The former George W. Bush administration official who founded a group to push for the confirmation of Bush’s judicial nominees has come up with the most ridiculous justification yet for a possible Republican filibuster of President Obama’s three nominees to vacancies on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In a Washington Times column today, C. Boyden Gray argues that Obama’s filling all the seats on the court is in fact a "drive to pack" the court and would “risk politicizing an institution that is – and should be – above politics” and lead to a loss of “collegiality” among the judges on the court.
Gray’s concern for the independence of the judiciary is admirable, but it’s interesting that he seems to have developed this concern only when a Democratic president started nominating judges.
In fact, Gray seems to have held the opposite view of what to do with the D.C. Circuit during the George W. Bush administration, when he founded and led an organization dedicated to getting President Bush’s most conservative nominees confirmed to the federal courts. Among the nominees Gray worked to confirm were current D.C. Circuit judges Thomas Griffith, Brett Kavanaugh and Janice Rogers Brown, who have given the court a serious right-wing ideological bent, and now- Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. In total, thanks in part to Gray, Bush had four nominees confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, filling all eleven of the twelve seats then available.
In contrast, President Obama has had just one nominee confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in his five years in office, bringing the total number of judges on the court up to eight out of eleven designated seats. This puts him far behind all of his recent predecessors in placing judges on the court. In fact, every president since Jimmy Carter, going through the process laid out in the Constitution, has had at least three nominees confirmed to the D.C. Circuit.
So, why does Gray think President Obama’s nominees would so unbalance the careful social order of the court? He cites the effort that Judge Harry Edwards, a Carter nominee, made in the mid-1990s to get judges on the court to work together across ideological lines, and Judge Edwards’ observation that “smaller courts tend to be more collegial.” Which is a great argument for confirming judges who are skilled at working across ideological lines (for instance, Nina Pillard) but makes no sense as an argument simply not to let a given president fill seats on the court.
In the column, Gray also backs Chuck Grassley’s effort to eliminate the three D.C. Circuit seats to prevent President Obama from filling them and transfer two to other, less influential, circuits – a plan that has no backing in actual caseload data.
If these are the logic-jumping lengths that conservatives have to go to justify their all-out obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees, maybe it’s time they just gave up and admitted that they just don’t want to let President Obama do his job.
Support Growing in U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and State Legislatures
WASHINGTON – Advocates are celebrating a significant milestone in the campaign for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United that opened the floodgates of money from corporations and the ultra wealthy into our political system. Support for the campaign now stands at one-third of what is needed for victory.
The Constitution can be amended by votes of a supermajority of each chamber of Congress, followed by ratification by three-quarters of the states. Support for an amendment now stands at one third of each of those thresholds:
|Share required||Number needed||Number today||%|
|2/3 Senators||67||27 sponsors and co-sponsors||40%|
|2/3 Representatives||290||99 sponsors and co-sponsors||34%|
|3/4 States||38||16 official resolutions, ballot measures or official calls for an amendment||42%|
“This milestone represents important progress toward a goal that’s critical to preserving the integrity of our democracy,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way. “Amending our country’s constitution should be difficult. But this isn’t the first time Americans have encountered a serious problem that needs a serious solution. Citizens United and other cases that paved the way for big money to flood our elections have given us one of those moments. As more states and elected officials go on record in support of an amendment, the clearer it becomes that the American people will not stand to have their voices overpowered by wealthy special interests.”
“In just three years since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, we have come one third of the way to amending the US Constitution to reclaim our democracy and to ensure that people, not corporations, shall govern in America,” said John Bonifaz, co-founder and executive director of Free Speech For People. “Americans across the political spectrum are standing up to defend that fundamental promise of government of, by, and for the people.”
“Sixteen states representing tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of cities and towns, from Los Angeles to Boston, have passed resolutions and ballot measures in support of a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United," said Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for strategy and programs at Common Cause. “Voters and legislators are justifiably outraged at the way Citizens United has created a system of legalized bribery around our elections, and are building the momentum we need to make a change.”
“Fast gaining momentum, the movement for a constitutional amendment aims to reassert popular sovereignty and return America to the founding constitutional principle embodied in the phrase, We, the People,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “We, the People of the United States are fast on our way to winning a constitutional amendment to ensure our government works for us, not JP Morgan, Pfizer and Walmart.”
