PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Hochul Wins Election by Opposing Medicare Cuts

Last night was a big win for progress, and a big loss for Paul Ryan’s plan to cut Medicare. Democrat Kathy Hochul won a special election in New York’s traditionally conservative 26th district. The critical issue in this election to replace Republican Rep. Chris Lee focused on the Paul Ryan budget plan’s major cuts to Medicare. Republican Jane Corwin, who ran against Hochul, said she supported the GOP’s plan – and the senior citizens composing 15-20% of her district didn’t approve.

Ryan’s plan proposes to cut Medicare, replace it with a voucher program and turn Medicaid into a state block grant program – but it doesn’t do anything to actually control costs. The Ryan Plan lessens healthcare costs to the taxpayers and federal government, pushing them directly onto the patient instead. On top of that, the Congressional Budget Office found that Ryan’s proposal would actually increase the total healthcare spending, quite contrary to the GOP’s pitch for it.

Oh, and did we mention that Ryan wants to lower taxes for the wealthy? His proposed budget includes a tax cut from 35% to 25% for some of the richest people in America. This is nothing new from the Republican Party, cutting services to the middle class while giving breaks to the elite, but it’s certainly disturbing.

PFAW

Prop 8 Proponents Change Their Tune on the Damage of Marriage Equality

In their latest attempt to stymie marriage equality in the courts, the lawyers defending California’s Proposition 8 are now claiming that Vaughn Walker, the judge who ruled the state’s marriage discrimination unconstitutional, should have been disqualified from the case because he is gay.

The argument that a gay judge shouldn’t be allowed to handle gay rights cases is pretty flimsy to begin with – but now it’s caused the anti-equality attorneys to paint themselves into a pretty tight corner:

Now, as the sponsors of Proposition 8 try to convince the courts that the judge who overturned the measure had a built-in bias as a gay man with a longtime partner, their opponents are invoking that same campaign message: If Prop. 8 was meant to preserve opposite-sex marriages, they argue, then any judge, gay or straight, would have the similar conflict of interest.

In their latest court filing, the measure's supporters reply that they never promoted Prop. 8 as a benefit for married couples - just for society as a whole.

"Our argument is that adoption of same-sex marriage will likely harm the institution of marriage over time, not that any individual's existing marriage will be affected," said Charles Cooper, lawyer for the Prop. 8 campaign committee, a conservative religious coalition called Protect Marriage.

"The notion that all married heterosexual judges have a direct and substantial personal interest in the outcome of this case is, of course, patently absurd."

Oh really?

Because in the Prop 8 trial last summer, Cooper himself argued that allowing gay people to marry would actively harm heterosexual marriages…by somehow encouraging heterosexuals to cheat on their spouses.

And then there’s the famous ad that Protect Marriage’s major financial backer, the National Organization for Marriage, created to boost Prop 8:

These people sound pretty personally threatened by the prospect of gay people getting married.

Maybe Prop 8’s proponents have changed their minds about the dire consequences of marriage equality. Or maybe they’re just once again running up against the lack of logic behind their case.

 

PFAW

Democrats Urge House Oversight Committee to Investigate Speculators

Tomorrow, the House Oversight & Government Reform committee will hold a hearing about the role of speculation in gas prices. Ranking member Elijah E. Cummings has released a report examining the root causes of inflated fuel costs, which concludes that the debate so far has been focused on the wrong things.

Instead of listening to energy executives (who represent the most profitable industry in the world, to the tune of $31 billion for the top five oil companies in the first quarter of FY 2011 alone) rail against the prospect of losing their taxpayer subsidies or complain about post-BP spill safety measures, Rep. Cummings argues that the Oversight & Government Reform committee would better serve Americans by turning its attention to speculators:

 

With gas prices skyrocketing to more than $4 per gallon, it is time to stop focusing on advancing the priorities and profits of oil companies and instead find ways to give American consumers relief at the pump. I call on Chairman Issa to stand with consumers and conduct a responsible, bipartisan investigation into the impact of excessive speculation on high gas prices.

 

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • Excessive oil speculation could be inflating gas prices by as much as 30%; the single most significant opportunity to reduce gas prices is to counter excessive speculation.
  • Expanded domestic drilling or eliminating post-BP oil spill safety measures would have negligible impact on gas prices.
  • Drilling is not the problem – post BP,  the Administration has approved 14 deepwater drilling permits, 55 shallow water permits, and two new exploration plans.
  • In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the oil business is the most profitable industry in the world. The top 5 oil companies reported profits of $31 billion in the first quarter of FY 2011, a 32.6% increase over the first quarter of 2010.
  • Eliminating tax subsidies could save more than $43 billion over the next 10 years, and foregoing the collection of market-rate royalties from companies that drill in the Gulf costs taxpayers up to $53 billion.

