the process,” Foval said. “The fact that the Senate President got caught planning to form a super PAC to attack Penny Bernard Schaber is just evidence of a larger problem – too much political money driving who gets elected in Wisconsin.”
People For the American Way and its allies have repeatedly highlighted how Wisconsin Republicans have enacted policies that benefit the wealthy and powerful corporate interests. Since 2010, Wisconsin’s GOP legislators have enacted restrictions on women’s health, restrictions on voting rights, and restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees, as well as a budget that favors wealthy tax payers rather than the middle class. PFAW’s Foval called on citizens to fight back against big money in politics and strike back at the voting booth.
“The time has come for Wisconsin’s voters to take back our state by registering to vote, hitting the streets to knock doors, and voting for progressive candidates who represent the people instead of big money donors,” Foval said. “This isn’t cause for celebration. It’s a call to put our heads down, and get to work to elect new leadership to the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor’s office.”