“Citizens United set a dangerous precedent by opening the floodgates for special interest money in our elections,” said Emma Boorboor, Democracy Associate, U.S. PIRG. “Yet, as a nation we overwhelmingly value the idea that the size of your wallet should not determine the volume of your voice in our democracy. The fact that we are already a third of the way to passing a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics clearly demonstrates the building momentum and the desire of Americans to stand up for our democratic values.”
Sixteen states have formally called for an amendment by ballot measure, resolutions passed by the legislature, or official letters signed by a majority of state legislators:
In addition, nearly 500 cities, towns, and counties, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia have called for an amendment, and more than 2,000 elected officials nationwide are on record supporting one.
A 2010 Peter Hart poll found that 82% of Americans support congressional action to limit corporate spending on elections (which Citizens United unleashed), and that 79% support a constitutional amendment to accomplish this. This past September, an Associated Press poll found that 83% of Americans favor limits on the amount of money corporations, unions, and other organizations can spend on our elections.
Public support is also bipartisan. The 2010 Peter Hart poll revealed that 68% of Republicans, 82% of independents, and 87% of Democrats support an amendment. The 2012 AP poll showed that 81% of Republicans, 78% of independents, and 85% of Democrats want to limit corporate, union, and other outside spending.
Free Speech For People works to challenge the misuse of corporate power and restore republican democracy to the people. The group advances the movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, an earlier case called Buckley v. Valeo, and the fabricated doctrine of corporate constitutional rights. For more on Free Speech For People, visit: www.FreeSpeechForPeople.org.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest, and accountable government that works for the public interest, and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard.
People For the American Way engages in lobbying and activist mobilization to support local, state and federal initiatives to ameliorate the impact of, and eventually overturn via constitutional amendment, the effects of Citizens United and other court cases that have opened the floodgates of unlimited corporate and special interest spending to influence elections. PFAW activates its membership, its youth leadership networks (the Young Elected Officials Action and Young People For Action programs) and its African American Ministers in Action network for money-in-politics work. PFAW co-leads coalition efforts to confirm judges and justices who respect the progressive ethic of the Constitution and has a dynamic political arm engaged in electoral strategies to hold money-in-politics obstructionists accountable.
Public Citizen is national non-profit membership organization. Since 1971, we have fought for corporate and government accountability to guarantee the individual’s right to safe products, a healthy environment and workplace, fair trade, and clean and safe energy sources. Public Citizen is deeply invested in limiting the damaging effect of money in politics and passing an amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling and related cases. www.DemocracyIsForPeople.org
U.S. PIRG is a citizen's group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. For decades, we’ve stood up for consumers, countering the influence of big banks, insurers, chemical manufacturers and other powerful special interests. www.uspirg.org
If you’re curious why many House Republicans are on board with an unhinged plan to threaten a government shutdown or default over demands to “defund” Obamacare, you should follow the money. That’s what the New York Times editorial board argued in a compelling op-ed Tuesday.
Far-right groups such as the Club for Growth are striking out at Republicans who refuse to take this reckless stance, wielding their considerable funds to “inflict political pain” on those who do not share their extremist position. And they are titillating their Tea Party supporters with political fantasies in order to get them to send in even more money, so they can ramp up their attack on Republicans who don’t toe the line. In “The Money Behind the Shutdown Crisis,” the editorial board wrote:
These groups, all financed with secret and unlimited money, feed on chaos and would like nothing better than to claim credit for pushing Washington into another crisis. Winning an ideological victory is far more important to them than the severe economic effects of a shutdown or, worse, a default, which could shatter the credit markets.
[…] Brian Walsh, a longtime Republican operative, recently noted in U.S. News and World Report that the right is now spending more money attacking Republicans than the Democrats are. “Money begets TV ads, which begets even more money for these groups’ personal coffers,” he wrote. “Pointing fingers and attacking Republicans is apparently a very profitable fund-raising business.”
And as more money pours into these shadowy groups, their influence – and thus their potential for inflicting further damage on our democracy – grows. With fewer effective campaign finance regulations left standing in the post-Citizens United landscape, there is little that can stop these groups from using their money to bully elected officials.