OGR committee chairman Darrell Issa now has an excellent opportunity to hold a hearing that could help the American people instead of his corporate friends – let’s see if he comes through.

PFAW

Focus on the Family Leader Admits that Right is “Losing” Equality Debate

Jim Daly, president of the Religious Right group Focus on the Family conceded to an interviewer last week that anti-gay groups have “probably lost” the debate over marriage equality. It’s a big admission by a prominent figure on the Right, but it’s also an acknowledgement of what has become common sense. Poll after poll shows that for the first time majorities of Americans support marriage equality, with the highest numbers among young people. As anti-gay legislation is fought out in the courts and in statehouses, it is accompanied by a sea change in public opinion that threatens to make it archaic.

After last summer’s federal court decision striking down California’s Proposition 8, PFAW’s Michael Keegan noticed that Religious Right activists were beginning to admit defeat on gay rights:

This parade of apoplectic anger is nothing new--the Right has fought every step toward acceptance of gay people with similar Armageddon-invoking tirades. What is remarkable about the reaction to the Prop 8 decision is that within the anger are the beginnings of admissions of defeat. The Right has won many important battles against gay rights, but they are losing the war...and they know it.

A few days after Judge Walker's decision, the pseudo-historian David Barton, founder and president of the right-wing group WallBuilders, explicitly described the nervousness that has been behind much of the Right's outrage. The case against Proposition 8, Barton argued, could win in the Supreme Court...so opponents of marriage equality should sacrifice California in order to save anti-equality laws in 31 other states.

"Right now the damage is limited to California only," Barton told Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association during a radio interview, "but if California appeals this to the US Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court with Kennedy will go for California, which means all 31 states will go down in flames, although right now this decision is limited only to California...the problem is that instead of California losing its amendment, now 31 states lose their amendment. And that won't happen if California doesn't appeal this.

Last week, I went to a talk with the attorneys arguing the Prop 8 case, Ted Olson and David Boies. Olson said he saw their job as having two parts: presenting the Constitutional case against discrimination in the court of law, and presenting it in the “court of public opinion.”

“If we win this case,” Olson said, “we want people to look at it and say, ‘Of course. It’s about time.’”

Constitutional rights should never be decided by the will of the majority – that’s why we have constitutional rights in the first place. But Olson and Boies are building their case in a country where the rights of gays and lesbians are increasingly accepted as a given. The Religious Right isn’t going to give up its fight against equality anytime soon. But its leaders are beginning to see that they are fighting a losing battle in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.

PFAW

Pandering for the Primaries, Pawlenty Tacks Right

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty officially launched his presidential campaign today in Iowa. Although he has been campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire for a couple of years now, you may not know much about him. He has low name recognition and low poll numbers, and his book Courage to Stand is not selling that well. But journalists from The New Republic and National Review think he could well be the GOP candidate. So it's worth taking a good look at his record and his far-right ideology.

Part of Pawlenty's appeal is supposed to be that he is from Minnesota, and was elected as a conservative in a bluish-purplish state. Some people wrongly assume that being from Minnesota automatically makes him some kind of moderate. In fact, Pawlenty is campaigning as a hard-core, across-the-board conservative.

He makes appeals to Religious Right voters by talking up his faith and appearing on even the most offensive radio shows, like that of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, who is surely one of the most extreme, hateful and bigoted personalities in Christian radio. Pawlenty helped raise money for Ralph Reed's "Faith and Freedom Coalition" in Iowa. And he appointed an education commissioner who equated teaching of evolution with teaching of creationism but thought teaching sharing in kindergarten was "socialist."

Pawlenty's attacks on reproductive rights please anti-abortion advocates. A National Review Online blogger says Pawlenty "may be the strongest pro-life candidate" in 2012. As governor, Pawlenty signed legislation erecting barriers to women seeking abortions, including a required waiting period and anti-choice lecture. He has spoken at anti-choice rallies, looking forward to a day when Roe v. Wade would be overturned, saying: "We have a dream today that someday soon this will not be an anniversary of sadness, but an anniversary of justice restored."

Pawlenty has also fine-tuned his campaign and his record to be more attractive to the far-right Republican Party of the Tea Party era. He once actively supported regional action to address climate change and even filmed an environmental commercial. But now he apologizes, calls his former position "stupid," and has joined the ranks of climate change deniers. Pawlenty once voted for a gay rights bill as a state legislator, but then disavowed it and embarked on a journey that Think Progress described as "evolving homophobia." And he is a vocal supporter of the current effort to amend Minnesota's constitution to ban gay couples from getting married.

Pawlenty doesn't even support legal protections short of marriage, like those that could be provided by civil unions. He went so far as to sign an Orwellian letter defending the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and other anti-gay groups against criticism that they were promoting hate.

