PEOPLE FOR BLOG

A Feast of Radical Right Red Meat

Over the weekend, likely Republican 2016 presidential candidates stepped up to the microphone at two extremist events to throw red meat at their Radical Right base and prove their ultraconservative bona fides in the run up to primary season.

Here’s a taste of what went down at Iowa’s so-called Freedom Summit, hosted by Rep. Steve King – who is most famous for his radical and dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won the day with the most well-received speech, in which his biggest applause came when he bragged about his party’s attempts at voter suppression in his state, saying, “we required in our state, by law, a photo ID to vote.”

Former Arkansas Governor and 2008 Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee said states should ignore Supreme Court rulings favorable to marriage equality.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie played up how staunchly anti-choice he is.

Senator Ted Cruz made the case for caucus voters to weed out anyone but extreme right-wing candidates. “Every candidate is going to come to you and say they are the most conservative person that ever lived,” Cruz said. “Talk is cheap.”

And at a separate Religious Right event, hosted by SPLC-designated hate group the American Family Association, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal discussed the need to enshrine discrimination against same-sex couples in the Constitution, promoted Islamophobic conspiracy theories and closed his speech with the statement “our god wins.” That event, titled The Response, perfectly embodied the dangers of mixing religion with politics in the way that the Right so loves to do.

By making political issues – even incredibly important ones, and even ones that are historically divisive – litmus tests for their followers’ religious conviction, they cast their opponents not only as wrong, but as evil and satanic, allowing for no possibility of compromise and making even civil coexistence difficult.  

It was a lot of what you’d expect – unfortunately – but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. These are the people who are setting the agenda for one of America’s two major parties – and the one that right now controls both houses of Congress.

Read more and check out video from both events at RightWingWatch.org.

UPDATE: Jon Stewart's can't-miss segment on the Freedom Summit from the Daily Show (video courtesy of Comedy Central):

PFAW

Democracy Reform Package Reintroduced in the 114th Congress on Citizens United 5th Anniversary

On Wednesday (1/21), at a press event on Capitol Hill, Congressional leaders focused on solutions to the money in politics problem by announcing the reintroduction of a host of pro-democracy bills in the 114th Congress, including small donor empowerment, disclosure, and a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. For the first time, members of the House and Senate introduced these separate bills together as a democracy reform package, emphasizing in their remarks that the individual pieces of legislation reinforce one another in creating a democracy truly of, by and for the people.  

One key theme of the event was the American public’s growing appreciation that money in politics is an underlying, systemic issue that must be addressed in order to confront the many important challenges of our time. States and municipalities across the country are already passing resolutions and ballot initiatives supporting reform, and millions of Americans are on record in favor of these solutions.

Reform groups are also coming together around a range of approaches to tackling big money in politics. More than 130 organizations have signed onto a Unity Statement of Principles, expressing their support for the values underlying many of the solutions discussed at the event today. The unity statement serves as a foundation for collaboration among diverse organizations, including environmental groups, labor unions, social and economic justice groups, business groups, and communities of faith. By mobilizing these broad constituencies around a common set of solutions a political force with the potential to enact pro-democracy reforms can be set in motion.  

Members that spoke included Sen. Tom Udall, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Sen. Jon Tester, Rep. Ted Deutch, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. John Sarbanes, Rep. David Price, and Rep. Michael Capuano. The bills reintroduced include the Democracy for All amendment, DISCLOSE Act, Government by the People Act, Real Time Transparency Act, and Shareholder Protection Act, among others. In the coming months PFAW will continue to work with a broad set of partners to mobilize around these solutions in Congress.

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Unbelievable Nerve - Republicans Finally Discover Income Inequality

Have you noticed the Republicans’ latest central talking point -- evident in their multitude of goofy “responses” to the president’s State of the Union Address this week?

It’s this: America has a major problem with income inequality, the middle class is being squeezed and … wait for it … it’s all the fault -- somehow, although they don’t clearly say how -- of President Obama and Democrats.

Well, look who decided to show up! Republicans from Ted Cruz and Joni Ernst to Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney are all finally acknowledging the crisis-level problems America faces with economic inequality and wage stagnation, but only because they think they can somehow flip the blame onto their political opponents.

