Corporate Cowardice Update: Still No Response from Kayak

A few weeks ago, PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan wrote an open letter to Kayak CEO Steve Hafner, seeking an explanation as to why the company pulled advertising from the TLC program “All-American Muslim” due to pressure from the Florida Family Association, a fringe right-wing group. Kayak’s original explanation for caving in to bigotry was equivocal at best, and PFAW Foundation had demanded a clear explanation of Kayak’s actions from Mr. Hafner.

To be fair, we didn’t give a deadline for a response. But when a company’s commitment to some basic American values – freedom of religion and equality for all – are called into question, sooner is better than later.


Obama Moves to Protect Workers and Consumers in Face of GOP Obstruction

Faced with uncompromising obstruction from Senate Republicans, President Obama made four recess appointments today to staff agencies that protect American workers and consumers.

First, the president appointed former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog post that has been vacant since the agency began operations last summer. Obama nominated Cordray in July, but met with unyielding opposition from Senate Republicans, who refused to even allow a confirmation vote on any person to the post unless the agency was first severely weakened. Announcing the recess appointment in Ohio, Obama said:

Now, every day that Richard waited to be confirmed -- and we were pretty patient. I mean, we kept on saying to Mitch McConnell and the other folks, let's go ahead and confirm him. Why isn't he being called up? Let's go. Every day that we waited was another day when millions of Americans were left unprotected. Because without a director in place, the consumer watchdog agency that we've set up doesn't have all the tools it needs to protect consumers against dishonest mortgage brokers or payday lenders and debt collectors who are taking advantage of consumers. And that's inexcusable. It's wrong. And I refuse to take no for an answer.

With Cordray installed at his new post, the CFPB – the brainchild of Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren – will finally be able to fully take on its job to protect consumers from harmful financial practices.

Later in the day, President Obama announced that he will also be making recess appointments to fill three seats on the National Labor Relations Board, another target of relentless Republican obstruction. If Republicans continued to block the president’s nominees to the board, it would lose its quorum – and its power to issue new rulings – midway through this month. The GOP’s grudge against the board resulted in its operating without a quorum from the end of 2007 through the beginning of 2010. The more than 500 decisions it made during that time were later thrown out by the Supreme Court.

The president had no choice but to make recess appointments to ensure that these important agencies can do their jobs, whether the Senate GOP wants them to or not.


Romney and Huckabee Bash Super PACs, but Will They Work to End Their Influence?

A little over a year ago, in September 2010, Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking the DISCLOSE Act, a measure that would have added some transparency to the new campaign finance free-for-all unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Citizens United allowed outside interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates for office. The DISCLOSE Act was an attempt to make sure that the sources of that money, at least, were made public.

After the DISCLOSE Act failed, however, a new creature in American politics began to grow: Super PACs, organizations that can spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a candidate without revealing where that money comes from. Super PACS and undisclosed money played a big role in the 2010 elections, which we documented in our report Citizens Blindsided: Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy. Undisclosed spending promises to be an unavoidable force in 2012, as well. In the lead-up to today’s Iowa caucuses alone, outside groups have spent an estimated $12.5 million in support of or opposing presidential candidates. A Super PAC run by former aides to Mitt Romney is widely credited for helping to take down Newt Gingrich in the weeks leading up to the caucuses.

But as Super PACs begin to take over elections, some prominent Republicans are beginning to sour on them. Mitt Romney, who has been the biggest beneficiary of Super PAC cash so far in the GOP primaries, has called their rise a “disaster.” Today, Mike Huckabee, who recently teamed up with Citizens United itself for a film promoting “fetal personhood” laws, called the rise of unaccountable Super PACs “One of the worst things that ever happened in American politics.”

It’s easy for Romney to bash Super PACs while continuing to benefit from their largesse and for Huckabee to do the same while working with the group largely responsible for their new influence. But will Republican leaders like Romney and Huckabee actually support greater disclosure laws, like the DISCLOSE Act, that would bring Super PACs out into the open?

