Government By the People

Tell Legislators to Say NO to ALEC

State Legislators must sever existing, and avoid future, ties with the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council.

Activist Toolkit: Confronting ALEC on its 40th Annual Meeting

 

 

Table of Contents:

Taking Action in Chicago

Social Media Tools

Submitting Letters to the Editor

ALEC Primer

ALEC on the Issues

Further Reading and Acknowledgments

 

Background:

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.

 

Taking Action 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 sfoval@pfaw.org, 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.

 

Amplifying ALEC Exposure via Social Media:

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.

 

Facebook Shares

Click here to share this toolkit on Facebook. 

Click on the following images to share them on Facebook:

 

Tweets

ALEC Exposed activists have used and will continue to use the hashtag #ALECexposed on all tweets related to ALEC.  For the Chicago event, activists will also be using the hashtag #ALECinChicago.

 

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

 

Sample Tweets

 Check out this activist toolkit for taking on #ALECinChicago #ALECexposed blog.pfaw.org/issues/ALEC

 Don’t want #ALECinChicago? Show up Aug 8, 12 PM at the Palmer Hilton to protest #ALECexposed tinyurl.com/ALECinChicago

 @ALEC_states of the corporations, for the corporations, by the corporations #ALECinChicago #ALECexposed tinyurl.com/ALECinChicago

 @ALEC_states wants #ClimateChange denial to be taught in public schools #ALECinChicago #ALECexposed tinyurl.com/ALECinChicago

 @ALEC_states wants #ClimateChange denial to be taught in public schools #ALECinChicago #ALECexposed tinyurl.com/ALECinChicago

 @StateLawmakerX is heading to Chicago to wine and dine with ALEC and ALEC corps? #ALECinChicago #ALECexposed tinyurl.com/ALECinChicago

 

Submitting Letters to the Editor:

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 csloan@pfaw.org.

 

Talking Points

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.

 

ALEC On The Issues

For more information on the ALEC agenda, please check out the Center For Media and Democracy's ALEC Fact Sheets

On Education

- 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.

 

On Healthcare

- 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 careALEC 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.

-  Permanent Extension of Bush tax cuts – ALEC pushed for making the Bush tax cuts, which largely benefited the wealthy while ballooning the deficit, permanent.

- 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 politicsAs 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 deregulationALEC 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.

 

Further Reading and Acknowledgments

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.

 

 

Oregon Becomes 16th State to Join the Fight Against Citizens United

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.

PFAW

AFA: DOMA Decision Will Lead to God's Judgment, Death of Marriage

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.

Watch:

New Report Documents Republican Support for Citizens United Amendment

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.

PFAW

Local, State and National Leaders Applaud Introduction of Constitutional Amendments to Overturn Citizens United and Related Cases

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.
 

PFAW Applauds Proposed Constitutional Amendments to Reverse Citizens United

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.


###

New “Follow the Money” Report Documents Dangers of Big Money in Politics

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.

PFAW

Following PFAW Advocacy, Delaware Becomes 15th State Calling to Overturn Citizens United

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.
 

PFAW

Illinois Becomes 14th State to Call For Amendment Overturning Citizens United

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.
 

PFAW

How the Kochs are Buying Silence--Without Spending a Dime

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.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Go ‘Door to Door’ in DE State Legislature in Campaign to Get Money Out of Politics


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.

Already signed by more than two dozen Delaware legislators, the letter notes,

“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.”

PFAW

“Fix Our America” Takes Off in Los Angeles

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.
 

PFAW

The Real IRS Problem: Citizens United

Americans of all political stripes should be outraged at the recent revelation that the Tea Party was unfairly targeted by the IRS before last year's election. The IRS should never base its decisions on political preferences or ideological code words, regardless of what bureaucratic challenges it may face. But the lesson that the right is drawing from the IRS's misdeeds -- the lesson that threatens to dominate the public conversation about the news -- is wrong.

We're seeing a knee-jerk reaction, particularly from the Tea Party and their allies in Congress, that is threatening to turn the IRS's mistakes into an indictment of "big government" writ large. Some are already trying to tie the scandal to the Right's favorite target, Obamacare, and to the Benghazi conspiracy theory.

