A new analysis by a campaign finance watchdog group has revealed that wealthy donors could have flooded Wisconsin with $6 million each to candidates in 2010 and 2012 elections if the state’s $10,000 aggregate annual limit had not existed.
The Money Out/Voters In Wisconsin Coalition, of which PFAW is a member organization, highlighted the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s findings at a press conference last week reacting to the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which was announced early last month. In McCutcheon, the court struck down aggregate federal limits on the amount wealthy donors can give to candidates, political parties, and political action committees per election cycle.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s analysis found that without Wisconsin’s state limit of $10,000, in 2012 millionaire and billionaire donors could have given an estimated 680 times more, at least $6.8 million each to candidates in about 4,700 state and local elections, 386 PACs and 157 political committees. In 2010, the comparable number is as high as $6.1 million.
Most notably, Money Out/Voters In Wisconsin and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign noted that only about 299 individuals gave $10,000 or more to state candidates in 2010 and 2012—about .005 of 1% of Wisconsin’s 2012 population. That number included 173 people who don’t even live in Wisconsin.
Check out the video of the press conference here:
Last week, the American Legislative Exchange Council – better known as ALEC – held its 2014 Spring Task Force Summit in Kansas City. The annual Summit provides a venue for corporate lobbyists to woo state lawmakers and hatch the dangerous right-wing, pro-corporate sample legislation the group plans to vote on at its main conference (this year's will be held over the summer in Dallas).
On Friday, People For the American Way staff and members joined hundreds of protestors and ally organizations to rally outside the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, and speak out against ALEC's corruptive influence on state lawmakers.
PFAW and our affiliate PFAW Foundation have long been committed to standing up to ALEC's extreme agenda. Read PFAW Foundation's report, "ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests," for more information on how ALEC sells out citizens' best interests to the highest bidder.
On April 2, the Supreme Court issued its disastrous decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, knocking down aggregate contribution limits and further opening up the floodgates to big money in our elections. The American people were quick to respond. On the day of the decision, activists participated in response rallies across the country in over 140 municipalities in 41 states, demonstrating that the conservative 5-4 majority of the Roberts Court was once again acting out of step with the American people.
But rallying could only take us so far. In the wake of the decision, People For the American Way, in coordination with Public Citizen, helped organize in-district meetings and petition deliveries in congressional and senate district offices during the “spring recess” that immediately followed the McCutcheon decision. The initiative was supported by Public Campaign, PCCC, US PIRG, Common Cause, and the Communication Workers of America.
In total, activists made over 100 petition deliveries to congressional offices and held roughly 20 meetings with congressional staff or their members of Congress. In addition to advocating for a wide range of reforms to solve our country’s money in politics problem, the initiative primarily focused on the small donor-empowering Government By the People Act (HR 20) and the need for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s disastrous decisions like McCutcheon and Citizens United.
[Pictured: 13 activists meet Senator Hirono's state director]
Although all of the meetings were vital for raising awareness on the issue of money in politics and the need for legislative and constitutional remedies, some meetings had immediate, and even surprising, results.
In Hawaii, activists met with and delivered petitions to the offices of Senator Mazie Hirono and Senator Brian Schatz on Friday, April 25. By the following Thursday, both senators – neither of whom had endorsed an amendment to fix our campaign finance system in the 113th session – were co-sponsoring SJRes 19, one such proposed amendment.
In Alaska, activist Sam Dunham and his baby (pictured above) delivered petitions to the office of Senator Mark Begich on behalf of the thousands of Alaskans who have signed petitions calling for an amendment. Although the senator was out of the office and unable to receive the petitions personally, he was so enthused by the effort that he recorded a thank you video:
To date, the Government By the People Act has 148 co-sponsors in the House – a number that continues to grow by the day. And no more than one week following the spring recess initiative, Senator Chuck Shumer announced that the United States Senate would vote on a constitutional amendment to undo the harm of decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon this year.
The engines of major reform are beginning to rumble.
On Monday, People For the American Way joined allied organizations and activists of the NY4Democracy coalition for a rally and lobby day at the Albany state house urging New York lawmakers to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, McCutcheon, and related cases.
Over 100 activists joined the efforts, targeting state senators of all political persuasions to ask for their support in elevating the issue and calling for an amendment. The group gathered in the morning to lobby senators and their staff, held a press conference at noon, and continued lobbying afterwards. In total, NY4Democracy activists met with 32 senate offices.