It’s their new favorite tactic. The same one that worked for them in the 2014 elections. Create a big problem and when frustration with that problem becomes widespread enough, blame it on President Obama. Leading up to 2014, the GOP on Capitol Hill was responsible for unprecedented obstruction and gridlock -- very intentionally, as their political strategy. They then used Americans dissatisfaction with Washington to achieve a “change” election, which went against the president’s party, because the president’s party is inherently the one seen as “in control.”

So, after decades of pushing deregulation of rapacious corporate interests, policies favoring no rules for Wall Street, attempts to deny workers a living wage, deny people health care coverage, deny people unemployment insurance and deny opportunity to students at every level of their education, the Right is going to try to blame progressive policies and progressive leaders for the new Gilded Age that they created?

Granted, too many Democrats over the years have pursued and allowed policies that promote rather than rein in Wall Street greed, as well some other speciously labeled “pro-business” policies. But those policies never were the product of a progressive agenda, and always had much backing among Republicans.

Now, as I noted, EVEN MITT ROMNEY is on this new message … Mitt Romney, who himself is a living symbol of opulent wealth and the stark disconnect between the top 1% and the struggles of the vast majority of Americans.

Clearly, Republicans are trying out this messaging tactic as the central theme for their 2016 campaign efforts. And, based on its ongoing proliferation, we can only assume that so far it is working.

Presented with the facts, Americans are undoubtedly smart enough to see through the GOP’s latest hypocrisy. But with the vast millions of corporate special interests and billionaire ideologues fueling their propaganda machine, and a powerful media empire led by Fox News, we cannot afford to take anything for granted.

Please do your part, in your community and among your peers, to call out Republicans’ dishonesty and challenge them to articulate real solutions to economic inequality and strengthening America’s middle class.

Ted Cruz's video response to State of the Union Address:

PFAW

On Citizens United 5th Anniversary, Activists Rally Against the Chamber of Commerce

This afternoon, braving freezing temperatures and falling snow, PFAW activists joined a crowd of about 200 to protest against the Chamber of Commerce and the massive amount of dark money it funnels into politics. The event was planned as part of a series happening across the country today to mark the 5th anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court decision that gave corporations the ability to spend unlimited amounts to influence the outcome of elections.

Speakers included Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN); Sarita Gupta, the executive director of Jobs With Justice; Rhana Bazzini, an 81-year-old woman who led a march more than 400 miles long across the state of Florida to bring attention to the need for campaign finance reform; and many more. The rally also featured call and response chants, a brass band, and a stirring performance by members from a local choir group.

A central theme among the speakers was the growing movement calling for solutions to big money in politics, including public financing, disclosure, and a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United. Since 2010, millions of Americans have gone on record in support of these solutions, including five million people who have signed petitions calling for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics.

Ginsburg Concurrence Is an Important Reminder on Religious Liberty

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in Holt v. Hobbs yesterday upholding the religious liberty claim of a Muslim prisoner who was prohibited by corrections officials from growing a half-inch beard. As noted in our Supreme Court term preview of Holt v. Hobbs, the case involves a federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA.

Similar to the better-known Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was at issue in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, RLUIPA is triggered when the government imposes a "substantial burden on the religious exercise" of a person confined to an institution. When that happens, the action can be upheld only if the government can demonstrate that the burden: "(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."

In this case, especially since so many other prisons around the country allow inmates to grow half-inch beards without a security problem, few expected the prison system would win this case. And it didn't. The Court's ruling was written by Justice Alito, author of the Hobby Lobby opinion, and all the other Justices signed on.

Importantly, while Justice Ginsburg – the author of the Hobby Lobby dissent – joined the Court's opinion, she also wrote a separate concurrence to emphasize a critically important point. In its entirety, it reads:

Unlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., accommodating petitioner's religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner's belief. On that understanding, I join the Court's opinion. [internal citations removed]

The removed internal citations are to her Hobby Lobby dissent's discussion of how religious liberty has always been recognized as a shield to protect people's rights, not as a sword to deny others' rights. Fortunately, Holt v. Hobbs did not present an opportunity for the narrow five-person majority to continue their project, begun in Hobby Lobby, to wholly transform the concept of religious liberty. But Justice Ginsburg (joined by Justice Sotomayor) was right to remind us of the traditional meaning of that phrase in American society and law.

