Political Spending Resolutions Filed at 3 Corporations

Thanks to Citizens United, corporations have been spending unprecedented sums for political purposes. Short of a constitutional amendment to overturn that flawed decision, good government advocates are pressing a variety of strategies to minimize the undue influence corporations currently hold over our electoral system.

Requiring disclosure of corporate political expenditures is one powerful way to return some of the balance of influence to the American people. Activists are pressing for the passage of the DISCLOSE Act and the Shareholder Protection Act, and also submitted a record-setting action to the Securities and Exchange Commission calling for a rule requiring publicly-traded companies to disclose their political spending.

This week, the Corporate Reform Coalition is taking this call to the true owners of public corporations: the shareholders. This coalition of organizations, which includes People For the American Way, Public Citizen and others, is supporting first-time “political spending” resolutions and helping to organize rallies at the annual shareholder meetings of 3M and Bank of America, which are taking place this week, and also at Target Corporation, which will meet on June 14th.

The message is simple: Leave democracy to the people. Corporations should stop spending money on influencing our elections and focus on what they were created to do: make a profit for their shareholders. And if these corporations refuse to cease using their vast treasuries for political purposes, they at least should disclose their activities so that shareholders can make informed decisions.

These reforms speak to many Americans because so many people are shareholders. If you’ve ever bought a stock, had a 401(k) account or a pension, then you’re a shareholder – and it is your money might be spent on a candidate, cause or attack ad you don’t support, without your knowledge. We all have a right to know if our money is being spent to influence our democracy, and we should have the power to say no.


North Carolinians Voting Today on Anti-Gay Constitutional Amendment

North Carolina voters today are casting their ballots on Amendment One, an extreme measure that would write discrimination into the state’s consitution and potentially take away important protections for all unmarried couples, gay and straight.

The amendment states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina. It would not only deal another blow to gay and lesbian couples in the state, who are already prohibited by law from marrying, but endangers protections for all unmarried couples, including domestic violence protections and health insurance coverage.

The Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families is running a handful of powerful ads showing Amendment One’s potential devastating impact. Here are a couple:

President Bill Clinton also recorded a robocall on behalf of the anti-Amendment One campaign. You can listen to it here.

North Carolina voters can find your polling place here.


Holder, Ruemmler Urge Action on Judicial Vacancies

In a summit at the White House yesterday with 150 grassroots and legal leaders from 27 states, Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler stressed the importance of maintaining fair and effective federal courts, and criticized Senate Republicans for creating gridlock that has left one in ten federal court seats vacant.

Holder stressed President Obama’s effort to nominated qualified and diverse nominees to the federal courts. 46 percent of the president’s confirmed judicial nominees have been women and 37 percent have been people of color, more than under any other president in history. “Our people are diverse, they are qualified and they will serve the American people well in their time on the bench,” he said.

While President Obama has nominated dozens of highly qualified, diverse Americans to the federal bench, his nominees have met with unprecedented obstruction from Senate Republicans.

“Republican obstruction and these delays on the floor aren’t happenstance. They’re strategic and they’re having a devastating impact,” Ruemmler told attendees.

Ruemmler said that the conservative movement “understands the important role courts play in all of the issues we care deeply about as a country.”

Today’s summit was a sign that progressives are beginning to care deeply about the courts as well.

“This matters. This really matters,” Holder said. “This is a key legacy for any president. It’s one of the ways that a president’s success can be measured.”


More good news on the voting rights front, this time in Louisiana

I just shared with you that Connecticut is on the verge of enacting same-day registration, but there’s more good news where that came from – a strong stand taken on behalf of public assistance clients in Ferrand v. Schedler.

On May 3, Judge Jane Milazzo of the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled in Ferrand that the National Voter Registration Act requires public assistance agencies to offer all clients the opportunity to register to vote, including those that have remote contact, not just those that seek services in-person. Now the Court must decide whether Louisiana is in violation of the law.

New Orleans Attorney Ron Wilson:

We intend to move forward quickly and forcefully to ensure all Louisiana citizens are provided with an opportunity to register to vote in advance of the upcoming elections.

Ernest Johnson, President of the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP:

The Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP is committed to ensuring that our most vulnerable citizens are not denied their voting rights.

