PEOPLE FOR BLOG

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.

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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.

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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”:
 

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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.”

 

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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.”
 

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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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And Support for Marriage Equality Keeps on Inching Up…

The Pew Research Center reported this week that fewer than half of Americans are opposed to same-sex marriage, the first time opposition has dipped below 50% since Pew began polling on the issue 15 years ago.

Opposition to marriage equality still edges out support, with 48% opposed and 42% in favor, but Pew’s data show’s a clear and steady trend toward acceptance of equal rights for gays and lesbians. And take a look at this chart showing how support breaks down among different age groups. The trend is remarkable:


In August, People For’s president, Michael Keegan, wrote in the Huffington Post, “The Right has won many important battles against gay rights, but they are losing the war...and they know it”:

For years, the Right has watched its anti-gay agenda lose credibility as public acceptance of gays and lesbians has steadily grown and intolerance has declined. And that trend is going strong, as young people of all political stripes are more likely to know gay people and more willing to grant them equal rights and opportunities, including the right to marriage. A CNN poll this month found that a majority of Americans think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry--the first time gay marriage dissenters had slipped solidly into the minority in a national poll. Even in California, where Proposition 8 passed on the ballot in 2008, a poll earlier this year found a majority now support same sex marriage rights. Indeed, this change is even visible on the Right, where the fight against equality is being waged by an increasingly marginalized movement. Who would have ever thought that Ann Coulter would be booted from a right-wing conference for being "too gay friendly"?

Of course, basic human rights should never be decided by majority vote--they are guaranteed by the Constitution. But, on the issue of gay rights, the Right Wing now finds itself up against both the Constitution and the will of a steadily increasing majority.

This isn’t to say that the Right Wing has been taking the hint that an anti-gay agenda might be a losing proposition in the long run. Rather, prominent figures on the Right seem to be trying to revel in homophobia as much as possible before the issue becomes marginalized. Opposition to the “homosexual agenda” was a major theme of last month’s “Values Voter Summit,” which drew GOP leaders (and aspiring GOP leaders) like Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Bob McDonnell. And even Glenn Beck, who drew flack from the far right for saying that gay marriage wouldn’t be a threat to the country, regularly invites pseudohistorian and professional homophobe David Barton—who recently opined that gay people were such a threat to the country that gay sex should be regulated—to lend his expertise to his program.

Maybe the most stunning thing about the Right’s commitment to anti-gay politics is the continuing opposition to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Pew found that Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly by a 2-1 margin—yet the Republican Party continues to side with a small minority of right-wing extremists dedicated to preserving Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
 

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Stevens: Campaign money is “simply not speech”

In a wide-ranging interview with NPR’s Nina Totenberg this week, former Justice John Paul Stevens touched on his strong opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, to which he wrote an adamant dissenting opinion.

As for the court's recent ruling allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on candidate elections, Stevens thinks it was dead wrong — and, indeed, still doesn't think that money is the same thing as speech. "Can you hear it talk? Can you read it? [Money is] simply not speech," he says. "And I have to confess that my own views are that there is an interest in trying to have any debate conducted according to fair rules that treat both sides with an adequate opportunity to express their view. We certainly wouldn't, in our arguments in this court, give one side a little more time because they could pay higher fees to hire their lawyers, or something like that."

Stevens is hardly alone among legal luminaries in thinking that the decision in Citizens United was flat-out wrong. On Monday, People For and the fair elections group Free Speech For People sent a letter signed by over 50 prominent lawyers and law professors urging Congress to consider amending the Constitution to undo Citizens United.

Corporate political expenditure regulations do not infringe any speech rights of the American people whatsoever. Rather, such regulations reflect the power of the American people to regulate corporations and the rules that govern such entities as the people and our representatives see fit. Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent rightly calls the majority opinion a “radical departure from what has been settled First Amendment law.”


You can read the full letter here.
 

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Kudlow to Corporate-Backed Groups: Disclose Your Funding

Yesterday, Think Progress dropped a campaign finance bombshell when it reported that the US Chamber of Commerce, which is spending tens of millions of dollars this year to run ads supporting GOP candidates in federal elections, is collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign owned businesses, including companies owned by foreign governments.

