Mitch McConnell sure can pick the issues he takes a stand on. Despite being a true master of gridlock and inaction, he’s been very willing to take steps to erode campaign finance regulations: in May, he continued his long-standing opposition to sound campaign finance regulation by filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing for fewer federal limits on campaign donations, and last month the court granted him permission to participate in the upcoming oral argument of the case, McCutcheon v. FEC. Given that 90% of voters think there’s already too much money in politics, one might ask why McConnell’s advocating such an unpopular position so strongly.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that McConnell’s views are catching up with him. A poll released Tuesday by the Public Campaign Action Fund highlights what a terrible strategy this is for a candidate already facing a tough path to reelection: 53% of Kentucky voters had “very serious doubts” about his support for unlimited contributions, with 46% supporting his opponent Alison Lundegran Grimes to McConnell’s 40%. It was already clear that spending by wealthy special interests in politics is extremely unpopular, but it’s very encouraging to see indications that those who support unlimited spending might pay an electoral price for it. McConnell might think it’s worth it to continue taking these unpopular positions if corporations will keep spending on elections like his, but maybe he’s miscalculated here. It’s up to Kentucky voters to prove him wrong.
In today’s legal landscape, “following the money” is tricky – but a new report released yesterday shows why this work is critical to anyone who cares about progressive change. The latest digging from the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets blog has uncovered new information about a multi-tiered money laundering operation through which tax-exempt groups funnel millions to groups supporting right-wing causes and candidates.
Operating behind a thick veil of secrecy, groups like TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – which Open Secrets describes as “‘shadow money mailboxes’ – groups that do virtually nothing but pass grants through to other politically active 501(c)(4) organizations” – are able to hide both their donors and their recipients. By funneling grants through “sub-units,” which are owned by the larger groups but have different names, groups like TC4 Trust put millions into the pockets of 501(c)4 organizations supporting Republican causes in the 2012 elections, such as the advocacy arm of Focus on the Family.
As Open Secrets reports,
[T]heir financial ties run far deeper than previously known. The groups, TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – both of which have connections to the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers – have been playing a high-stakes game of hide-the-ball, disguising transfers of millions of dollars from one to the other behind a veil of Delaware limited liability corporations.
The source of political advocacy matters. This latest example of dark money donor groups obscuring the links of their money trail underscores the urgent need for legislation like the DISCLOSE Act. This act would bring some basic transparency to the electoral system and require outside groups spending money in elections to disclose their donors – including the original source of donations. The measure, which was blocked by Senate Republicans in both 2010 and 2012, is a common-sense solution that would help the American people understand who is trying to influence their political opinions and their votes.
Two days following 9/11 terrorist attacks, televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blamed the attacks on “the pagans, the abortions, the feminists and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way.”
Today, Robertson remembered 9/11 by attacking former president George W. Bush for calling Islam a “religion of peace.”
“They believe that anybody who doesn’t submit is at war with them and they are prime targets, and for the Western nations to welcome this fifth column into their midst is just committing suicide,” Robertson claimed.
“The reason is they have lost their faith in God, they have lost their faith in Jesus Christ, they don’t believe in what the Bible says and the core values of our society have gone away,” Robertson continued. “We’ve done it here in America, we’ve abolished prayer in the schools, we’ve taken out Bible-reading in the schools and little by little by little we’ve eroded the rights—we keep talking about separation and this that and the other.”
Robertson made the remarks following a report by Dale Hurd which linked radical Islamic groups to liberals. “Muslims and the European left continue their strange political partnership; while they’re polar opposites when it comes to women’s rights, abortions and homosexuality, Muslims vote for the left while the left grows its constituency by encouraging Muslim immigration and the spread of Islamic values,” Hurd claimed. “America too has been knowingly trying to advance the cause of Muslim radicals in Syria and Egypt.”
At an AFL-CIO convention this weekend, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called out the increasingly pro-corporate lean of the U.S. Supreme Court. Politico reports:
On the opening day of the AFL-CIO’s convention, Warren — the highest-profile national Democrat to address the gathering here — warned attendees of a “corporate capture of the federal courts.”
In a speech that voiced a range of widely held frustrations on the left, Warren assailed the court as an instrument of the wealthy that regularly sides with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She cited an academic study that called the current Supreme Court’s five conservative-leaning justices among the “top 10 most pro-corporate justices in half a century.”
