This Tuesday at a press conference in the US Capitol hosted by Brave New Films and featuring Robert Greenwald’s latest documentary, “Koch Bros Exposed,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Bernie Sanders and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker made a resounding call for amending the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s egregious decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC.
“We need our voices heard… we need to change the status quo,” Majority Leader Reid stated after calling for an amendment.
“We need a government by the many, not a government by the money,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed. She went on to declare, “the time to amend the Constitution is now!”
Comparing the amount the Koch brothers spent in the 2012 election cycle to the amount they made, on average, over the past three years, Sen. Sanders pointed out: “$400 million is not a lot of money when you make $11 billion a year.”
Following Sen. Sanders, People For the American Way’s Executive Vice President for Policy and Program, Marge Baker, took the podium and stated, “The time has come to discuss solutions.” She highlighted the growing support for the amendment strategy, the momentum behind the small donor empowering Government By the People Act, the push at the state level for disclosure and campaign finance law, and the growing movement around the country of everyday citizens who are working to build a more democratic government.
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
On the floor of the Senate today, Majority Leader Harry Reid called for a constitutional amendment to counter the outsized role of big money in our electoral system. Senate leaders are not wasting any time in moving forward; Sen. Leahy announced today that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the amendment early next month. The Senate action on an amendment – which 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns have already gone on record in favor of – serves as a significant step forward in the growing movement to put the power in our democracy back in the hands of the people.
Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the Constitution guarantees. The Constitution does not give corporations a vote. And the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote…
…[T]he flood of special interest money into our American democracy is one of the glaring threats our system of government has ever faced. Let’s keep our elections from becoming speculative ventures for the wealthy and put a stop to the hostile takeover of our democratic system by a couple of billionaire oil barons.
Read People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker’s statement on the upcoming hearing here.
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:
Last week, the American Legislative Exchange Council – better known as ALEC – held its 2014 Spring Task Force Summit in Kansas City. The annual Summit provides a venue for corporate lobbyists to woo state lawmakers and hatch the dangerous right-wing, pro-corporate sample legislation the group plans to vote on at its main conference (this year's will be held over the summer in Dallas).
On Friday, People For the American Way staff and members joined hundreds of protestors and ally organizations to rally outside the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, and speak out against ALEC's corruptive influence on state lawmakers.
PFAW and our affiliate PFAW Foundation have long been committed to standing up to ALEC's extreme agenda. Read PFAW Foundation's report, "ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests," for more information on how ALEC sells out citizens' best interests to the highest bidder.
On April 2, the Supreme Court issued its disastrous decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, knocking down aggregate contribution limits and further opening up the floodgates to big money in our elections. The American people were quick to respond. On the day of the decision, activists participated in response rallies across the country in over 140 municipalities in 41 states, demonstrating that the conservative 5-4 majority of the Roberts Court was once again acting out of step with the American people.
But rallying could only take us so far. In the wake of the decision, People For the American Way, in coordination with Public Citizen, helped organize in-district meetings and petition deliveries in congressional and senate district offices during the “spring recess” that immediately followed the McCutcheon decision. The initiative was supported by Public Campaign, PCCC, US PIRG, Common Cause, and the Communication Workers of America.
In total, activists made over 100 petition deliveries to congressional offices and held roughly 20 meetings with congressional staff or their members of Congress. In addition to advocating for a wide range of reforms to solve our country’s money in politics problem, the initiative primarily focused on the small donor-empowering Government By the People Act (HR 20) and the need for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s disastrous decisions like McCutcheon and Citizens United.
[Pictured: 13 activists meet Senator Hirono's state director]
Although all of the meetings were vital for raising awareness on the issue of money in politics and the need for legislative and constitutional remedies, some meetings had immediate, and even surprising, results.
In Hawaii, activists met with and delivered petitions to the offices of Senator Mazie Hirono and Senator Brian Schatz on Friday, April 25. By the following Thursday, both senators – neither of whom had endorsed an amendment to fix our campaign finance system in the 113th session – were co-sponsoring SJRes 19, one such proposed amendment.
In Alaska, activist Sam Dunham and his baby (pictured above) delivered petitions to the office of Senator Mark Begich on behalf of the thousands of Alaskans who have signed petitions calling for an amendment. Although the senator was out of the office and unable to receive the petitions personally, he was so enthused by the effort that he recorded a thank you video:
To date, the Government By the People Act has 148 co-sponsors in the House – a number that continues to grow by the day. And no more than one week following the spring recess initiative, Senator Chuck Shumer announced that the United States Senate would vote on a constitutional amendment to undo the harm of decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon this year.
The engines of major reform are beginning to rumble.
On Monday, People For the American Way joined allied organizations and activists of the NY4Democracy coalition for a rally and lobby day at the Albany state house urging New York lawmakers to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, McCutcheon, and related cases.
Over 100 activists joined the efforts, targeting state senators of all political persuasions to ask for their support in elevating the issue and calling for an amendment. The group gathered in the morning to lobby senators and their staff, held a press conference at noon, and continued lobbying afterwards. In total, NY4Democracy activists met with 32 senate offices.
Click here to view a local news story about the lobby day.
