Government By the People

Wisconsin Democracy Advocates Push Back Against Voter Suppression and Big Money in Politics

Today, under the banner of the Coalition to Protect Wisconsin Elections, a group of seventeen grassroots nonprofit organizations including People For the American Way gathered in the Wisconsin Senate Parlor to protest a batch of anti-democracy voting rights and campaign finance bills slated for Senate consideration tomorrow. The event included voters with their mouths taped shut to symbolize their voices being silenced by the proposed legislation as well as speakers from a range of progressive organizations, including PFAW regional political coordinator Scott Foval.

Speakers expressed opposition to a legislative package that will restrict access to a free and fair vote, allow unfettered spending on so-called political “issue ads,” and reduce transparency on reporting political activity in Wisconsin, including:

•  Senate Bill 324, restricting early voting hours and banning the option of weekend voting like “souls to the polls” drives organized by faith communities.

•  Senate Bill 267, making it more difficult for people to register to vote early.

•  Senate Bill 655, repealing current law to allow lobbyists to contribute directly to legislators starting April 15 of election years, even while the legislature is in session; lowering the bar for disclosing political contributions; and allowing unlimited Internet political activity without disclosure to the Government Accountability Board.

•  Assembly Bill 202, requiring poll observers to be allowed as close as three feet to poll workers, despite numerous complaints of harassing and intimidating behavior in recent elections.

Also under consideration, but not yet added to the official Senate calendar, is Senate Bill 654, which would rewrite the rules for disclosing political “issue ads” ahead of an election.  And currently seeking sponsors but not yet introduced is a bill that would eliminate same-day voter registration.

These bills could do serious damage to our democracy. In 2012, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites cast their ballots early. Several municipal clerks, who are responsible for administering elections, offered extended hours for voting to allow working people to participate in their democracy by casting their votes after work or on weekends.

In addition, the proposed new disclosure requirements would allow nearly unlimited, undisclosed political ad spending, both in broadcast and on the Internet, as well as increased allowances for solicitation activity for political bundling by political action committees and political conduits.

But “We, the People” are fighting back. Check out the video of today’s event below:

PFAW

PFAW Calls On Wisconsin Legislature to Give Voters a Choice On Big Money in Politics

MADISON – Yesterday Wisconsin State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) introduced SJR 68, a resolution that would place an advisory referendum on the November 2014 ballot calling for a federal constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision. It is a companion resolution to AJR 50, introduced last year by State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) in the Wisconsin Assembly. People For the American Way regional political coordinator Scott Foval released the following statement:

“The people of Wisconsin deserve a chance to weigh in on the corrupting influence of corporate spending in our democracy. Wisconsinites have made it clear that money in politics is an issue they care deeply about. To date, 27 local resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United have passed in counties and municipalities across Wisconsin. Thirteen more will be on local referendums in April. Just as Representative Taylor has led on this issue in the Assembly, Senator Hansen recognizes that the unbridled spending the Citizens United decision unleashed is harmful to our democracy.

“While the Republican Assembly leadership continues to block progress on AJR 50, we hope the Republican State Senate leadership will put the people first and pass SJR 68 – allowing voters to decide whether a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United is the best way to push back on corporate control of our political process. PFAW continues to stand on the side of the people and will work with our allies in Wisconsin to push for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics.”

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Tell Congress to Pass the Government By the People Act!

Help put the power in our democracy back where it belongs: In the hands of the People.

Leader Pelosi and Rep. Sarbanes Call for Government by the People Act and Reversal of Citizens United

Today Representative John Sarbanes was joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others in introducing legislation to help put our democracy back where it belongs: in the hands of “We, the People.”  The Government by the People Act (H.R. 20) is a bill designed to empower everyday voters to make small donations to candidates, amplify those donations through matching funds, and make our elected officials accountable to all of us, rather than to wealthy campaign donors.

In the Washington Post yesterday, Representatives Pelosi and Sarbanes penned a powerful op-ed in the support of the bill, calling for solutions to the influx of money that has flooded our elections in the post-Citizens United world.  That Supreme Court decision, they wrote, “shook the foundation of our democracy: the principle that, in the United States of America, it is the voices of the people, not the bank accounts of the privileged few, that determine the outcome of our elections and the policies of our government.”

But they note that we can, and must, push for solutions – including a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United:

We must disclose the sources of the money in our campaigns, amend the Constitution to reverse the grievous error of the Citizens United decision, reform our broken campaign finance system and empower citizens everywhere to exercise their right to vote.