Click here to view a local news story about the lobby day.
Click here to view an interview with People For the American Way legislative representative Calvin Sloan on the Capital Tonight show.
(Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(People For the American Way legislative representative Calvin Sloan -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(Public Citizen’s director of the Democracy is For People campaign, Jonah Minkoff-Zern -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(Move To Amend New York state coordinator, Victor Tiffany -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
(Communication Workers of America policy and legislative coordinator Joe Mayhey -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)
If successful, NY4Democracy will help New York join the growing chorus of state and municipalities that have already called for an amendment. To get involved with the campaign, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, “NY4Democracy.”
Big news for our democracy: This morning at a Senate Rules Committee hearing on “dark money,” Sen. Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate will vote this year on a constitutional amendment that would put the power of regulating the raising and spending of money in elections back in the hands of Congress and the states.
The Hill reports:
“The Supreme Court is trying to take this country back to the days of the robber barons, allowing dark money to flood our elections. That needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who announced the plan.
“The only way to undo the damage the court has done is to pass Senator Udall’s amendment to the Constitution, and Senate Democrats are going to try to do that,” he said.
Adding fuel to the amendment efforts, Majority Leader Harry Reid recently signed on as a cosponsor of Sen. Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment. Sen. Reid is among the senators People For the American Way has reached out to urging cosponsorship.
In the wake of this month’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision and a recent study that found the US to be an oligarchy rather than a democracy, efforts to reclaim our political system from the outsized influence of wealthy interests are more essential than ever. Sen. Reid’s support and the newly announced Senate vote plans highlight the growing momentum of this movement, with over 150 members of Congress, 16 states, more than 550 cities and towns, and even our nation’s president already on record in support of an amendment.
As former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said at the committee hearing this morning, “Unlimited campaign expenditures impair the process of democratic self-government.” You can add your name to PFAW’s petition and tell other members of Congress to support a constitutional amendment to restore government by the people.
On Monday, People For the American Way joined ally organizations in the New York for Democracy Coalition in Albany to urge state lawmakers to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. If successful, New York would become the 17th state to go on record in support of such an amendment, joining a rapidly growing nationwide movement to reclaim our democracy.
People For the American Way’s legislative representative Calvin Sloan joined Nick Reisman on Capital Tonight to discuss the efforts underway in New York – and across the country – to fight back against the outsized influence of big money in our political system.
According to media reports, Senator Schumer will announce today that the Senate will vote this year on SJ Res 19, a constitutional amendment that would restore the ability of Congress and the states to regulate the raising and spending of money on elections in the wake of Citizens United, McCutcheon and other Supreme Court decisions.
“Today’s announcement is a major step forward in the movement to restore government to the people,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “Americans are fed up with elections being auctioned to the highest bidder and they’ve offered broad support for amending the Constitution to restore the ability to set common-sense limits on the influence of powerful corporations and the ultra-wealthy in our democracy. Elections should be decided by the power of individuals’ votes, not the size of their wallets.”
Already, 16 states and more than 550 towns and cities around the country are on record in support of a constitutional amendment to restore government by the people. On ballot initiative after ballot initiative, when put to a vote by the people, three quarters of voters support adoption of an amendment.
“Americans across the political spectrum support amending the Constitution to get big money out of our elections,” said Baker. “This vote will be an opportunity for senators of both parties to show their support for fair elections and for the principle that voters, not just billionaires and giant corporations, should be in charge of our democracy.
“Senators Udall, Reid and Schumer should be applauded for moving the ball forward on this issue. People For the American Way’s hundreds of thousands of members, activists and supporters are deeply energized about this issue, and we’ll be working non-stop to support this amendment and restore government to the people.”
MADISON – Wisconsin Senate President State Senator Mike Ellis’ announcement Friday that he will not seek re-election, which arrived after Ellis was caught on camera claiming he might set up his own political action committee to attack his Democratic opponent, is evidence of the big money assault on the Wisconsin Legislature, said People For the American Way Regional Political Coordinator Scott Foval.
“Mike Ellis apparently felt he had no choice but to raise big cash just to compete, and allegedly was willing to compromise his ethics in the process,” Foval said. “The fact that the Senate President got caught planning to form a super PAC to attack Penny Bernard Schaber is just evidence of a larger problem – too much political money driving who gets elected in Wisconsin.”