Click here to view an interview with People For the American Way legislative representative Calvin Sloan on the Capital Tonight show.
(Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(People For the American Way legislative representative Calvin Sloan -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(Public Citizen’s director of the Democracy is For People campaign, Jonah Minkoff-Zern -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(Move To Amend New York state coordinator, Victor Tiffany -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(Communication Workers of America policy and legislative coordinator Joe Mayhey -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
If successful, NY4Democracy will help New York join the growing chorus of state and municipalities that have already called for an amendment. To get involved with the campaign, please email email@example.com with the subject line, “NY4Democracy.”
Big news for our democracy: This morning at a Senate Rules Committee hearing on “dark money,” Sen. Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate will vote this year on a constitutional amendment that would put the power of regulating the raising and spending of money in elections back in the hands of Congress and the states.
The Hill reports:
“The Supreme Court is trying to take this country back to the days of the robber barons, allowing dark money to flood our elections. That needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who announced the plan.
“The only way to undo the damage the court has done is to pass Senator Udall’s amendment to the Constitution, and Senate Democrats are going to try to do that,” he said.
Adding fuel to the amendment efforts, Majority Leader Harry Reid recently signed on as a cosponsor of Sen. Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment. Sen. Reid is among the senators People For the American Way has reached out to urging cosponsorship.
In the wake of this month’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision and a recent study that found the US to be an oligarchy rather than a democracy, efforts to reclaim our political system from the outsized influence of wealthy interests are more essential than ever. Sen. Reid’s support and the newly announced Senate vote plans highlight the growing momentum of this movement, with over 150 members of Congress, 16 states, more than 550 cities and towns, and even our nation’s president already on record in support of an amendment.
As former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said at the committee hearing this morning, “Unlimited campaign expenditures impair the process of democratic self-government.” You can add your name to PFAW’s petition and tell other members of Congress to support a constitutional amendment to restore government by the people.
On Monday, People For the American Way joined ally organizations in the New York for Democracy Coalition in Albany to urge state lawmakers to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. If successful, New York would become the 17th state to go on record in support of such an amendment, joining a rapidly growing nationwide movement to reclaim our democracy.
People For the American Way’s legislative representative Calvin Sloan joined Nick Reisman on Capital Tonight to discuss the efforts underway in New York – and across the country – to fight back against the outsized influence of big money in our political system.
According to media reports, Senator Schumer will announce today that the Senate will vote this year on SJ Res 19, a constitutional amendment that would restore the ability of Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money on elections in the wake of Citizens United, McCutcheon and other Supreme Court decisions.
“Today’s announcement is a major step forward in the movement to restore government to the people,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “Americans are fed up with elections being auctioned to the highest bidder and they’ve offered broad support for amending the Constitution to restore the ability to set common-sense limits on the influence of powerful corporations and the ultra-wealthy in our democracy. Elections should be decided by the power of individuals’ votes, not the size of their wallets.”
Already, 16 states and more than 550 towns and cities around the country are on record in support of a constitutional amendment to restore government by the people. On ballot initiative after ballot initiative, when put to a vote by the people, three quarters of voters support adoption of an amendment.
“Americans across the political spectrum support amending the Constitution to get big money out of our elections,” said Baker. “This vote will be an opportunity for senators of both parties to show their support for fair elections and for the principle that voters, not just billionaires and giant corporations, should be in charge of our democracy.
“Senators Udall, Reid and Schumer should be applauded for moving the ball forward on this issue. People For the American Way’s hundreds of thousands of members, activists and supporters are deeply energized about this issue, and we’ll be working non-stop to support this amendment and restore government to the people.”
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.”
In a week in which the Supreme Court turned a blind eye to the reality of money corrupting politics, a story out of Arizona provides a clear example of the insidious influence of the private prison industry and its campaign contributions.
Arizona has been at the forefront of bad prison policy and big profits for private prison companies. People For the American Way’s 2012 report, “Predatory Privatization: Exploiting Financial Hardship, Enriching the One Percent, Undermining Democracy,” explored how Arizona officials’ political and ideological commitment to prison privatization overrode good policy and common sense. Unbelievably, faced with evidence that privately run prisons were costing taxpayers more, not less, than state-run prisons, some legislators moved to stop the state from collecting the data.
This February, we wrote about Politico’s coverage of the private prison racket. “Companies that manage prisons on our behalf have abysmal records,” author Matt Stroud asked, “So why do we keep giving them our business?” One answer is that the industry spends a fortune on lobbying and campaign contributions.
This week’s story shows how those investments can pay off. According to the Arizona Republic, House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanaugh tried to slip a last-minute $900,000 earmark for private prison giant GEO Group into the state budget. The company is already expected to get $45 million this year under contracts with the state that guarantee the company at least a 95 percent occupancy rate, “virtually ensuring the company a profit for operating its prisons in Arizona.” The state Department of Corrections said the extra money isn’t needed, but Kavanaugh heard otherwise from the company’s lobbyists. GEO executives gave Kavanaugh more than $2,500 in 2012.
The good news is that the Senate Appropriations Committee dropped the extra funding “following an uproar of criticism from Arizonans.”