The Government by the People Act would help build a politics and a government that answer to the people. Together, we can reassert the full promise of our ideals and restore confidence in our democracy.

PFAW has launched a petition to urge members of Congress to do all they can to support passage of the Government by the People Act.

PFAW

PFAW Applauds Introduction of Government By the People Act

WASHINGTON – In response to today’s introduction of the Government By the People Act (H.R. 20), legislation that would allow political candidates to rely on small contributions to fund their campaigns, People For the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker released the following statement:

“From protecting our environment to raising the minimum wage, progress on the issues most important to everyday Americans is being thwarted by the ability of big money donors to buy political influence. This bill would help change that, multiplying the influence of regular voters’ small donations and making politicians less dependent on – and, in turn, less beholden to – wealthy special interests.

“The bottom line is that elected officials should be accountable to their constituents, not corporate lobbyists. It’s high time for our democracy to be back in the hands of everyday Americans where it belongs.”

In recent weeks, People For the American Way has met with a number of U.S. Representatives to urge their support of H.R. 20 and has trained volunteers to do the same.

People For the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker is available for interviews with the press.  To arrange an interview, please contact Layne Amerikaner or Miranda Blue at media@pfaw.org / 202-467-4999.

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Four Years After Citizens United: A Faith Perspective

Four years ago this week, ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, the high court infamously gave corporations the distinction, the same constitutional right as real people -- as you and me -- to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing elections. Four years later we are still advocating a point that should be obvious: Corporations are not people.
PFAW

The State Of The Union Is Unequal – Economically and Politically

In tomorrow’s State of the Union address, President Obama is expected to speak at length about growing income inequality in the United States, and his plans to address it.  Any plan to address income inequality must also address the political inequality created by unrestrained spending on elections.

Income inequality affects not just individual lives, but our political system as a whole. In a series of cases beginning with the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, the Supreme Court has struck down commonsense campaign finance regulations designed to limit private economic power from dominating campaigns for political office – and thus dominating our country’s political process. Since that time, the income share of the top one percent of income earners has almost tripled, growing at a substantially higher rate than the income of the rest of the population. 

This mounting wealth disparity has not resulted simply from the good fortune of the hardest working or smartest among us; it has been assisted through government policy. The capital gains tax sits at 23.8% for top earners despite the vast majority of Americans believing that it should be equal to the rate at which income is taxed.  Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage, whose real value has fallen about 30% since 1968, remains stagnant at $7.25 per hour, despite the fact that 71 percent of Americans want to see it increased; however, only 40 percent of the wealthiest Americans support such an increase.

As income inequality has ballooned, it has also become more difficult for even the most hard-working Americans to improve their economic prospects. State university systems that were once free are now approaching the cost of private institutions, while scholarships are going less often to benefit low-income students. Labor unions, which were instrumental in building the American middle class, are facing attacks from legislators backed by well-funded corporate interests.

Income inequality and political inequality go hand-in-hand.  As This American Life has noted, the average member of Congress spends at least four hours a day calling wealthy individuals and organizations asking for money, a tally that does not even include the countless fundraisers they must attend.  Average Americans don’t get these calls.  They do not get the chance to meet with their representatives at intimate gatherings.  Their voices go unheard. 

The sad truth is that under our current system, time-intensive fundraising and the concessions that go along with it are necessary conditions for the ascension to political office in the United States. That is something we need to change if we are ever going to deal with income inequality or any of the other major problem facing our country. 

That is why we here at People for the American Way Foundation are calling for “Money Out, Voters In” campaign and are working to pass a constitutional amendment that will allow our elected officials to work for all Americans, not just the wealthy few. 

PFAW Foundation

Garrow: God Stopped Obama/Satan From Killing Me!

Speaking with Erik Rush last Friday, right-wing hoaxer Jim Garrow said that President Obama and his allies are killing his colleagues in the intelligence community in order to cover up Obama’s secret plan to nuke America.

He told Rush that while God didn’t protect his friends from Obama’s hit squads, God saved him from an assassination attempt: “They are being eliminated, now they tried to kill me a few days ago but it didn’t work because God intervened; we are not alone in this fight against lies and Lucifer and those people who would like to take down first of all the blessing of God from America but also take down America as an entity on the earth.”

Garrow also believes that God stopped Obama from nuking the US.

On Fourth Anniversary of Citizens United, PFAW Celebrates Growing Movement for Amendment

WASHINGTON – On the fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan issued the following statement:

“The deeply misguided Citizens United ruling four years ago brought immeasurable harm to our democracy, but it also inspired a re-energized national movement to get big money out of politics. In the four years since, sixteen states and 500 cities and towns have officially gone on record calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases and to take back our democracy from the outsized influence of wealthy special interests.