Pawlenty appears at Tea Party events and appeals to Tea Partiers with his opposition to health care reform. He denounces "Obamacare" as unconstitutional and one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of the country. He compares the health care reform law to drug dealing and has joined legal efforts to prevent it from being implemented. In 2006, Pawlenty, in what opponents called election-year politics, pushed a wide array of proposals to crack down on immigration. Last year, he advocated amending the Constitution to deny citizenship to the American-born children of undocumented immigrants. Speaking to a Hispanic Republican group in January, he fudged his position, but said, "We can't have wide swaths of the country nodding or winking or looking the other way to broad violations of the law," rhetoric that echoes the "anti-amnesty" language used by opponents of comprehensive immigration reform.

And Pawlenty works hard to appeal to the economic and corporate right. He wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal last December slamming government employees and decrying a "silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions." The nonpartisan PolitiFact rated the column and its claims about government workers "Pants on Fire" -- its most-lying "Truth-o-meter" rating.

Pawlenty's self-portrait doesn't always mesh with reality. He rails against the "immoral debt" and touts his record as a governor of holding the line on growth in government. But in fact, as governor, he used short-term budget tricks that "left the state with a $5-billion projected deficit, one of the highest in the nation as a percentage of the state's general fund." He railed against the Obama administration's stimulus bill but then asked for $236 million from it.

He portrays himself as an anti-tax champion, but that's not how many Minnesotans experienced him. A state revenue department study in 2009 found that Minnesotans earning less than $129,879 saw their tax rates increase under Pawlenty. "Don't let anyone tell you Governor Pawlenty didn't raise taxes," said Sen. Al Franken. "It's about whom he raised them on. He raised them on lower- and middle-income families all across the state in order to pay for our kids' education."

Pawlenty promises right-wing groups that as president he will appoint "strict constructionist" judges -- code for judges with an 18th-century view of Americans' rights and interests. Last year he bypassed his state's Commission on Judicial Selection to appoint to a judgeship an attorney with strong Religious Right connections who served as counsel for the Minnesota Family Council in an anti-gay marriage case.

Back in 2008, when Pawlenty was frequently mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, he was criticized for being too boring on television, maybe a bit too "Minnesota nice." So the 2012 Pawlenty has learned how to make himself sufficiently aggressive for the GOP zeitgeist. In speeches at conservative conferences, Pawlenty denigrates President Obama, accusing him of appeasing the nation's enemies. In his campaign launch message, Pawlenty said President Obama lacks both understanding of the nation's problems and the courage to address them.

While these may all be traits that will help Pawlenty win the Republican nomination, it's hard for me to imagine that a majority of American voters would agree that what we really need in the White House is a trash-talking, flip-flopping, science-denying, abortion-criminalizing, gay-rights-bashing, Religious Right-embracing politician who is so eager to get elected that he'll promise the far right just about anything. He even faked a southern accent when speaking to conservatives in Iowa, provoking well-deserved mockery back in Minnesota.

Pawlenty's backers are convinced that his polling numbers are low only because Americans haven't gotten to know him yet. But as Nate Silver noted back in November, Pawlenty was not that popular among those who know him best of all:

... a survey of Republican primary voters in Minnesota -- where Mr. Pawlenty is the governor and where his name recognition is near-universal -- showed him getting only 19 percent of the Republican primary vote there (although this was good for a nominal first place with Ms. Palin placing at 18 percent). Mr. Pawlenty's approval rating in Minnesota is also a tepid 47 percent.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

Murkowski Shows Her Colleagues How to Keep One's Word with Liu Vote

As a bit of follow up to Michael's post about the Goodwin Liu vote, it is worth noting that Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the ONLY Republican senator to break with her party and do the right thing, voting to move the nomination forward to a full floor vote.

In 2005, she said, “Let me make it clear that I support an up-or-down vote on all nominations brought to the Senate floor, regardless of the president nominating them or which party controls the Senate.”

Murkowski said in a statement after today's vote, "I stated during the Bush Administration that judicial nominations deserved an up or down vote, except in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and my position has not changed simply because there is a different president making the nominations."

Sen. Murkowski deserves to be thanked for her consistency, and for sticking to a commitment that many in her party also made but abandoned.

PFAW

Shameful!

Imagine senators of one party filibustering a judicial nominee who has been hailed as one of his generation’s great legal minds by legal experts of both parties and across the ideological spectrum on the grounds that he is *too* qualified.

Well that's exactly what happened today.

In what could be the most egregious example of the GOP’s partisan obstruction of judicial nominations to date, Senate Republicans today blocked Goodwin Liu from receiving an up or down vote. Liu, a law professor and dean at U.C. Berkeley who as a nominee has the American Bar Association’s highest rating, was nominated for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Obama over a year ago, and has since been approved by the Judiciary Committee three times.