Debo Adegbile, Interim President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc:

We are a stronger nation when every segment of our society is encouraged to vote, and we trust that Louisiana will come to see the wisdom of this basic principle.

Sarah Brannon, Director of the Public Agency Voter Registration Program at Project Vote:

The court’s ruling will ensure that low-income individuals will not be denied voter registration services because of advancing technology. The court recognized that the mandates of the NVRA are not limited to in-person visits to public assistance offices.

Judge Milazzo’s ruling lends hope not just to Louisiana voters but to all public assistance clients nationwide who deserve equal access to voter registration under the NVRA.

PFAW Foundation

Good news for voting rights in Connecticut

The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation, details the worst of the worst of the Right’s fight to suppress the vote. Many states have indeed taken up this fight with voter ID, proof of citizenship, and other suppressive legislation.

This weekend it was refreshing to see Connecticut buck that trend.

On May 5, by a 19-16 vote, the Connecticut Senate passed HB 5024, the same-day registration bill introduced by Representatives Christopher Donovan (D-84) and Brendan Sharkey (D-88) and Senators Donald Williams (D-29) and Martin Looney (D-11). It passed the House on April 30 by an 83-59 vote. Governor Dannel Malloy is expected to sign it into law.

Governor Malloy:

Despite the pervasive climate across the U.S. to restrict voting rights, Connecticut has moved in the opposite direction—one that ensures the integrity of our electoral process and fair, accessible elections.

Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman:

These reforms allow more people to have their voices to be heard in a place where it truly matters – the voting booth . . . And I believe there is nothing more important than that.

Secretary of State Denise Merrill:

This common sense yet long overdue reform is something we have tried to implement in Connecticut for years, and now we have made history by moving elections in our state into the 21st Century.

Other voting rights supporters who cheered the news include Miles Rappaport, former Connecticut Secretary of State and current President of Demos, Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director of Common Cause Connecticut, and others.

HB 5024 is also notable for its creation of online voter registration, an issue also before the Governor in Hawaii.

PFAW Foundation

Judicial Obstruction By the Numbers

Today, a few representatives from People For the American Way joined 150 Americans from 27 states at a White House summit to discuss the state of vacancies in the federal courts.

We’ll write more about the summit in later posts, but first, a summary of the problem. PFAW’s graphic designer, Nicole, put together this infographic showing how unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees has created an unprecedented vacancy crisis in the federal courts, and slowed down President Obama’s effort to bring qualified, diverse judges to the federal bench:

(Click image for larger pdf version of the infographic.)


Push for voter ID marches on in Missouri

At the end of March, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Pat Joyce struck down Missouri’s proposed voter ID constitutional amendment (SJR 2) on the grounds that the ballot summary is “insufficient and unfair.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized, “In a perverted, poetic justice kind of way, it's pitch perfect that in their alleged attempt to stop voter fraud, Missouri Republicans committed, well, fraud.”

Prospects for an appeal are unclear, but the legislature immediately began working on contingency plans.

HCR 53 has already passed the House and made it out of committee in the Senate. It reconsiders last session’s bill with a new amendment, but the Secretary of State’s office has said that the General Assembly can’t correct its mistake by going this route. Enter a brand new bill, HJR 89, which could hit the House floor any day now.

If and when Missouri passes a constitutional amendment, the legislature will have to pass, or already have passed, enacting legislation. HB 1104 is out of the House and through committee in the Senate.

Representative Shane Schoeller, an ALEC member who is running for Secretary of State, is behind all three proposals.

Though Representative Schoeller’s separate effort (HB 2109) to pass proof of citizenship for voter registration made it out of House committee at the end of April, it may be stalled given the ruling against proof of citizenship in Arizona.

Missouri’s legislature is expected to adjourn at the end of May.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Walker's Millions and the Right's "Special Interests" Lie

On Wednesday, PFAW president Michael Keegan sent the following message to PFAW members:

Scott Walker is truly the worst governor money can buy. In 2010, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, Walker shattered state fundraising records in his campaign to be Wisconsin’s next governor. Now, faced with a recall election, he’s doing it again -- and then some.

