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.
Table of Contents:
On August 7-9th, the American Legislative Exchange Council will be holding its annual policy meeting at the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago, Illinois. Over the course of three days, following standard ALEC protocol, state lawmakers from across the country will be wined and dined by corporate lobbyists; “educated” by climate change deniers and free market doctrinaires; and instructed on what corporate-backed bills they should bring back to their respective statehouses.
In Chicago, ALEC will be celebrating its 40th year of existence. ALEC was founded in the city by a coterie of conservative activists in 1973, and has decided to come back to its roots for its 40th annual celebration. For forty years, ALEC has worked behind closed doors to push its extreme agenda, one that harms the American people and weakens our democratic institutions.
That is why activists are rallying to make sure ALEC receives the proper “welcome” it deserves, and that ALEC lawmakers, ALEC corporate sponsors, and ALEC supporters across the country are called out for backing such a reactionary group.
We hope the following toolkit helps you in your efforts to expose ALEC in Chicago.
On August 8th at 12:00 PM outside the Palmer House Hilton in downtown Chicago, thousands of concerned citizens are holding a protest against ALEC.
[Click HERE for a map]
Palmer House Hilton
17 East Monroe Street
Chicago, IL 60603
People will be driving in from across Illinois and neighboring states to rally against ALEC. If you do not live in the area, please pass this information along to anyone you know in the Chicago-area who may be able to attend. Turnout will be high and every person who can make it should come.
If you can attend the protest, please let us know! Send an email to People For the American Way’s Midwest Coordinator Scott Foval at email@example.com, who will be on site attending the rally and will give you up-to-date information about the event. You can follow him on twitter at @scottfoval.
Taking Action Across The Country:
ALEC’s Chicago meeting provides activists across the country the unique opportunity to raise awareness in local communities about ALEC, ALEC supporters, and the extreme ALEC agenda. People For the American Way is here to help facilitate that advocacy. Below you will find activist tools for amplifying ALEC exposure via social media and drafting and submitting Letters To the Editor.
The ALEC Exposed campaign has utilized social media effectively to encourage lawmakers and corporations to drop ALEC. With the upcoming event in Chicago, PFAW has designed the following social media tools to keep up the pressure.
Click on the following images to share them on Facebook:
Relevant Twitter Handles and Links:
@peoplefor – People For the American Way’s Twitter handle
@PFAW_WI – People For the American Way Midwest’s Twitter handle
@scottfoval – People For the American Way Midwest Coordinator Scott Foval’s Twitter handle
@ALEC_states – ALEC’s Twitter handle
@ALECexposed – the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed Twitter handle
tinyurl.com/ALECinChicago – the link to the August 8th Chicago protest
Writing a Letter To the Editor (LTE) is an effective way of raising awareness on an issue. The following tips and “talking points” will guide you through your ALEC LTE submission.
LTE Submission Logistics
- As a rule of thumb, you will want to keep your LTE under 200 words. However, be sure to find out the LTE guidelines of the paper[s] you are submitting to beforehand to double-check that 200 words is an acceptable length – generally, guidelines are posted online, however you can also find out by calling the newspaper’s office.
- Do not feel obligated to only submit LTE’s to large newspapers. Your local paper is a great place to start the discussion. At the same time, do not feel hesitant to submit to bigger papers even if the chances of acceptance are slimmer.
- To increase your chances of acceptance, submit your letter using two methods – standard mail and email. Writing your letter by hand or printing out your letter and then sending it via the mail shows that you have been intentional about your submission and that you really care about the issue. At the same time, sending your letter via email offers Newspaper Editors – who are already pressed for time and content – a quick way to get material into their publication. So if you have the time, please submit using both methods, and acknowledge in both that you are doing so.
- Be sure to include your contact information in your submission. Many newspapers will require their employees to contact an LTE submitter before publication. If you do not feel comfortable sharing your information publicly in the newspaper print, be sure to specify that stipulation at the bottom of your letter.
What To Write About
- Provide background information on what ALEC is, and what ALEC the agenda is all about. Keep in mind your audience will most likely have never heard of ALEC before, so your LTE should primarily be educational. For information on ALEC and the ALEC agenda, see the Talking Points section below.