“You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business,” Warren said, drawing murmurs from the crowd.
The study that Warren was referring to is a Minnesota Law Review study that found that the five conservative justices currently on the Supreme Court have sided with corporate interests at a greater rate than most justices since World War II. All five were among the ten most corporate-friendly justices in over 50 years. Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts were the top two.
The Supreme Court majority’s consistent twisting of the law to put the interests of corporations over those of individuals is one of the main characteristics of the Roberts Court, but it is not the only extremely influential court with such a pro-corporate bent. In fact, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to which President Obama has nominated three highly qualified candidates, has been following the same trend, also because of the influence of judges named by George W. Bush. This is the court whose ultra-conservative justices declared that cigarette label warning requirements violate the free speech rights of tobacco companies and that requiring that employers inform employees of their right to unionize violates the free speech rights of the corporations.
While there is not currently a vacancy at the Supreme Court that could affect its balance, there are three at the DC Circuit. That is why Senate Republicans are working so hard to keep them empty.
Yesterday Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s) and Edward Erikson had a great op-ed at CNN.com connecting the student debt crisis with the broader issue of big money’s influence in our political system:
But the education system isn't broken -- it's “fixed.” If we're serious about tackling the issue of affordable education and student debt, we need to strike at the root of the problem -- the influence of money in politics.
Private corporations like Sallie Mae -- which own 15% or $162.5 billion dollars of total student debt -- rake in private-island-purchasing profits while students suffer.
Indeed, from student debt bills to workers’ rights legislation to environmental protections, policies that protect everyday Americans will continue to face uphill battles until we can limit the influence of wealthy special interests in our democracy.
Cohen and Erikson point out:
It's time to dam the deluge of cash and corporate influence in Washington once and for all….Thanks to the leadership by groups like People for the American Way, Move to Amend, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Public Citizen, 16 states have passed referendums calling on Congress to take action and over 150 members of Congress support the amendment strategy. (emphasis added)
And with so much amendment momentum at the state and local level, PFAW and allies are shifting our focus to Congress. As part of our “160 Summer” campaign, money in politics groups are working toward a goal of getting 160 members of Congress to sponsor an amendment resolution limiting the deluge of big money pouring into our elections by overturning Citizens United. Has your representative already voiced their support?
As Cohen and Erikson put it, “This is our future and our fight to win.”
With little over a month before the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, a money in politics case that some are calling the next Citizens United, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke out this week on the damage that Citizens United v. FEC continues to cause to our democracy.
Discussing the infamous 2010 Supreme Court decision that paved the way for unlimited corporate spending to influence our elections, Ginsburg told Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News:
“You take the limits off and say, ‘You can spend as much as you want,’ and people will spend and spend,” she said. “People are appalled abroad. It’s a question I get asked all the time: Why should elections be determined by how much a candidate can spend and why should candidates spend most of their time these days raising the funds so that they will prevail in the next election?”
It’s a great question, and one with a clear answer – they shouldn’t.
Justice Ginsburg is not alone in her concerns about the damage done to our democratic system. A 2012 Brennan Center national poll found that nearly seven in ten respondents agree that “new rules that let corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to Super PACs will lead to corruption.”
And this is not the first time Justice Ginsburg has publicly commented on the Citizens United decision. Early last year, Justices Ginsburg and Breyer released a statement in conjunction with a Court order in a campaign finance case out of Montana stating that:
Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.
It is also not the first time she has commented on the Roberts Court more generally. In an interview with the New York Times this weekend, Ginsburg called the current court “one of the most activist courts in history.”
In October, the high court will hear arguments in a case considering similar issues, McCutcheon v. FEC, for which People For the American Way Foundation submitted an amicus brief. In this case, the Supreme Court could take the damage of Citizens United one step further by eliminating the caps on how much money an individual can contribute – in total – in each two-year campaign cycle. It other words, the court would be striking down another protection against wealthy special interests overpowering our political system, allowing even more big money to flow into our elections.
Just what our democracy needs. PFAW Foundation Executive Vice President Marge Baker noted last month:
Protecting the legitimacy of our political system, and restoring the faith of the American people in that system, is vital to a working democracy.
And as Justice Ginsburg highlighted this week, elections shouldn’t be determined by who has the biggest wallet.
As the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meets in a swanky Chicago hotel for its 40th annual summit this week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) has raised some important questions for the corporations that may be funding the group.
