PEOPLE FOR BLOG

60,052

60,052 is the number of ads right-wing groups have aired since August, according to a report by Political Correction. The Karl Rove-linked organization American Crossroads dominates the group with 17,360 ads, and the US Chamber of Commerce places a close second with 13,108 ads. Many of these organizations are also engaging in direct mail campaigns, organizing tea party rallies, and carrying out robocalls.

The Wall Street Journal also reported today that American Crossroads, Norm Coleman’s American Action Network, and a new group called the Commission for Hope, Growth and Prosperity are beginning “a $50 million advertising blitz” against House Democrats to put the Republicans over the top in November:

The spending campaign underscores a phenomenon that emerged with force in the 2010 elections: Outside political groups, most of which don't have to disclose their donors, are rivaling the traditional dominance of political parties' official campaign committees. Many of these groups, including those launching the ad blitz, are less than a year old. "

The scales have tipped from the political party to the outside political organizations," said former Rep. Bill Paxon of New York, who once led the National Republican Congressional Committee, the party's House campaign arm.

Evan Tracey, head of Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks campaign-ad spending, called the combination of ad outlays by the groups "historic" in its size, an assessment echoed by other campaign-finance experts and officials.

 

PFAW

$885,000 worth of proof of the Chamber’s foreign funding

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has tried to downplay the revelation that it may be funneling money from foreign corporations into its electoral activities (while offering no proof to the contrary). Meanwhile, Think Progress has been digging up some more evidence.

Researchers from Think Progress have found proof of $885,000 worth of dues from foreign corporations that go directly into the Chamber’s general fund---the same fund it draws on for its substantial independent expenditures. And that’s just what they could find from publicly available sources.

$885,000 is admittedly small potatoes compared to the $75 million the Chamber has promised to spend to elect pro-corporate candidates to Congress this year. But the news of this foreign funding sheds light on the basic problem behind the Chamber’s unlimited spending in elections—the Chamber and its members are out for themselves and their own profits, not for the needs of all American citizens, and they’ll spend however much it takes to make sure our elected officials are on their side.

As we reported in After Citizens United, the Chamber of Commerce has long been an expert in finding hidden channels to funnel corporate money into politics. It should come as no surprise that it still doesn’t want to say where—or even what country—its ad funding comes from.


 

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Ken Buck Takes on a "Lemon Situation"

Our Rogues’ Gallery report chronicles, among other themes, the regressive attitudes of many of this year’s far-right Senate candidates toward women’s rights. Not content to be merely anti-choice, candidates like Sharron Angle and Joe Miller say abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape or incest. Angle most famously expressed the far-right attitude toward the right to choose when she said teenage rape victims should try to make “lemonade” out of “what was really a lemon situation.”

Colorado’s Ken Buck has been among the staunchest opponents of a woman’s right to choose, saying he’d sponsor a constitutional amendment to make abortion illegal and would try to prevent organizations like Planned Parenthood from receiving government funds.

 

Now, from the Colorado Independent, comes a story of Buck’s refusal to prosecute a rape case when he was a district attorney. One of the reasons? He thought the victim had earlier had an abortion, and was somehow retaliating against her assailant by attempting to prosecute him. In the end, Buck chalked the whole thing up to what he called the victim's  “buyer’s remorse”:

He said the facts in the case didn’t warrant prosecution. “A jury could very well conclude that this is a case of buyer’s remorse,” he told the Greeley Tribune in March 2006. He went on to publicly call the facts in the case “pitiful.”

If he had handled it with a little more sensitivity, the victim, who does not want her name used, says it is possible she may have accepted the decision and moved on. But Buck’s words — as much as his refusal to prosecute — still burn in her ears.

“That comment made me feel horrible,” she told the Colorado Independent last week. “The offender admitted he did it, but Ken Buck said I was to blame. Had he (Buck) not attacked me, I might have let it go. But he put the blame on me, and I was furious. I still am furious,” she said.

It wasn’t just his public remarks that infuriated the woman. In the private meeting, which she recorded, he told her, “It appears to me … that you invited him over to have sex with him.”

