PEOPLE FOR BLOG

We’re on the Air in Iowa

One of the more baffling lines Republican lines of attack against Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her Senate confirmation hearings was the accusations of guilt-by-association with civil rights hero Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Many of Marshall’s critics tried to backtrack after realizing that criticizing the man who led the effort to desegregate American schools, and eventually became the first African American Supreme Court Justice, wasn’t exactly wise. But we don’t think they should be allowed to bury their attacks.

This week, People For went on the air in Iowa with a radio ad about Sen. Charles Grassley’s participation in the GOP’s anti-Marshall crusade. You can listen to it here.

And for more on why Grassley’s attacks on Marshall were so off-base, read People For board member Julian Bond’s op-ed in the Des Moines Register: “GOP attacks on Marshall echo anti-civil rights message of 1960s.”

PFAW

A World Without Progressive Judges

Conservatives who whine about liberal “judicial activism” are often dissing the very judges and decisions that make most of us proud to be Americans. See, for example, Republican Senators’ criticisms of civil rights hero Thurgood Marshall during the Kagan hearings.

Cartoonist Mark Fiore’s new video reveals some of the great decisions that conservatives seem happy to pit themselves against. It makes you wonder: what would our country be like today if not for the great progressive legal decisions of history?

 

PFAW

Douthat’s Two Americas

Writing on the controversy over a planned Islamic community center near Ground Zero, conservative columnist Ross Douthat asserted that nativism and xenophobia have played a positive role in American history.

Douthat argued that there are “two Americas,” one principled and pluralistic, the other reactionary and culturally rigid. The second, in his opinion, has been just as responsible for our current cultural diversity as the first:

…Both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

…So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

That intolerance for change has played a role in American history is indisputable. But intolerance still isn’t the “right” way to press for integration.

By defending the right of Muslim Americans to build a community center in lower Manhattan, the “first America” is working to protect the rights of mainstream Muslims and the foundational ideals of our country. Meanwhile, some on the right have used the controversy over the Islamic center to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment or score political points, potentially alienating moderate Muslims by lumping them together with radical terrorists. Such behavior may have precedent – but that doesn’t make it acceptable.

PFAW

Corporate Spending Run Amok in Florida

One week before the Florida primary, Republican candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum have spent a combined $51.2 million in the fight for their party’s nomination for governor. Rick Scott, the former head of the HCA/Columbia hospital conglomerate, already spent close to $38 million on his gubernatorial bid. In order to compete with Scott’s massive self-financed war chest, Bill McCollum, a former congressman and Florida’s current attorney general, has reached out to corporations to back his campaign.

Two political action committees have emerged to support McCollum’s campaign: the Sunshine State Freedom Fund and the Florida First Initiative. The Sunshine State Freedom Fund has received tens of thousands of dollars from corporations, including a $25,000 donation from the car dealership chain AutoNation.

The McCollum-allied Florida First Initiative obtained even more money from corporate backers, receiving $100,000 from Progress Energy and $50,000 from the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield. Most noticeably, the League of American Voters Inc. donated a whopping $600,000 to the Florida First Initiative. But as Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald point out, the League of American Voters “does not have to disclose its donors under federal tax law because it is a 501(c)4 nonprofit activist group.”

However, the reporters found out that the “secretive political committee” received a large amount of its funding from U.S. Sugar Corp. In fact, according to Bousquet and Caputo, U.S. Sugar Corp. is spending around $1.1 million altogether to prop up McCollum’s campaign for governor. U.S. Sugar Corp’s enormous funding to back Attorney General McCollum is especially troubling considering that the State of Florida is currently purchasing land from the same corporation, a project that involves the Attorney General’s office and the state’s future governor.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, we may see Florida-like levels of corporate involvement elsewhere. Already in states like Minnesota, where barriers to corporate electioneering came down following the Citizens United ruling, corporations have dramatically increased their role in supporting particular candidates for office. Because of Citizens United, the enormous amount of corporate election spending witnessed in Florida may become the norm in other races across the country.

PFAW

What Citizens United has to do with Rod Blagojevich

Last night, a federal jury in Chicago convicted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on just one of 24 counts of political corruption. On the rest of the counts, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked.