The fight in Iowa has exposed the significant role that undisclosed and unaccountable money will play in the leadup to 2012. The Republican candidates and leaders like Hucakbee should be asked if they like the new status quo, and if not what they would do  to change it.


PFAW Founder Norman Lear: Fighting the Good Fight

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, PFAW founder Norman Lear describes the values that have guided his activism for the past 30 years: a belief that the right to individual liberty is not dependent on one’s religious beliefs and that the opportunity to pursue a decent life should be available to all. Now, argues Lear, those ideals are being held hostage by demagogues of many forms, and it is up to the American people to fight back.

The religious right leaders who got me engaged in politics often portray such things as free expression and equal protection for all Americans no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation as anti-Christian and un-American, as symptoms of cultural decline. I couldn't disagree more. What strikes me as un-American are the greed, deception and systematic corruption that have infected politics, business and so much of our culture in recent years. Some of those with power and privilege have worked to create a system that continually reinforces that privilege and power, leaving ever-increasing numbers of Americans without reasonable hope for the kind of life their parents worked to give them….

Call it the American dream, the American promise or the American way. Whatever term you use, it is imperiled, and worth fighting for. It is that basic, deeply patriotic emotion that I believe is finding expression — bottom-up, small-d democratic expression — in the Occupy movement. We can, and I would say must, fully embrace both love of country and outrage at attempts to despoil it. What better cause? What better time?

You can read the full op-ed here.


In Montana, a Chip in the Armor of Citizens United

Late Friday, the Montana Supreme Court ended 2011 with a 5-2 opinion upholding the state's prohibition on corporate spending on independent expenditures to support or defeat a candidate. Although Citizens United struck down the federal law in that area, the Montana Supreme Court found that the state, by presenting a strong evidentiary record, had demonstrated that its law survives the strict scrutiny mandated by Citizens United.

As notable as this decision is, what is particularly striking is the dissent's scathing criticism of the Roberts Court's most notorious ruling to date. Judge James Nelson disagreed with the majority that Montana's law could be distinguished from Citizens United. However, he took the opportunity to discuss the severe flaws of the Citizens United decision and the damage it is doing to our country. Below are a couple of choice excerpts (with internal citations removed):

While, as a member of this Court, I am bound to follow Citizens United, I do not have to agree with the Supreme Court's decision. And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it. For starters, the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield inordinate power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins; the transition is seamless and overlapping. In my view, Citizens United has turned the First Amendment's "open marketplace" of ideas into an auction house for [Milton] Friedmanian corporatists.


I am compelled to say something about corporate "personhood. " While I recognize that this doctrine is firmly entrenched in the law, I find the entire concept offensive. Corporations are artificial creatures of law. As such, they should enjoy only those powers—not constitutional rights, but legislatively-conferred powers—that are concomitant with their legitimate function, that being limited-liability investment vehicles for business. Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creations of government. Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.

That even the judges who enforce the Roberts Court’s dirty work are compelled to speak out against it shows how deeply unpopular and wrong Citizens United is.


More Exposure of ALEC, This Time in Virginia

The exposure of ALEC continues, this time in Virginia. ProgressVA has released a new report exposing the many ties between its conservative, corporate-friendly elected officials and the secretive corporate-sponsored American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). As reported in the Washington Post:

In recent years, Virginia legislators have proposed bills that would legalize the use of deadly force in defending your home, call for companies that hire illegal immigrants to be shut down and give businesses tax credits to fund private school tuition for needy students.

All of those bills — and more than 50 others — have been pushed by a conservative group that ghostwrites bills for legislators across the nation, according to a study set to be released in the coming days.

In many instances, the bills are identical to model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a pro-business, free-market group whose members include legislators as well as private companies, which pay thousands of dollars to have a seat at the table.


"The American Legislative Exchange Council, a secretive organization funded by big corporations, has been writing bills that Virginia legislators are passing off as their own work on everything from education to health care to voting rights," said Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA.