The danger of this frame is that it will discourage the IRS from fully investigating all nonprofit groups spending money to influence elections. And it will distract from the core problem behind the IRS's mess: the post-Citizens United explosion of undisclosed electoral spending.

Before the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, only a limited number of nonprofit 501c(4) groups could spend money to influence elections -- those who did not take contributions from corporations or unions. But Citizens United lifted restrictions on corporate spending in elections, setting the stage for individuals and companies to funnel unlimited money through all corporations, including c(4)s and super PACs in an effort to help elect the candidates of their choice. Spending by c(4)s has exploded since Citizens United, since the decision allowed any c(4) nonprofit corporation that didn't spend the majority of its money on electoral work to run ads and campaign for and against candidates. And c(4)s, as long as they follow this rule, don't have to disclose their donors under the laws currently in place.

The IRS, then, was forced to play a new and critical role in policing this onslaught of electoral spending. IRS officials clearly made poor choices in how to confront this sudden sea change and those mistakes should be investigated and properly addressed. But strong oversight of this new wave of spending remains critically important and clearlywithin the IRS's purview.

If we let understandable concerns about bad decisions by the IRS lead to weakening of campaign finance oversight, our democracy will be the worse off for it. Instead, we should insist that the government strengthen its oversight of electoral spending -- equally across the political spectrum. We should pass strong disclosure laws that cover all political spenders, including c(4)s. And we should redouble our efforts to overturn Citizens United by constitutional amendment and reel back the flood of corporate money that led the IRS to be in this business in the first place.

This post originally appeared in theHuffington Post.

PFAW

The D.C. Circuit and the 'Transformation of the First Amendment'

Garrett Epps writes today in The Atlantic about how the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, still dominated by far-right George W. Bush nominees, has been instrumental  in “the long, doleful transformation of the First Amendment from an individual right of conscience into a shield against business regulation.”

He focuses on the latest example of right-wing D.C. Circuit judges twisting the Constitution to favor corporations over workers and consumers:

We've read of the violence done to the National Labor Relations Board by the D.C. Circuit's December decision in Noel Canning v. NLRB. Having read that opinion repeatedly, I believe it does violence to the Constitution as well. The D.C. Circuit last year voided a Food and Drug Administration regulation requiring graphic warning labels on cigarette labels as a violation of tobacco companies' "free speech" rights -- to me, another grave misstep. And I feel the same way about the Circuit's decision this week in National Association of Manufacturers v. NLRB. In this case, three Republican nominees held that the First Amendment's right against "compelled speech" protects employers against an NLRB regulation requiring them to post a government poster notifying workers of their rights. The decision is another step on the long, doleful transformation of the First Amendment from an individual right of conscience into a shield against business regulation.

We posted an infographic yesterday that shows just how ideologically skewed the D.C. Circuit is. George W. Bush made a concerted effort to pack the court with judges who shared his right-wing ideology (including John Roberts, who went on to be one of the top two most pro-corporate Supreme Court Justices in the past 65 years). In contrast, President Obama is the first president since Woodrow Wilson to not place a single judge on the court during his full first term.

 

PFAW

Cornyn Blames Obama For Gridlock Cornyn Created

The Huffington Post clips this exchange from yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, which pretty much encapsulates the gridlock that Republicans have inflicted on the Senate during the Obama administration:

 

 

HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery summarizes the exchange between Texas Republican John Cornyn and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee:

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Cornyn was arguing for more immigration judge slots in Texas when he got called out by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) for gumming up the district court nomination process. Immigration judges are different from district court judges, but Whitehouse questioned why the Senate should add more immigration judgeships in Texas if Cornyn isn't trying to fill empty district court slots there.

"I don't see why you need additional judges when there have been multiple vacancies that have been left without nominees for years," Whitehouse said. "I have an issue with that."

Cornyn said his answer to that was "simple:" It's Obama's fault.

"The president's got to nominate somebody before the Senate can act on it," Cornyn said.

But the process for approving a new district court judge, per longstanding tradition, begins with a senator making recommendations from his or her state to the president. The president then works with that senator to get at least some of the nominees confirmed -- the idea being that those senators, regardless of party, are motivated to advocate for nominees from their states. The White House may look at other nominees on its own, but typically won't move forward without input from home state senators.