Scott Turow, the bestselling novelist who started his career as a US Attorney prosecuting political corruption cases in Chicago, writes in the New York Times that whatever the fuzziness of fact in the Blagojevich case, what is even fuzzier is the way our legal system deals with political corruption. The influence of big money is everywhere in our political process—and the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the door for less showy, but equally problematic, versions of the corruption that Blagojevich is accused of.

Indeed, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court decided that such organizations could spend as much as they wished at any time, assuming there was no direct coordination with the candidate. In doing so, the court overturned its own precedents and refused to distinguish the free speech rights of corporations and unions in any way from those of actual people.

The problem with this logic is that corporations have a legal duty not to spend money unless it is likely to improve profits. Unions, too, are expected to make only contributions that will benefit members. As a result, no idealistic patina of concern about good government or values-driven issues can burnish these payments.

The future of other campaign finance restrictions looks bleak. Thirty-four years ago, when the Supreme Court first declared in Buckley v. Valeo that the First Amendment protected election spending, it nonetheless approved contribution limits “to prevent ... the appearance of corruption.” In Citizens United, the Roberts Court gave short shrift to any concern about appearances. Limits on direct contributions to candidates appear likely to be the next campaign safeguard to fall.

In any case, the bevy of ways in which donors can get around current spending laws, combined with the Supreme Court’s elastic approach to the First Amendment, have left our campaign finance system as little more than a form of legalized influence-buying. Only those as naive as Wanda Brandstetter or as crass and ham-handed as Rod Blagojevich find themselves subject to prosecution, while others wise enough to say less out loud find snug protection in the First Amendment, no matter how bald their desire to influence government actions.

We see daily examples of this sort of dynamic happening in elections—take the Florida governor’s race--where any causal relationships between campaign cash and policy decisions can never be fully sorted out. It’s a dangerous thing for democracy…and one, as Turow points out, we aren’t going to fix without a Constitutional amendment.
 

PFAW

Muslim Republicans to GOP: Stop Preaching Intolerance

It’s not just the Left that’s appalled by the GOP’s increasingly blatant exploitation of animosity toward Muslim Americans in the hopes of political gain in November. Today, in a letter to the Republican leadership, six prominent Muslim conservatives asked their party to quit stoking intolerance of Muslims in its continued attack on the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan.

While we share the desire of all in our party to be successful in the November elections, we cannot support victory at the expense of the U.S. Constitution or the Arab and Muslim community in America. As President Lincoln so eloquently stated in his famous speech: "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

Muslim Republicans probably never expected Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the proposed community center, to come under attack from their party. After all, in years past many prominent Republicans, including George W. Bush, considered Rauf to be an important ally in the Muslim community and a valuable asset in the war against terrorism. But that was then. Now, the GOP leadership seems happy to label Rauf a radical if it suits their political purposes.

For more of the right’s blatant hypocrisy on Rauf and the “Ground Zero Mosque,” see this hilarious clip from yesterday’s Daily Show:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mosque-Erade
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

PFAW

The Target Story and Disclosure

Target’s misguided donation to a pro-corporate, anti-gay Minnesota gubernatorial candidate has (with good reason) caused quite an uproar recently. But the dominant narrative – that Target will serve as a cautionary tale warning other big corporations against getting involved in politics – isn’t quite right.

As an NPR story yesterday made clear, the lesson of the Target story for many like-minded corporations is: don’t get caught.

Target gave to a group that is legally bound to identify its contributors. That's why Target's contribution became known.

Many other groups don't have to disclose a thing. So a company can channel its money — and its message — through a business association or an advocacy group, and outsiders will never know.

"Given all these different ways that you can spend your money without generating a national news story, certainly I think a lot of corporate executives are saying this is just a reminder to use all those other tools that we have in our tool kit," says Robert Kelner, a campaign finance lawyer in Washington.

The DISCLOSE Act, which was brought down by Republican obstruction earlier this summer, is likely to return to the Senate in September. Its passage would oblige all corporations to be transparent about their political involvement, making the Target story a true cautionary tale.