- Try to identify a target for your LTE. This could be a particular ALEC lawmaker or an ALEC corporation. By identifying a local target, you can make your LTE relevant to your community.
o To find out which members of your state legislature are in ALEC, cross check these two lists here and here; come up with your own list of ALEC public officials of local interest; and call their offices to see if they are attending the Chicago event and/or if they support the organization. Please note that 1) despite much effort, the two lists are incomplete and that 2) some states have stronger ALEC delegations than others.
o To find out which corporations are ALEC members, click here. Look for corporations that have a large presence and/or headquarters in your community.
- Identify timely information in your LTE, particularly that:
o ALEC is having its annual meeting on August 7-9th in Chicago
o Lawmakers, including ALEC lawmakers in your state, will be traveling to the meeting
o ALEC will also be celebrating its 40th year of existence
- Conclude with an opinion and/or call to action, possibly something along the lines of:
o Asking why State Senator/Representative X cares more about the interests of ALEC’s corporate backers, and not her/his constituents
o Identifying the problem of corporate power in American democracy
o Calling for real democracy in America, not ALEC pay-to-play politics
After Submitting Your LTE
- If your LTE has been printed, PLEASE let us know. We’ll work to amplify your message and will make sure your public officials see it.
- If your LTE is not accepted, do not be deterred. There are many way you can contribute to the movement. A quick way you can make sure your hard work does not go to waste is by repurposing what you wrote and mailing it in to your state representative and state senator.
If you have any questions about the process or content of your LTE, feel free to reach out to us by emailing Calvin Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ALEC background info
- The American Legislative Exchange Council is an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to pass special interest legislation in all fifty states. The organization has roughly 2,000 legislative members and 300 corporate members, and has been called by Bill Moyers the “most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of.”
- ALEC operates behind closed doors, and is almost exclusively funded by corporations, corporate trade associations, corporate foundations, and sources other than membership dues.
- Most of ALEC’s model bills are written by corporate lawyers, and all of them are pre-approved by corporate lobbyists in ALEC Task Force meetings before becoming ALEC model policy. ALEC model bills are distributed to ALEC lawmakers, who introduce the legislation in statehouse across the country without disclosing their source.
- ALEC is a registered 501c3 charity, and thus ALEC’s corporate donors receive tax deductions for their contributions to the organization.
- To date, 49 corporations, 6 non-profits, and 74 state legislators have publicly cut ties with ALEC.
ALEC in Chicago
- On August 7-9th, ALEC is holding its annual meeting in Chicago, IL. State lawmakers from across the country will be flying into Chicago for three days of wining and dining with corporate lobbyists. The organization will also be celebrating its 40th year of existence.
- In Chicago, ALEC lawmakers will receive corporate-written ALEC model legislation to introduce in their respective states, along with tips on what messaging and PR tactics are the most effective in getting that legislation passed.
For more information on the ALEC agenda, please check out the Center For Media and Democracy's ALEC Fact Sheets.
- Climate denial – ALEC has supported "Environmental Literacy Improvement Acts" which would require the teaching of climate denial in public schools as a valid scientific theory. This model bill has been passed in three states, and introduced in seven; with many of ALEC's corporate constituents involved in the fossil fuel sector, the payoff for public skepticism of global warming is clear.
- Privatizing education – ALEC has supported an army of measures to privatize education, including various voucher programs, private school subsidies through parental tax credits, and ideologically contrived evaluations of public schools.
- Virtual schools – ALEC's model bill, "Virtual Public Schools Act", extends state recognition to virtual schools as equivalent to physical public schools, and unreasonably offers for-profit online providers the same per pupil revenue allocation as brick and mortar schools. Educational experts generally regard the value of virtual schools to children with suspicion, and for-profit virtual school companies, which operate for a fraction of the cost of physical schools, comprise a part of ALEC's constituency.
- Attacking teachers’ unions – ALEC has attacked teachers' right to unionize through prohibiting compensation of time spent on union activities as release time, through requiring teacher unions to disclose how much union staff are being paid, and through pushing a panoply of anti-collective bargaining bills that affect all levels of private and public sector employment.