But the functioning of our government is not a game. And though for these fringe groups making an ideological point may seem more important than keeping our government from shutting down or defaulting, Americans are tired of having our basic economic security called into question over political posturing.
As the Times editorial board put it:
It may be good for their bank accounts, but the combination of unlimited money and rigid ideology is proving toxic for the most basic functioning of government.
It was a big week for lifting the veil – at least a little – on the secretive world of conservative groups funding political campaigns. On Wednesday we wrote about new reports on two of the Right’s shadowy front groups which have been able to disguise the transfer of large sums of money to organizations supporting Republican causes and candidates.
Then Politico brought us a look inside what they call “the Koch brothers’ secret bank,” a previously unknown group called Freedom Partners which gave a quarter billion dollars in 2012 to sway public debate further to the right. Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report:
The group, Freedom Partners, and its president, Marc Short, serve as an outlet for the ideas and funds of the mysterious Koch brothers, cutting checks as large as $63 million to groups promoting conservative causes, according to an IRS document to be filed shortly…
The group has about 200 donors, each paying at least $100,000 in annual dues. It raised $256 million in the year after its creation in November 2011, the document shows. And it made grants of $236 million — meaning a totally unknown group was the largest sugar daddy for conservative groups in the last election, second in total spending only to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together spent about $300 million. [emphasis added]
Though you likely have not heard of Freedom Partners before, you’ve heard of the groups it funds – including the NRA, Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Action for America, and Tea Party Patriots. According to their newly-launched website, Freedom Partners is “promoting the principles of a free market and free society” by advocating against scourges like “cronyism in America.”
This, from one of the biggest spenders in the last election.
Other than the Koch brothers, who are the donors behind this massively influential group? At this point, it’s hard to know. Despite the group’s president’s insistence that “our members are proud to be part of [the organization],” Freedom Partner’s membership page does not list a single one. It’s yet another example of the need for legislation like the DISCLOSE Act, which would shed light on the major donors behind the secretive outside groups attempting to shape our elections – and our country.
Mitch McConnell sure can pick the issues he takes a stand on. Despite being a true master of gridlock and inaction, he’s been very willing to take steps to erode campaign finance regulations: in May, he continued his long-standing opposition to sound campaign finance regulation by filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing for fewer federal limits on campaign donations, and last month the court granted him permission to participate in the upcoming oral argument of the case, McCutcheon v. FEC. Given that 90% of voters think there’s already too much money in politics, one might ask why McConnell’s advocating such an unpopular position so strongly.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that McConnell’s views are catching up with him. A poll released Tuesday by the Public Campaign Action Fund highlights what a terrible strategy this is for a candidate already facing a tough path to reelection: 53% of Kentucky voters had “very serious doubts” about his support for unlimited contributions, with 46% supporting his opponent Alison Lundegran Grimes to McConnell’s 40%. It was already clear that spending by wealthy special interests in politics is extremely unpopular, but it’s very encouraging to see indications that those who support unlimited spending might pay an electoral price for it. McConnell might think it’s worth it to continue taking these unpopular positions if corporations will keep spending on elections like his, but maybe he’s miscalculated here. It’s up to Kentucky voters to prove him wrong.
In today’s legal landscape, “following the money” is tricky – but a new report released yesterday shows why this work is critical to anyone who cares about progressive change. The latest digging from the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets blog has uncovered new information about a multi-tiered money laundering operation through which tax-exempt groups funnel millions to groups supporting right-wing causes and candidates.
Operating behind a thick veil of secrecy, groups like TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – which Open Secrets describes as “‘shadow money mailboxes’ – groups that do virtually nothing but pass grants through to other politically active 501(c)(4) organizations” – are able to hide both their donors and their recipients. By funneling grants through “sub-units,” which are owned by the larger groups but have different names, groups like TC4 Trust put millions into the pockets of 501(c)4 organizations supporting Republican causes in the 2012 elections, such as the advocacy arm of Focus on the Family.
As Open Secrets reports,
[T]heir financial ties run far deeper than previously known. The groups, TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – both of which have connections to the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers – have been playing a high-stakes game of hide-the-ball, disguising transfers of millions of dollars from one to the other behind a veil of Delaware limited liability corporations.