As People For the American Way Foundation demonstrated in a detailed report earlier this year, ALEC is the voice of corporate special interests in state legislatures. Last month, PFAW Foundation and Common Cause released an exposé detailing how Arizona lawmakers are working hand-in-hand with corporate leaders who make up ALEC's membership to deregulate specific industries, privatize education and dismantle unions.

With today's new release from ProgressVA, Americans get a sobering look at how powerful corporate interests, working through ALEC, pull the strings in yet another state to turn their agenda laws that harm the 99%.


AAMIA Vice-Chair Shares Stage with President at Pro-Worker Press Conference

President Obama held a press conference today to urge House Republicans to pass an urgent extension to payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance. Joining the president on stage was Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine, vice-chair of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action. Dr. Shine, pastor of Berachah Baptist Church in Philadelphia, was invited to represent members of his community who would be hurt by the loss of these important benefits if they aren’t renewed in January.

Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine, fifth from left, behind the president.

Dr. Shine released a statement in support of the president’s efforts to extend tax relief to working people and unemployment insurance to Americans suffering from long-term unemployment:

“It was an honor to stand behind our President today, both literally and figuratively. Extending the payroll tax cut and extending the lifeline of unemployment insurance are two of the most important things our elected officials in Washington can do, both to help individual American families get by and to help get our economy moving again. The refusal of House Republicans to take a simple, bipartisan step on behalf of working Americans is truly shocking. While millionaires and billionaires are enjoying the lowest tax rates in decades, working families across the country are struggling to get by. For working families, $40 a paycheck from the President’s tax cut will make all the difference. For those struggling to find work, unemployment insurance means survival.

“During the Christmas season, the President is standing with working people while the GOP is continuing to protect millionaires. I’m proud to stand with the President.”


An Open Letter to Kayak CEO Steve Hafner

When a fringe right-wing group complained that the TLC show “All-American Muslim” portrayed Muslim people in a positive light, a few prominent business made the unfortunate decision to cave to advocates of intolerance. People For the American Way Foundation is standing with those who support religious liberty. After helping to organize a demonstration at Lowe’s in Dearborn, MI, PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan has released an open letter to the CEO of Kayak, demanding an explanation for his company’s actions.

An Open Letter to Kayak CEO Steve Hafner

Dear Mr. Hafner:

I am writing to express my deep concern about Kayak's decision to pull advertising from the TLC program "All-American Muslim" in the wake of complaints from a far-right anti-Muslim group that resented the program's portrayal of Muslims as ordinary people facing ordinary challenges. We were also baffled by Kayak's responses to questions about the reasoning behind your decision to pull the ads.

To anyone who respects diversity, the Florida Family Association's insistence that "All-American Muslim" should be boycotted because it portrays "Muslims as ordinary folks just like you and me," instead of as fanatics and terrorists, reeks of bigotry. Your decision to pull advertising from the show following these complaints is extremely troubling.

Kayak's explanations for its actions have only furthered our concerns. Robert Birge, your Chief Marketing Officer, claimed that TLC withheld information about the program that would have changed your view that "All-American Muslim" is a show about a "worthy topic." We fail to understand why, had you been provided a more comprehensive description of the program, you would have come to the conclusion that a show depicting American Muslims as normal citizens rather than as terrorists was an inappropriate programming for your advertising. What information about the show was withheld? In what way is a show about ordinary, non-stereotypical Muslims troubling?

In the New York Times, Mr. Birge claimed that TLC pitched "All-American Muslim" as a "fair and balanced look at the life of an American Muslim," but that the channel failed to disclose the "pre-existing controversy surrounding race, religion and specifically the divide between the Muslim and Christian communities in Dearborn, Mich." What controversy are you referring to? Is the manufactured controversy of fringe activists like David Canton and the FFA enough to cause you to drop your advertising? We hope that you had researched Mr. Canton and the Florida Family Association prior to catering to his demands.