PFAW Foundation

Roberts Court Sets Its Eye on Fair Housing Law

Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that is being heard only because of the ideological zeal of its conservative Justices. In the case of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, the Court is being asked to severely undermine the Fair Housing Act.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the Roberts Court's right-wing majority has asked conservatives to send them a case giving them a chance to undermine the FHA, one of the most critically important tools we have to eradicate systemic discrimination in housing. Congress passed the law in 1968 in order to address obstacles to equal housing such as insurance redlining, discriminatory zoning ordinances, and unfair mortgage lending practices.

Under the FHA, a practice that has an unjustified discriminatory impact – even if you can't prove a discriminatory purpose – can be judged to violate the law. This is called "disparate impact." All 11 circuits to have considered the question carefully analyzed the text of the Fair Housing Act and agreed that disparate impact cases are covered under the law. These cases go back to the 1970s and 1980s, and Congress has never amended the law to say otherwise. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also interprets the law that way.

But conservatives have long been hostile to the idea of "disparate impact" anti-discrimination laws, whether in housing or elsewhere. This is a policy debate they have not been able to win in Congress, but they are hopeful that five right-wing Justices will change the Act for them.

That optimism stems from the fact that this isn't the first time the question has been before the Court. Despite the unanimity among the eleven circuit courts to address the issue, the Roberts Court in 2011 granted certiorari to a petitioner asking them to overturn the national consensus on the law. However, the parties in Magner v. Gallagher settled, meaning there was no longer any case for the Supreme Court to consider. The Roberts Court granted certiorari to a similar petition in 2013 (Mt. Holly v. Mt. Holly Citizens in Action), but that case, too, was settled before the Court could hear oral arguments.

In fact, HUD acted in 2013 in a way that makes the legal argument in support of disparate impact even stronger. While the circuit courts were uniform in their recognition that the FHA prohibits policies and practices with a discriminatory impact, they did not all agree on the same process the law requires lower courts to follow in disparate impact cases. So HUD adopted regulations interpreting the FHA and answering that question. Under Supreme Court precedent, the courts are supposed to defer to reasonable statutory interpretations by the agencies Congress has charged with enforcing those statutes, even if the judge would have interpreted the law differently. So HUD's new regulations make the argument against disparate impact even weaker.

Nevertheless, few were surprised in October of last year when the Roberts Court granted certiorari to yet another petitioner asking the Justices to eliminate the ability to target housing practices with an unjustified discriminatory effect. This is clearly an issue that at least four Justices (the number required to grant certiorari) are hungry to decide. They have a vision of what our nation's fair housing laws should look like, and they are set on turning that vision into reality.

Whether they have a majority is something we don't know yet. But we do know that the Court's decision (expected by the end of June) will have an enormous impact on whether we as a nation will be able to effectively confront and eliminate discrimination in housing.

PFAW Foundation

Ellen DeGeneres Reveals Her True 'Gay Agenda' In Response To Right-Wing Columnist

Last week, People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch reported on a Christian Post column by right-wing commentator Larry Tomczak in which he warned that Hollywood is “promoting homosexuality” by “targeting innocent and impressionable children.” In particular, Tomczak attacked Ellen DeGeneres, whom he wrote “celebrates her lesbianism and ‘marriage’ in between appearances of guests like Taylor Swift to attract young girls.”

The column caught the attention of none other than Ellen herself, who responded to Tomczak on her show this week.

She told Tomczak: “First of all, I’m not ‘married.’ I’m married. That’s all,” adding “I don’t even know what it means to ‘celebrate my lesbianism.’”

She then revealed her true “gay agenda”:

PFAW

#DemandDemocracy Video Blog: Get Big Money Out of Politics to Fight Economic Inequality

People For the American Way has made passing a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics a priority since the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision was first handed down in 2010. In this segment of the #DemandDemocracy video blog series, PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker explains why getting big money out of politics is critically important for economic and political equality.

The current political system provides an enormous advantage to wealthy interests[] by allowing them to purchase outsized influence in government. It is impossible to have a government of, by and for the people when a tiny fraction of the population has such an outsized influence on the outcome of elections.

As noted in an article by the Brennan Center:

“Spending in the 2014 congressional election broke records for the most expensive midterm in history estimated at $3.6 billion according to OpenSecrets.org. This included $689 million of outside spending including $154 million in untraceable dark money. According to FollowtheMoney.org, $2.2 billion was spent in state elections in the 2014 cycle which included the election of 36 governors.”