The source of political advocacy matters. This latest example of dark money donor groups obscuring the links of their money trail underscores the urgent need for legislation like the DISCLOSE Act. This act would bring some basic transparency to the electoral system and require outside groups spending money in elections to disclose their donors – including the original source of donations. The measure, which was blocked by Senate Republicans in both 2010 and 2012, is a common-sense solution that would help the American people understand who is trying to influence their political opinions and their votes.
Two days following 9/11 terrorist attacks, televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blamed the attacks on “the pagans, the abortions, the feminists and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way.”
Today, Robertson remembered 9/11 by attacking former president George W. Bush for calling Islam a “religion of peace.”
“They believe that anybody who doesn’t submit is at war with them and they are prime targets, and for the Western nations to welcome this fifth column into their midst is just committing suicide,” Robertson claimed.
“The reason is they have lost their faith in God, they have lost their faith in Jesus Christ, they don’t believe in what the Bible says and the core values of our society have gone away,” Robertson continued. “We’ve done it here in America, we’ve abolished prayer in the schools, we’ve taken out Bible-reading in the schools and little by little by little we’ve eroded the rights—we keep talking about separation and this that and the other.”
Robertson made the remarks following a report by Dale Hurd which linked radical Islamic groups to liberals. “Muslims and the European left continue their strange political partnership; while they’re polar opposites when it comes to women’s rights, abortions and homosexuality, Muslims vote for the left while the left grows its constituency by encouraging Muslim immigration and the spread of Islamic values,” Hurd claimed. “America too has been knowingly trying to advance the cause of Muslim radicals in Syria and Egypt.”
At an AFL-CIO convention this weekend, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called out the increasingly pro-corporate lean of the U.S. Supreme Court. Politico reports:
On the opening day of the AFL-CIO’s convention, Warren — the highest-profile national Democrat to address the gathering here — warned attendees of a “corporate capture of the federal courts.”
In a speech that voiced a range of widely held frustrations on the left, Warren assailed the court as an instrument of the wealthy that regularly sides with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She cited an academic study that called the current Supreme Court’s five conservative-leaning justices among the “top 10 most pro-corporate justices in half a century.”
“You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business,” Warren said, drawing murmurs from the crowd.
The study that Warren was referring to is a Minnesota Law Review study that found that the five conservative justices currently on the Supreme Court have sided with corporate interests at a greater rate than most justices since World War II. All five were among the ten most corporate-friendly justices in over 50 years. Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts were the top two.
The Supreme Court majority’s consistent twisting of the law to put the interests of corporations over those of individuals is one of the main characteristics of the Roberts Court, but it is not the only extremely influential court with such a pro-corporate bent. In fact, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to which President Obama has nominated three highly qualified candidates, has been following the same trend, also because of the influence of judges named by George W. Bush. This is the court whose ultra-conservative justices declared that cigarette label warning requirements violate the free speech rights of tobacco companies and that requiring that employers inform employees of their right to unionize violates the free speech rights of the corporations.
While there is not currently a vacancy at the Supreme Court that could affect its balance, there are three at the DC Circuit. That is why Senate Republicans are working so hard to keep them empty.
Yesterday Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s) and Edward Erikson had a great op-ed at CNN.com connecting the student debt crisis with the broader issue of big money’s influence in our political system:
But the education system isn't broken -- it's “fixed.” If we're serious about tackling the issue of affordable education and student debt, we need to strike at the root of the problem -- the influence of money in politics.
Private corporations like Sallie Mae -- which own 15% or $162.5 billion dollars of total student debt -- rake in private-island-purchasing profits while students suffer.
Indeed, from student debt bills to workers’ rights legislation to environmental protections, policies that protect everyday Americans will continue to face uphill battles until we can limit the influence of wealthy special interests in our democracy.
Cohen and Erikson point out:
It's time to dam the deluge of cash and corporate influence in Washington once and for all….Thanks to the leadership by groups like People for the American Way, Move to Amend, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Public Citizen, 16 states have passed referendums calling on Congress to take action and over 150 members of Congress support the amendment strategy. (emphasis added)
And with so much amendment momentum at the state and local level, PFAW and allies are shifting our focus to Congress. As part of our “160 Summer” campaign, money in politics groups are working toward a goal of getting 160 members of Congress to sponsor an amendment resolution limiting the deluge of big money pouring into our elections by overturning Citizens United. Has your representative already voiced their support?