- Obstructing the Affordable Care Act – ALEC has led efforts to resist implementation of state healthcare exchanges, as well as to pass amendments and bills directly contradicting the individual mandate, setting up 10th Amendment court challenges.
- Privatizing Medicare and Medicaid – ALEC has led privatization efforts with model bills providing a small cash allowance to disabled Medicaid beneficiaries and Children's Health Insurance Program recipients to purchase private care, as well as with resolutions to urge Congress to directly privatize the programs.
- Minimizing overall provision of care – ALEC has advocated for bills that would eliminate all state-funded medical assistance not federally required, as well as bills which would require actuarial review of proposals for any new benefits.
On the Middle Class and Workers’ Rights
- Right-to-work – ALEC has led the national push for so-called right-to-work legislation, which hurts unions by prohibiting mandatory collection of dues. Right-to-work legislation most recently passed in Michigan, and along with other ALEC measures like prohibiting payroll deduction to collect dues, comprises the thrust of ALEC’s anti-union, pro-corporate campaign.
- No paid sick days – ALEC has organized efforts across the nation to align corporate interests against paid sick days, with bills passed in Wisconsin and Louisiana, and bills introduced in Florida, Washington, Mississippi, Michigan, Arizona, Indiana, and Oklahoma. Studies show a lack of access to paid sick days forces workers to go to work sick, risking both their own and co-workers' health.
- Minimizing wages – ALEC has led national efforts to freeze or repeal minimum wage and prevailing wage laws. Minimum wages in many states are so minimal that many residents are forced to work multiple jobs; prevailing wages are those standardly paid by the government in a given field, in accordance with regular payments in the local industry. They are also sometimes called “union wages,” and are typically substantially above minimum wage.
ALEC on Taxes and Privatization
- Repeal of capital gains tax – ALEC has advocated for the repeal of capital gains taxes. Since three-quarters of all capital gains go to the top one percent of the income distribution, the measure is quite clearly another way to exacerbate the inequality in the nation’s distribution of income and wealth.
- Repeal of estate tax – ALEC has supported a repeal of the gift and estate taxes, which together tax the giving and inheritance of large sums of money. By securing the fortunes of the rich and powerful, their repeal would substantially increase the rigidity of national wealth inequalities across generations.
- Public spending limitations – ALEC has also supported legislation to limit all public spending increases to the rate of inflation, or by capping revenue to existing levels, or by automatically reducing taxes if revenue rises.
- Other tax policy favoring the rich – ALEC has passed resolutions against "windfall profits" taxes on oil companies, pushed for single, flat-rate business taxes, and led efforts to require super-majorities for tax increases. The last has contributed to California’s budget difficulties, and has also passed in Wisconsin under Scott Walker.
ALEC on Democracy
- Voter ID requirements – ALEC was a driving force behind the post-2010 push for Voter ID and other undemocratic measures that made it substantially harder for roughly 5 million Americans to vote in the 2012 election. In June, the US Supreme Court struck down a burdensome, ALEC-endorsed Arizona statue that required “proof of citizenship” for voter registration, and that was subsequently passed, with ALEC’s support, in Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas.
- Citizens United and money in politics – ALEC has supported the Citizens United decision and opposes federal, state, and local level efforts to mitigate its impact via disclosure and disclaimer requirements. Thus, ALEC supports the use of limitless, corporate “dark money” spending in elections.
- Partisan politics –As recently as March of 2013, Republican National Committee (RNC) called upon ALEC to help develop and implement model legislation to dismantle campaign finance reform in order to help revive the Republican party through abolishing campaign spending regulations and contribution limits.
ALEC on Consumer Rights
- Withholding consumer finance information – ALEC opposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB promotes financial education for consumers; monitors markets for new risks; restricts unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices that affect consumers; and enforces federal consumer financial protection laws.
-Service charges and interest rates – ALEC has opposed government imposed caps or elimination of ATM service charges on the baseless basis that it violates the principles of free enterprise. ALEC has also opposed caps on credit card interest rates on the basis that it violates the principles of free enterprise. Setting a ceiling on credit card interest rates would protect consumers from sky-high interest rates that could leave them bankrupt.