His credentials and grasp of the law and Constitution are impeccable. Liu’s only mistake: being too qualified.

At age 40, his confirmation to the 9th Circuit could put him in position to be the first Asian American Supreme Court nominee. Because of his intellectual heft, his commitment to Americans’ constitutional rights and his commonsense understanding of how the law impacts people’s lives, the prospect of Liu’s future elevation, and even his influence on a Circuit Court of Appeals, terrifies corporate special interests and right-wing ideologues ... the same people calling the shots with Republican senators.

Shame on them. The concocted justifications Republican senators used in their opposition to Liu were based on unbelievable distortions of his record by Radical Right activist groups, as well as Liu’s testimony in opposition to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation. They rested their opposition on lies because they know that a Liu filibuster makes a mockery of the supposed agreement between parties to employ a filibuster only in “extraordinary circumstances.” Everything about Goodwin Liu’s record and the breadth of his support indicates a legal expert squarely in the mainstream -- the only thing “extraordinary” about him is how good he is, and how deserving he was of confirmation.

Every GOP senator except Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski participated in the filibuster. If one or both of your U.S. senators are Republicans, CALL them right now and let them hear it. Tell them, “shame on you for filibustering Goodwin Liu,” and let them know that you will be working hard to hold them accountable in their state.

Make sure you SIGN our “Stop the Obstruction” petition to the Senate and let senators of both parties know that the continued obstruction of the president’s nominees is hurting our country and will not be tolerated.

We need Republicans to feel the pressure about their judicial obstructions just like they are feeling it about their attacks on Medicare. And Democratic leaders in the Senate need to know that they must be using every tool in their arsenal to combat this obstruction.

PFAW

Perhaps No Winners Yet in Supreme Court Pension Case

Last fall, we blogged about the case of CIGNA v. Amara, in which the Supreme Court was being asked to make it harder for employees to hold their employers accountable for providing inaccurate summaries of major changes in their pensions plans. (See our November blog post for more background.) This week, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case, ruling for CIGNA 8-0 (with Justice Sotomayor recused), with Justices Scalia and Thomas concurring in the judgment.

Several years ago, CIGNA gave its employees an intentionally misleading summary of a change in its pension plan, one that did not reveal some of its financial disadvantages. Citing a particular provision of ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act), the 27,000 employees in this pension plan sued. The trial court ruled in their favor and reformed the pension plan to the employees' benefit, a ruling that was upheld by the circuit court. CIGNA appealed to the Supreme Court, positing a legal theory that would have made it significantly harder for wronged employees to recover.

Yesterday, the Court unanimously agreed that the provision of ERISA that the employees were suing under did not authorize the relief granted by the lower courts. Justices Scalia and Thomas would have ended the inquiry there, handing a complete defeat to the workers. However, the majority, in an opinion written by Justice Breyer, ruled that employees may be able to rely on another part of ERISA, a general catch-all provision allowing plaintiffs “to obtain other appropriate equitable relief” for violations of ERISA. The Court remanded the case to the lower court to determine what that relief might be.

The Court also disagreed with CIGNA's extreme view that each individual employee must show that they actually relied on the summary to their detriment – in other words, that they (1) actually read the summary document all those years ago; (2) had no knowledge of plan terms contradicting the summary; and (3) relied on the summary to make a detrimental employment or retirement decision that they would not otherwise have made (e.g., prove that they would have moved to a company with better retirement benefits but for the misleading summary).

Since we don't really know if corporations will ultimately be held responsible to any meaningful degree if they provide misleading summaries of pension plans, whether the opinion was a win for employees or employers depends on who you ask. Bloomberg characterized it as a "partial win" for CIGNA.

Reuters reported:

A U.S. Supreme Court sent an important reminder to retirees this week: you can't necessarily rely on your employer for an accurate description of your pension benefits. ...

Legal experts differed yesterday on whether the ruling was a win for Cigna and other plan sponsors, or for the beneficiaries — although pension advocates were confident the decision ultimately will produce a victory for employees when the lower court ultimately rules.

And as reported in Life and Health Insurance News:

"CIGNA is pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the lower court to reconsider its initial decision and undertake further proceedings in the case," CIGNA says in a statement about the ruling.

Ellen Doyle, a Pittsburgh lawyer who helped represent the plan participants in the class-action lawsuit, called the ruling a "significant loss for employees."

PFAW

It's Time to Confirm Goodwin Liu

The Senate is currently debating the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Liu is a phenomenally well qualified legal scholar who has support across the political spectrum, as well as among a majority of U.S. Senators. However, because Senate Republican leaders are putting politics over all else, they are set on stymieing the majority and filibustering the nomination. A cloture vote to end this stalling tactic may occur as soon as tomorrow morning.