That's when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) stepped in to remind Cornyn what he already knows: that if he wants to see movement on district court nominees, he needs to make recommendations to the president.

"Based on 38 years experience here, every judgeship I've seen come through this committee during that time has followed recommendations by the senators from the state," Leahy said. "You have to have recommendations from the senators, especially since I've been chairman, because ... as the senator from Texas knows, if senators have cooperated with the White House and the White House sends somebody they disagree with ... I have not brought the person forward, even when it's been importune to do so by the White House."

Cruz tried to absolve himself of the matter altogether, saying he just got to the Senate in January.

In short, Cornyn was blaming President Obama for gridlock that Cornyn himself has created. In fact, Texas has eight current federal judicial vacancies, one dating back as far as 2008.  All  are on courts so overworked that they have been labeled “judicial emergencies.” Thanks to Cornyn and Cruz, not one of those vacancies has a nominee.

And in July, one more vacancy will open up in a district court seat based in Fort Worth. When it comes open, Fort Worth will be reduced to just one active federal judge for the first time in over two decades.

PFAW

Hypocrisy, McCarthyism & “Christian Persecution”

It seems like with every election, congressional hearing or large gathering of its activists, the Right reaches new lows. Here are some updates on what we’re up against right now.

Rewarding Hypocrisy -- Sanford and Cruz

This week, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford staged a political comeback and won a special election to reclaim the U.S. House seat he once occupied. Sanford had left office mired in scandal about his extramarital affair and ran a campaign centered on his own humility and learned compassion -- although, apparently his experience did nothing to dissuade him from his moralizing anti-choice and anti-gay positions. I pointed out in a piece on the Huffington Post yesterday that Sanford trumpeted his new personal understanding of "human grace as a reflection of God's grace," but his ideas of grace, choice and personal freedom as they apply to his own story don’t seem to be pushing him in the direction of supporting those things for same-sex couples, women, religious minorities or really anyone who is not just like him.

Sanford’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This past weekend NRA convention speakers from Glenn Beck and Rick Santorum to Sarah Palin and NRA president Wayne LaPierre attacked “the Left,” the Obama administration, the media and, basically, their straw man version of The (uber-liberal) Establishment for using fear tactics to scare Americans into supporting common sense gun reforms like background checks… while in the same breath stoking paranoia about every manner of “big government” tyranny, like the forced disarmament of America’s law abiding gun owners.  

Another NRA convention speaker, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is being discussed in right-wing circles (and by Cruz himself) as potential presidential candidate in 2016. Cruz is a Tea Party super star who is making waves by challenging the traditional role of freshmen U.S. senators and recently gained notoriety for leading the filibuster of the background check requirement for gun purchases (the one 90% of Americans support) and then insulting his fellow Republican senators at a Tea Party event. But Sen. Cruz was born in Canada. Where are all the Tea Party “Birthers” who claimed that President Obama was born in Kenya and therefore he didn’t qualify as a “natural born citizen,” making him ineligible to run for president, even if his mother was an American citizen??

Whether it’s based on race, politics or ideology, the hypocrisy here is palpable … as it was when Cruz bragged to the NRA about vowing to filibuster any gun safety reform, no matter how common-sense or popular, but in the same speech, tore into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for requiring a 60 vote threshold to advance one of his preferred “pro-gun” bills, which incidentally had less support in the Senate than background checks.

It seems that it’s not so much a good redemption story the Right loves as it is blatant hypocrisy that gets rewarded with support and popularity.

McCarthyism

It must be political witch hunt season because Republicans in Congress – fueled by their allies in the right-wing media – are embarking on some serious fishing expeditions in attempts to smear the president, his nominee for Labor Secretary Tom Perez and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee channels Sen. Joe McCarthy perhaps more than any other sitting member of Congress in his overzealous twisting of facts and events to “support” his hyperbolic allegations like President Obama’s is “the most corrupt government in history” and Hillary Clinton and her inner circle staged a vast “cover up” surrounding the embassy attack in Benghazi. Issa, who himself is no stranger to ethical questions (again with the hypocrisy -- they can’t help themselves), along with his allies, who include most congressional Republicans, the Religious Right and virtually the entire conservative movement, are clearly being motivated by their expectations that former Sec. of State Clinton will be a formidable candidate for president in 2016, so they are trying to tar her in advance.    