Buckling to the pressure of anti-Muslim extremists is extraordinarily offensive not only to Muslims, but to all Americans who value the diversity of our society and the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution. You insist that Kayak was not swayed by the bigotry of anti-Muslim groups, but haven't provided any other credible reason for dropping your support of the show. We firmly believe that one cannot be committed to diversity while claiming that merely portraying diversity can be unacceptably controversial.

The American people deserve a much fuller explanation of your actions.


Michael Keegan

President, People For the American Way Foundation


Romney’s New Campaign Finance Position is “More Radical than Citizens United”

On MSNBC this morning, Mitt Romney seemed to endorse doing away with all limits on direct contributions to political campaigns. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent caught the quote:

“I think the Supreme Court’s decision was following their interpretation of the campaign finance laws that were written by Congress. My own view is now we tried a lot of efforts to try and restrict what can be given to campaigns, we’d be a lot wiser to say you can give what you’d like to a campaign. They must report it immediately. And the creation of these independent expenditure committees that have to be separate from the candidate, that’s just a bad idea.”

Clean elections advocates are, unsurprisingly, aghast:

“This is more radical than Citizens United,” David Donnelly of Public Campaign Action Fund told me when I asked for his reaction. “It means that if he is president he will appoint Supreme Court justices that will eviscerate any ability to regulate campaign finance.”

While Citizens United allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money running ads for or against candidates for office, corporations are still banned from giving money directly to candidates (and limits on individuals' direct campaign contributions remain intact for now). Citizens United unleashed a flood of corporate money into politics. Romney’s plan wouldn’t fix that – instead it would make candidates even more beholden to corporate interests.

Incidentally, this is yet another issue where Romney has come full circle since running for Senate in 1994. At the time, Romney came out strongly for campaign contribution and spending limits, saying, “To get that kind of money, you’ve got to cozy up as an incumbent to all of the special interest groups who can go out and raise money for you from their members. And that kind of relationship has an influence on the way you’re going to vote….I don’t like the influence of money, whether it’s business, labor, I do not like that kind of influence":


The Payroll Tax and the 47%

Republicans in Congress have been attracting plenty of unwanted attention for their muddled refusal to extend a payroll tax cut that will, if not passed, hit 160 million American workers with a substantial tax increase on Jan. 1. Most of that attention has focused, rightly, on their refusal to provide a tax break to working people even as they do everything in their power to ensure historically low tax rates for the wealthiest.

But in a column today, David Frum points out that it’s more than the GOP’s image as tax-cutters that’s hurting in this debate. As long as the payroll tax stays an issue, more light is shed on the bogus claim, swallowed whole by the Right and even some in the media, that “47 percent of Americans pay no taxes.” The claim has caught on despite being flatly untrue – while only 53 percent of Americans make enough money to pay federal income tax, all workers pay federal payroll taxes. The myth that half of Americans don’t contribute to the federal budget is convenient for GOP talking points, but it just isn’t true.

Frum writes:

[U]nlike House Republicans, I am not in thrall to another Journal teaching: the claim that the poorer 47% of Americans “pay no tax.” This claim rests on denying the existence of payroll taxes altogether. If you deny that payroll taxes exist, it becomes very difficult to discuss the consequences of reducing or remitting them, including some arguably serious long-term consequences.

Republicans, with their “47 percent” claim, are essentially payroll tax deniers. By having a debate about cutting the payroll tax, they are being forced to admit not only that it exists, but that it can be an actual burden on working Americans.

The White House, meanwhile, has started collecting compelling stories via Twitter from individual Americans of what an extra $40 per paycheck (the savings from the payroll tax for a family earning $50,000 a year) will mean to American families. You can follow and contribute your own story with the hashtag #40dollars.