PFAW’s #DemandDemocracy video blog series is a collection of short videos that highlight how big money in politics affects — and often stalls progress on — a range of other critical issues.

PFAW

Fundraiser for Steve Scalise Met with Protestors

PFAW members and other local activists lined the sidewalk outside of the National Republican Club Tuesday afternoon to protest a fundraiser event for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

Scalise, who was elected Majority Whip by his Republican colleagues back in June, has come under fire recently after it came to light that in 2002, he gave a speech to a white supremacist group affiliated with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise even has referred to himself as “David Duke without the baggage.”

Incredibly, even after these revelations, the Republican caucus—including Speaker John Boehner – is standing by Scalise. And Scalise certainly doesn’t seem to think this scandal is reason to slow down his fundraising efforts, as evidenced by the meeting his team held with donors on Tuesday, where PFAW members joined protestors from other organizations including Color of Change and Jewish advocacy group Bend the Arc.

It’s hard to believe that the GOP, which has struggled so much to reach minority voters, isn’t distancing itself from party leadership with ties to white supremacists. Republicans need to be held accountable – we need to ask our Republican representatives in Congress whether, in 2015, they are brave enough to take a stand against racism.

Thousands of PFAW members have already signed the petition calling on Speaker Boehner to remove Scalise from his leadership position. Add your name now.


Photo via The Hill

PFAW

#DemandDemocracy Video Blog: Big Money Prevents Progress On Civil Rights

Many major advances in our democracy have come about through constitutional amendments, such as those giving women and African Americans the right to vote. The third installment in our #DemandDemocracy video blog series features Greg Moore, executive director of the NAACP National Voter Fund.

 

Almost every generation of Americans has amended the Constitution to address the most pressing issues of their time. The domination of big money in politics is an issue that affects countless other concerns of this generation, and it must be addressed to make progress on other important fronts.

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PFAW’s #DemandDemocracy video blog series is a collection of short videos that highlight how big money in politics affects — and often stalls progress on — a range of other critical issues.

Watch the rest of the videos in this series here>>

PFAW

#DemandDemocracy Video Blog: Big Money in Politics Affects Climate Change

Money in politics has an adverse effect on almost all the major issues of our time. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the issue of climate change. The second installment in our #DemandDemocracy video blog series features Charlie Cray, senior researcher at Greenpeace.

The fossil fuels industry spends enormous amounts of money in politics to prevent carbon dioxide regulations from being passed. As noted in a recent report from Common Cause:

“Dark money spending by special interest groups with deep ties and financial support from the Koch brothers and fossil fuel corporations has skyrocketed since the Supreme Court blew a big loophole in ‘sham issue ad’ rules with its Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC decision in 2007 and then took the lid off in its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The Center for American Progress estimates that outside groups backed by oil, coal, and gas industry spent over $270 million on political advertising during the 2012 election.”

PFAW’s #DemandDemocracy video blog series is a collection of short videos that highlight how big money in politics affects — and often stalls progress on — a range of other critical issues.

Watch the rest of the videos in this series here>>

PFAW

#DemandDemocracy Video Blog: Why Money in Politics is a Women’s Equality Issue

This week, PFAW is pleased to kick off our #DemandDemocracy video blog series, a collection of short videos that highlight how big money in politics affects — and often stalls progress on — a range of other critical issues. The first installment features Linda Hallman, president of the American Association of University Women, who highlights how the dominance of big money in elections makes it harder to make women’s voices heard in our democracy.

Big money in politics tends to reinforce existing inequalities in society. Even though women make up more than fifty percent of our country’s population, “male donors to political candidates outnumber female donors by a ratio of 2.5 to 1.”

The #DemandDemocracy video blog features representatives from various groups explaining how money in politics affects the issues their organization works to address, as well as underscoring their support of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Groups featured in this series include those working in the environmental community, organized labor, economic and social justice, and faith-based organizations.

PFAW’s #DemandDemocracy video blog series is a collection of short videos that highlight how big money in politics affects — and often stalls progress on — a range of other critical issues.