Roll Call reports that Sen. Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s civil rights subcommittee, has reached out to more than 300 corporations that are possible ALEC funders to ask for their positions on “Stand Your Ground” laws. Durbin announced last month that he will hold a hearing on these laws in the fall.
Because ALEC operates behind closed doors, it can be a challenge to expose the corporations, corporate trade associations, and corporate foundations backing its damaging work. Durbin’s letter notes:
Although ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members or donors, other public documents indicate that your company funded ALEC at some point during the period between ALEC’s adoption of model “stand your ground” legislation in 2005 and the present day.
Despite the potential roadblocks, Durbin’s letter shines a spotlight on the clear link between ALEC, an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators, and the “Stand Your Ground” laws it helped to get on the books in over two dozen states. And this is a critical connection to highlight, because as PFAW President Michael Keegan wrote last month, these are laws which “help create a climate like the one that encouraged George Zimmerman to use lethal force against an unarmed teenager.”
All photos by Scott Foval.
Bill Moyers once called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) the “most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of.” Today, PFAW is helping to change that – coming out in full force to shed some light on the harm ALEC’s extreme agenda causes to everyday Americans.
As ALEC holds its 40th annual meeting in Chicago, PFAW is there – along with ally organizations, labor groups, and advocates from around the country – to crash their party. The protest happening now outside Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton is the biggest anti-ALEC protest to date.
The mass of people at the rally underscores the growing momentum to expose and fight back against ALEC, which connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to pass special interest legislation in all fifty states. For four decades, ALEC has worked behind closed doors to get laws harmful to everyday Americans on the books – working against paid sick days, pushing tax policies favoring the rich, and helping “Stand Your Ground” become law in more than two dozen states. As our signs say, “ALEC corporations write laws, real people suffer.”
And today, we’re calling them out.
Following the approval of House Joint Memorial 6 by a 17-13 vote in the Oregon Senate today, Oregon became the 16th state to call for an amendment to the Constitution overturning the 2010 Citizens United decision and related cases.
The passage of HJM6, first introduced in January by Representative Brian Clem, is the result of a grassroots mobilization effort by the people of Oregon. In 2012 alone, 12 Oregon cities and counties passed local resolutions urging state and federal legislators to call for a constitutional amendment taking back our democracy from corporations and special interests. The mobilization at the state level was led by Oregonians for Restoring Constitutional Democracy, a coalition that gathered signatures and endorsements in support of HJM6.
The joint memorial urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment “clarifying the distinction between the rights of natural persons and the rights of corporations” and recognizing “that Congress and state legislatures may regulate all moneys raised and spent for political purposes.”
Rep. Jules Bailey, speaking to the Oregon House last week, urged his fellow representatives to support the measure, saying, “When we confuse the monolith with the individual, then a piece of our humanity dies. Let us ask Congress to undo this mistake.” The measure passed the House by a vote of 48-11 on June 21st before being sent to the Senate.
With each additional state joining the movement to overturn Citizens United and related decisions, the will of the American people becomes clearer. We will not let our elections be bought and sold. We will not let corporate power subvert the will of the people.
American Family Association spokesmen Fred Jackson and Sandy Rios were despondent while reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. “It’s a big win for gay activists today,” Rios said, “it’s not a good day for us.”
“They kept shouting DOMA's dead, I thought that was pretty metaphorical, marriage is dead too, for the future of this country,” she added.
Jackson went even further and alleged that “God’s judgment will be upon us” as a result of the ruling.
America has awakened. All across the nation, a burgeoning movement has begun to demand the overturn of Citizens United v. FEC and related cases via constitutional amendment, including, according to a new report by Free Speech for People, 130 Republican officials at the state and federal levels.
The new report released in June, titled "Across the Aisle: The Growing Trans-partisan Opposition to Citizens United", compiles quotes from these officials to form a comprehensive body of evidence in support of the fact that, indeed, getting corporations out of political campaigns – at least at the state level – is not a partisan issue. In fact, Republican support has been instrumental in the passage of fifteen state-level resolutions calling for the overturn of Citizens United, with a Republican primary sponsor even leading the charge in Illinois. As Verner Bertelsen, former Secretary of State of Montana, put it,
... the bad Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and more recent decisions ... threaten to undo Montana's century-old laws against political corruption ... I am a lifelong Republican and I served as Montana secretary of state from 1988 to 1989... Corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech. CEOs of corporations may choose to personally contribute to political campaigns, but they shouldn’t be allowed to use shareholders’ money to do so.