“Poll after poll shows that the American people are deeply disturbed by the big money in our political system. They want a real voice in our democracy, not one that is overwhelmed by billions of dollars in corporate and special interest spending. We’ll keep up the pressure for commonsense regulations on political spending and a democracy that is truly of, by, and for the people.”

PFAW and ally organizations hosted a Get Money Out of Elections advocacy training in Arlington on Monday afternoon to educate activists about reforms to restore the power in our democracy to the voters. For more information on PFAW’s money in politics advocacy work, please visit: http://www.pfaw.org/GovernmentByThePeople

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PFAW and Allies Mark Citizens United Anniversary with Renewed Call for Constitutional Amendment

WASHINGTON – On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, eight pro-democracy groups are speaking out about the need to amend the Constitution to overturn that decision and protect the integrity of our political system.

Four years ago, the Citizens United decision handed unprecedented political power to corporations and wealthy special interests, and the effects have been dramatic. Billions of dollars have poured into our democracy – often through “dark money” groups that obscure the identities of donors – to influence election outcomes and help set the political agenda.

But Americans don’t want a democracy that operates like an auction. Sixteen states and 500 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and related cases to put our democracy back into the hands of the people. Today, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Free Speech For People, Common Cause, the Center for Media and Democracy, U.S. PIRG, Demos, and Public Campaign are building on that momentum to renew the call for an amendment. The organizational statements are below.

“Americans don’t want a democracy of the corporations or a democracy of the well-heeled special interests – they want a democracy of the people,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “In order to fully repair the damage done by cases like Citizens United, we need a constitutional amendment to restore the ability of Congress and the states to put in place commonsense regulations on political spending. Sixteen states and hundreds of cities have already asked for this to happen. The question now is whether our elected officials are going to stand with big corporations and the super wealthy or stand with the people.”

“Four years after the travesty of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, the case has empowered corporations and the superrich to tighten their stranglehold over our infirm democracy, undermined the basic functioning capacity of our government – and united the American people in opposition,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “Citizens United kickstarted a fast-growing national movement for a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy and re-establish the political sovereignty of We, the People. That movement is now firmly entrenched in the political mainstream, and on its way to success.”

“Four years ago, a sharply-divided U.S. Supreme Court, through its Citizens United v. FEC ruling, unleashed unlimited corporate money in our elections and gave rise to the SuperPACs, leading to new distortions of our political process by the mega-rich and big money interests,” said John Bonifaz, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Free Speech For People. “But, the American people are fighting back to defend our Republic, demanding a constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United and reclaims our democracy. We have amended the Constitution before in our nation’s history to reverse egregious Supreme Court rulings. We will do it again.”

“Four years after Citizens United invited big money to take control of our elections, millions of Americans have called on Congress – at the ballot box or through their state legislatures – to reverse the decision with a constitutional amendment,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause Senior Vice President for Strategy and Programs. “While we applaud the introduction of amendment language in both chambers on Capitol Hill, we still need Congress to act. Americans deserve better, and in this election year, we’ll be looking for both parties to deliver it.”

“Since Citizens United, spending by billionaire-funded Super PACs and shady dark money nonprofits have skyrocketed, in some cases eclipsing disclosed donations to candidates,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “With Sheldon Adelson’s multi-million-dollar Super PAC donations and the Kochs’ sophisticated dark money shell games, the integrity of our elections is under attack, and only a constitutional amendment can rein in the power of the plutocrats and put the people back in control of their democracy.”

“Four years ago, the Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for big money in our elections, enabling a small number of special interests to drown out the voices of average Americans—but it also sparked a movement across the country to reclaim our democracy,” said Emma Boorboor, Democracy Associate at U.S. PIRG. “16 states and over 500 municipalities have already passed resolutions calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Make no mistake, we will restore political equality for all Americans.”

“The Supreme Court has misread the Constitution and distorted our democracy, so that the strength of a citizen’s voice depends upon the size of her wallet,” said Adam Lioz, Counsel at Demos.  “It’s time for a new vision that empowers the People to fight the undue influence of big money in the name of political equality, accountable government, and fair representation for all regardless of wealth.”

“Public Campaign supports either changing the Supreme Court or changing the Constitution,” said Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign. “Otherwise, deep-pocket interests continue to bend public policy to its will, the voices of everyday Americans will be diminished, and our government will not be of, by, and for its people.”

