PEOPLE FOR BLOG

The Final Push: PFAW’s Latinos Vote! Get Out the Vote Efforts

In addition to PFAW’s efforts dating back to early 2015 to expose and counter the Right and get out the Latino vote this election, PFAW was on the ground in Pennsylvania and Arizona in the final days leading up to the election.

Saturday and Sunday, we focused on get out the vote efforts among Latino communities in Pennsylvania, a state where the Latino vote can be decisive. On Saturday, PFAW Director of Latinos Vote! Lizet Ocampo addressed voters and activists at a rally hosted by Make the Road Action in Allentown, PA focused on why Donald Trump and Senator Pat Toomey stand with Wall Street, not working families. Over 40 percent of Allentown residents are Latino, and nearby Reading is the only city in Pennsylvania with a majority Latino population.


Allenton, PA Get Out the Vote Rally

On Sunday, actress Lauren Velez (How to Get Away with Murder, Dexter, I Like It Like That) joined PFAW and local groups including NCLR Action and For Pennsylvania’s Future for door knocking and a canvass kickoff. Speakers addressed the anti-Latino, anti-immigrant agenda of Donald Trump and Pat Toomey and the importance of everyone getting out to vote.


Actress Lauren Velez, PFAW's Lizet Ocampo in Philadelphia, PA

Lauren Velez took a quick break from knocking doors for a Facebook Live interview with Latina Magazine about why she joined PFAW in Pennsylvania to get out the vote for Hillary Clinton and senate candidate Katie McGinty:


On Sunday night through Election Day, Lizet Ocampo joined PFAW’s team in Phoenix, Arizona. In addition to knocking on doors, our team joined a midnight canvass on Monday night, in which volunteers left flyers with essential election information at voters’ door. On Tuesday, Lizet joined Democracy Now! to analyze election results as they came in. While Hillary Clinton did not win the state, Phoenix’s virulently anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpiao was defeated, thanks to Latino voters rejecting his hateful rhetoric and unconstitutional actions.

In addition to these on-the-ground efforts as part of our Latinos Vote! program, PFAW had Spanish-language anti-Trump, anti-Republican TV, radio, and digital ads running in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and North Carolina.

PFAW

Poll Shows Both Trump and Clinton Voters Want Money in Politics Reform

A new poll from the Center for American Progress highlights the groundswell of support this election for serious money in politics reform.

Given the extreme divisiveness of this election, the results of the poll may come as a surprise to some since they suggest remarkable alignment between Trump and Clinton voters on issues including money in politics, equal pay, gun violence, and criminal justice reform. For example, 69 percent of Trump voters and 67 percent of Clinton voters view “getting special interest money out of politics” as a high priority. Moreover, 84 percent of Trump supporters and 91 percent of Clinton supports would like to see an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending. Additionally, 86 percent of Trump voters and 89 percent of Clinton supporters said they believe Congress should pass legislation to prohibit congressional committee members from raising money from corporations or special interests that fall under the jurisdiction of their committee.

These findings reinforce previous studies that have shown that people across the political spectrum support reforms to curtail the influence of money in politics. During the campaign Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” but the direction his transition team has taken thus far seems to suggest that in fact he plans to do the opposite. How Trump supporters react in the coming months as it becomes increasingly clear that the Republican-led government plans to roll back current campaign finance regulations—in effect increasing the amount of special interest money in politics— remains to be seen.  

Donald Trump’s Religious Bigotry Isn’t New, But It’s Still Dangerous

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

A disloyal religionA religion that mandates violenceA religion incompatible with freedomA religion intent on overthrowing the governmentA religion that’s not a religion but a political movement.

Such smears were used for years in American politics to attack Roman Catholics, and Catholic immigrants in particular. In the 19th century, rioters attacked Catholic churches and homes, and an entire political party was created based on the fear of a Catholic plot to undermine America. The Ku Klux Klan reorganized in the early 20th century in part by using anti-Catholicism to recruit members

While John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Houston speech on the separation of church and state and his subsequent election were seen as turning points, religious bigotry never went away in American politics; the targets simply shifted, as the very same attacks once hurled against Catholics are now being used to demonize and marginalize Muslims. 

This year, Donald Trump showed once again that religious bigotry remains an effective and destructive way for politicians to foment hate and win political power.