He also said he thought she might have a motive to file rape charges as a way of retaliating against the man for some ill will left over from when they had been lovers more than a year earlier. Buck also comes off on this tape as being at least as concerned with the woman’s sexual history and alcohol consumption as he is with other facts of the case.

“She is very strong about her feelings,” said Forseth of the victim. “She believes a grave injustice has been done and that she is a victim of the system.

“What’s most troubling to me about this case,” Forseth continued, “is the way he talks to her in that meeting. There is just so much judgment, in his voice, toward the victim. I would think a district attorney would be an advocate for victims and offer some support, but instead he offers indignation and judgment.”

The suspect in this case had claimed that the victim had at one point a year or so before this event become pregnant with his child and had an abortion, which she denies, saying she miscarried. The suspect’s claim, though, is in the police report, and Buck refers to it as a reason she may be motivated to file charges where he thinks none are warranted.

“When he talks about the abortion as the reason she wants charges filed, that has nothing to do with the law or this case,” Forseth says. “That is his personal bias coming into play. He’s bringing his own personal beliefs and judgments to bear on this case, when he should be acting as a victim’s advocate.”

If Buck can’t represent a rape victim without publicly insulting her, it’s hard not to ask: how can he represent an entire state in the Senate?


 

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A federal judge today ordered the government to stop enforcing the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

Judge Virginia Phillips of California found last month that the policy violates servicemembers’ First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment right to due process. The injunction she issued today takes effect immediately. The Obama Administration can still choose to appeal her decision.

Christian Berle, the Deputy Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, reacted with this statement:

"These soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines sacrifice so much in defense of our nation and our Constitution," Berle said. "It is imperative that their constitutional freedoms be protected as well. This decision is also a victory for all who support a strong national defense. No longer will our military be compelled to discharge service members with valuable skills and experience because of an archaic policy mandating irrational discrimination."

Federal judges in two separate cases this year have found Don’t Ask Don’t Tell dismissals to be unconstitutional. I summed up some other voices of authority weighing in on the DADT debate in this post. The policy is a disgrace, and it’s far past time for it to be a piece of our history.
 

Update: The Advocate talked with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the possibility of appealing the ruling:

At a Tuesday briefing soon after Phillips's issued her judgment, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told The Advocate he did not know whether the Administration would seek a stay of the ruling, nor did he know if any steps have been taken to bring the Pentagon into compliance with the injunction. "Obviously, there have been a number of [DADT] court cases that have ruled in favor of plaintiffs in this case and the president will continue to work as hard he can to change the law that he believes is fundamentally unfair," Gibbs said.

 

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American Future Fund’s Ethanol Industry Ties

In PFAW’s report “After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics,” we looked into the Iowa-based American Future Fund which is spending millions of dollars attacking Democrats across the country. The AFF was founded by former GOP staffer Nick Ryan, whose lobbyist firm has ties to Big Agriculture, especially Iowa’s large ethanol industry. The group’s director, Katherine Polking, also works for Ryan’s lobby firm, the Concordia Group, and the AFF paid Ryan’s firm $300,000 for consulting fees.

Now, the New York Times reports that while Ryan’s Concordia Group lobbies on behalf of the ethanol industry, Ryan’s American Future Fund received its seed money from Bruce Rastetter, the “chief executive of one of the nation’s larger ethanol companies, Hawkeye Energy Holdings.” As a 501c4 organization, the AFF does not have to disclose the sources of its funding, and in this case Rastetter’s lawyer confirmed his connections to the group. Now Ryan, a “lobbyist for four Rastetter businesses,” receives money to attack Democrats with ties to agriculture policy: “Of the 14 ‘liberal’ politicians singled out in a list [the AFF] released last month, nearly every incumbent sits on a panel with a say over energy or agriculture policy. Five sit on the Agriculture Committee; four others are on related committees with say. One candidate was a staff member on a related panel.”

When Bruce Braley, a Congressman in the crosshairs of AFF attacks, tried to visit the AFF, he “found only a rented mailbox.” The proliferation of shadowy, pro-corporate groups like the American Future Fund is a result of the substantial weakening of campaign finance laws:

The American Future Fund, organized under a tax code provision that lets donors remain anonymous, is one of dozens of groups awash in money from hidden sources and spending it at an unprecedented rate, largely on behalf of Republicans. The breadth and impact of these privately financed groups have made them, and the mystery of their backers, a campaign issue in their own right.