Watch the rest of the videos in this series here>>

PFAW

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise: David Duke Without the Baggage

The Republican Party never ceases to amaze me. For a party whose problems with minorities are well documented, you would think the GOP would be sensitive to anything that could further erode their reputation among this growing population. Yet after learning that the new House Majority Whip Steve Scalise gave a speech to a white supremacist organization led by former Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, Speaker Boehner and the rest of the Republican Party are standing by their man.

Let me just say that again. The # 3 Republican in the House of Representatives gave a speech to a white supremacists group in 2002 led by a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard! Rep. Scalise even described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.”

The Center for American Progress released a report on Tuesday which underscores the growth in population of the people white supremacist organizations despise. At the heart of the report was the question of whether the Republican party could begin to make inroads with voters of color in order to compete in presidential elections. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if recent actions are any indication, it’s not looking likely.

People For the American Way and our friends at American Bridge released a Spanish-language ad Monday​ highlighting Scalise’s actions and reminding Latino voters what the Republican party is really all about. The web ad will run in Virginia and Colorado. Read more about the ad here, and check it out below:

PFAW

Sorry, Sen. McConnell, But on Judges, Your Party IS "Scary"

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says his strategy for the next two years is to make sure the Republican-controlled Congress doesn't scare Americans so much that they elect a Democrat for president in 2016. That means trying to sideline the likes of Ted Cruz and others who command the loyalty and enthusiasm of the GOP base.

"I don't want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that's going to be a scary outcome. I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right-of-center, governing majority," the Kentucky Republican said in a broad interview just before Christmas in his Capitol office.

...

"There would be nothing frightening about adding a Republican president to that governing majority," McConnell said, explaining how he wants voters to view the party on the eve of the 2016 election.

Put aside for the moment what it tells you about the current GOP's extremism that the party's Senate leader recognizes that it frightens the American people.

Instead, focus on what McConnell and the Washington Post article left out of the mix: judges. It isn't hard to know what kind of judges we would get if Republicans controlled the White and House and the Senate. All we have to do is look to the last time that happened, during the George W. Bush presidency. At the Supreme Court, the GOP gave us John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who in turn gave us 5-4 rulings in cases like Citizens United and Hobby Lobby. Bush and the Republican Senate also filled the nation's appeals courts with right-wing ideologues like Janice Rogers Brown (who defended the ideology of the Lochner era in a 2012 opinion).

And this was before the Tea Party drove the party even further rightward than it was in the Bush era. Just imagine the impact that Tea Party judges with the Mike Lee and Ted Cruz stamp of approval would have on our laws, our rights, and our country.

PFAW

Fourth Circuit Strikes Down North Carolina Ultrasound Law

A unanimous panel of Fourth Circuit judges today struck down a North Carolina law that forces women seeking an abortion to undergo a sonogram, and then see and hear a detailed description of the fetus - a process that is clearly designed to try and make them choose not to have an abortion. The court bases its decision not on women's right to make their own reproductive choices, but on doctors' First Amendment right not to deliver an anti-choice message that may not be helpful to their patients.

The court focuses on how the law's requirements "impose an extraordinary burden on expressive rights" of the doctors.

While the state itself may promote through various means childbirth over abortion, it may not coerce doctors into voicing that message on behalf of the state in the particular manner and setting attempted here.

Noting that two other circuits have upheld similar laws, the court writes:

With respect, our sister circuits read too much into Casey and Gonzales. The single paragraph in Casey does not assert that physicians forfeit their First Amendment rights in the procedures surrounding abortions, nor does it announce the proper level of scrutiny to be applied to abortion regulations that compel speech to the extraordinary extent present here.

The North Carolina law struck down by this decision did not have an exception for rape or fetal abnormalities. The court writes:

Particularly for women who have been victims of sexual assaults or whose fetuses are nonviable or have severe, life-threatening developmental abnormalities, having to watch a sonogram and listen to a description of the fetus could prove psychologically devastating. Requiring the physician to provide the information regardless of the psychological or emotional well-being of the patient can hardly be considered closely drawn to those state interests the provision is supposed to promote. [internal citations removed]

The repudiation of North Carolina's law was written by Reagan nominee J. Harvie Wilkinson and joined in full by Wliiam Byrd Traxler (a Clinton judge) and Allyson Kay Duncan (a Bush-43 judge). But since today's ruling creates a circuit split, the final decision on laws like this one is likely to be made by the Supreme Court.

PFAW Foundation