- Tort Reform – ALEC supports a drove of bills that seek to alter the tort liability system to make it substantially harder – or at times, entirely impossible – for consumers to challenge corporations in court and receive just compensation for corporate malfeasance.
ALEC on Guns, Crime, and Prisons
-Stand Your Ground – ALEC adopted and propagated Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which gained national notoriety following the Trayvon Martin tragedy. The law expands the legal definition of “justifiable homicide,” and was lobbied for and partially drafted by the corporate-funded National Rifle Association.
- Deregulation of gun sales – ALEC has opposed efforts to allow law enforcement to use their purchasing power to pursue public safety ends, specifically requiring a pledge from gun manufacturers that they will not market weapons for dangerous uses (such as “cop killer” guns or bullets).
- Prison privatization – ALEC has pushed model legislation for decades that privatizes the prison industry and that rewards its for-profit prison private sector members. Private prison companies, unlike state providers, have a financial incentive in “filling beds,” and have utilized ALEC to lobby for the incarceration of migrant workers, for lengthening prison sentencing, and for selling off state run facilities to the private sector.
- Minimum mandatory sentencing – ALEC has advocated for minimum mandatory incarceration sentences for drug offenses, with the severity of these sentences depending on the type and amount of the drug in question and not on whether the case involved the possession and manufacture, sale or distribution of the drugs.
ALEC on Energy and The Environment
- Keystone XL Pipeline, the Alberta tar sands, and the oil lobby – ALEC lawmakers have passed ALEC’s “Resolution in Support of Keystone Pipeline” in at least four states since ALEC adopted the resolution in December 2011. ALEC also facilitated a trip funded by Transcanada, Shell Oil, and other oil-industry players for ALEC lawmakers to visit the Alberta tar sands, the source of the Keystone XL heavy oil. ALEC later encouraged the legislators to email and thank their corporate sponsors for paying for the trip.
- Renewable energy – ALEC has adopted legislation known as the Electricity Freedom Act that would repeal mandates that electric distribution utilities and electric service companies procure electricity from renewable energy resources.
- Carbon emission deregulation – ALEC has adopted a “model” bill from an oil-industry lobby group that would limit the ability of states to negotiate regional “low-carbon fuel standards.” Low-carbon fuel standards would have a significant impact on the sale of fuels derived from the Alberta tar sands and other “heavy oil” fields.
- EPA deregulation – ALEC has resolved to oppose the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision which held that the EPA has statutory authority to regulate air pollutants from vehicles that “endanger public health and welfare.” The resolution uses unfounded statistics and flimsy rhetoric to dismiss climate change concerns.
People For the American Way is indebted to the Center For Media and Democracy for maintaining ALECexposed.org and PRWatch.org. Both websites provide up-to-date analysis of ALEC, and are integral to exposing it.
Following the approval of House Joint Memorial 6 by a 17-13 vote in the Oregon Senate today, Oregon became the 16th state to call for an amendment to the Constitution overturning the 2010 Citizens United decision and related cases.
The passage of HJM6, first introduced in January by Representative Brian Clem, is the result of a grassroots mobilization effort by the people of Oregon. In 2012 alone, 12 Oregon cities and counties passed local resolutions urging state and federal legislators to call for a constitutional amendment taking back our democracy from corporations and special interests. The mobilization at the state level was led by Oregonians for Restoring Constitutional Democracy, a coalition that gathered signatures and endorsements in support of HJM6.
The joint memorial urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment “clarifying the distinction between the rights of natural persons and the rights of corporations” and recognizing “that Congress and state legislatures may regulate all moneys raised and spent for political purposes.”
Rep. Jules Bailey, speaking to the Oregon House last week, urged his fellow representatives to support the measure, saying, “When we confuse the monolith with the individual, then a piece of our humanity dies. Let us ask Congress to undo this mistake.” The measure passed the House by a vote of 48-11 on June 21st before being sent to the Senate.