Through interviews with top Republican contributors and strategists, as well as a review of public records, some contours of this financing effort — including how donors are lured with the promise of anonymity — are starting to come into view.



The surge of anonymous money is the latest development in corporate America’s efforts to influence the agenda in Washington, following rules enacted several years ago banning large, unregulated gifts to political parties. Democrats first established so-called third-party groups that could legally accept unlimited money from business and unions, though most had to disclose donors. Now, as new laws and a major Supreme Court decision have removed barriers to corporate giving, Republican operatives have embraced the use of nonprofit issue groups that can keep donors’ identities secret.
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Last week, I wrote about Matthew Shepard and his mother Judy. Today, on the 12th anniversary of Matthew’s death, the Make It Better Project is urging Congress to support the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Please join them!

The recent suicides of several LGBT students across the country have highlighted the fact that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools can have a dramatic and tragic effect on LGBT students, their families, and school communities.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 2262/S. 3739) and the Student Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 4530/S. 3390) will help make the lives of LGBT youth better!

Call Members of Congress on Tuesday, October 12th and ask them to make sure they cosponsor both bills, H.R. 2262/S. 3739 and H.R. 4530/S. 3390!

Students - Share your story with Congress and tell them how these bills will make life better for you.

Adults - Tell Congress why this is important to you and how these bills will improve the lives of students.

Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected directly to your Members of Congress.

OR CLICK HERE to get talking points and automatically identify your Members of Congress, find their direct numbers.

Please click here for more information.

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At the Court: Immunity for Child Vaccine Manufacturers

The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, a case that will determine the extent to which pharmaceutical corporations are protected from lawsuits from those who are injured by their products.

Back in the 1980s, Congress passed the national Childhood Vaccine Injury Act to shield child vaccine manufacturers from certain types of state lawsuits. The law preempts certain design defect claims against the manufacturers if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings." At issue is the term "unavoidable."

Hannah Bruesewitz's parents sued Wyeth when she suffered significant medical complications after receiving a vaccine manufactured by the drug manufacturer. Among other things, they argue that their lawsuit isn't preempted because the side effects were not unavoidable: A safer, alternative vaccine was available.

Wyeth argues that the federal law preempts all state design-defect claims, even if the manufacturer could have avoided the side effects by designing a different vaccine. They claim that the family's interpretation of the Vaccine Act undoes the statutory preemption intended by Congress, forcing vaccine manufacturers into state tort trials to determine if the side effects could have been avoided with a safer vaccine. In other words, you'd have a lawsuit to determine if the case should have been immune from lawsuit in the first place. Wyeth asserts that such an interpretation goes against Congressional intent to shield vaccine manufacturers from being forced to defend their vaccines in state courts on a case-by-case basis.

The Bruesewitz family cites Supreme Court precedent that, under constitutional principles of federalism, congressional intent to preempt traditional state powers must be "clear and manifest." In this case, they say, it isn't. Specifically, had Congress wanted to preempt all design defect claims, it would have simply written the statute without the "unavoidable" language: claims would be preempted "if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings. " The family also argues that giving vaccine manufacturers an incentive to design better vaccines to avoid such lawsuits serves Congress's purpose of promoting vaccine safety.

Numerous organizations and individuals have submitted amicus briefs in favor of one party or the other. Not surprisingly, Wyeth is supported by pharmaceutical companies Glaxosmithkline, Merck, and Sanofi Pasteur. The American Association for Justice, Public Justice, and Public Citizen have submitted an amicus brief for the Bruesewitz family.

One of the amicus briefs is particularly interesting by virtue of the unusual pair of jurists who teamed up to submit it: progressive Erwin Chemerinsky and conservative Kenneth Starr, who argue in support of Hannah Bruesewitz and her parents.