Muslims were among Trump’s top targets of scorn and ridicule in his successful presidential bid. He falsely claimed that Muslims took to the streets by the thousands to celebrate 9/11; declared that “Islam hates us”; repeated a debunked story about Muslims refusing to report the terrorists behind the San Bernardino attack; proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.; considered a Muslim registry and databasebaselessly alleged that around one out of three Muslims were ready to go to war against the U.S.; and praised a general who he said massacred his Muslim detainees with bullets washed in pigs’ blood. 

Trump’s attacks against America’s Muslim community capitalized on existing anti-Muslim bigotry that has been diligently spread by a network of far-right groups. But he brought those bigoted ideas to a far wider audience, feeding anti-Muslim conspiracy theories directly into the national media. Unsurprisingly, his election has led to a spike in attacks against Muslim-Americans.

On the campaign trail, Trump surrounded himself with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists like Michael Flynn, who is now set to be his national security adviser, and Steve Bannon, whom he has named his top White House strategist.

Flynn, a board member of the anti-Islam group ACT for America, has described Islam as “a cancer” and “a political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” If Islam isn’t a religion, activists like Flynn believe, then Muslims shouldn’t receive First Amendment protections.

On his Twitter page in August, Flynn posted a video that said “ISIS is practicing Islam to the letter.” He has tweeted that Muslim leaders must “declare their Islamic ideology sick.” “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” he said in one tweet promoting a video that said Islam “wants 80% of humanity Enslaved or EXTERMINATED.” 

Before joining Trump’s team, Bannon ran the ultraconservative website Breitbart, which he boasted was the “platform for the Alt-Right,” a racist and xenophobic movement. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart was dominated by stories about the purported dangers of Muslims, and promoted the Alt-Right narrative that the West is engaged in a civilizational war with the Islamic world.

This rhetoric, incidentally, plays into the very message that terrorist groups like ISIS are attempting to promote: that their version of Islam is the only true one and that they are engaged in a civilizational battle against the West. Mara Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi noted in Foreign Affairs over the summer that Trump’s rhetoric had the potential to be a valuable recruiting tool for these groups. Both ISIS and Al Qaeda celebrated Trump’s win by claiming that it validated their claim that the U.S. hates Muslims.

Even before his inauguration, Trump’s religious bigotry is wreaking real damage on America, undermining national security and giving the green light to a wave of assaults against Muslim-Americans.

Perhaps Trump can learn from Abraham Lincoln, a man he claims to admire, who called out as hypocrites politicians who claimed to believe in liberty while seeking to exclude Catholics and immigrants from fully taking part in American society.

Judging by his pick of advisers, however, it seems unlikely that President Trump will be that much different than the man we saw on the campaign trail, a man willing to sow divisions and ratchet up bigotry no matter the cost.

PFAW

First Win in a Trump Era: Georgia Rejects Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Following the shocking election results, hate, bigotry, and xenophobia are now on the rise again, and American Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslims, have become some of the first targets. President-elect Trump appears to be seriously considering a registry targeting Muslims in the United States and staffing his administration with anti-Muslim leaders. Last week, Republican state Representative Jason Spencer from Woodbine, GA, proposed legislation that would ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab or niqab (burqa) in public.

Fortunately, progressive leaders and policy makers did not sit idle; they decided to take action against attacks that degrade our American values. Georgia leaders took a stand against hate, including a minister in PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action network, the Reverend Dr. Merchuria Chase-Williams, who drafted a letter speaking out against the proposed bill and a member of YEO Action in the Georgia House, Rep. Keisha Waites, who released a statement against anti-Muslim bigotry.

On Thursday, only one day after Representative Spencer introduced the anti-hijab legislation, the bill was dropped. This victory is crucial because it shows that progressive lawmakers, community leaders, and the American people can stop the normalization of hate and bigotry. This could be considered the first real win in the Trump era, and it is a reminder to progressives from around the country that we must join forces against racism, divisiveness, and policies that undermine the core values of the United States: liberty, freedom of religion, and equal justice under the law.

PFAW has already been active in the fight to combat Islamophobia and will continue to do this work. For the past three months, in a coordinated effort between PFAW’s Young Elected Officials Network Action (YEO Action) and Local Progress, more than 500 elected officials from around the country have signed onto an open letter pledging to fight against hate and anti-Muslim bigotry. As part of this effort, nearly 40 school board and city council resolutions have been passed nationwide to denounce hate and protect American Muslims—an effort that U.S. Representative Keith Ellison has called “essential work” that “will strengthen our country and help protect the Constitutional rights of all Americans and immigrants to practice their faith and live dignified lives in our great country.”
 