With each additional state joining the movement to overturn Citizens United and related decisions, the will of the American people becomes clearer. We will not let our elections be bought and sold. We will not let corporate power subvert the will of the people.
American Family Association spokesmen Fred Jackson and Sandy Rios were despondent while reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. “It’s a big win for gay activists today,” Rios said, “it’s not a good day for us.”
“They kept shouting DOMA's dead, I thought that was pretty metaphorical, marriage is dead too, for the future of this country,” she added.
Jackson went even further and alleged that “God’s judgment will be upon us” as a result of the ruling.
America has awakened. All across the nation, a burgeoning movement has begun to demand the overturn of Citizens United v. FEC and related cases via constitutional amendment, including, according to a new report by Free Speech for People, 130 Republican officials at the state and federal levels.
The new report released in June, titled "Across the Aisle: The Growing Trans-partisan Opposition to Citizens United", compiles quotes from these officials to form a comprehensive body of evidence in support of the fact that, indeed, getting corporations out of political campaigns – at least at the state level – is not a partisan issue. In fact, Republican support has been instrumental in the passage of fifteen state-level resolutions calling for the overturn of Citizens United, with a Republican primary sponsor even leading the charge in Illinois. As Verner Bertelsen, former Secretary of State of Montana, put it,
... the bad Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and more recent decisions ... threaten to undo Montana's century-old laws against political corruption ... I am a lifelong Republican and I served as Montana secretary of state from 1988 to 1989... Corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech. CEOs of corporations may choose to personally contribute to political campaigns, but they shouldn’t be allowed to use shareholders’ money to do so.
These views, too, are hardly new – as Theodore Roosevelt declared in 1910,
It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs ... The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint ... has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. If our political institutions were perfect, they would absolutely prevent the political domination of money in any part of our affairs. We need ... a corrupt-services act effective to prevent the advantage of the man willing recklessly and unscrupulously to spend money over his more honest competitor.
With recent polling cited in the report showing robust support for amending the Constitution -- 83% of Americans, including 81% of Republicans -- it's quite clear that, with continued education and mobilization, Citizens United's days are numbered.
Today Senators Tom Udall [NM] and Jon Tester [MT] introduced amendment resolutions in the United States Senate that would overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC (2010). Leaders from state and national organizations applauded the efforts of these US Senators as well as other members of the 113th Congress who are responding to the will of the American people by introducing and co-sponsoring amendments to the US Constitution.
The group includes leaders from the 15 state across the country that have already passed resolutions or initiatives putting their states on record calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
“We applaud the leadership of Senator Tom Udall and others in Congress who understand that we must now amend the US Constitution to undo the Supreme Court’s disastrous decisions in Citizens United, in Buckley v. Valeo, and in related cases… For the sake of our democratic future, we must end corporate rule over our political process and enact meaningful election reform in America,” said Mimi Stewart, New Mexico State Representative and lead sponsor of the NM amendment resolution.
"Last month, I was proud to co-sponsor S.J.R. 27, a resolution calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to get money out of politics and overturn the Citizens United ruling. The values expressed in that resolution, which passed with bipartisan support, are reflected in the amendments introduced by Senators Udall and Tester," said Barbara Flynn Currie, Illinois House Majority Leader.
“In my district there has been overwhelming support for reversing the Citizens United ruling. Last November 74% of Kane County residents voted in favor of a public advisory to reverse the ruling. I’m proud to represent my constituents and their views in Springfield,” said Karen McConnaughay, Illinois State Senator and lead co-sponsor of the IL amendment resolution.
“California’s Legislature is on record as opposing the Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United ruling and I strongly support attempts by Congress to protect the integrity of our legislative and electoral processes. Congress must act to tip the scales away from the powerful corporate interests and back to the people,” said Bob Wieckowski, California Assemblymember and lead sponsor of the CA amendment resolution.
“The state of Montana has spoken loud and clear on the need for such an amendment, and the time has come for the rest of Montana’s congressional delegation to listen to our voices and go on record in support,” said C.B. Pearson, Stand with Montanans Treasurer.