People For the American Way and its allies have repeatedly highlighted how Wisconsin Republicans have enacted policies that benefit the wealthy and powerful corporate interests. Since 2010, Wisconsin’s GOP legislators have enacted restrictions on women’s health, restrictions on voting rights, and restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees, as well as a budget that favors wealthy tax payers rather than the middle class. PFAW’s Foval called on citizens to fight back against big money in politics and strike back at the voting booth.
“The time has come for Wisconsin’s voters to take back our state by registering to vote, hitting the streets to knock doors, and voting for progressive candidates who represent the people instead of big money donors,” Foval said. “This isn’t cause for celebration. It’s a call to put our heads down, and get to work to elect new leadership to the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor’s office.”
In a week in which the Supreme Court turned a blind eye to the reality of money corrupting politics, a story out of Arizona provides a clear example of the insidious influence of the private prison industry and its campaign contributions.
Arizona has been at the forefront of bad prison policy and big profits for private prison companies. People For the American Way’s 2012 report, “Predatory Privatization: Exploiting Financial Hardship, Enriching the One Percent, Undermining Democracy,” explored how Arizona officials’ political and ideological commitment to prison privatization overrode good policy and common sense. Unbelievably, faced with evidence that privately run prisons were costing taxpayers more, not less, than state-run prisons, some legislators moved to stop the state from collecting the data.
This February, we wrote about Politico’s coverage of the private prison racket. “Companies that manage prisons on our behalf have abysmal records,” author Matt Stroud asked, “So why do we keep giving them our business?” One answer is that the industry spends a fortune on lobbying and campaign contributions.
This week’s story shows how those investments can pay off. According to the Arizona Republic, House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Kavanaugh tried to slip a last-minute $900,000 earmark for private prison giant GEO Group into the state budget. The company is already expected to get $45 million this year under contracts with the state that guarantee the company at least a 95 percent occupancy rate, “virtually ensuring the company a profit for operating its prisons in Arizona.” The state Department of Corrections said the extra money isn’t needed, but Kavanaugh heard otherwise from the company’s lobbyists. GEO executives gave Kavanaugh more than $2,500 in 2012.
The good news is that the Senate Appropriations Committee dropped the extra funding “following an uproar of criticism from Arizonans.”
WASHINGTON – In response to today’s Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, a campaign finance case with vast implications for our democracy, People For the American Way’s executive vice president Marge Baker released the following statement:
Our nation’s wealthiest people don’t need even more political influence, but that’s what today’s decision hands them. The Supreme Court has given its stamp of approval to a government unduly influenced by the rich and powerful.
As with the 2010 Citizens United decision, the consequences for our democracy of today’s deeply misguided decision will be grave, opening the door for wealthy donors to give, in aggregate, millions of dollars in direct contributions in a single election cycle. The Roberts Court has once again proven itself to be ideologically-driven, going out of its way to protect the interests of the most powerful among us at the expense of everyday Americans.
But big threats create big opportunities. From efforts to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases to small donor public financing proposals, a range of mutually reinforcing, pro-democracy reforms are coming together in communities across the country. Despite today’s damaging decision, Americans remain committed to restoring a political system of, by, and for the people.
Last year our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation released an in-depth edit memo outlining the particulars of McCutcheon within the context of the Supreme Court’s past rulings on campaign finance. We also filed an amicus brief in the case.
At noon today, PFAW members will join other area activists in front of the Supreme Court at a rally in reaction to the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling. More than 130 other events across the country are also planned for the day of the ruling, including rallies in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Seattle, and many more.
Today PFAW is also joining partner advocacy organizations in sending a letter to every member of Congress urging them to cosponsor constitutional amendment resolutions that would restore the authority of Congress and the states to effectively regulate election spending.
PFAW executive vice president Marge Baker and PFAW senior fellow Jamie Raskin are both available for interviews with the press about the McCutcheon case. To arrange an interview, please contact Layne Amerikaner at email@example.com / 202-467-4999.
Rising from her chair in the Senate chamber of the capitol building in Concord, New Hampshire – the country’s oldest chamber still in use, housing democratic debate since 1819 – State Senator Martha Fuller Clark (D-21) was unequivocal in her warning:
“Citizens United is threatening our citizen-led legislature.”