These views, too, are hardly new – as Theodore Roosevelt declared in 1910,
It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs ... The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint ... has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. If our political institutions were perfect, they would absolutely prevent the political domination of money in any part of our affairs. We need ... a corrupt-services act effective to prevent the advantage of the man willing recklessly and unscrupulously to spend money over his more honest competitor.
With recent polling cited in the report showing robust support for amending the Constitution -- 83% of Americans, including 81% of Republicans -- it's quite clear that, with continued education and mobilization, Citizens United's days are numbered.
Today Senators Tom Udall [NM] and Jon Tester [MT] introduced amendment resolutions in the United States Senate that would overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC (2010). Leaders from state and national organizations applauded the efforts of these US Senators as well as other members of the 113th Congress who are responding to the will of the American people by introducing and co-sponsoring amendments to the US Constitution.
The group includes leaders from the 15 state across the country that have already passed resolutions or initiatives putting their states on record calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
“We applaud the leadership of Senator Tom Udall and others in Congress who understand that we must now amend the US Constitution to undo the Supreme Court’s disastrous decisions in Citizens United, in Buckley v. Valeo, and in related cases… For the sake of our democratic future, we must end corporate rule over our political process and enact meaningful election reform in America,” said Mimi Stewart, New Mexico State Representative and lead sponsor of the NM amendment resolution.
"Last month, I was proud to co-sponsor S.J.R. 27, a resolution calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to get money out of politics and overturn the Citizens United ruling. The values expressed in that resolution, which passed with bipartisan support, are reflected in the amendments introduced by Senators Udall and Tester," said Barbara Flynn Currie, Illinois House Majority Leader.
“In my district there has been overwhelming support for reversing the Citizens United ruling. Last November 74% of Kane County residents voted in favor of a public advisory to reverse the ruling. I’m proud to represent my constituents and their views in Springfield,” said Karen McConnaughay, Illinois State Senator and lead co-sponsor of the IL amendment resolution.
“California’s Legislature is on record as opposing the Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United ruling and I strongly support attempts by Congress to protect the integrity of our legislative and electoral processes. Congress must act to tip the scales away from the powerful corporate interests and back to the people,” said Bob Wieckowski, California Assemblymember and lead sponsor of the CA amendment resolution.
“The state of Montana has spoken loud and clear on the need for such an amendment, and the time has come for the rest of Montana’s congressional delegation to listen to our voices and go on record in support,” said C.B. Pearson, Stand with Montanans Treasurer.
"The U.S. Constitution belongs to the American people, and in our history we have many times had to amend it to respond to the antics of a conservative Supreme Court playing politics with our most precious document … I am urging the Maryland congressional delegation to join the campaign to reverse the Roberts Court and restore basic democratic and popular meanings to the Constitution," said Jamie Raskin, Maryland State Senator, Majority Whip.
"It is great that more members of Congress are waking up and moving the issue forward. We applaud those in Congress who understand the need for a constitutional change to undo the Court's grave mistake," said Anthony Pollina, Vermont State Senator and lead sponsor of the VT amendment resolution.
"When it comes down to democracy or big, corporate money, Vermonters definitely vote for democracy. Vermonters at 64 town meetings called for an amendment and the Vermont Legislature passed a resolution calling on the Court to reverse the decision last year," said Vermont State Senator and lead sponsor of the VT amendment resolution Virginia "Ginny" Lyons.
“We must now amend the U.S. Constitution to undo disastrous Supreme Court’s decisions that have allowed money to swamp our elections and diminish the voices of everyday people… we must enact meaningful federal election reform that places voters, not wealthy campaign donors and special interests, first in our government,” said Andrew Bossie, Executive Director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.
“Americans’ voices are being drowned out by huge corporations and wealthy special interests. We are heartened that these senators understand the need for a constitutional amendment to take our democracy out of the hands of corporations and wealthy special interests put it back into the hands of everyday people, where it belongs,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program of People For the American Way.