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Fox Doubles Down on GOP Bias

Although there has always been an extremely thin line between news journalism and Republican Party activism at the Fox News Channel, network's parent company -- Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. just became not just a propaganda arm of the GOP, but also the party's financier. According to a Bloomberg report, the Republican Governors Association received a $1 million donation from News Corporation, the parent company of Fox Broadcasting and the Fox News Channel, and conservative newspapers such as the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. In fact, News Corp. was the RGA's "biggest corporate donor." The RGA, whose "primary mission is to help elect Republicans to governorships throughout the nation," is headed by Republican Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who was formerly the Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

News Corp is not the only media company directly funding political advocacy groups. Hubbard Broadcasting Inc., which operates multiple television and radio outlets in Minnesota, New York, and New Mexico, contributed $100,000 to MN Forward, a conservative organization backed by other corporations such as Target and BestBuy. MN Forward's main goal is to support far-right Republican Tom Emmer's campaign for Governor of Minnesota.

Now that media companies such as News Corp and Hubbard Broadcasting are specifically siding with Republicans candidates in the upcoming election, it's only fair that news anchors inform their viewers of their parent company's direct support for certain candidates. While Republican favoritism has always been obvious on Fox News, the Citizens United ruling allows Fox's support for the GOP to go even further potentially by making enormous direct financial contributions to Republican campaign committees. Fox is no longer just a mouthpiece for the Republican Party, as it is now its unambiguous sponsor and patron.

PFAW

Monitoring Corporate Spending

Since Citizens United, as we’ve noted, corporations have been taking advantage of their permission slip to spend unlimited amounts on elections. Now Bill de Blasio, the public advocate for the City of New York, is making it easier to track which corporations are getting involved in politics.

This week, de Blasio launched a website that breaks major corporations into three categories: those that have pledged to stay out of politics, those that have not pledged to stay out of politics, and those prepared (like Target) to spend money in politics. He also makes it easy for web surfers to contact corporations and encourage them not to spend on elections.

De Blasio’s public spirited website is a great tool, but citizens shouldn’t be expected to spend every election monitoring corporate machinations. Ultimately, we need a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. That’s why we’re asking all federal elected officials and candidates to sign our pledge to support an amendment. Has your representative signed the pledge?

PFAW

You Can Have Your Freedom of Religion, But You Can’t Exercise It

This afternoon, the “yes, the Constitution grants freedom of religion, but this time you’d better not use it” argument has gained its newest, and most disappointing, adherent.

Under pressure from his ultra right-wing opponent in the Nevada senate race, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid paid lip service to the First Amendment while stating his opposition to the building of a Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan:

"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."

Reid is the most senior Democrat to come out in opposition to the mosque.

It perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that hoards of Republican elected officials who live far from New York have come out against what the Right Wing has branded the “Ground Zero Mosque.” It was, after all, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich who turned what was a New York City zoning issue into a national fit of misinformed intolerance.

But it’s deeply disappointing to realize we’ve reached the point where the most powerful Democrat in the Senate is parroting Right Wing talking points at the expense of defending basic American values and constitutional rights.

The Right’s extremist machine has tried to make intolerance and xenophobia a noisy election year issue. When someone like Reid gives them cover for their cynical ploy, they begin to succeed.


 

PFAW

A Cynical Election Strategy

The GOP has already set to work making the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan – and President Obama’s support for the project – into a midterm campaign issue. Sharron Angle accused President Obama of siding “against the families of 9/11 victims.” John Boehner called the President’s stance “deeply troubling.”

But Mark Halperin at Time Magazine urged the GOP to reconsider its cynical strategy:

It isn't clear how the battle over the proposed center should or will end. But two things are profoundly clear: Republicans have a strong chance to win the midterm elections without picking a fight over President Obama's measured words. And a national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner -- the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post concurred, writing:

It's one thing for Republicans to argue the case against the center on the merits. Fine. Agree or disagree, the same First Amendment that protects the right of the group to build the center also protect the right of conservatives to make a case against it.

But it's another thing entirely if Republicans adopt criticism of Obama's speech as part of a concerted electoral strategy. As Halperin notes, doing this strays perilously close to stoking anti-Muslim bigotry and religious intolerance in the quest for electoral gain.