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Students Take Action to Fight Money in Politics

In our continuing efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases and restore Government Of, By, and For the people, PFAW Foundation is helping coordinate the Students United For Democracy coalition – a group of student activists and good government groups working to raise awareness of our country’s money in politics problem and pass resolutions on college campuses calling for a constitutional amendment.

For far too long, students have been pushed to the margins of our political system.  From rising education costs to uncertain environmental and economic futures, it is clear that government often fails to act in the interest of students and young people. As explained in PFAW Foundation’s report, “Students and the Movement to Amend the Constitution,” each of these issues is intricately connected to the role that big money plays in our political system. Rather than protecting the interests of all, public officials often look out for the interests of those who pay for their campaigns, and students – who are taking on record levels of student debt –students simply could not afford to “pay to play” even if they wanted to.

Yet the country and its young people are waking up.  Sixteen states and 500 cities and towns have already passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.  In 2014, student governments will be adding their voices to this nationwide call.

If you want to get involved with campaign, please email us.  Also, please be sure to check out the website and follow SU4D on Facebook and Twitter.

PFAW Foundation

How PFAW Members Answered Right-Wing Extremism in 2013 ... And Will Keep Fighting!


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2013 saw a dangerous rise in right-wing extremism. But it also revealed the power of People For the American Way members and activists fighting for the values they believe in. Big challenges lie ahead in 2014 -- the Tea Party has full control of Congress in its sights. But PFAW members standing side by side will be ready to overcome them to defend liberty, justice and The American Way. (Video narrated by Kathleen Turner, PFAW Foundation Board Member & PFAW Member)

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PFAW and Allies Stand Up to ALEC

Last week ALEC held its annual meeting here in Washington, DC, once again bringing together state legislators and corporate representatives to advance legislation that hurts everyday Americans. But they weren’t alone.


Outside their meeting at the Grand Hyatt, PFAW and ally organizations led a protest to stand up to ALEC’s extreme agenda.  Holding signs like “ALEC shoots first… and hits real people” and “Stop the war on workers,” hundreds of advocates from diverse organizations and backgrounds marched, chanted, and made speeches about the real toll ALEC-supported policies have on Americans’ lives.


PFAW’s Diallo Brooks’ speech to the crowd was interrupted many times with cheers and applause.  He said:

It doesn’t matter where they meet—here in Washington or any other city. When ALEC comes to town, we need to let them know that it is not okay for them to have private meetings with our legislators and corporations and write legislation that impacts our lives every day. We’re here to let them know—loud and clear—that democracy is still alive. We’re paying attention, and we’re going to call them out wherever they go.

Following last week’s news that ALEC drafted an agreement for their state chairs calling on them to put the interests of ALEC first, Brooks and other protest leaders went into the meeting area and asked attendees to sign an alternative pledge – one asking ALEC legislators to honor the Constitution and their constituents rather than corporate interests. None of the attendees signed.

PFAW

Supreme Court Hears Money in Politics Case, Activists Rally for Democracy

On October 8th, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, which has the potential to be the most destructive campaign finance case it has considered since Citizens United v. FEC.  In McCutcheon, the Court is examining the constitutionality of aggregate contribution limits and, depending on the decision it’s expected to release in early 2014, could allow even more money to be poured into our elections.

In addition to mobilizing its networks around the case, People For hosted a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court, where activists from a wide range of backgrounds and issue areas spoke about how moneyed politics affects our democracy. The rally was co-emceed by People For’s Marge Baker, and featured YEO Maryland State Director Craig Rice and YP4 Fellow Brendien Mitchell.

Public Interest Pictures filmed the event and put together the following video:

Tell McCutcheon: Our Democracy is NOT For Sale! from John Wellington Ennis on Vimeo.

To learn more about People For the American Way’s campaign against big money in politics, visit our Government By The People page.

 

PFAW

ALEC and Koch-Funded SPN in the Spotlight

Last week The Guardian began to shine some light on the shadowy right-wing group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), exposing how the organization connecting corporations with conservative legislators to move a legislative agenda supporting special interests is declining in popularity. In the wake of tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s shooting, many former members are attempting to distance themselves from ALEC’s extreme agenda.

Close on the heels of that revelation, we now see that a Koch-funded network of state policy groups with ties to ALEC, the State Policy Network (SPN), plans to launch a coordinated assault on many of the issues and services most important to everyday working Americans. Newly-exposed funding proposal documents obtained by The Guardian outline what they call a “blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014.”