"The U.S. Constitution belongs to the American people, and in our history we have many times had to amend it to respond to the antics of a conservative Supreme Court playing politics with our most precious document … I am urging the Maryland congressional delegation to join the campaign to reverse the Roberts Court and restore basic democratic and popular meanings to the Constitution," said Jamie Raskin, Maryland State Senator, Majority Whip.
"It is great that more members of Congress are waking up and moving the issue forward. We applaud those in Congress who understand the need for a constitutional change to undo the Court's grave mistake," said Anthony Pollina, Vermont State Senator and lead sponsor of the VT amendment resolution.
"When it comes down to democracy or big, corporate money, Vermonters definitely vote for democracy. Vermonters at 64 town meetings called for an amendment and the Vermont Legislature passed a resolution calling on the Court to reverse the decision last year," said Vermont State Senator and lead sponsor of the VT amendment resolution Virginia "Ginny" Lyons.
“We must now amend the U.S. Constitution to undo disastrous Supreme Court’s decisions that have allowed money to swamp our elections and diminish the voices of everyday people… we must enact meaningful federal election reform that places voters, not wealthy campaign donors and special interests, first in our government,” said Andrew Bossie, Executive Director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.
“Americans’ voices are being drowned out by huge corporations and wealthy special interests. We are heartened that these senators understand the need for a constitutional amendment to take our democracy out of the hands of corporations and wealthy special interests put it back into the hands of everyday people, where it belongs,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program of People For the American Way.
"We applaud Senators Jon Tester and Tom Udall for their outstanding leadership in introducing today their constitutional amendment bills to reclaim our democracy. We must reverse Citizens United and ensure that people, not corporations, govern in America and that the nation lives up to its fundamental promise of political equality for all. Senator Tester’s sponsorship of the People’s Rights Amendment and Senator Udall’s re-introduction of his amendment bill on campaign spending represent significant political developments for our movement. They reflect the growing support across the country for overturning Citizens United and restoring democracy to the people,” said John Bonifaz, Executive Director of Free Speech For People.
“The American people are refusing to accept the corporate takeover of our politics and country. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have called for a constitutional amendment to restore our democracy, as have nearly 500 cities and towns across the country. Now come U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to supercharge the momentum for constitutional reform,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen.
“Our country has lived with the disastrous consequences of Citizens United for over three years now. Americans have had enough. Millions of Americans have registered their anger by filing voter instruction resolutions to overturn Citizens United at the ballot box, in town halls and in state capitols across the country. We applaud Senators Tester and Udall for taking seriously the voter instruction ballot measure that passed in Montana by 75% and a resolution that passed both chambers of the New Mexico state legislature. We look forward to working with Senators Tester and Udall and other members of the House and Senate as we work in every state to support a constitutional amendment to combat the flood of money unleashed by the Citizens United decision,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause Senior Vice President for Strategy & Programs.
“To date, 15 states and nearly 500 municipalities have called upon Congress to overturn Citizens United and related cases by amending the Constitution. The introduction of these two joint resolutions today takes that call seriously and moves us two steps closer to ensuring that in our democracy the size of your wallet does not determine the volume of your voice,” said Blair Bowie, Democracy Advocate of U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
WASHINGTON –Today two constitutional amendments aimed at undoing the harm caused by the Supreme Court in a series of cases, including Citizens United v. FEC – which held that corporations have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing elections – were proposed by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jon Tester (D-MT).
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, released the following statement:
“A constitutional amendment is the only way to completely reverse the damage done to our democracy by the devastating Citizens United decision and related cases. No one takes amending the Constitution lightly, but there have been multiple moments in American history where the people have had to collectively undo the harm done by the Supreme Court when it acts against justice, democracy, and the common good.
“Americans' voices are being drowned out by huge corporations and wealthy special interests. We are heartened that these senators understand the need for a constitutional amendment to take our democracy out of the hands of corporations and wealthy special interests put it back into the hands of everyday people, where it belongs.”
Across the country there is unprecedented public support for this type of reform. To date fifteen states and more than 400 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and related cases.