Reliable clean elections proponents, like Minnesota senator Al Franken, spoke out immediately for the FEC to investigate the Chamber’s finances. But the voices in support of campaign finance disclosure haven’t been coming only from the left.

CNBC host Larry Kudlow, a columnist for the conservative National Review, said today that groups like the Chamber and Karl Rove’s shadowy group Crossroads GPS should put their funding and spending records out in the open. According to fact sheet from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, Kudlow said:

“Why not have the media posting of the contribution information on the Internet? That's all. And let everybody decide… Who, what, when, how, where, who got it? Put it up on the net and let free speech and free politics take its work… American Crossroads and Karl Rove and all them should post also.” [10/6/10]

We reported last week on several groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS, that are spending buckets of money to back pro-corporate candidates in this year’s elections, while under no obligation to disclose where their money is coming from. This spending is no small change—the Associated Press reported last week that right-wing, pro-corporate groups have outspent progressive groups 6-1 on television ads this year.

Kudlow’s call for disclosure from these big-spending groups should come as no surprise. Disclosure of campaign spending is a principle embraced by many prominent conservatives, including Justice Antonin Scalia. And when the Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruled in Citizens United v. FEC to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, they did so with an important side note: they were in favor of “prompt disclosure” of the campaign spending.

Up against the reality of corporate-backed groups that will spend enormous amounts of money for their electoral benefit, however, congressional Republicans have been significantly less eager to embrace the idea of full disclosure than that of free spending.

The Chamber of Commerce, for one, seems to be solidly in the congressional Republican camp on the disclosure issue. Asked by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent about Think Progress’s allegations, a spokeswoman for the Chamber responded with a tirade against the blog, denying that the Chamber spends foreign money on electioneering—but refusing to answer any questions on just how that money is kept separate.


 

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Chamber’s Foreign Funding Demonstrates the Need to Revisit Citizens United

Coming on the heels of a report by ThinkProgress on how the US Chamber of Commerce uses membership dues from foreign corporations to pay for political advertisements in American elections, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United is facing new scrutiny for opening up the floodgates of corporate spending. People For the American Way has spoken out against the Chamber’s practices of collecting “hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign owned businesses, including companies owned by foreign governments,” and the editorial board of the New York Times is also sounding the alarm. The Times editors write that the election system is broken as a result of Citizens United and actions by Republicans in Congress and the FEC to weaken the remaining regulations of campaign finances:

Because the United States Chamber is organized as a 501(c)(6) business league under the federal tax code, it does not have to disclose its donors, so the full extent of foreign influence on its political agenda is unknown. But Tuesday’s report sheds light on how it raises money abroad. Its affiliate in Abu Dhabi, for example, the American Chamber of Commerce, says it has more than 450 corporate and individual members in the United Arab Emirates who pay as much as $8,500 a year to join.

Because of a series of court decisions that culminated in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling earlier this year, these and similar 501(c) nonprofits have become huge players in the year’s election, using unlimited money from donors who have no fear of disclosure. (Not surprisingly, the chamber has been a leading opponent of legislation to require disclosure.) One such group, American Crossroads, organized by Karl Rove, announced on Tuesday a $4.2 million ad buy to support Republican candidates, bringing the group’s total spending to about $18 million so far.

The possible commingling of secret foreign money into these groups raises fresh questions about whether they are violating both the letter and spirit of the campaign finance laws. The Federal Election Commission, which has been rendered toothless by its Republican members, should be investigating possible outright violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act by foreign companies and the chamber.

Now, Minnesota Senator Al Franken is calling on the FEC to look into the Chamber’s finances, the Star Tribune reports:

Franken’s letter says that the Chamber’s mixing of funds under current FEC rules “is not per se illegal.” But he wrote that the company had to demonstrate that its foreign funds were not used for political purposes, and pushed the FEC to launch an investigation.

In addition, Franken’s letter asked the FEC to change its regulations allowing foreign companies to spend on elections — which is legal so long as the company is incorporated in the U.S. and creates a special election committee staffed by Americans.