And what an agenda it is. According to the documents, the proposals take aim at public education, health services, worker’s compensation, environmental protections, and more. A new website (www.stinktanks.org) launched by allies ProgressNow and the Center for Media and Democracy helps to further expose the agenda behind these state policy groups and draw attention to some of SPN’s major funders.

SPN, a member of ALEC, should take heed of ALEC’s declining public image. The American people are tired of the coordinated attack on the services, rights, and protections vital to a thriving middle class.
 

PFAW

Amending the Constitution for Government Of, By, and For The People

The American public and a growing number of public officials are calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases to redefine the role of corporate power in the political sphere and place the election process where it belongs – in the hands of the people.

ALEC Experiences ‘Donor Exodus’ Following Trayvon Martin Tragedy

Apparently not all press is good press, after all.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) documents recently obtained by The Guardian show the popularity of ALEC, an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to push special interest legislation, to be in sharp decline.  In the wake of the national outcry surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death, ALEC saw both its corporate and state legislative membership drop in numbers – experiencing what The Guardian describes as a “donor exodus.”   

That’s because among the many damaging pieces of legislation ALEC has pushed over the years are “Stand Your Ground” laws, which became a cornerstone of the national conversation about the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Drafted in part by the National Rifle Association, ALEC promoted these types of laws as “model legislation.”  But some legislators and corporations – including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and more – decided they didn’t want any part of it.

Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg report:

The Guardian has learned that by Alec's own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.

For forty years, ALEC has helped advance bills that hurt everyday Americans, and PFAW works with allies like the Center for Media and Democracy to expose their extreme agenda. 

If you’re in the DC area, you can join us this Thursday for a “DC Stands Up to ALEC” rally to make clear that it’s not only legislators and corporations who have had enough of ALEC – it’s the American people.
 

PFAW

Karl Rove’s IRS Problem

Thanks to some tax-return digging, ProPublica found this week that the Karl Rove-connected Crossroads GPS actually spent at least $11 million more on political activities last year than they told the IRS. ProPublica’s Kim Barker reported:

New tax documents, made public last Tuesday, indicate that at least $11.2 million of the grant money given to the group Americans for Tax Reform was spent on political activities expressly advocating for or against candidates. This means Crossroads spent at least $85.7 million on political activities in 2012, not the $74.5 million reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

But what’s an extra $11 million spent on political activities, right?  Wrong. Tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare groups are limited in the amount of political spending they can do while maintaining their exempt status. And these developments about Crossroads GPS only underscore the need for more robust government oversight of political spending. 

Unfortunately, this is an effort that has been made much more difficult in the wake of recent Supreme Court rulings. As Michael Keegan noted in May, the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision opened the door to an explosion of spending by c(4) groups like Crossroads GPS because it allowed  them to run political ads as long as they weren’t using the majority of their money for electoral work.

Moreover, dark money groups sometimes attempt to underreport the political spending that they do undertake, which has not been helped by the IRS’s past reluctance to issue “bright lines” around what must be counted as political spending.

But that may change soon. The Treasury Department and the IRS are expected to issue guidance today specifying what “candidate-related political activity” entails and how much of it 501(c)(4) social welfare groups are allowed to do.

PFAW

With Warren’s Endorsement, 100% of MA delegation Supports Amending the Constitution to Overturn Citizens United

On Wednesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren co-sponsored Senator Udall’s amendment proposal, SJRES 19, adding a key progressive voice to the amendment movement. With Warren’s endorsement, the entire Massachusetts’s congressional delegation is now in support of amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases.

In a speech two months ago, Senator Warren decried the overwhelming influence of money in politics and noted that “Congress needs power to address all of the ways in which corruption threatens the health of our political system.”  That notion – that Congress and the states should have the constitutional authority to protect the integrity of the legislative and electoral processes – is at the heart of what the Udall proposal does. 

To date, 16 states, 500 cities/towns, and over 150 members of Congress have called for a constitutional amendment.  To learn more about the amendment movement, visit: www.united4thepeople.org.

PFAW Foundation

Klingenschmitt: West Point Chapel Desecrated By 'Acts Of Sodomy' Performed On The Altar

Earlier this month, two male West Point cadets were married at U.S. Military Academy's Cadet Chapel and "Dr. Chaps' Gordon Klingenschmitt is predictably disgusted because the altar has now been desecrated by having acts of sodomy performed upon it.

"When they take over the building," Klingenschmitt said, "that altar has now been desecrated; it's no longer sacred in the eyes of the Christians who believe the Bible because it's been consecrated with acts of sodomy performed on the Christian altar":

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