Strong campaign finance laws lead to more competitive elections and a greater influence from small donors, according to a new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The report, released in May, examines state-level elections to gauge the impact of campaign finance laws. Titled "Evidencing a Republican Form of Government: The Influence of Campaign Money on State-Level Elections," it follows the finances of candidates in each state, looking at their donors, expenditures, and disclosures, providing evidence of the deleterious effects that unrestrained campaign spending has on our democracy.
States with high or no contribution limits, for one, have dramatically fewer competitive races than those with public financing. For example, the Institute found that only 6 percent of 2010 elections in Georgia were competitive, compared with 75 percent of elections in Maine. Not coincidentally, Georgia has relatively high contribution limits, with winning candidates raising a median amount of $50,425, while Maine uses public financing and had a much lower fundraising median of $5,844.
Further, removing limits on contributions also appears to crowd out small donors. In Texas, a state where individuals are allowed to contribute unlimited sums directly to campaigns, the median fundraising gap between winners and losers for 2010 was a whopping $255,318. Meanwhile, just 4 percent of 2010 donations in the state were under $250, while 59 percent exceeded $10,000. In fact, the Institute’s data reveals that in Texas, nearly half of all political donations came from a few hundred people. In contrast, in Colorado, which has much stricter contribution limits, the equivalent half of all contributions came from about 35,000 people. The Institute found this pattern to be present in all 50 states.
Lax campaign finance law has a double effect: not only does it reduce the competitiveness of political races, allowing candidates with money to simply overwhelm their opponents with tides of spending, but it also drastically reduces small-donor participation in politics, concentrating power and influence in the hands of those with deep pockets. This, of course, is a problem – as DEMOS has pointed out, the elite “donor class” often has vastly different policy priorities than those of most Americans.
As corporations, wealthy individuals, and special interests continue to adjust their election strategies in the wake of Citizens United, pouring ever more money into political campaigns, the conclusions of this report are cause for worry. Fortunately, the American people are not sitting idly by while our democracy is threatened. We are mobilizing.
In yet another state, the American people have made it clear that we will not allow our elections to be bought and sold.
Recent months have seen Delaware legislators and local advocates busy collecting signatures for a letter to Senator Carper, Senator Coons, and Representative Carney, asking them and their colleagues in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. Working with Common Cause Delaware, PFAW has been on the front lines of this initiative. Last month Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan went “door to door” with PFAW members and allies in the state legislature urging lawmakers to sign onto the letter.
Following their hard work, Delaware today became the fifteenth state to go on record calling for an amendment to reclaim our democracy. Signed by the majority of lawmakers in both chambers of the state legislature with bipartisan support, today’s victory means that 30% of our nation’s states have called for such an amendment. Four of those states – West Virginia, Maine, Illinois, and now Delaware – have made their position official in just the last two months.
The tide is turning. The momentum is undeniable. As the letter points out, “There is no more critical foundation to our government than citizens’ confidence in fair and free elections.” Today’s victory – as well as those in other states and those in states still to come – makes clear that Americans are taking back our elections.
With all eyes on Illinois today for a possible marriage equality vote, the Illinois General Assembly took another important action – they called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Following on the heels of West Virginia and Maine last month, today’s action makes Illinois the fourteenth state to call for such a resolution.
The Rock River Times reports:
“The effort in Illinois was bipartisan, underscoring what poll data have shown: People of all political stripes are deeply concerned about corporations having too much influence over our democratic process. A measure calling for a constitutional amendment was on ballots across Illinois in November, and was supported by three-quarters of voters.”
Indeed, in Illinois and across the country, Americans of all “political stripes” are making clear that they do not want a democracy ruled by corporate spending. And with each additional state that goes on record supporting the movement to reclaim our democracy from wealthy special interests, that momentum grows even stronger.
Between buying elections, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch shop for big pieces of American media and culture. And, hey, why not?
We already knew of the Kochs' efforts to buy Tribune Company, the parent of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, among other major newspapers. Then, last week, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer took a thoughtful, in-depth look at the machinations that led New York's PBS station, WNET, to pull from the air a documentary critical of David Koch, one of the station's biggest funders. The story raises plenty of questions about the extent to which the public owns public media and the role of money in the arts and culture (see anything at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater lately?). But it also provides a rare intimate look at what happens when big money begets massive influence, often without a dime changing hands.