People For the American Way supports the nomination. We sent a letter this morning that says much of what we have been saying in person on the Hill for over a year. Among other things, the letter states:

Perhaps the most powerful testament to Professor Liu's superb qualifications is the extensive support his nomination has garnered from across the ideological spectrum. It is not only progressive and moderate legal thinkers who admire his work: He has received endorsements from conservatives such as Ken Starr, Solicitor General under President Ronald Reagan; Richard Painter, the chief ethics counsel for President George W. Bush; and Clint Bolick, Director of the conservative Goldwater Institute.

When a judicial nominee attracts such strong support independent of political ideology, you can be confident that he is exactly the kind of mainstream, talented, and fair jurist we need on the federal bench.

Although Liu has the support of a majority of senators, his opponents are working to block his nomination from receiving an up or down vote. Their claim is that Liu's nomination constitutes one of those rare "extraordinary circumstances" warranting a filibuster, under the benchmark developed by the Gang of 14 during the George W. Bush Administration.

By no measure can this nomination be considered to even approach "extraordinary circumstances." Even a cursory look at President Bush's nominees who were approved using that test – those whose nominations were not considered to constitute "extraordinary circumstances" – makes clear that Liu's nomination must be permitted to go forward.

  • Pricilla Owen's dissenting positions on the Texas Supreme Court were so extreme that even her fellow conservatives on the Supreme Court in different cases described them with phrases like "an unconscionable act of judicial activism," "disregard of the procedural elements the Legislature established," "def[ying] the Legislature's clear and express limits on our jurisdiction," and "inflammatory rhetoric." Her nomination was not considered extraordinary, and the Senate afforded her an up-or-down vote for a seat on the Fifth Circuit, where she is now serving.
  • Thomas Griffith pushed to severely curtail laws ending discrimination against women and girls' participation in school athletic programs, declaring "illegal" a test upheld by all eight of the nation's Circuit Courts of Appeals that had considered the issue. He was also suspended from the DC Bar for failure to pay mandatory Bar dues yet continued to practice law in the District during that time. Published reports and an examination of Utah law indicated that he had been engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Utah for the four years prior to his nomination. Nevertheless, the Senate did not consider Griffith's nomination extraordinary, and he received an up-or-down vote confirming him to a seat on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Janice Rogers Brown criticized opposition to the Lochner decision, which began the period when the Supreme Court issued its most pro-corporate rulings—rulings that struck down laws requiring minimum wages, regulating working hours and conditions, and banning improper business practices. In addition, despite several Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, she explicitly suggested that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional. Despite this record, her nomination was not considered an "extraordinary circumstance," and the Senate was allowed to cast an up-or-down vote, confirming her to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • William Pryor called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history" and urged Congress to consider repealing or amending Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Despite the significant opposition that these and other extreme positions garnered, his nomination was not filibustered, and he was confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Each of these nominees attracted substantial controversy and was opposed by numerous civil rights and civil liberties groups, but not one was found to constitute "extraordinary circumstances."

The claim that Goodwin Liu is out of the mainstream as compared to any of these nominees simply does not bear scrutiny. In fact, a fair reading of his work makes clear that Liu is well within the judicial mainstream.

By any standard articulated by either party, Goodwin Liu's nomination deserves a vote on the Senate floor, and he should be confirmed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tomorrow, we will learn which Republican senators are willing to toss logic, consistency, principles, and the good of the nation's court system out the window in order to score political points against a Democratic president.

PFAW

Lawrence O'Donnell Exposes ALEC

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

Last night, People For’s Andrew Gillum went on the Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss PFAW Foundation's new report on ALEC, the group that helps corporate donors get legislation they like placed in statehouses.

Read the report and watch the clip:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PFAW

New Corporate-Funded ‘Super PAC’ Created By The Man Who Helped Make Citizens United Possible

GOP activist James Bopp Jr. has played a critical role in eviscerating campaign finance regulations throughout his career as a Republican attorney. He successfully argued in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life that Congress couldn’t prevent corporations from using money from their general treasuries on so-called “issue ads,” and he initially represented the right-wing group Citizens United in the landmark case that ushered in massive corporate involvement in politics (although he did not argue the case in Supreme Court).

After fighting for the power of corporations to increase their already-substantial role in public affairs, now Bopp is launching a pro-GOP political group that seeks to cash-in on the glut of corporate money. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that Bopp is one of the founders of the newly formed Republican Super PAC and is set to expand corporate involvement in politics to an even greater degree by having candidates participate in the fundraising for undisclosed corporate dollars:

"The different thing here with our PAC is that we are going to harness the political fundraising of candidates and parties," he says. He explains that the committee will allow candidates and parties to fundraise for their campaigns and party organs at the same time they solicit unlimited, anonymous contributions to the super PAC.