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Big Pharma and the Next Congress

In addition to the obvious legal questions involved in the pharmaceutical immunity case of Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, this case also has a political component that ties it to the midterm elections. If the Supreme Court interprets the Vaccine Act in a way that benefits injured parties, we can expect the giant pharmaceutical companies to push the next Congress to change the law. That would connect this case politically, if not legally, to Citizens United and the DISCLOSE Act.

As detailed in a recent People For report, powerful corporations, unleashed by the Roberts Court, are taking aim at our democracy and spending millions of dollars under cover of anonymity in order to purchase a pliant Republican congressional majority. Republican members of Congress will surely know who they can thank for their offices, but without the transparency rules included in the DISCLOSE Act, blocked by Republicans in Congress, ordinary Americans will have no way of knowing if the pharmaceutical companies are among the corporate sponsors of the newly elected Republican caucus.

That is one of the many reasons we must pass the DISCLOSE Act.

PFAW

Who ya callin’ elite?

In a recent speech in Mobile, Alabama, George W. Bush previewed his new book, “Decision Points,” and got all “aw, shucks” about the “elites” who have misunderestimated him:

“I have written a book. This will come as a shock to some of the elites. They didn’t think I could read a book, much less write one,” said Bush, the keynote speaker at a scholarship benefit for the University of Mobile. “It’s been an interesting experience. I’m not shilling for it -- aw, heck, you oughta buy a copy.” 

Which got me thinking about the slippery right-wing definition of the word “elite.” Bush is the son of a former president. He grew up in privilege in Connecticut and Texas, with a summer home in Maine. He went to an exclusive east coast boarding school, and then to Yale. Before entering politics (with the help of plenty of family connections), he ran an energy company and owned a baseball team. 

All of which, I assume, would lead a Tea Party stalwart like  Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell to criticize him as terribly out of touch with average voters. Here’s what O'Donnell has to say about her opponent, Chris Coons, in a new TV ad:

"I didn't go to Yale, I didn't inherit millions like my opponent. I'm you. I know how tough it is to make and keep a dollar. When some tried to push me from this race they saw what I was made of. And so will the Senate if they try to increase our taxes one more dime. I'm Christine O'Donnell and I approve this message. I'm you."

This was after O’Donnell tweeted that Coons would bring “Yale values” to the Senate, while she would bring “liberty, limited government, fiscal sanity.”

Last week, Frank Rich pegged O’Donnell as the “perfect decoy” for parties (Republican and Tea) that are run largely by Bush-style billionaires, but try, like W, to put on a populist, “aw, heck” guise:

She gives populist cover to the billionaires and corporate interests that have been steadily annexing the Tea Party movement and busily plotting to cash in their chips if the G.O.P. prevails.

While O’Donnell’s résumé has proved largely fictional, one crucial biographical plotline is true: She has had trouble finding a job, holding on to a home and paying her taxes. In this, at least, she is like many Americans in the Great Recession, including the angry claque that found its voice in the Tea Party. For a G.O.P. that is even more in thrall to big money than the Democrats, she couldn’t be a more perfect decoy.

I’m not going to take a stand on the populist value or liability of an Ivy League education. But as a favor to O’Donnell, I looked into which of her fellow Tea Party Senate candidates might bring “Yale values” to the U.S. Senate:

It looks like O'Donnell might have to carry the anti-elite flag all by herself.

PFAW

Rep. Edwards: Support for Constitutional Amendment growing in “chaotic political climate”

Rep. Donna Edwards, the sponsor of a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, reacted today to the letter in support of such an amendment, signed by 50 prominent attorneys and law professors, that People For and Free Speech for People sent to congressional leaders this week:

“Corporate interests have already spent double the money spent in the 2006 midterms to influence our elections and undermine the voice of the American people,” said Congresswoman Edwards. “That is why I introduced an amendment with Chairman John Conyers to the U.S. Constitution immediately after the Roberts’ Court declared that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as citizens. I am pleased that during this chaotic political climate support for my Constitutional Amendment is growing across the country with academics, elected officials, and working families. Now is the time to remove corporate influence from our policies and our politics. We cannot allow corporations to dominate our elections as they have done this year, to do so would be both undemocratic and unfair to ordinary citizens.”

You can read more about the letter here.

