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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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)
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.
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.
To learn more about People For the American Way’s campaign against big money in politics, visit our Government By The People page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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":
The Democratic frontrunner in the 2014 Iowa Senate race, US Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA01), is placing the issue of money in politics front and center in his campaign.
On Sunday, Representative Braley sent an email to his supporters requesting they sign a petition to stand with him “to stop more money from flooding our election system.” The letter referred to McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case that the Court is hearing this term – and the infamous Citizens United decision, which Braley said is “destroying the election process.”
The American public overwhelmingly agrees with Representative Braley’s assessment, but Braley, a longtime supporter of campaign finance reform, has proven he’s not in the “money in politics” fight just because of public opinion.
Prior to Citizens United in the 111th Congress, Braley cosponsored the “Fair Elections Now Act,” a bill that provided for public financing of congressional campaigns. Following Citizens United, in 2010 and 2012 he cosponsored the DISCLOSE Act, which, had it not been blocked by Republican filibusters, would have stopped “dark money” social welfare organizations and trade associations from spending anonymously in federal elections.
Braley has personal experience with these Citizens United-empowered dark money groups. As People For the American Way documented in “Citizens Blindsided,” during the 2010 election, Braley was the target of a large influx of anonymous outside spending from the American Future Fund, a secretive group without an office or even a website.
In May 2012, Braley spoke about the attack ads in an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show. In the interview, Braley referred to Citizens United as the “worst thing to happen to democracy in [his] lifetime” and spoke about the implications of the decision:
… now, we can see that very powerful moneyed interests are trying to buy the government they want and have no restrictions—literally—on what they can spend. And that’s why Americans have to wake up and realize they need to ask the tough questions when they see these ads on TV and they have innocuous names – paid for by the American Future fund. Most people don’t realize that this is really a highly coordinated effort to get rid of people who speak truth to power and aren’t going to be swayed by some of these powerful special interests [emphasis added].
In 2014 in Iowa, voters have the chance to stand with Representative Braley and against “these powerful special interests.” They want to dominate the political process by buying it; he wants to keep the “for sale” sign off the US Senate.
The movement to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases continues to grow across the country and in the halls of Congress.
At the local level, over 500 cities and towns – including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, Chicago, San Jose, Austin, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Portland, Albuquerque, Tucson, and Miami, among others – have called for a constitutional amendment.
At the state level, either by passing legislative resolutions or by voting directly on ballot measures, 16 states (containing over 95 million people) have called upon Congress to send them an amendment bill for ratification.
At the federal level, 14 amendment resolutions have been introduced in the US Congress in the 113th session, and 124 representatives (directly representing 87 million people) and 35 senators (representing over 150 million people) have endorsed the amendment strategy since the Citizens United decision came down in January 2010. Furthermore, President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
To find out more about the amendment strategy and its progress, please visit www.United4ThePeople.org.
As the Supreme Court heard arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case in which the Court will decide whether to strike down overall limits on direct political contributions – a great crowd of PFAW and allies rallied outside the Court in support of getting big money out of politics. From students and small business owners to members of Congress – including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, and John Sarbanes – people from all backgrounds came together in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.
PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker kicked off the speeches by painting a picture of the “people versus money” nature of the case:
Inside the court – right now – one wealthy man is asking for permission to pour even more money directly into political campaigns. But we’re here, too, and we have a different ask. We’re asking the justices to protect the integrity of our democracy. We’re asking them to protect the voices and the votes of ‘We the People’….We’re here today saying loud and clear: our democracy is not for sale.
Also speaking at today’s rally was Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Maryland State Director of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Rice spoke about the effect of campaign finance laws on young political candidates:
As a young minority elected official, let me tell you: this [case] is extremely troubling….Young minority candidates throughout this country are routinely outspent and therefore denied the ability to serve in elected roles….Money should not determine who serves in office.
Howard University student Brendien Mitchell, a fellow in affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program, talked about the importance of being able to hear the political voices of young people in the midst of voter suppression efforts and massive spending by the wealthy in our democracy:
What about the freedom of young Americans who cannot donate grandiose sums of money to political candidates?....We gather to say that this is our country. And that in a case of money versus people, the answer should be apparent: the people.
One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Moral Monday demonstration leader Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action. Rev. Barber highlighted the millions of dollars Art Pope has poured into conservative projects and campaigns in his home state of North Carolina:
We [in North Carolina] know firsthand that when you undermine laws that guard against voter suppression, and you undo regulations on the ability for corporations and individuals to spend unchecked amounts of money to influence and infiltrate and literally infect the democratic process, it has extreme impacts.
Extreme impacts – and not only on the electoral process itself, but also on a whole host of issues shaping the lives of everyday Americans. Whether you care most about protecting voting rights, preserving our environment, or workers getting paid a livable wage, a political system where the super-rich can make six-digit direct political contributions harms us all.
And that’s why organizations and activists with focuses ranging from civil rights to environmental protection to good government issues came together today with a common message: our democracy is not for sale.
WASHINGTON – As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC, a campaign finance case in which the Court is determining whether to strike down aggregate limits on contributions to political candidates and committees, People For the American Way’s executive vice president Marge Baker released the following statement:
In 2010, we saw the Supreme Court take aim at our democracy with its decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending in elections. With today’s case, things could get even worse. In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court is considering removing another critical safeguard of our democracy – the caps on how much money an individual can contribute directly to candidates and parties, in total, in each two-year campaign cycle.
This would be devastating. Millions of dollars being passed from billionaires straight to politicians’ coffers is the opposite of what our democracy needs. At the end of the day, this case comes down to ‘people versus money.’ Allowing the wealthiest donors to pour more money into our system would make it even harder to hear the voices of everyday Americans. That’s not the kind of democracy our constitution’s authors had in mind; it’s certainly not the kind of democracy Americans want today.
That’s why Americans across the country are speaking out in support of reclaiming our democracy. Sixteen states and more than 500 cities and towns have gone on record in support of amending the constitution to put the power of our political system back where it belongs – in the hands of the people. Their voices are coming through loud and clear: Our democracy is not for sale.
People For the American Way has been heavily involved in the McCutcheon case. Our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus brief in the case earlier this year and last month released an in-depth edit memo outlining the particulars of this case within the context of the Supreme Court’s past rulings on campaign finance. Today, PFAW is co-hosting a rally outside the Supreme Court, working with activists and organizations representing a wide spectrum of constituencies to speak out in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.
More information on McCutcheon v. FEC and on PFAW’s involvement in the case is available here: http://www.pfaw.org/issues/government-people/mccutcheon-v-fec
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 email@example.com / 202-467-4999.