Senator Clark’s words came yesterday afternoon as she spoke out in favor of SB 307, a bill that she introduced. The legislation calls for a committee to examine the different constitutional amendments that are under consideration in the 113th Congress that would overturn Citizens United. But in its most recent form, SB 307 needed a corrective amendment to realign the bill towards its original intent. The amendment would have declared that the committee would assume a constitutional amendment was necessary and discuss which proposal would be best, rather than to debate whether or not a constitutional amendment was needed in the first place.
By this point, the people of New Hampshire had already conveyed, through organizing, through polling, through walking across the state in the dead of winter, through the 48 town hall meetings that had just passed Citizens United amendment resolutions earlier in March, that the debate was long over: the country needs constitutional reform, and it needs it now.
Unfortunately, Senator Clark’s corrective measure failed on a 12-12 vote, with only one Republican, Senator Russell Prescott (R-23), crossing party lines to vote in favor. Russell stated on the Senate floor,
“I just can’t make the leap… that a corporation has the same First Amendment rights as people.”
Notably, State Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-2) – whose district includes Bridgewater, Bristol, Dorchester, Groton, Piermont, Plymouth, and Tilton, towns that all had just voted in favor of an amendment – refused to support Senator Clark’s correction.
However not all hope is lost for New Hampshire to become the 17th state to call for a constitutional amendment this legislative session. SB 307 passed with the incorrect intent of examining the need for an amendment. It will most likely be paired with a much stronger version of the bill from the House in conference committee, which could result in the stronger measure coming back to the Senate. So it’s important to keep the pressure up.
In the face of such obstruction, a quote from Winston Churchill comes to mind:
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
Senator Clark and the people of New Hampshire have brought the truth to Concord; it’s only a matter of time before the legislature acts on it.
The Washington Post reports today that Sheldon Adelson – the casino magnate who spent, with his wife, more than $92 million in the 2012 elections – is in the market for a 2016 GOP presidential candidate to support.
After throwing reams of money at losing candidate Newt Gingrich in the last election, Adelson is now looking for someone he believes will be seen as electable by a country with swiftly changing demographics. He is already being wooed by GOP presidential hopefuls:
The change in attitude comes amid early jockeying by a lengthy list of aspiring Republican presidential contenders to win the affections of the billionaire, who is in the beginning stages of assessing the field.
“The bar for support is going to be much higher,” said Andy Abboud, Adelson’s top political adviser and an executive at the Adelson-run Las Vegas Sands Corp. He added, “There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny.”
This strategy would favor more established 2016 hopefuls such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. All four will descend this week on Adelson’s luxury hotel in Las Vegas, the Venetian, for an important step in what some are calling the “Sheldon Primary.”
Funny, I don’t remember learning about the “Sheldon Primary” in my high school civics class. But in our Super PAC-filled, post-Citizens United world of unlimited election spending, this seems to be the reality of how candidates who have a real shot are chosen. As Harvard law professor and activist Lawrence Lessig puts it,
We have a general election, but only after the funders have had their way with the candidates who wish to run in that general election.
With Adelson essentially interviewing potential candidates, it begs the question: will our presidents be working for the people who elected them, or will they increasingly serve as the puppets of billionaire benefactors?
When a tiny fraction of the country’s wealthiest people are able to hand-pick candidates, it’s doubtful that we’ll have a government that focuses on the priorities of everyday Americans. A democracy simply doesn’t work if the voices of those of us who aren’t having swanky private dinners with presidential hopefuls are drowned out by the few who are.
During a speech to a packed audience at the University of Washington on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was asked by a student what problems need to be fixed in order to see more women and people of color in government.
Sotomayor’s answer, as reported by The Seattle Times, was simple: “Money.”
“Money,” Sotomayor said to laughter. “No, seriously. Look at what’s happening in politics. What’s talking the loudest is money.” For more minorities and women to gain more of a foothold in government decisions, “we’re going to have to work the political system at the highest level,” she said.
Justice Sotomayor is right. Today our country is represented by leaders who, as a whole, look little like the electorate they are supposed to represent and serve. Women are a majority of the population, and yet only make up 20% of the Senate and 18% of the House, putting us 83rd in the world for women’s political representation. We have only one openly LGBTQ person and only a handful of people of color in the US Senate – in 2012 there were no African Americans. This picture is not only problematic in itself, but it also has broad implications for policy outcomes.