It was reported this week that in the last three months, Scott Walker raised $13.1 MILLION to beat back his recall challenge. And that figure does not include the money being spent by right-wing Super PACs to support him and bash his opponents. To put this feat in perspective, Walker’s two leading Democratic challengers, Kathleen Falk and Tom Barrett -- currently locked in a primary in which they are spending resources against each other -- have raised $977,000 and $750,000 respectively.

Walker has milked his “golden boy” status among the ideological mega-funders of the right-wing movement. His aggressive attacks on workers’ rights, funding for important social programs and equal rights protections have made powerful corporate interests like Koch Industries and activists like Grover Norquist eager to host fundraisers for him around the country, from Oklahoma to New York. Amazingly, the Right continues to accuse our side of being fueled by “special interests” (as always, mischaracterizing “special interests” as people willing to stand up for their rights).

Many have called the Wisconsin recall election the second most important election battle of 2012 (second only to the presidential race), and it’s certainly shaping up to be the most emblematic of the crossroads at which America finds itself post-Citizens United. This recall battle is definitively one of Big Money vs. the People.

Mark Hanna, William McKinley’s right-wing millionaire campaign manager in 1896, famously said, “There are two things that matter in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” We MUST prove him wrong in Wisconsin ... we must prove that People Power can win the day.

With the help of Hanna and the robber barons of the era, McKinley won his race with only 51% of the popular vote after outspending his Democratic opponent 23 to 1. It’s up to us to make sure 2012 is not a repeat of 1896.

We won’t be able to outspend them, but what we do have we will spend smarter to help turn out the people’s vote. With your help, we’ll outwork Walker and his billionaire allies and RECALL THE RIGHT in Wisconsin.

Thank you for standing with us in this fight. Please stay tuned for more important information about the Wisconsin recall elections and People For the American Way’s campaign the Recall the Right.

Michael Keegan, President

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in Wisconsin this week campaigning for Scott Walker and said, “For the next five weeks, America is going to find out the answer to what is more powerful, the people or the money and special interests from Washington, D.C. Wisconsin will answer that question."

Republicans are really going all in on the claim that the big money being spent in the recall election is coming from the Walker’s opponents. Jaw-dropping chutzpah considering Walker has already spent $20 million in his own defense, has another $25 million on hand and is being supported by outside groups with limitless funding from wealthy corporate interests. Meanwhile, the amount of money raised and spent both by the Democratic candidates and outside groups opposing Walker (including unions – the so-called ‘special interests’ to which Chris Christie was alluding) is hardly a fraction of Walker’s behemoth war chest. Oh, and for all the Republicans' handwringing about out of state money fueling the recall effort, it was reported a few days ago that two-thirds of Walker's money has come from outside of Wisconsin.

There's no question this race is a question of the grassroots versus big special interest money, but Scott Walker isn't the on the side of the grassroots.


New Lawsuit Challenges Voter ID in Pennsylvania

This week, voting rights supporters in Pennsylvania filed suit against HB 934, the state’s voter ID law whose original sponsor, Daryl Metcalfe, is an ALEC member. They claim that it deprives citizens of their basic and fundamental right to vote. Witold Walczak, Legal Director of the Pennsylvania ACLU:

The commonwealth's phantom claims of in-person-voter fraud cannot be allowed to trump the very real disenfranchisement of long-time Pennsylvania voters. People need to wake up to the reality that not every voter has or can get photo ID, so making it a requirement will prevent many people from exercising one of our most precious rights.

Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year old woman from Philadelphia, is the lead plaintiff in the suit. Working as a welder during World War II and marching in support of civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Georgia, she has been voting since President John F. Kennedy came into office.

College students will also be greatly impacted come Election Day. Many college IDs in Pennsylvania will not be accepted as a valid form of identification since most lack an expiration date.

A recent study released today by PennPIRG and a broad coalition of voter protection groups found that Pennsylvania’s new photo ID voting law could potentially disenfranchise more than 80% of the state’s college students….Out of the 110 surveyed colleges and universities only 15 schools have student identification cards for all students that meet the requirements of having a photo, name and expiration date on the card.