Issa and his House cohorts have been involved in the attacks on Tom Perez as well, although the real obstruction is taking place in Senate, where Perez’s confirmation vote has been delayed again by Republicans on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee. While obstructing an eminently well qualified Latino nominee seems like a funny way to demonstrate the GOP’s “rebranding” and appeal to Latino voters, the attacks on Tom Perez have truly been as vicious as they are baseless. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) alluded to Perez being “a dishonorable man,” and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) contorted claims about an incident involving the city of St. Paul, MN to assert that Perez wanted to “hurt poor people” simply because he was in a position of power from which he could do so.

This week, PFAW delivered 50,000 petition signatures to the Senate HELP Committee urging an end to the obstruction and swift action to confirm Tom Perez, and we’ll continue to keep the pressure on.

Religious Right’s Persecution Fantasy

Claim after claim after claim of “persecution,” used as examples of a “war on Christians” by Religious Right activists, talk show hosts and politicians, gets thoroughly debunked. But even as these examples are firmly established as myths, right-wing leaders, and even lazy mainstream journalists, continue to cite them in their speeches and reporting. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch released an In Focus report in the first weeks of the Obama administration in 2009 about the Right’s use of a “big lie” strategy about a war on Christians to stoke the base’s false fears of religious persecution. We are seeing every day in our Right Wing tracking that the playbook we identified remains in constant use.

Corporate Court(s)

A new study by the Constitutional Accountability Center details the remarkable success corporate special interests like the Chamber of Commerce have had before the current Supreme Court. Certainly as, if not even more, notable, another study published in The Minnesota Law Review ranked all 36 Supreme Court justices of the last 65 years based on their pro-corporate bent. While all five of the current Court’s conservative justices made the top 10, President George W. Bush’s nominees and the two most recent conservative additions to the Court, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, were at the very top of the list.

Meanwhile, a separate study from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service confirms what we’ve been pointing out for years -- that President Obama’s judicial nominees are being treated exceptionally poorly by Senate Republicans. Emblematic of the obstruction of President Obama’s nominees has been the situation with respect to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, often called the nation’s second most powerful court. Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the DC Circuit’s rightward tilt even at the cost of maintaining vacancies that severely hinder the Court’s ability to do its job.

PFAW will continue to call attention to and fight the GOP’s unprecedented judicial obstruction in the DC Circuit and the entire federal judiciary. We expect several confirmation battles on the horizon, with new nominations expected to be announced by the White House in coming weeks, and we’ll be employing various strategies to make sure senators are feeling the heat in their own states over the GOP’s unconscionable obstruction.

PFAW

RNC to Supreme Court: Strike Individual Campaign Contribution Limits

Few Americans would argue that they want to see more big money flowing into our political system.

Yet yesterday the Republican National Committee asked the Supreme Court to strike down limits on the total amount an individual donor can contribute to campaigns in a single election cycle, filing an opening brief in what is sure to be a high-profile Supreme Court case.  If the RNC and the Republican donor who together filed the case in Shaun McCutcheon, et al. v. Federal Election Commission are successful, the limit on aggregate individual contributions per cycle could jump from $117,000 to $3 million. 

As PFAW noted in February, this case threatens to be the next stage in the ongoing attack on our country’s democracy.  By calling for a gutting of our country’s campaign finance reform regulations, Republicans are ignoring the majority of Americans who believe there is already far too much big money being poured into our elections.

PFAW Foundation

Study: Roberts and Alito Most Pro-Corporate Justices in 65 Years

We write frequently about the extraordinarily pro-corporate leanings of the current Supreme Court, where the Justices bend the law and twist logic in order to rule in favor of large corporate interests and against the rights of individuals harmed by those interests. In the past week, two new studies have provided powerful numbers to back up the trend.

In a report released on Thursday, the Constitutional Accountability Center found that the corporate lobbying group U.S. Chamber of Commerce has won a stunning two-thirds of the cases that it has been involved with before the Roberts Court. And this weekend, The New York Times reported on a new study from the Minnesota Law Review that found that the current Supreme Court’s five conservative justices have sided with corporate interests at a greater rate than most justices since World War II. In fact, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both George W. Bush nominees, are the two most pro-corporate Supreme Court justices to sit in the past 65 years:
 

The Times writes:

But the business docket reflects something truly distinctive about the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. While the current court’s decisions, over all, are only slightly more conservative than those from the courts led by Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, according to political scientists who study the court, its business rulings are another matter. They have been, a new study finds, far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.