Incidentally, if Rep. Boehner was really interested in honoring the victims of September 11, I can think of at least one more positive thing he could have done on their behalf: voted for the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which would have helped the many 9/11 heroes who are still with us afford health care for long term injuries and illnesses caused by the attacks. Boehner and many of his fellow GOP Representatives obstructed that particular bill from becoming law, choosing instead to focus their energies on a publicity war against Muslim Americans.

PFAW

Wall Street Falls in Love with the GOP All Over Again

A new Center for Responsive Politics study shows that Wall Street executives are now making 70% of their political contributions to Republicans. (And this is the money we can track: Wall Street firms can now use unlimited amounts of their corporate treasuries on political activities without disclosing what they’re doing). According to the report, the spike in Wall Street’s financial appreciation of the GOP coincided—coincidentally, I’m sure--with the Congressional debate over the financial reform law that was passed earlier this summer.

The new regulations were intended to prevent Wall Street from engaging in the kind of reckless behavior that got us into the recession. But Senate Republicans, obstructing progress as usual, voted nearly unanimously against reform. As Right Wing Watch reported, many of the GOP’s stated criticisms of the bill were bald-faced lies. For example, some Republicans claimed that the law would lead to more bailouts, when in fact it was specifically designed to prevent future taxpayer-funded get-out-of-jail-free cards for banks.

The GOP’s unified and factually incorrect opposition to financial reform may not have earned them much love from the Americans on Main Street who have lost their homes, jobs, or livelihoods in the recession…but at least they made some friends on Wall Street.

PFAW

Failure to Disclose

While banks and insurance companies are heavily betting on Republicans this election year, we may never know what companies are behind third-party ads pushing for corporate-friendly policies and politicians. Since forty-one Republican senators voted in lock-step to block the DISCLOSE Act ("Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections"), the bill hasn't yet had an opportunity to receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

The DISCLOSE Act, which the House passed in June, would prohibit corporations that are foreign-owned or receive federal dollars from engaging in electoral activity, and would mandate that third party political groups publicize their donors and include disclaimers on advertisements. So far, however, the obstructionists in the Senate have derailed this drive for transparency in politics by blocking a vote on DISCLOSE. Unless the Senate leadership is able to break through this obstructionism when Congress comes back from its August recess,third party groups will have free license to spend handsomely on elections without releasing a single source of their funding.

A recent Fortune article points out why the DISCLOSE Act is needed, as even Goldman Sachs, which says it will not directly contribute to political organizations, "can publicly say it won't fund political ads, and still go right ahead doing it privately." As Tory Newmyer maintains: "[T]rade associations and other non-profit groups can now spend freely on ads attacking or supporting specific candidates. And because those groups don't always have to identify their funders, they provide a safe vehicle for corporations looking to launder their involvement in dicey election contests."

Due to a state law, the business-backed independent expenditure political committee Minnesota Forward was forced to publicly list its donors. However, when advocates found out that companies such as Target and BestBuy were behind a group that supports a gubernatorial candidate with a horrendous record on gay-rights and consumer protection, they encountered severe pushback from customers and advocates.

But while Target and BestBuy got caught, other corporations and affiliated groups learned from their mistakes. Dirk Van Dongen, the head of the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, believes that the boycotts of Target won't stop other businesses from becoming involved in electoral activity, "noting that businesses can give anonymously to trade association and other non-profit campaign efforts."

In fact, Target did not promise to stop making political contributions, but would simply send them through a "review board" in the future. David Schultz, a campaign finance specialist at Hamline University, predicts that corporations, "exclusively driven by the Citizens United case," will increase their electoral spending by as much as 50% this year.

Corporate review boards do little to mitigate the impact of the new rules allowing for anonymous political engagement on the part of corporations. As Senator Chuck Schumer rightly maintains:

Allowing corporate and special interests, now because they have so much money, to pour that money into our political system without even disclosure, without even knowing who they are or what they are saying or why they are saying it, they are taking politics away, government away from the average person because of the influence of such large amounts of dollars.

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I <3 NY, But Does Sarah Palin?

In his recent short New Yorker piece, Hendrick Herzberg points out something that’s been troubling me: some of the most vocal opponents of the “Ground Zero Mosque” (Sarah Palin, John McCain, Newt Gingrich) openly despise New York City as the ultimate haven of un-American “elites.”