As Cohen and Erikson put it, “This is our future and our fight to win.”
With little over a month before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, a money in politics case that some are calling the next Citizens United, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke out this week on the damage that Citizens United v. FEC continues to cause to our democracy.
Discussing the infamous 2010 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for unlimited corporate spending to influence our elections, Ginsburg told Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News:
“You take the limits off and say, ‘You can spend as much as you want,’ and people will spend and spend,” she said. “People are appalled abroad. It’s a question I get asked all the time: Why should elections be determined by how much a candidate can spend and why should candidates spend most of their time these days raising the funds so that they will prevail in the next election?”
It’s a great question, and one with a clear answer – they shouldn’t.
Justice Ginsburg is not alone in her concerns about the damage done to our democratic system. A 2012 Brennan Center national poll found that nearly seven in ten respondents agree that “new rules that let corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to Super PACs will lead to corruption.”
And this is not the first time Justice Ginsburg has publicly commented on the Citizens United decision. Early last year, Justices Ginsburg and Breyer released a statement in conjunction with a Court order in a campaign finance case out of Montana stating that:
Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.
It is also not the first time she has commented on the Roberts Court more generally. In an interview with the New York Times this weekend, Ginsburg called the current court “one of the most activist courts in history.”
In October, the high court will hear arguments in a case considering similar issues, McCutcheon v. FEC, for which People For the American Way Foundation submitted an amicus brief. In this case, the Supreme Court could take the damage of Citizens United one step further by eliminating the caps on how much money an individual can contribute – in total – in each two-year campaign cycle. It other words, the court would be striking down another protection against wealthy special interests overpowering our political system, allowing even more big money to flow into our elections.
Just what our democracy needs. PFAW Foundation Executive Vice President Marge Baker noted last month:
Protecting the legitimacy of our political system, and restoring the faith of the American people in that system, is vital to a working democracy.
And as Justice Ginsburg highlighted this week, elections shouldn’t be determined by who has the biggest wallet.
As the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meets in a swanky Chicago hotel for its 40th annual summit this week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) has raised some important questions for the corporations that may be funding the group.
Roll Call reports that Sen. Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s civil rights subcommittee, has reached out to more than 300 corporations that are possible ALEC funders to ask for their positions on “Stand Your Ground” laws. Durbin announced last month that he will hold a hearing on these laws in the fall.
Because ALEC operates behind closed doors, it can be a challenge to expose the corporations, corporate trade associations, and corporate foundations backing its damaging work. Durbin’s letter notes:
Although ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members or donors, other public documents indicate that your company funded ALEC at some point during the period between ALEC’s adoption of model “stand your ground” legislation in 2005 and the present day.
Despite the potential roadblocks, Durbin’s letter shines a spotlight on the clear link between ALEC, an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators, and the “Stand Your Ground” laws it helped to get on the books in over two dozen states. And this is a critical connection to highlight, because as PFAW President Michael Keegan wrote last month, these are laws which “help create a climate like the one that encouraged George Zimmerman to use lethal force against an unarmed teenager.”
All photos by Scott Foval.
Bill Moyers once called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) the “most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of.” Today, PFAW is helping to change that – coming out in full force to shed some light on the harm ALEC’s extreme agenda causes to everyday Americans.
As ALEC holds its 40th annual meeting in Chicago, PFAW is there – along with ally organizations, labor groups, and advocates from around the country – to crash their party. The protest happening now outside Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton is the biggest anti-ALEC protest to date.
The mass of people at the rally underscores the growing momentum to expose and fight back against ALEC, which connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to pass special interest legislation in all fifty states. For four decades, ALEC has worked behind closed doors to get laws harmful to everyday Americans on the books – working against paid sick days, pushing tax policies favoring the rich, and helping “Stand Your Ground” become law in more than two dozen states. As our signs say, “ALEC corporations write laws, real people suffer.”
And today, we’re calling them out.