"We applaud Senators Jon Tester and Tom Udall for their outstanding leadership in introducing today their constitutional amendment bills to reclaim our democracy. We must reverse Citizens United and ensure that people, not corporations, govern in America and that the nation lives up to its fundamental promise of political equality for all. Senator Tester’s sponsorship of the People’s Rights Amendment and Senator Udall’s re-introduction of his amendment bill on campaign spending represent significant political developments for our movement. They reflect the growing support across the country for overturning Citizens United and restoring democracy to the people,” said John Bonifaz, Executive Director of Free Speech For People.
“The American people are refusing to accept the corporate takeover of our politics and country. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have called for a constitutional amendment to restore our democracy, as have nearly 500 cities and towns across the country. Now come U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to supercharge the momentum for constitutional reform,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen.
“Our country has lived with the disastrous consequences of Citizens United for over three years now. Americans have had enough. Millions of Americans have registered their anger by filing voter instruction resolutions to overturn Citizens United at the ballot box, in town halls and in state capitols across the country. We applaud Senators Tester and Udall for taking seriously the voter instruction ballot measure that passed in Montana by 75% and a resolution that passed both chambers of the New Mexico state legislature. We look forward to working with Senators Tester and Udall and other members of the House and Senate as we work in every state to support a constitutional amendment to combat the flood of money unleashed by the Citizens United decision,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause Senior Vice President for Strategy & Programs.
“To date, 15 states and nearly 500 municipalities have called upon Congress to overturn Citizens United and related cases by amending the Constitution. The introduction of these two joint resolutions today takes that call seriously and moves us two steps closer to ensuring that in our democracy the size of your wallet does not determine the volume of your voice,” said Blair Bowie, Democracy Advocate of U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
WASHINGTON –Today two constitutional amendments aimed at undoing the harm caused by the Supreme Court in a series of cases, including Citizens United v. FEC – which held that corporations have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing elections – were proposed by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jon Tester (D-MT).
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, released the following statement:
“A constitutional amendment is the only way to completely reverse the damage done to our democracy by the devastating Citizens United decision and related cases. No one takes amending the Constitution lightly, but there have been multiple moments in American history where the people have had to collectively undo the harm done by the Supreme Court when it acts against justice, democracy, and the common good.
“Americans' voices are being drowned out by huge corporations and wealthy special interests. We are heartened that these senators understand the need for a constitutional amendment to take our democracy out of the hands of corporations and wealthy special interests put it back into the hands of everyday people, where it belongs.”
Across the country there is unprecedented public support for this type of reform. To date fifteen states and more than 400 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and related cases.
Strong campaign finance laws lead to more competitive elections and a greater influence from small donors, according to a new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The report, released in May, examines state-level elections to gauge the impact of campaign finance laws. Titled "Evidencing a Republican Form of Government: The Influence of Campaign Money on State-Level Elections," it follows the finances of candidates in each state, looking at their donors, expenditures, and disclosures, providing evidence of the deleterious effects that unrestrained campaign spending has on our democracy.
States with high or no contribution limits, for one, have dramatically fewer competitive races than those with public financing. For example, the Institute found that only 6 percent of 2010 elections in Georgia were competitive, compared with 75 percent of elections in Maine. Not coincidentally, Georgia has relatively high contribution limits, with winning candidates raising a median amount of $50,425, while Maine uses public financing and had a much lower fundraising median of $5,844.
Further, removing limits on contributions also appears to crowd out small donors. In Texas, a state where individuals are allowed to contribute unlimited sums directly to campaigns, the median fundraising gap between winners and losers for 2010 was a whopping $255,318. Meanwhile, just 4 percent of 2010 donations in the state were under $250, while 59 percent exceeded $10,000. In fact, the Institute’s data reveals that in Texas, nearly half of all political donations came from a few hundred people. In contrast, in Colorado, which has much stricter contribution limits, the equivalent half of all contributions came from about 35,000 people. The Institute found this pattern to be present in all 50 states.
Lax campaign finance law has a double effect: not only does it reduce the competitiveness of political races, allowing candidates with money to simply overwhelm their opponents with tides of spending, but it also drastically reduces small-donor participation in politics, concentrating power and influence in the hands of those with deep pockets. This, of course, is a problem – as DEMOS has pointed out, the elite “donor class” often has vastly different policy priorities than those of most Americans.
As corporations, wealthy individuals, and special interests continue to adjust their election strategies in the wake of Citizens United, pouring ever more money into political campaigns, the conclusions of this report are cause for worry. Fortunately, the American people are not sitting idly by while our democracy is threatened. We are mobilizing.