PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Voters Skeptical of Arguments Against Amendment to Get Money Out of Politics

Polling evidence has consistently shown that a strong majority of American voters are opposed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for freewheeling spending by corporations to influence elections. Increasingly wary of the shadow big businesses and billionaires can cast on the democratic process, voters also understand the need to curtail the influence of wealthy special interests the Democracy for All Amendment (S.J. Res. 19). Previous polling has shown that nearly three-quarters of voters support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and reduce the influence of big money in elections.

But a new, bipartisan poll of likely November 2014 voters released this week found that not only are Americans fed up with the saturation of money in politics, they are also skeptical of the arguments of those trying to stand in the way of progress by opposing a constitutional amendment. Only 25 percent of voters agree with opponents’ assertions that an amendment would be an assault on our free speech rights. Conversely, more than six out of ten voters agree that an amendment would help restore equal representation to our democratic process and ensure that our government is truly of, by, and for the people. Tellingly, while support of an amendment to overturn Citizens United is divided along largely partisan lines in Congress, public outrage over the amount of money shaping campaigns reaches both sides of the aisles.

“The poll affirms that our message resonates far more strongly than the message of those who oppose the amendment, and that voters do not accept misleading talking points,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of program and policy at People For the American Way, during announcements of the new polling data. “The American people  get that to have real political debate we need to return to core First Amendment values in support of a democracy where all points of view can be considered and all voices heard. The momentum against Citizens United is tremendous and will only keep growing The public is ready for that fight.”

In addition to widespread public support, the Democracy for All Amendment currently has 50 supporters in the Senate, where it is headed for a vote on Monday, September 8. 

PFAW

Civil Liberties Experts: Limiting Big Money In Elections Doesn’t Infringe on Free Speech Rights

This morning, six civil liberties experts released a letter emphasizing that reasonable regulations on money in elections do not violate the free speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. The authors — academics, philanthropists, and lawyers, all of whom are former leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — make clear that the protection of civil liberties is entirely compatible with commonsense limits on money in elections.

The letter was released following a barrage of misleading arguments pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz and others about the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United that will be voted on in the Senate on Monday. Though opponents have tried to position themselves as defenders of free speech, with Sen. Cruz going so far as to claim that the amendment would repeal the First Amendment and “muzzle” Americans, this letter emphasizes that it is, in fact, the Court’s twisted interpretation of the First Amendment that threatens to leave Americans without a voice:

Rather than interpreting the First Amendment as assuring everyone a reasonable opportunity to be heard, the Court (and the National ACLU) has turned the First Amendment on its head by guaranteeing the wealthy an expensive set of stereo speakers, and leaving the average citizen with a bad case of laryngitis. Most Americans would find it preposterous to allot more time in a debate to the speaker with the most money. Yet, that is precisely how our campaign finance system functions today.

The authors, many of whom signed a similar letter in 1998, note that our country’s money in politics problem has only gotten worse since then. In the wake of decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon, they write, “American democracy is almost irretrievably broken.” While they do not weigh in on the Democracy for All Amendment specifically, the civil liberties experts close the letter with a call to restore the promise of the First Amendment by overturning these damaging decisions:

We believe that overturning many of the Court’s narrow 5-4 campaign finance precedents and implementing generous, content neutral political spending limits is the best way to fulfill the promise of James Madison’s First Amendment as democracy’s best friend.

You can read the full text of the letter here.
 

PFAW

7th Circuit: Arguments Against Marriage Equality "Cannot Be Taken Seriously"

Today's unanimous panel ruling by the Seventh Circuit striking down Wisconsin and Indiana's marriage bans is a well-written, carefully reasoned take-down of some of the ludicrous arguments that equality opponents have been making to defend their policy of discrimination. It was written by Richard Posner, a noted conservative put on the bench by Ronald Reagan, and joined by judges nominated by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Ruling on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the court summarizes its opinion nicely:

Our pair of cases is rich in detail but ultimately straightforward to decide. The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don't need marriage because same-sex couples can't produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously.