PFAW

Looking Forward from 2016: We Can’t Win a Fight We’re Not In

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

In this wrenching week, I have been thinking about something my former boss Paul Wellstone liked to say: “You’ve got to start a fight to win a fight.”

An animated professor-turned-senator from Minnesota, Paul’s willingness to be confrontational, and his refusal to back down from a fight he believed in, was central to his political and organizing strategy. It’s a lesson that the progressive movement and everyone who holds dear the values of equal justice, democracy, and basic compassion can take to heart this week: we can’t win a fight we’re not in.In 2002, he took a risky stand when he announced his opposition to the Iraq Warduring a tight reelection campaign. I remember that day in our senate office. After his floor speech, our phones started ringing off the hook. He knew that his position might put his job at risk, but the majority of the calls turned out to be calls of support. “I don’t agree with you,” they said, “but I appreciate that you took a principled stand.”

In this election our country took a devastating blow, especially so for women and racial and religious minorities. Many of our fights going forward—from the Supreme Court to abortion rights to immigrant rights—will be uphill battles, to say the least. But principled stands in support of our values, in support of fundamental rights, in support of a country where everyone is safe from violence and hate: these are more important stances than ever. If we don’t show up, the fight has been lost before it started.

To be clear, this fight is unlike any I’ve seen in my lifetime. Our next president has made it known that he does not respect our democratic norms. He has incited violence against protesters, threatened to open up libel laws in order to go after journalists, proposed a ban on all Muslims, casually declared that he might not accept the results of our election. He made a man who promotes white nationalism and anti-Semitism his chief strategist in the White House. This is not business as usual: it is a crisis for our democracy and for our values.

But it also means that the work to protect those values took on a profound new importance overnight. We can’t win a fight we’re not in.

Paul put himself in the middle of a number of fights that seemed impossible, and which sometimes turned out to be doomed efforts. In the mid-1990s, as public assistance programs were being gutted and every other Senate Democrat running for reelection got on board with the cuts, Paul was resolute in his opposition. He told a journalist, “You could stick a gun to my head, and I’m not going to vote for a bill that will hurt children.” Despite the fact that most of his constituents favored the cuts, his numbers shot up in the polls.

 
 
PFAW

Government Spending Showdown May Include Money in Politics Provision

Perhaps the most critical item on the to-do list for the upcoming Congressional lame duck session is a must-pass spending bill which will keep the government funded for the upcoming fiscal year. In the past these negotiations have turned into ideological showdowns, which Republicans have used to try to embed harmful policy provisions because of the “must pass” nature of the measure.

While it’s not clear what the GOP-controlled Congress will attempt to do in the current lame duck session, we need to stay vigilant about the numerous ‘poison pill’ riders lawmakers may attempt to insert into the omnibus spending bill. Of particular concern are riders that would prevent the SEC and IRS from proceeding with rulemaking efforts that would allow for greater transparency and accountability in election spending. Last year’s spending bill included similar provisions.

The proposed SEC rule would require publicly traded companies to disclose their political spending to shareholders, something in which shareholders have demonstrated significant interest. The SEC has received more than 1.2 million comments from investors and the general public expressing support for the proposed disclosure rule, the most in the agency’s history.

The IRS rulemaking would provide clearer guidance for nonprofit organizations about what constitutes political activity and as a result would result in greater transparency in the political spending of those nonprofit organizations trying to game the system, which have in many cases become conduits to funnel enormous sums of untraceable money to influence elections. A vast majority of Americans from across the political spectrum believe that there is too much outside money in politics and support measures for greater transparency.  

Unaccountable, secret money in elections has not only undermined people’s faith in our democracy, it has prevented our nation’s highest legislative body from fully addressing some of the most critical issues facing the country. The American people have a right to know who is working to influence our elections, and using the federal budget to prevent agencies from fulfilling their intended function is not only unethical, it’s unconstitutional. 

Ask Your Representative to Condemn Hate: Sample Script on Steve Bannon

This week president-elect Donald Trump decided to name Steve Bannon to a top White House position. Bannon is the former head of far-right outlet Breitbart News, which openly promoted white nationalism, misogyny, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism under Bannon’s leadership.