 

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Why Are Republicans Opposing a Judiciary That Looks Like America?

With Republican Senators refusing to allow votes even on nominees who they do not oppose, they are depriving courts across the nation of the judges needed to ensure justice for all. In fact, the Senate recessed last week without confirming a single one of the 23 pending nominees approved by committee and ready for a floor vote. Eleven of these nominees – half the total – would fill vacancies officially designated as "judicial emergencies."

Amazingly, 17 of these 23 nominees advanced through committee without opposition, so it's not like there is any principled reason behind the Republican obstruction.

This slate of highly qualified nominees is a testament to the great diversity of our nation. Indeed, more than half of them are people of color, with six African Americans, three Latinos, and four Asian Americans among them. Ten of the 23 are women. Among the nominees needed to resolve judicial emergencies, two-thirds are people of color.

For much of our nation's history, judges were uniformly white men. When women argued for equality under the law, they were repudiated with sexist arguments that only men could have come up with. African Americans were told that separate can be equal. Native Americans were told that they never really owned the land they had been on for centuries, but were only in temporary possession of it until Europeans arrived.

A judiciary that looks nothing like America is far less likely to understand how the law affects other people, a misunderstanding that has often led to great injustice. As Republicans exacerbate judicial emergencies, their obstruction is preventing us from having a judiciary that looks more like America.

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Tracking the Obstruction: Lifting the Veil of Progress

In the last week of its fall session, the Senate confirmed 54 executive branch nominations. But we haven’t necessarily made progress just because 54 positions are now full.

I took a look at the Executive Calendar (list of all treaties and nominations that are ready to be taken up on the Senate floor) as it stood on 9/24. Then I compared it to 10/4, after the Senate left town.

I will admit that the Senate did take some steps forward.

35 of the 54 executive branch confirmations came straight off the Calendar. There were fewer executive branch nominations on the Calendar who were 90 days old or more (22 down from 40). There were also fewer executive branch nominations that had spent 90 days or more on the Calendar (17 down from 19).

But who’s left?

On 9/24, the average age of executive branch nominations on the Calendar was 189 days, and the average time spent on the Calendar was 95 days.

By 10/4, the average age had increased to 287 days, and the average time spent on the Calendar had increased to 195 days.

What does this mean?

The Senate may be doing its job, but it’s not fighting the toughest battles when it comes to executive branch nominations. The nominations left behind are those that have been waiting the longest. Less controversial people are moving through quickly while political obstruction continues to stall others.

Let’s not forget the recess appointees.

Only 5 of 22 recess appointees have gone on to confirmation. 17 are still pending before the Senate. 13 of those are stuck on the Calendar.

Please click here for our latest report on executive branch nominations.

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The Crossroads Juggernaut Reaches New Heights and Receives More Scrutiny

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the sister conservative organizations that hope to raise $52 million in order to defeat Democratic candidates in 2010, is already close to spending a combined $20 million in ads. After spending an initial $14 million in ads to boost the GOP’s chances at taking control of the Senate, Crossroads is ready to spend an additional $4.2 million for ads in Senate races in Colorado, Nevada, Washington, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Florida. Now, Mike Allen of Politico reports that the two groups will begin running ads in competitive House races shortly.

Crossroads GPS, the leading outside group airing ads in Senate races, does not have to disclose its donors since it is a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization. But as a 501(c)4, it is supposed to focus on “issue advocacy” rather than deliberately urge voters to support or oppose specific candidates for office. Now, the heads of Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center have asked the IRS to look into the group’s status, maintaining that Crossroads GPS “was organized to participate and intervene in the 2010 congressional races while providing donors to the organization with a safe haven for hiding their role.” J. Gerald Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center explains:

While the abuses of 501(c)(4) tax designation for no-fingerprint political attack ads seems rampant in this election cycle, the most blatant certainly appears to be Crossroads GPS. The group makes almost no effort at all to hide the fact that it was created principally to impact the 2010 elections, and to take money from those interested in contributing to their efforts but doing so anonymously. The IRS has a duty to ensure that groups are not violating their tax status in this election cycle, and Crossroads GPS certainly seems like a logical place to start.
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