Here's how it works: Say House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) approaches the CEO of Exxon for a contribution to his reelection campaign. Under federal law, the CEO can only give Boehner $2,500. In the past, that’s the end of the conversation. But Bopp's plan envisions Boehner and his campaign asking that same donor—and his company—to pony up more money, as much as he wants, for the Republican Super PAC. The donor can even specify that the money be spent supporting Boehner or attacking his opponent. Then Bopp's PAC can buy ads, send out mailings, canvass neighborhoods, and do all the other things a political campaign typically does on Boehner’s behalf.



The Republican Super PAC is the logical outgrowth of Citizens United and a series of other recent court decisions that have overturned long-standing restrictions on corporate campaign spending. Bopp says these rulings allow his new group to go into uncharted campaign finance terrain. "This is perfectly legal," Bopp insists.
PFAW

Newt’s Principles

This weekend, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich raised eyebrows when he became the first prominent Republican to trash talk the House GOP’s wildly unpopular plan to destroy Medicare, calling it “right-wing social engineering.” Gingrich didn’t earn points for consistency, seeing that he had previously expressed support for the plan, and has all along celebrated the plan to decimate Medicaid, a program that also helps millions of seniors pay for health care, but is less beloved of the GOP base. But at least this time he seemed to be taking a somewhat principled stand against his party’s war on the poor and the elderly.

But then he changed his mind. Again. The day after the news of Gingrich’s rant against the Paul Ryan budget broke, his spokeswoman started walking back his criticism and blaming the media for misinterpreting his comments. "There is little daylight between Ryan and Gingrich," she said.

Not that this double flip-flop comes as a surprise.

Recently, for instance, Gingrich did a similar transparent U-turn on the Libya intervention, and then denied that he had changed his mind. And these are only the latest examples.

In the Huffington Post on Friday, People For’s Michael Keegan looked back at Gingrich’s long history of “toxic McCarthyism, petty and unprincipled partisanship, and preening self-promotion. If Gingrich’s history is any guide, the only principle we can expect him to stick with is political expediency.

PFAW

Issa Ignores Reality at His Anti-Transparency Hearing

Yesterday afternoon, Rep. Darrell Issa, the founder of the Transparency Caucus, dedicated a committee hearing to smearing transparency as the enemy of democracy. President Obama is reportedly drafting an executive order that would require businesses seeking government contracts to disclose their political spending. Since Issa's patrons in Big Business would rather cloak their machinations in secrecy, Issa called a hearing to try to reframe a provision that would protect democracy as a threat to democracy. Shortly before the hearing, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan wrote a Huffington Post piece about this.

Listening to Issa and his fellow Republicans, you'd never know that last year's Citizens United decision undermined a century's work of reforming our campaign finance system. You'd never know that from the congressional midterm election immediately before Citizens United and the one immediately after, spending from groups that don't disclose their donors skyrocketed from one percent of total spending by outside groups to an incredible 47 percent. You'd never know that corporate giants were anonymously flooding the airwaves with campaign ads and drowning out the voices of everyone else.

At the hearing, Issa and his fellow Republicans repeatedly framed the executive order as injecting political considerations into federal contracting decisions. They ignored the fact that both current federal law and the proposed executive order prevent that from happening. They ignored the testimony of an OMB official who described the effective appeals process bidders have whenever they suspect they were turned down for a contract for political reasons. They ignored the fact that, as Ranking Member Elijah Cummings pointed out, if the proposed disclosure requirements inject political considerations into procurement decisions, then so do existing disclosure requirements.

Issa and his allies kept repeating that the only reason to require disclosure would be to incorporate politics into contracting decisions. The OMB official pointed out other examples where contractors submit information that cannot be used by procurement officials but which the American public has a vital interest in – such as lobbying disclosures.

Disclosure of political spending is simply not a threat to political speech, as much as Issa and his wealthy patrons want to claim otherwise. In fact, eight of the nine Justices in Citizens United voted to uphold disclosure requirements and agreed that the federal government has an important interest in providing Americans information about the sources of election-related spending. It's not easy to get eight Justices to agree on much of anything these days, so that says a lot about just how far beyond the mainstream Issa and his corporate backers have gone.

PFAW

The Unwelcome Return of the Newt

After more than a dozen years out of office, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich jumped into the GOP presidential campaign this week, rolling out his candidacy via social media and a friendly interview with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity. Gingrich thinks he's just what is needed to save America from itself and its flirtation with Barack Obama and the rest of the evil of what he calls the "secular-socialist machine."