Neo-Nazis and white nationalists immediately celebrated the decision to elevate Bannon, and it is critical and urgent that people of conscience call our elected officials in Congress and urge them to speak out against hate by condemning Bannon’s new position.

Maybe you’ve never called your member of Congress before. That’s okay: now is a great time to start.

Here’s how it works. Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell them your senator's or representative’s name, and they will connect you to their office. (Don’t know who represents you? Look it up here.)

When someone from the office answers, tell them that it is unconscionable for a man who has promoted white nationalism and other hateful ideologies to be serving as a top White House official.

If you’re unsure of what to say, here is a sample script:

Hi, my name is _______ and I’m a constituent of Representative _______/ Senator _________. I’m calling because I’m concerned about Donald Trump naming Steve Bannon as his chief White House strategist. Bannon ran a website openly promoting white nationalism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and more. White supremacists and the American Nazi Party are publicly celebrating his appointment.

I’m calling to see if Rep. _________ / Senator ___________ plans to publicly condemn Trump’s choice to name Bannon to a top White House position?

[If there are any questions, reiterate your concerns.] Yes, please express to Rep. ______/ Sen. ________ that Bannon doesn’t represent our values, and that I am asking him/her to take a principled, public stand against this kind of hate.

Thanks for your time.

After you call, you can share this graphic online to urge your friends to do the same:

PFAW

Local and State Ballot Victories for Democracy

While the outcome of the election this week is deeply troubling on many levels, there were a number of important ballot initiative victories that will ultimately help pave the way for a democracy that is truly of, by and for the people. 

In Berkeley, CA voters passed Measure X1, which creates a voluntary system of publicly funded elections. Candidates with broad support who refuse money from special-interest PACs and accept only small contributions ($50 or less) will receive a limited amount of matching funds, allowing a more diverse pool of candidates the opportunity to run for office.

Also in California, Prop 59 passed statewide, which supports a federal constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and other related Supreme Court cases. In the state of Washington, Initiative 735—which also called for an amendment—passed successfully, joining 17 other states already on the record in support of such an amendment.

Voters also passed a local ballot initiative in Howard County, MD called Question A. Question A creates a system of public financing and builds on the successful campaign from the fall of 2014 to create a small donor matching program in Montgomery County, MD.  

Finally in South Dakota, Initiative Measure-22 was passed successfully, which stops unlimited gifts from lobbyists to politicians, requires more transparency, and toughens ethics law enforcement to investigate lobbyists and politicians for breaking the rules.

While there is no doubt that the overall national election results are profoundly disturbing, these ballot victories on the local and state level offer a measure of hope for moving forward toward creating a democracy that works for everyone.  

"I Think of Voting as a Chess Move, Not a Valentine."

A version of this post first appeared on the Young People For blog.

In a piece published last week in The Nation, the writer and activist Rebecca Solnit spoke powerfully about the importance of voting as a strategic choice rather than a solemn duty. Writing, “I think of voting as a chess move, not a valentine,” she evoked sentiments that resonated with many young progressive activists: that in casting our ballots we cannot invest all our hopes in any one candidate or institution but that through the act of voting, we’re making a deliberate choice of who we want to work with.

Over the past several months, nearly 60 Civic Engagement and Vote Fellows with PFAW Foundation’s Young People For Program have organized in 24 states to mobilize their communities in today’s local, state, and federal elections.

Our organizers have ensured prisoners in Suffolk County, Massachusetts’s pre-trial detention program have access to their absentee ballots. They’ve organized marches through Hattiesburg, Mississippi to the polls, convened conversations with immigrant and refugee communities in Kentucky about civic engagement, supported vote organizing in the Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota, and worked with local government to explore pathways which would allow undocumented people to potentially cast ballots in municipal elections.

In doing so, our Fellows have organized not only because they know tonight’s electoral outcomes will shape our political landscape for years to come; they organized because they knew that building power — building movements — requires a tangible effort to bring our communities from the margins to the center of our society’s social, political, and economic concerns.

We are committed to holding space for our communities to not only survive the peaks and valleys of electoral politics but grow a robust, pluralistic democracy which addresses our needs and reflects our dreams for the future. To echo Solnit’s closing words, “We need to build a road through elections toward justice, to get on that road and never stop.”