Mayer describes the fate of two documentary films. One took on income disparities in America by profiling the inhabitants of one tony Park Avenue building - including David Koch. Under pressure, WNET aired the film but, in a highly unusual concession, offered Koch airtime to rebut it after it aired. The second film, "Citizen Koch," made by the very talented, Academy Award nominated team of Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, explored the influence that Koch and others like him have on our elections in the post-Citizens United world. But in the face of Koch's wrath, the film's distributor, a public television player with a history of gutsy moves, uncharacteristically lost its stomach for the fight and dumped the film entirely. Regardless, Koch decided to not give a hoped-for gift after the first film aired. Without lifting a finger or even taking out his checkbook, Koch cast a pall over the documentary film world.
The process that led to "Citizen Koch" being pulled from the airwaves illustrates exactly the point that Lessin and Deal's film makes: money can not only buy action in our democracy, it can also buy silence. As former Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer points out in the film, "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."
Koch and his brother Charles, both billionaire industrialists, pledged to spend a whopping $400 million on the 2012 elections, the overwhelming majority of it on behalf of Republican candidates. But that doesn't just mean that Republicans are jumping to please the brothers--it means that many of those in positions of influence, regardless of their political leanings, need to take into account whether or not it's worth the trouble of unnecessarily antagonizing the Kochs. Just as the public is unlikely to hear about the film PBS didn't run, it's almost impossible to know about the principled progressive stands that our allies in government decided not to take.
Koch's billions are a formidable political weapon, even without owning any influential newspapers. Thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United, it's a more powerful weapon than ever, and we know it's having an impact even when they don't choose to deploy them. The result is a distorted government that responds to the whims of billionaires more easily than the needs of ordinary Americans.
As activists work to undo the damage being done by Citizens United, one of our main challenges is reminding voters of the dangerous, invisible effects that decision has on the country. It's a remarkable irony that by trying to hide a film about the danger of money in politics, the Kochs may have made it clearer than ever before.
It was the tiring but rewarding work of democracy in action.
PFAW Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan recently joined PFAW members and ally organizations Common Cause Delaware and Public Citizen in meeting with Delaware Senators and Representatives, asking them to sign a letter calling for a Constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Going “door to door” in the state legislature, the advocates held meetings with lawmakers about the importance of reclaiming our democracy from corporations and wealthy special interests. By the end of the day, the advocates were exhausted but buoyed by the positive responses they had received from public officials on both sides of the aisle.
“The United States of America’s elections should not be permitted to go to the highest bidder, and yet this is the risk that rises from the ashes of the Citizens United decision. This risk must be abated.”
From grassroots advocacy in Delaware to tracking money in politics legislation across the country, PFAW continues to speak out about that risk. And as President Michael Keegan wrote in an action alert last month,
“Our national movement to get unlimited corporate and special interest money out of our elections is growing stronger by the day.”
In Los Angeles, California, a group of specialists in media, advertising and entertainment, joined by business people, lawyers, and civic activists have founded an organization that is running advertisements based solely on the need to amend the Constitution to fix our political campaign finance system. The group, Fix Our America, has begun the process of running the following advertisement on airwaves in California, and is seeking to run more ads in other media markets across the country:
These advertisements are boosting the amendment dialogue in California, a state that has witnessed much grassroots amendment activity yet is still in need of deep reform. Just days ago, Los Angeles voters approved Ballot Measure C, which called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, with 77% of the vote; last year, the California state legislature passed an amendment resolution “to restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people”; and since the Citizens United decision came down in January 2010, over 75 California municipalities have called on Congress and the states to pass and ratify an amendment to overturn Citizens United.
California does not stand alone. The amendment movement is well underway and gaining momentum in states across the country. Fix Our America is yet another example of the American people joining together in protest of the fundamental threat that corporate and special interest campaign spending poses to our democratic institutions. In the words of Fix Our America’s Declaration of Principles Statement, “Americans deserve the best. Instead, we have been saddled with a system that … leaves all of us at the mercy of those who buy legislation and policy to suit their narrow interests.” The time has come to fix that.