Much of the media attention of Gingrich's candidacy has centered around his role in the 1995 government shutdown, which Gingrich alone seems to think was a great success for the GOP, and his more recent urging of congressional Republicans not to fear a repeat. The implication seems to be that if you're the kind of voter who wants a more combative conservative willing to take down the federal government in order to bring down deficits, Newt may be your guy. But that kind of discussion -- and the crazily early poll-watching "which tier is he in?" stories -- miss something more important. Let's remind ourselves what kind of person Newt Gingrich is, and what kind of impact he has had on our public life.

Gingrich hasn't exactly been in hiding. In fact, he is at the center of his own machine, a 24/7 festival of self-promotion that includes an emailed "Newt and Callista Weekly Recap" courtesy of Gingrich Productions. If self-promotion were the top trait Americans were looking for in a president, Gingrich would be a shoo-in. But the job requires a bit more than that. People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch, Mother Jones and Media Matters have already posted compilations of Newtonian 'wisdom' from a long and dishonorable career. Once you start to consider characteristics like honesty and integrity, it becomes clear that Gingrich is unfit to lead our country.

The Newt McCarthyism

Gingrich is an enthusiastic participant in the right wing's divisive and destructive McCarthyism, portraying his political opponents as enemies of America's very existence. In To Save America, Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, he warns, "America as we know it is now facing a mortal threat... The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did... It's up to those of us who love our country to save America from the destructive, irreversible transformation that the Left have in store for us." In Real Change: The Fight for America's Future, he claims that the Obama administration (that would be the Faith-Based Initiative-continuing, National Prayer Day-celebrating, Easter Breakfast-sponsoring Obama administration) "has shown an unprecedented hostility to Christianity." He promotes ridiculous Religious Right claims about religious persecution in America, saying that Christians are threatened by "gay and secular fascism."

Gingrich spoke this spring at the Texas church led by John Hagee, whose support proved too controversial for John McCain in 2008. Newt combined two of his favorite threats, secularists and Islamists, into one memorable, if intellectually incoherent, sentence, declaring that he feared that his grandchildren could grow up "in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." He told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, "In a sense, our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts. On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion."

Newt is also placing himself at the forefront of the concerted conservative campaign to turn "American exceptionalism" into an attack on the patriotism of their political opponents. Candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio made American exceptionalism into a campaign theme in 2010, and hope to continue to smear Democrats as unbelievers in America's divinely-blessed founding and mission in the world. Gingrich has teamed up with Citizens United's David Bossie for a new "documentary" on American exceptionalism, A City Upon a Hill, The Spirit of American Exceptionalism, which features, among others, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Andrew Breitbart and Phyllis Schlafly.

Gingrich, an old hand at politics-by-smear, is responsible for much of the venomous state of our politics. In the mid-1990s, his GOPAC distributed to Republican lawmakers a memo titled "Language: a Key Mechanism of Control." The memo urged Republicans to use a set of denigrating words to describe their opponents and the Democratic Party: "decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, 'compassion' is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor...) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage."

Religious Liberty: Hypocrisy and Bad History

Gingrich, like other Religious Right political figures, postures as a defender of Americans' religious liberty against a deeply hostile elite, the "secular-socialist machine." Yet he joined with gusto the opponents of the proposed Park51 Islamic community center in Manhattan, which right-wing activists vilified as the "Ground Zero Mosque," saying, "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." In his book, Rediscovering God in America, Gingrich declared, "A steadfast commitment to religious freedom is the very cornerstone of American liberty." Regarding the Islamic center in New York, he said, "No mosque. No self-deception. No surrender."

Gingrich, like other Religious Right leaders, justifies his attacks on Islam by suggesting that it is not really a religion, saying radical Islam "is a comprehensive political, economic, and religious movement that seeks to impose sharia -- Islamic law -- upon all aspects of global society... Radical Islamists see politics and religion as inseparable in a way it is difficult for Americans to understand. Radical Islamists assert sharia's supremacy over the freely legislated laws and values of the countries they live in and see it as their sacred duty to achieve this totalitarian supremacy in practice." Yet while Gingrich decries radical Islamists' goal of achieving "totalitarian supremacy," one of his own organizations, Renewing American Leadership, is run by an advocate of the 7 Mountains Mandate, a dominionist theology that argues that Christians are meant to control the levers of power in every aspect of government and society.