Americans Stand Against Bigotry By Protesting Lowe's in Dearborn, MI

On December 17, PFAW Foundation helped organize a demonstration at Lowe’s near Dearborn, Michigan, to protest the home-improvement chain’s decision to pull advertising from the TLC show “All American Muslim” due to pressure from the far-right Florida Family Association. Over 200 interfaith supporters of diversity, inclusion and liberty attended the event. Speakers included Reverend Charles Williams, a member of PFAW Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council, PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network member and State Representative Rashida Tlaib, and other interfaith religious leaders.

Protest after Lowes Pulls Ads from "All American Muslim":


Mitt Romney, Still a Man of the Corporations

In an ad earlier this month, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of failing to create any job during his stints as a community organizer and law professor. Romney, the ad claims, “created thousands of jobs” in his career at the private equity firm Bain Capital.

The picture, of course, is murkier. As the New York Times and others have found, the corporate takeovers that Romney oversaw in his role at Bain Capital often created great amounts of wealth for investors while resulting in the large numbers of layoffs. In one takeover the Times examined, Romney’s handiwork led a company’s sales to double while it transferred thousands of jobs overseas. In another, investigated by the Los Angeles Times, Bain partners raked in about $50 million from a company that soon went bankrupt, costing 700 people their jobs.

One of Romney’s colleagues during this time told the LA Times, "I never thought of what I do for a living as job creation. The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors."

It turns out that Romney (who once joked that he was “unemployed” on the campaign trail) is still reaping some pretty sweet benefits from Bain’s work restructuring companies. A new report from the New York Times finds that when Romney left Bain in 1999, he cut a deal to continue receiving “share of some of Bain’s profits”:

While Bain’s deals typically yielded enormous profits for its investors and partners, several have led to serious financial problems — and sizable layoffs — at companies it acquired.

The 2000 purchase of KB Toys, then one of the country’s largest toy retailers, became one of the most contentious.

As in most Bain deals, the partnership put up a small fraction of the money — in this case $18 million — and borrowed the rest of the $302 million purchase price. Just 16 months later, the toy company borrowed more to pay Bain and its investors an $85 million dividend.

That gave Mr. Romney and the other partners a quick 370 percent return on their money. But it also left the toy company with a heavy debt burden. Before long, the company began closing stores around the country and laid off 3,400 workers. It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004.

Two more recent deals have also led to spiraling debt loads and layoffs. Since Bain and another private equity firm led a buyout in 2008 of Clear Channel Communications, the company has struggled under nearly $20 billion in debt and has cut 2,500 jobs.

Sensata Technologies, a European company that makes sensors and controls used by the auto and aerospace industries, prospered after a Bain-led buyout in 2006, but the firm also laid off several hundred American workers. Most of the jobs were moved overseas, and the federal Labor Department spent at least $780,000 to retrain some people who lost their jobs.

In itself, there’s no problem with Romney receiving investment income from his old company. But he is running ads claiming that he is a job creator, even as he brings in income from deals that may result in massive layoffs. And he’s claiming to be a champion of the middle class while pushing a tax policy that benefits people like him who bring in millions of dollars a year in investment income at the expense of those working paycheck to paycheck.

This summer, Romney defended massive corporate tax breaks, insisting, “Corporations are people.” He, apparently, is one of those people.

See the ad we ran in New Hampshire, highlighting his remark:



Gingrich Shreds the Constitution a Little Bit More

Newt Gingrich put in a remarkable appearance on Face the Nation this weekend. In an interview with Bob Schieffer, the candidate extrapolated on his plan to scrap the constitutional separation of powers in favor of a state where federal judges are routinely intimidated and ignored by Congress and the president.

To summarize, Gingrich’s plan is to allow Congress to order U.S. Marshals to drag judges whose opinions they disagree with before them, and to allow the president to simply ignore court rulings he disagrees with. Here’s a key exchange:

Schieffer: Alright here's another one, this is now. Next year the Supreme Court is going to take up Obama's healthcare proposal. What if they throw it out? Can President Obama then say I'm sorry boys, I'm just going to go ahead and implement it. Could he do that?