PFAW Foundation

PFAW's New Ads Reach Spanish-Speaking Voters in North Carolina, Pennsylvania

Today, PFAW announced new Spanish-language radio ads in Pennsylvania and North Carolina as part of our Latinos Vote! program. The ad in North Carolina targets Burr’s anti-immigrant votes and his embrace of Donald Trump and encourages voters to support Deborah Ross and Hillary Clinton. The ad in Pennsylvania targets the dangerous agenda of Trump and Toomey and encourages voters to support Katie McGinty and Hillary Clinton.

Read more and listen to the ads:



Pennsylvania Ad Transcript

Announcer VO: Aunque Donald Trump dice cosas terribles de nosotros…

Trump OC: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Announcer VO: Pat Toomey dice que sigue indeciso en cuanto a Trump?

¿Indeciso? ¿Será solo porque le conviene a Toomey?

Peor aún, Toomey y Trump tienen mucho en común. Los dos han abusado de las leyes para salir favorecidos , apoyaron a universidades con fines de lucro que engañan a los estudiantes y ayudarían a los millonarios y corporaciones más que a la clase media.

Donald Trump, Pat Toomey y los Republicanos tienen políticas peligrosas para Pennsylvania y el país.

Pero a diferencia de Pat Toomey, nosotros no estamos indecisos en esta elección.

Announcer VO: ¡Ya es hora de votar por Hillary Clinton para Presidenta y Katie McGinty para el Senado!

Disclaimer VO: Este mensaje es pagado por People For the American Way, pfaw.org , y no está autorizado por ningún candidato o comité de candidato. People For the American Way es responsable por el contenido de este anuncio.

 

Pennsylvania Ad Translation:

Announcer VO: Even though Donald Trump says terrible things about us...

Trump OC: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Announcer VO: Pat Toomey says he’s still “undecided” about Trump?

Undecided? Perhaps Toomey’s self interest?

And worse yet, Toomey and Trump have a lot in common. They’ve both abused the rules to get ahead, supported for profitcolleges that scamstudents, and they’d help millionaires and corporations over the middle class.

Donald Trump, Pat Toomey, and the Republicans have a dangerous agenda for Pennsylvania and the country.

But unlike Pat Toomey, we aren’t undecided this election.

Announcer VO: It’s time to vote for Hillary Clinton for President and Katie McGinty for Senate!

Disclaimer VO: This message is paid for by People For the American Way pfaw.org and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. People For the American Way is responsible for the content of this advertising.

 



North Carolina Ad Transcript

Announcer VO: Aun cuando Donald Trump dice cosas horribles acerca de nosotros...

Trump OC: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Announcer VO: Richard Burr lo apoya y manifiesta que no hay ninguna separación entre él y Donald Trump.

Burr: “There's not a separation between me and Donald Trump.”

Announcer VO: Peor aún, Richard Burr votó 11 veces contra nuestros DREAMers y contra la reforma migratoria!

Donald Trump, Richard Burr, y los Republicanos tienen políticas peligrosas para Carolina del Norte y el país.

Tenemos que votar contra ellos.

Announcer VO: ¡VOTEMOS por Hillary Clinton para Presidenta y Deborah Ross para el Senado!

Disclaimer VO: Este mensaje es pagado por People For the American Way, pfaw.org , y no está autorizado por ningún candidato o comité de candidato. People For the American Way es responsable por el contenido de este anuncio.

North Carolina Ad Translation

Announcer VO: Even though Donald Trump says terrible things about us...

Trump OC: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Announcer VO: Richard Burr supports him and says there’s no separation between him and Trump.

Burr OC: “There's not a separation between me and Donald Trump.”

Announcer VO: Worse yet, Richard BURR voted 11 times against our DREAMers and immigration reform!

Donald Trump, Richard Burr and the Republicans have a dangerous agenda for North Carolina and the country.

We have to vote against them.

Announcer VO: VOTE for Hillary Clinton for President and Deborah Ross for the Senate!

Disclaimer VO: This message is paid for by People For the American Way pfaw.org and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. People For the American Way is responsible for the content of this advertising

Zephyr Teachout Explains the Problem of Big Money in Politics

One would be hard pressed to find a stronger champion of campaign finance reform than Zephyr Teachout. Running for New York’s 19th Congressional District, Teachout has a background teaching law at Fordham University and has written a book called “Corruption in America.” In a recent video she released on her campaign website, Teachout breaks down how Supreme Court cases like Citizens United have given rise to out-of-control spending in our elections and strengthened the already pervasive revolving door that exists between the halls of Congress and large corporate lobbying firms.