Gingrich is ideologically joined at the hip to "Christian nation" pseudo-historian David Barton. In Barton's worldview, the First Amendment is not about protecting religious pluralism, but was only meant to keep the federal government from siding with one group of Christians over another. Barton believes the First Amendment should not apply at all to the states, but that states should be free to pose religious tests for office, and local religious majorities should be free to use public schools for proselytizing prayer. On Barton's radio show, Gingrich promised that if he ran, he would be calling on Barton for help, presumably the way Barton helped turn out evangelical voters for the Republican Party during George W. Bush's reelection campaign. It seems to be a mutual admiration society. When Barton and other right-wing activists were pushing for changes in Texas textbooks, they urged that Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall be dropped, but that Newt be added.

Gingrich shares Barton's view of the federal courts as evil usurpers of the founding fathers' religious intentions. "There is no attack on American culture more destructive and more historically dishonest than the secular Left's relentless effort to drive God out of America's public square," Gingrich wrote in Rediscovering God in America. In a recent speech to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Gingrich said the courts have been "especially powerful engines of coerced secularization," and that "From the 1962 school prayer decision on, there has been a decisive break with the essentially religious nature of historic American civilization." While in Congress, Gingrich promoted the Religious Right's false claims that courts had somehow banned students from praying, and repeatedly supported efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to return organized prayer to public schools.

Politics over Principle

In addition to intellectual arrogance, a shameless lack of principle may be Gingrich's most identifying characteristic. When the popular uprisings in the Middle East spread to Libya, Gingrich denounced President Obama for not immediately imposing a no-fly zone: "We don't need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening." Less than two weeks later, when the U.S. joined other nations in imposing a no-fly zone, Gingrich attacked Obama, saying "I would not have intervened" and declaring that "it is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except opportunism and news media publicity." Newt clearly knows a thing or two about opportunism and publicity-seeking; getting some coverage for an attack on Obama was clearly more important to him than questions of U.S. policy in Libya.

Hubris

For all the far-right's charges that President Obama harbors anti-democratic tendencies -- Gingrich vowed to Hannity that he would abolish all the White House "czar" positions by executive order -- Gingrich's own behavior has made it clear that he sees himself as so superior to others, such an essential treasure for the nation, that the rules he would apply to others should not apply to him. When his second wife asked Newt how he could give a speech about the importance of family values just days after he admitted that he was having an affair, he reportedly told her, "It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live." That is a breathtaking level of hubris, even by presidential candidate standards. And when the CBN's Brody lobbed him the fluffiest of softballs by asking him to talk about his affairs in the context of his experience of God's forgiveness, Newt blew it by blaming his cheating on his love of country: "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

So Right and So Wrong

Gingrich's policy positions are pretty much standard fare in today's far-right Republican Party, including anti-worker, pro-corporate economic policies and support for criminalizing abortion. He has demonstrated his new-found commitment to the sacred nature of marriage by trying to buy the support of Religious Right activists in presidentially important Iowa, where he funneled about $200,000 into an unfortunately successful campaign to punish and purge three state Supreme Court justices who had voted to end marriage discrimination against same-sex couples in the state.

America is grappling with a set of deeply serious challenges at home and abroad. Americans would benefit from a substantive discussion of those problems and the policy choices that face them. What they're most likely to get from Newt Gingrich is toxic McCarthyism, petty and unprincipled partisanship, and preening self-promotion. Thanks but no thanks.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

Small Businesses Rally Support for Campaign Finance Transparency

The Obama administration is planning to issue an executive order that would require government contractors to disclose their political contributions. This will at least shed light on whether taxpayer dollars are used to influence elections now that, because of the Citizens United decision, corporations -- including government contractors -- are permitted to spend unlimited money from their general treasuries on elections.

Of course, massive corporations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would prefer that these political donations remain a secret in order to preserve their enormous advantage in our current pay-to-play system.

It’s no surprise that their staunch ally Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform committee, is holding yet another politically-motivated hearing, with a stacked witness list, to find out if “President Obama’s proposal would curb free speech and hurt small businesses.”

A coalition of representatives from the American Independent Business Alliance, the American Small Business Council, the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and small business owners find this suggestion laughable. In a press telebriefing held this morning, the panel described how it is in fact the exact opposite—the current scenario in which large corporations make political contributions without disclosure requirements – that is detrimental to small business.

Panelists expressed their dismay at how government contracts are awarded to large corporations, when small businesses can provide a better product at significantly lower cost. They wonder what they have to do to get the same sweetheart deals that the large companies with deep pockets and lobbying shops are getting. The problem is that we’ll never know unless these corporations are forced to disclose their political contributions. The fact that they won’t shows that they have something to hide—and Americans would surely demand better stewardship of their tax dollars if they knew that their money was ultimately being used for political purposes instead of on services to benefit the public interest. As Marybeth Gardam, owner of EarthStuff LLC summarized, “Transparency is a small business value.”

It is also an American value, and one that we should demand throughout our political system.

People For president Michael Keegan has more on the disclosure proposal in the Huffington Post.

PFAW