And watch Rep. Edwards explain the need for a constitutional amendment at the panel we hosted at Netroots Nation this summer. “We back up and back up against a wall of corporations, of corporate money, that isn’t just trying to influence the process, it’s trying to own the process”:
 

PFAW

Record Spending in September by Outside Groups

The Center for Responsive Politics has tabulated the spending totals of outside groups from September to the beginning of October, revealing such enormous spending levels that third-party organizations are even spending more than the candidates themselves. Of the top ten biggest spenders in September, nine are pro-corporate groups and eight of them uniformly back Republican candidates. Spencer MacColl of CRP reports that “since September 1, identifiably conservative groups have spent $25.8 million, liberal groups $5.6 million,” and Ben Smith of Politico notes that pro-GOP groups have spent $43.6 million since August. In fact, pro-GOP organizations have spent more than the campaigns of four Republican candidates for Senate on their own races, outspending the campaign committees of Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, Joe Miller in Alaska, and Dino Rossi in Washington. To learn more about the increasingly powerful outside organizations, read PFAW’s new report: “After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics.”

 

PFAW

Some Perspective on Park51

The pastor of the oldest Catholic church in New York State was researching his church’s 200-year history this summer and noticed some interesting parallels to a debate going on a few blocks away. In an interview with the New York Times, Rev. Kevin Madigan explained that the anti-Muslim backlash to the proposed Park51 community center in Manhattan echoed the resistance that met St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church after it was built in 1785:

The angry eruptions at some of the demonstrations this summer against the proposed Muslim center — with signs and slogans attacking Islam — were not as vehement as those staged against St. Peter’s, Father Madigan said.

On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after the church was built, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the melee that ensued, dozens of people were injured and a policeman was killed.

“We were treated as second-class citizens; we were viewed with suspicion,” Father Madigan wrote in his letter to parishioners, adding, “Many of the charges being leveled at Muslim-Americans today are the same as those once leveled at our forebears.”

The pastor said that Park51’s organizers would have to “make clear that they are in no way sympathetic to or supported by any ideology antithetical to our American ideals, which I am sure they can do.” But he said Catholic New Yorkers have a special obligation to fulfill.

The discrimination suffered by the first Catholics in America, he said, “ought to be an incentive for us to ensure that similar indignities not be inflicted on more recent arrivals.”
 

PFAW

These words have perhaps never been truer than they are right now.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

I was reminded of the late Senator Kennedy’s famous quote as I happened upon this blog post this afternoon. Twelve years ago today, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later.

Shepard’s story quickly became a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement, and has remained such to this day. Judy Shepard works tirelessly to help make the world a better place for LGBT individuals. She has spoken out on bullying and the recent suicides of LGBT youth.

Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.

Judy Shepard wants you to stand up and speak out. Dan Savage wants you to tell your story. And now the Gay-Straight Alliance Network wants you to make it better. The Make It Better Project is endorsed by dozens of LGBT equality advocates. They are taking action, including a week of action designed to draw attention to school safety for LGBT youth.

We aren’t waiting until high school is over for our lives to get better . . . We are taking action now!

Please click here for more information. You might also want to look back at my blog posts from 10/1/10 and 10/28/09.

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Republican Candidates in Their Own Words

United Steelworkers has put together this remarkable video of Republican candidates discussing issues such as Social Security, unemployment benefits, and the minimum wage. It speaks for itself:

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Protesting Foreign Corporate Money in Elections

This afternoon, several of us at People For the American Way went to lend our support (and homemade signage) to a protest that MoveOn had organized in front of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber has been in the spotlight this week, after a ThinkProgress investigation found that hundreds of thousands of dollars it gets in membership dues from foreign corporations may be going toward its efforts to influence elections.

The Chamber has vowed to spend $75 million this year to help elect candidates who will prioritize corporate interests. Because of the Citizens United decision, the Chamber’s corporate members have a lot more leeway in how they direct their political spending --but the legality of the group’s funding from foreign corporations is questionable.

The Chamber has been spending its ample electioneering funds to run attack ads against Democrats across the country. This week alone, it is reportedly airing $10 million worth of TV ads in 30 states.

Here are some pictures from the rally today:
 

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