 

Using oversized post-it notes, in true professorial fashion, Teachout explains how the culture of Washington has become completely ensconced in special interest cash, especially money stemming from undisclosed donors. For example in 2006, before the Citizens United ruling, approximately $5 million in “dark money” was spent to influence elections. By 2012 that had gone up to $300 million. In the 2016 cycle it’s already up to over $660 million and rising. Equally troubling is that more than half of super PAC money is coming from just 195 individuals. The trend is clear: without reform, the price of elections in the current pay-to-play political system will only continue to climb.

Zephyr Teachout’s candidacy is grounded in the push to curb the influence of money in politics. Not only has she spent her career studying and raising awareness about this issue, she is also confronting it in her run for Congress. Two conservative billionaires, Robert Mercer and Paul Singer, have each dropped $500,000 into super PACs supporting her opponent John Faso. At one point, Teachout even challenged one of the donors to a one-on-one debate, so that the constituents in her district could hear first-hand from him since he has such an interest in the race. Her invitation was declined.

Given her outstanding commitment to reform and deep understanding of the issue, PFAW’s Voters Alliance PAC is proud to have endorsed Zephyr Teachout for Congress.  

The GOP's Planned Sabotage of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has nine seats.  That number was established by Congress way back in 1869.  Before then, Congress had set the number to be as low as six and as high as ten.  But now a nine-judgeship Supreme Court is the law of the land and will remain so unless Congress passes a new law to change it.

It’s basic civics that schoolchildren learn: The way to change a congressional statute is for both Houses of Congress to pass a bill changing the law and for the president to sign it (or have his or her veto overridden by Congress).  In a democratic nation governed by the rule of law, it is not acceptable for one political party to use obstruction of unprecedented proportions to nullify the law and impose its own contrary view on what the law should be without following the constitutionally-mandated process.

Yet that is exactly what the Republican Party has been doing since Justice Scalia’s unexpected death through their blockade of President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland.  For months, they said the next president should fill the vacancy.  But as polls have forecast a Hillary Clinton victory, their tune has changed.  Leading Republicans and conservatives are actually proposing to leave the current vacancy unfilled, but only if the American people vote to elect Hillary Clinton president in November.  Some are openly talking about not allowing any Clinton Supreme Court nominee to be confirmed for any additional vacancies.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because Senate Republicans tried this in 2013 when they sought to unilaterally change the law and impose an eight-seat cap on the 11-seat District of Columbia Circuit.  They (unsuccessfully) sought to prevent President Obama from filling any of three existing vacancies and restoring balance to what had been a far right D.C. Circuit court.  The current conflict and planned constitutional crisis represent a massive escalation by Mitch McConnell and all the GOP senators who take orders from him.

By amazing coincidence, the three oldest justices today are ones that conservatives revile, either because of their progressive record (Ginsburg and Breyer) or because of a small number of progressive decisions in an otherwise extremely conservative record (Kennedy).  The next oldest justice (the arch-conservative Clarence Thomas) is ten years younger than the youngest of those three.  So conservatives are seeking to use obstruction to de facto shrink the number of justices and thus control the ideology of the nation’s highest court, just as they tried and failed to do with the D.C. Circuit.  It is imperative that they fail again.

The American people have seen this type of political interference on an independently operating Supreme Court.  Back in 1937, Franklin Roosevelt introduced his infamous “court-packing” proposal, which asked Congress to create a new seat whenever a sitting justice reached 70 and didn’t retire (up to six such new seats).  The four conservative justices who most reliably found a fifth vote to strike down portions of the New Deal just happened to be over 70.  As a result, FDR’s proposal was widely seen—and condemned—as an effort to give him the power to quickly change the ideological balance of the Court.  Despite lopsided Democratic majorities in both houses, the proposal did not pass Congress, and it played a role in sharply reducing Roosevelt’s popularity and substantially diminishing the Democratic Party’s congressional majorities in the 1938 midterms.

Americans rejected FDR’s political interference with the Supreme Court, even though he sought to do it through properly-passed legislation.  Republicans’ “court-unpacking” scheme represents the same type of interference with the high court, but they plan to do it regardless of whether legislation is passed lowering the number of justices.  They are intending to act through obstruction, to prevent Congress from working rather than act consistently with the Constitution and the rule of law.