Though the law will not be in full effect until the November election, its soft rollout during the April primary showed that the concerns of voting rights supporters are not without merit. For example, 91-year old Joyce Block attempted to acquire a photo ID but couldn’t. And we heard reports of several signs posted at polling places stating boldly, “ID Required to Vote”, with much smaller print (or none at all) clarifying that the requirement would not apply until November.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

An ALEC Bill's Journey

Bloomberg Businessweek put together a handy infographic charting the path of one particular piece of ALEC model legislation, the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act, on its journey from approval as a model through introduction in 12 states across the country, and eventually becoming law in three. Shielding corporations from liability for causing harm to consumers and the environment is a major ALEC priority, and this legislation makes it harder for states to hire law firms to bring suits against businesses.

ALEC claims that it is just a library for bills and falsely states on its IRS returns that it conducts no lobbying, but documents submitted by Common Cause to the IRS last week all but prove otherwise. Internal documents show that ALEC actively engages in all the hallmarks of lobbying – from advocating for bills to tracking their progress through statehouses nationwide.

PFAW Foundation

EEOC takes step forward in fight to end transgender employment discrimination

In October and December of 2010, the Department of Education took a stand for LGBT youth by issuing guidance to address bullying in schools, especially as it relates to federal education anti-discrimination laws. One of those laws, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. While the language does not specify sexual orientation and gender identity, the Department has made clear that harassment on these grounds, under certain circumstances, violates Title IX.

Last month brought a similar ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, establishing that gender identity employment discrimination violates sex discrimination protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, thus allowing the complaint filed by Mia Macy to proceed.

Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center:

Given the incredibly high rate of employment discrimination facing transgender people, this is incredibly significant for us. Data [link] from the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 78 percent of transgender Americans say they've experienced workplace discrimination at some point in time. Given that transgender people do not have employment protections in the vast majority of states, this creates a whole new fabric of legal support for our community.

Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality:

It will help so much that the EEOC agrees with what more and more courts have been saying—discriminating against trans people because of their sex, or their perceived sex, or what an employer thinks about their sex is clearly sex discrimination, illegal and wrong.

Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

This is a historic victory for transgender people and their families — and it couldn’t come too soon. Our national survey on transgender discrimination found staggering levels of workplace discrimination against transgender Americans. This jeopardizes their ability to have or keep a job, have a roof over their head, and feed and take care of their family.

That the EEOC will now hear Mia Macy’s case is a hopeful sign that the American principles of fairness and equal opportunity might someday extended to all in the workplace. (Click here to learn about the backlash.)

Other recent developments include progress at US Citizenship and Immigration Services, a speech at my alma mater, Ohio University, and increased awareness (including PFAW Foundation) about the challenges faced by transgender voters.


Wisconsin Recall Round-Up - May 4, 2012

The national media is focusing its gaze once again on Wisconsin, and this week it was all about the money.  Monday, April 30th, was the filing deadline for pre-primary election fundraising totals.  Wisconsin’s embattled Republican Governor Scott Walker turned in a filing that, on the surface, blew his Democratic rivals away, reporting $13 million in money raised during the January to April reporting period.

An in-depth analysis by The Huffington Post, however, revealed that approximately two-thirds of Walker’s money raised was donated by individuals and entities from outside Wisconsin.  This draws a stark contrast to his nearest Democratic rivals filings, with Tom Barrett reporting $750,000 in donations in 25 days, and Kathleen Falk reporting $1 million.  99% of Barrett’s donations came from inside Wisconsin.  Falk only had $25,862 in her account at the end of 2011.

News analysis also revealed that Walker transferred $60,000 to his legal defense fund during the pre-primary period, according to his campaign finance report.  This revelation drew criticism from One Wisconsin Now and others, as it appeared to many Wisconsinites that Walker’s campaign is using nuances in Wisconsin GAB reporting requirements to avoid revealing who donated to the legal defense fund.

Mid-week, Marquette University released polling data that indicates the public’s perception of the Governor has not improved, despite his campaign spending $21 million dollars to bolster his image and fight against a recall from office.  The situation left prominent pundits and reporters alike referring to his numbers as “almost freakishly fixed in place,” with rivals using grassroots support and a focus on issues to prepare for next Tuesday’s primary elections to take on the Governor for the recalls.

Looking forward, next Tuesday is Primary Day!  Follow our Facebook page and Twitter feed for the latest information on where to find your polling place.  Exercise your duty to Fight The Right and vote!