It’s true that we have also seen some promising developments in political representation in recent years. The 113th Congress is the most diverse in history, with a record number of women and minorities elected, as well as a number of firsts. As the policy director for the Young Elected Officials Network, I am heartened by the changing faces of leadership at all levels of government, and what this means for our country both symbolically and substantively. But, like Justice Sotomayor, I’m also concerned that our country’s money in politics problem is standing in the way of further progress.
Much has been said lately about the impact of money in politics on political representation. At The Atlantic’s Shriver Report summit on women and poverty in January, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted,
If you reduce the role of money in politics and increase the level of civility in debate, more women will run for office… We say to women, we want you to go raise 12 million dollars, and by the way, subject yourself to 10 million dollars in negative publicity.
The influence of money in politics not only fuels corruption and the elevation of special and powerful interests, but it exacerbates the imbalance of power as a whole in our country by creating barriers to political representation for communities who are already marginalized. It perpetuates a system where the country is led by people who don’t understand the daily lived and embodied experiences of their constituents.
On Capitol Hill, we see the effects of this imbalance play out each day. From thwarted gun violence prevention efforts to legislation attacking women’s reproductive health voted on by committees and panels made up entirely of men, we continue to have elected leaders who side against the demonstrated wishes of its voters and with the moneyed interests.
We must pursue reforms that transform our electoral processes, even the playing field for all candidates, and restore the power to the people by reducing the outsized influence of big money and protecting the rights of voters. All indications show that we get better results for everyone when there’s diversity in governing bodies.
It’s both common sense, and a matter of basic human rights.
Over the past week in New Hampshire, in efforts supported by People For the American Way activists, 31 towns have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and related cases. In the coming week, at least 20 more towns will vote on their own resolutions. If this week’s victories are any indication, we will likely see a strong majority of the 20 succeed.
These votes demonstrate the strength of the nation’s growing movement to amend the Constitution and take back our democracy. So far 16 states and over 500 municipalities have called for an amendment. The movement is particularly strong in New Hampshire, where nearly 70% of people support a constitutional amendment that limits campaign contributions and spending. This winter, over 100 residents marched across the state in support of campaign finance reform for the New Hampshire Rebellion campaign.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) opened the floodgates to corporate and special interest spending in our elections. Since Citizens United, activists and advocacy organizations have been mobilizing across the country calling for an amendment to overturn the decision, its progeny, and the cases that led to it. To learn more about the campaign, visit wwww.UnitedForThePeople.org and People For the American Way’s amendment toolkit.
We can file this under news that should shock no one: a new study has found that members of Congress and their top staffers are significantly more likely to meet with political donors than with other constituents.
The study – carried out by researchers at Yale and UC Berkeley in partnership with CREDO Action – sought to answer the question, just how much do donations buy access to elected officials in our political system?
Matea Gold at the Washington Post explains the experiment:
Last summer, a group of CREDO fellows e-mailed congressional offices seeking meetings to discuss the measure, sending one of two different form letters.
The first e-mail had the subject line: “Meeting with local campaign donors about cosponsoring bill.” The body of the e-mail said that about a dozen CREDO members “who are active political donors” were interested in meeting with the member of Congress in his or her home district to discuss the legislation.
The second e-mail stripped out the donor references and instead said “local constituents” were looking to meet the member of Congress.
…The e-mails went out to 191 members of Congress – all members of the same political party – who had not already co-sponsored the bill….The results: Only 2.4 percent of the offices made the member of Congress or chief of staff available when they believed those attending were just constituents, but 12.5 percent did when they were told the attendees were political donors. [emphasis added]
Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel notes that the study could have implications for court cases like the infamous Citizens United v. FEC, which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. In the majority Citizens United opinion, Justice Kennedy argued that “independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption. In fact, there is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate.”
Terkel points out that the new study may debunk the claim that there isn’t evidence that “independent expenditures,” such as those made to a super PAC rather than directly to a candidate, can curry favor with elected officials:
In this experiment, the lawmakers knew nothing about the donors, such as whether they had donated to their campaign in particular, or how much they gave and when. In fact, they could simply have been a donor to a super PAC.
Even so, the Supreme Court’s too-narrow understanding of “corruption” as tit-for-tat exchanges (for example, political bribes) may limit the study’s implications for Citizens United and cases like it. But it does throw into stark relief how problematic the Court’s frame for understanding political corruption continues to be. When money can buy access to elected officials, we have a serious democracy problem.