The GOP must pay a political price for this.  It is critical that this direct assault against the integrity of the Supreme Court and the rule of law not succeed.  Perhaps the most important way to stop it is to use our votes to ensure that Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress.

PFAW

Senator Ayotte's Real Record on Equal Pay for Women

When New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan and U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte went head to head last week in a debate hosted by NH1 News, they touched on one of the most talked-about issues this election season, women's rights – specifically a woman's right to equal pay for equal work. Governor Hassan called for "an inclusive economy that works for everyone" while Senator Ayotte claimed that "equal pay for equal work is so important to me."

This issue has been a point of contention for the candidates for many months now. The New Hampshire Democratic Party fact-checked Senator Ayotte back in March, noting that her website misleads voters and covers up her past votes on the issue. Then in April Emily's List exposed Senator Ayotte's real record on the occasion of Equal Pay Day 2016, the date that women, on average, have to work to in order to make as much money as their male counterparts did in the previous year. Not only has Senator Ayotte opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act multiple times, but Donald Trump – who she has since renounced but stuck by for far too long – believes that the burden is on women to "do as good a job" as men.

The issue came up again two weeks ago when the Ayotte campaign released a new ad defending Senator Ayotte's equal pay record. Governor Hassan took her to task for this specious claim, citing not only the senator's votes against the Paycheck Fairness Act, but also her failure to introduce a meaningful alternative or to even fully acknowledge the pay gap's existence.

After last week's debate, Granite State Progress dug into the pay data on Senator Ayotte's own staff. They found a clear pay gap that has only gotten worse over time, in addition to an underrepresentation of women among her senior advisors. Governor Hassan and the state's other senator, Jeanne Shaheen, had virtually no pay gap in their offices. Senator Ayotte countered with her introduction of the GAP Act, a bill that is far from the most effective way to combat pay discrimination.

Like with her obstruction of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and his other federal judges, Senator Ayotte has made clear that she won't do her job on a lot of things. Ensuring equal pay for equal work seems to be one of them.

PFAW

Proposed Local Ban on Super PACs Considered in St. Petersburg, FL

The fight to create a democracy that stands up to wealthy special interests is a battle that must be fought on many fronts—and much of the progress is occurring on the local level. All around the country towns and cities are passing resolutions to create and strengthen small donor public financing programs, increase transparency, and support a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court cases like Citizens United.

In St. Petersburg, FL local lawmakers are even considering an ordinance that would effectively ban super PACs from spending money in local races, with a particular focus on ensuring that foreign-owned corporations are prohibited from influencing the outcomes of elections. The organization Free Speech For People, a partner organization of PFAW, has been in discussion with city council members regarding the proposed “Defend Our Democracy” ordinance.

While the legal theory surrounding this ordinance is considered to be sound, there is a chance the city of St. Petersburg could be sued, in which case the legal battle could be taken up to the Supreme Court. Fully aware of this possibility, Free Speech For People views such a scenario as an opportunity to potentially overturn the much maligned 2010 Citizens United ruling, which paved the way for corporations to be able to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

Last week representatives from Free Speech For People, joined by FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub, met with members of the St. Petersburg City Council to discuss the proposed ordinance. The council had previously voted in favor of further review in a 6-1 vote on July 21, 2016. At the hearing members of the council expressed clear, though cautious, support for moving forward with the proposed ordinance. The matter will likely be brought to a vote in the coming months. 

Will Your Representatives in Congress Fight Big Money?

The problem of money in politics is complex, and the solutions are equally multifaceted. There are a range of proposed reforms involving every branch of government, in various stages of progress. These commonsense solutions are measures that can—and indeed should—be enacted to curb the out-of-control spending in our political system.

To help voters know where those who are running for office stand on these solutions, a number of democracy advocacy groups, including PFAW, created a website where the public can look up candidates and see whether they are in support of critical reform measures.  Voters can search by zip code and see candidate responses to a questionnaire that covers proposed policies being discussed at the national level. Currently more than 260 candidates running for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have filled out the questionnaire.   

These reforms include amending the Constitution to overturn Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United, establishing and strengthening []small donor public financing programs, increasing transparency, and strengthening anti-coordination laws. Together, these measures constitute a comprehensive “Fight Big Money Agenda,” and PFAW and our allies have worked to encourage candidates up and down the ticket to publicly support them.  

Following the election we and our allies will be working to hold those that took the pledge accountable for following  through with their commitments and pushing for passage of these reforms in the 115th Congress.