UPDATE: DOJ takes step forward with latest hate crime indictment

UPDATE: Also last month, the Harlan County case brought the first convictions under the sexual orientation provision of the federal hate crime law. Mable Ashley Jenkins, 19, and Alexis LeeAnn Jenkins, 19, plead guilty to aiding and abetting both kidnapping and a hate crime assault for having tricked Kevin Pennington into getting into a truck with the two other defendants currently under indictment. Click here and here for more information from the Department of Justice.

October 28, 2009 marked a historic step forward in the fight for equality. With the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, President Obama sent loud and clear the message that freedom from violence is a right all Americans should enjoy.

In an ideal world, the law would never be used. But we know that there are victims who need protections based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability. And today, the first-ever indictment was handed down for a violation of the sexual orientation provision of the statute.

The indictment alleges that on April 4, 2011, [David Jason Jenkins, 37, and Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20] kidnapped and assaulted Kevin Pennington because of Pennington’s sexual orientation. According to the indictment, the defendants enlisted two women to trick Pennington into getting into a truck with the defendants, so that the defendants could drive Pennington to a state park and assault him. According to the indictment, the defendants then drove Pennington [to] a secluded area of the Kingdom Come State Park in Kentucky and assaulted him.

What happened to Kevin Pennington is an outrage. That this prosecution is possible is a success for the rule of law.


Call for ALEC Tax Investigation Spreads to the States

Fresh off of filing a major complaint with the IRS alleging that the American Legislative Exchange Council abused their tax-exempt status by acting primarily as a lobbying organization, the good-government group Common Cause is now pressing for state-level investigations. Yesterday, Common Cause asked New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to investigate whether ALEC’s activities are in violation of state law.

Nine companies based in New Jersey, including Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson and Merck are ALEC members, and an investigation by the Star-Ledger found that a close resemblance between ALEC model bills and several pieces of legislation and executive actions pushed by the Christie Administration. The investigation also noted that ALEC member corporations and their executives have given at least $200,000 to New Jersey officials who are responsible for advancing these bills.

ALEC claims that it only “provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level policy issues,” and “does not lobby state legislatures.” But it’s difficult to understand how an organization that pays for state legislators to go to exclusive resorts, where they discuss and vote as equals with corporations on model legislation, can be considered anything but a lobbying front. One thing is clear: ALEC certainly is not the “charity” they claim they are on their tax returns.

PFAW Foundation

Boehner favors politics in pursuing yet another DOMA challenge

Back in February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would not act in McLaughlin v. Panetta to defend, in the military context, the federal-recognition component of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The plaintiffs, each legally married, want the armed services to recognize their families and seek the same family support and benefits for their same-sex spouses that the services and Department of Veterans Affairs provide to opposite-sex spouses.

[ . . . ]

Currently, federal law requires the military to ignore these marriages and, therefore, prevents it from providing vitally needed benefits to these legally married spouses, including housing; health care; surviving spouse benefits; the issuance of military identification cards; and morale, welfare, and recreational programs.

Then in March, Representative Jerrold Nadler and the other lead sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act sent a letter to Speaker Boehner asking that he abandon his defense of DOMA.

At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet and asking Congress to focus on jobs, the economy, and federal spending, all Members should be concerned that taxpayers dollars are being used to pay costly legal fees to make arguments that lack adequate factual or legal support, in pursuit of a law that is not worthy of a defense.

This week brings word to the contrary – Speaker Boehner has directed the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, controlled 3-2 by Republicans, to seek intervention in McLaughlin.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, who filed the suit, sent a strong message that the Speaker is hurting military families. Army veteran and Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

Speaker Boehner's request to defend this case in the wake of the ongoing harm done to military families by these discriminatory laws is reprehensible and callous. The Speaker has turned a deaf ear to the urgent pleas of CW2 Charlie Morgan and countless families like hers, who are living with the day-to-day realities of a military that has been forced to create two classes of service members . . . [His] politically motivated ongoing defense of these unjust laws is hurting military families. It's time to repeal DOMA and revise these antiquated laws that are preventing all military families from being treated with fairness and equality. There cannot be two classes of service members.

Heed Sarvis’s call to action. Add your name to PFAW's petition urging Congress to Dump DOMA and end this unconstitutional, discriminatory policy once and for all.

Click here for more from PFAW.