In the eight years since Chief Justice Roberts joined the court, it has allowed corporations to spend freely in elections in the Citizens United case, has shielded them from class actions and human rights suits, and has made arbitration the favored way to resolve many disputes. Business groups say the Roberts court’s decisions have helped combat frivolous lawsuits, while plaintiffs’ lawyers say the rulings have destroyed legitimate claims for harm from faulty products, discriminatory practices and fraud.

Published last month in The Minnesota Law Review, the study ranked the 36 justices who served on the court over those 65 years by the proportion of their pro-business votes; all five of the current court’s more conservative members were in the top 10. But the study’s most striking finding was that the two justices most likely to vote in favor of business interests since 1946 are the most recent conservative additions to the court, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., both appointed by President George W. Bush.

PFAW

New Report Exposes Chamber of Commerce’s Success at Supreme Court

The current Supreme Court’s pro-corporate leanings have resulted in a huge spike in rulings favoring corporations over individual Americans, according to a new report from the Constitutional Accountability Center. MSNBC’s Zachary Roth goes through the report’s findings, including that under Chief Justice Roberts, the behemoth corporate lobbying group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has won a full two-thirds of the Supreme Court cases in which it has been involved:

The major result of the Chamber’s success, legal scholars say, has  been a string of rulings that threaten to block the courthouse door to ordinary Americans looking to hold corporations accountable. And with court-watchers’ attention focused on higher-profile gay marriage and voting rights cases this term, it’s a development that’s flown largely under the radar.

The Roberts Court’s pro-business outlook has been apparent for several years. But the CAC report suggests it may be accelerating. Both the Chamber’s participation rate and its success rate have risen significantly in recent years. This term, the Chamber filed amicus briefs in 24% of cases, up from 10% during the latter part of the Rehnquist Court, from 1994 to 2005, a period of stability when there were no changes to court personnel. And since John Roberts became Chief Justice, the Chamber has won 69% of the cases in which it’s gotten involved (see chart below). That’s up from 56% during the latter part of the Rehnquist Court, and just 43% during the last five years of the Burger Court, from 1981 to 1986.

Jamie Raskin, Senior Fellow of People For the American Way Foundation, chronicled the “Rise of the Corporate Court” in a 2010 report. He wrote:

Americans across the spectrum have been startled and appalled by the Citizens United decision, which will "open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign companies—to spend without limit in our elections," as President Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union Address. According to a Washington Post nationwide poll, more than 80% of the American people reject the Court's conclusion that a business corporation is a member of the political community entitled to the same free speech rights as citizens.

Yet, the Court's watershed ruling is the logical expression of an activist pro-corporatist jurisprudence that has been bubbling up for many decades on the Court but has gained tremendous momentum over the last generation. Since the Rehnquist Court, there have been at least five justices—and sometimes more—who tilt hard to the right when it comes to a direct showdown between corporate power and the public interest. During the Roberts Court, this trend has continued and intensified. Although there is still some fluidity among the players, it is reasonable to think of a reliable "corporate bloc" as having emerged on the Court.

What is striking today, however, is how often the Roberts Court, like its predecessor the Rehnquist Court, hands down counter-intuitive 5-4 victories to corporations by ignoring clear precedents, twisting statutory language and distorting legislative intent. From labor and workplace law to environmental law, from consumer regulation to tort law and the all-important election law, the conservative-tilting Court has reached out to enshrine and elevate the power of business corporations --what some people have begun to call "corporate Americans"--over the rights of the old-fashioned human beings called citizens.

With Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy in the driver's seat today, the "least dangerous" branch of government now routinely runs over our laws and our politics to clear the road for corporate interests. When it comes to political democracy and social progress, the Supreme Court today is the most dangerous branch. The road back to strong democracy requires sustained attention to how the Court is thwarting justice and the rule of law in service of corporate litigants.

A poll commissioned by People For the American Way and fellow progressive groups late last year found that the Corporate Court was a concern for a majority of voters.

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