In their attempt to protect the city against “peace-seeking Muslims,” these would-be demagogues prove that they either don’t understand or don’t value the diverse, all-American jumble that is New York. But as Herzberg demonstrates, the leaders of the proposed Islamic cultural center are typical New Yorkers and Americans:

Like many New Yorkers, the people in charge of Park51, a married couple, are from somewhere else—he from Kuwait, she from Kashmir. Feisal Abdul Rauf is a Columbia grad. He has been the imam of a mosque in Tribeca for close to thirty years. He is the author of a book called “What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America.” He is a vice-chair of the Interfaith Center of New York. “My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists,” he wrote recently—in the Daily News, no less. He denounces terrorism in general and the 9/11 attacks in particular, often and at length. The F.B.I. tapped him to conduct “sensitivity training” for agents and cops. His wife, Daisy Khan, runs the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which she co-founded with him. It promotes “cultural and religious harmony through interfaith collaboration, youth and women’s empowerment, and arts and cultural exchange.”

In his address a few days after September 11, then-President Bush made a special point of differentiating radical terrorists from mainstream Muslims. “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself,” he said. The leaders of today’s GOP, whose very public opposition to the Park51 project has sparked anti-Muslim protests across the country, seem to have lost that power of differentiation.

PFAW

Senators Set the Record Straight on Just Who the “Activist” Justices Are

A recent PFAW poll revealed that the vast majority of Americans are intensely concerned about the growing corporate influence in our country and disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Judging from numerous remarks made during last week’s Senate hearings on Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Court, it seems that many of our elected representatives feel the same way. Though Republicans attempted to vilify Kagan (and Thurgood Marshall!) with accusations of judicial activism, Democrats fired back, pointing out that in fact it is the conservative Court majority that has employed such activism in going out of its way to side with corporate America. Senators used the floor debate to decry the Roberts Court’s record of favoring corporations over individuals and its disregard for Congressional intent and legal precedent:

Senator Schumer:

The American people are reaping the bitter harvest from new laws that have been made and old precedents that have been overturned. Put simply, in decision after decision, this conservative, activist Court has bent the law to suit an ideology. At the top of the list, of course, is the Citizens United case where an activist majority of the Court overturned a century of well-understood law that regulated the amount of money special interests could spend to elect their own candidates to public office.

Senator Gillibrand:

Narrow 5-to-4 decisions by a conservative majority have become the hallmark of the Roberts Court. These decisions have often been overreaching in scope and have repeatedly ignored settled law and congressional intent. For example, in the Citizens United case, the Court not only disregarded the extensive record compiled by Congress but abandoned established precedent.

Senator Franken:

[A]bove the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court are four words, and four words only: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ When the Roberts Court chooses between corporate America and working Americans, it goes with corporate America almost every time, even when the citizens of this country, sitting in a duly appointed jury, have decided it the other way. That is not right. It is not equal justice under the law.

Senator Leahy:

It is essential that judicial nominees understand that, as judges, they are not members of any administration . . . Courts are not subsidiaries of any political party or interest group, and our judges should not be partisans. That is why . . . the recent decision by five conservative activist Justices in Citizens United to throw out 100 years of legal developments in order to invite massive corporate spending on elections for the first time in 100 years was such a jolt to the system.

Senator Whitehouse:

On the Roberts Court, one pattern is striking, the clear pattern of corporate victories at the Roberts Court. It reaches across many fields—across arbitration, antitrust, employment discrimination, campaign finance, legal pleading standards, and many others. Over and over on this current Supreme Court, the Roberts bloc guiding it has consistently, repeatedly rewritten our law in the favor of corporations versus ordinary Americans.”

Senator Cardin:

Well, this Supreme Court, too many times, by 5-to-4 decisions by the so-called conservative Justices, has been the most activist Court on ruling on the side of corporate America over ordinary Americans.

Senator Dorgan:

What I have seen recently and certainly in the case of Citizens United—and I believe it is the case in Ledbetter v. Goodyear—the Supreme Court too often these days divides into teams. By the way, the team that seems to be winning is the team on the side of the powerful, the team on the side of the big interests, the team on the side of the corporate interests. That ought not be the way the Supreme Court operates.

 

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