Gingrich: The key question is, what would the congress then do? Because there are three branches...

Schieffer: But could he do that?

Gingrich: He could try to do that. And the congress would then cut him off. Here's the key -- it's always two out of three. If the president and the congress say the court is wrong, in the end the court would lose. If the congress and the court say the president is wrong, in the end the president would lose. And if the president and the court agreed, the congress loses. The founding fathers designed the constitution very specifically in a Montesquieu spirit of the laws to have a balance of power not to have a dictatorship by any one of the three branches.

Of course, Republican attorneys general took the Affordable Care Act to the courts precisely because Congress and the president had agreed on it, and the courts were their last resort in the effort to stop the law from taking full effect. That’s how the system is supposed to work. But instead, what Gingrich is advocating is what Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic calls the “Rock, Paper, Scissors Constitution” – where, instead of the careful checks and balances envisioned by the founders, you have a system where two branches of government can always team up to crush the third. The courts have always been an important check on the power of the majority. Gingrich, it seems, couldn’t care less.

People For the American Way senior fellow Jamie Raskin has a new piece in the Huffington post discussing Gingrich’s deeply troubling plans for the judicial branch, and why Mitt Romney may not be much better for the courts. You can read it here.


Whose Opinion of the Courts Matters to the GOP?

During last night's GOP presidential debate, Newt Gingrich perhaps unintentionally but perfectly encapsulated his party's distorted vision of the role of the judiciary in our constitutional structure. It came when Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked the candidates whether Congress should eliminate courts that issue decisions it does not approve or. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, a key part of the exchange went as follows:

GINGRICH: Sure. I'd ask, first of all, have they studied Jefferson, who in 1802 abolished 18 out of 35 federal judges? Eighteen out of 35 were abolished.

KELLY: Something that was highly criticized.

GINGRICH: Not by anybody in power in 1802. [emphasis added]

Putting aside the question of historical accuracy, note that Gingrich did not say "not by anyone in 1802." He was careful to limit the people whose criticism he deemed relevant to those who were in power in 1802.

One reason we have courts is to prevent those in power from using their official authority to harm those out of power – the tyranny of the majority. If the majority uses their control of government to pass laws harmful to minorities, you don't expect them to criticize their own actions. The criticism would come from those out of power who are their victims – the same people who courts are intended to protect.

That no other candidate found Gingrich's limited framing objectionable says volumes about their dangerously distorted vision of the role of courts in our society.


Mitt Romney is Right

There was one remark in last night’s GOP debate that we here at PFAW whole-heartedly agreed with. Asked about his view on judicial appointments, Mitt Romney said:

Let me note that the key thing I think the president is going to do, is going to be with the longest legacy. It's going to be appointing Supreme Court and justices throughout the judicial system. As many as half the justices in the next four years are going to be appointed by the next president.

Judicial nominees will indeed be the most lasting legacy of the next president. And that’s why we can’t afford to hand over those decisions to Mitt Romney.

At last night’s debate, Romney joined his fellow candidates in praising Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative base. Under these justices, the Court has moved farther to the right than it has in decades, consistently privileging big corporations over individual Americans. When Romney declared this summer that “corporations are people, my friend,” he was summarizing, and approving of, the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

But it’s not just that Romney wants more Alitos and Thomases on the Supreme Court. Romney sent a signal that he would move the federal courts even farther to the right than they are today when he took on Robert Bork as his campaign’s chief legal advisor. Bork’s conservativism is so extreme that a bipartisan majority of the Senate rejected him for the Supreme Court in 1987. He was against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He thought it was just fine to criminalize homosexuality. He was a professed fan of censorship. And since then, he has become even more extreme in his defense of corporate power and dismissal of individual rights. But not, apparently, too extreme for Mitt Romney.

Romney is absolutely right that appointing judges will be “the key thing” the next president will do. And it’s exactly the reason why he shouldn’t be president.