Judge Posner writes:

Because homosexuality is not a voluntary condition and homosexuals are among the most stigmatized, misunderstood, and discriminated-against minorities in the history of the world, the disparagement of their sexual orientation, implicit in the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, is a source of continuing pain to the homosexual community.

He carefully considers the argument put forward by the states that marriage is restricted to one man and one woman to benefit children. Among the many ways this argument fails to hold water:

But then how to explain Indiana's decision to carve an exception to its prohibition against marriage of close relatives for first cousins 65 or older—a population guaranteed to be infertile because women can't conceive at that age? [Wisconsin also bans first cousins from marrying unless the woman is over 55 or where the couple presents a doctor's affidavit saying one of them is permanently infertile.] If the state's only interest in allowing marriage is to protect children, why has it gone out of its way to permit marriage of first cousins only after they are provably infertile? ... Elderly first cousins are permitted to marry because they can't produce children; homosexuals are forbidden to marry because they can't produce children. The state's argument that a marriage of first cousins who are past child-bearing age provides a "model [of] family life for younger, potentially procreative men and women" is impossible to take seriously.

With regard to the commonly heard refrain, echoed by attorneys for Indiana and Wisconsin, that courts should respect democratically-enacted bans on marriage by same-sex couples, Judge Posner points out what should be obvious to anyone who claims fealty to the United States Constitution:

Minorities trampled on by the democratic process have recourse to the courts; the recourse is called constitutional law.

Courts exist to enforce the Constitution against those who would subvert it. And that drives the right crazy.

PFAW Foundation

Walker's Failed Record Counters Current Ad’s Job Promise

Gov. Scott Walker released an ad Thursday morning promising that he “won’t stop until everyone who wants a job, can find a job.”

This sounds strangely familiar to the empty promise of his 2010 campaign. Back then, Walker repeatedly promised that he would create 250,000 private-sector jobs during his four-year term beginning in January 2011. He even emphasized that this number was “a minimum, not a maximum.”

It’s 2014, and that goal has not been met.

In fact, during his re-election tours, Walker avoided talking about his failure to create the 250,000 jobs altogether.

Protests outside a Scott Walker fundraiser on Friday prove that Wisconsinites are not falling for his empty promises. It’s time for Walker to be held accountable for his shady practices and to be voted out of office this November.

PFAW

Court Restores Voting Opportunities for Ohioans

A federal district court ruled this morning that restrictions on early voting in Ohio violate both the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act. This is a major setback for right-wing officials dedicated to making it harder for certain people to vote, and a major victory for Ohioans seeking to exercise their right to vote.

The Ohio legislature passed a law reducing the time for early in-person (EIP) voting from 35 days to 28 days and eliminating "Golden Week" (the first week of early voting, when people can register and vote on the same day). Adding insult to injury, Secretary of State Jon Husted issued directives setting uniform (and limited) hours statewide for EIP voting, eliminating the ability of local boards to extend hours as needed for their specific communities. It was a transparent effort to make it harder for certain people to vote – primarily African Americans. The ACLU challenged the restrictions on behalf of the Ohio NAACP, the Ohio League of Women Voters, and several African American churches.

Judge Peter Economus considered the record before him and recognized that the new rules would significantly burden certain groups' right to vote, including African Americans as well as low-income and homeless Ohioans. He also concluded that the state's purported rationales for the restrictions fell apart under careful evaluation. Consequently, he ordered the state to restore the cuts for the 2014 election.

Quoting from decades-old Supreme Court precedent, the judge framed the issue well:

The right to vote is a fundamental right. No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined. [internal quotations and citations removed]

This showcases why our federal courts are so important. When government officials act to restrict our rights, we should be able to turn to our neutral federal judiciary to vindicate those rights. Our constitutional structure and basic liberties depend on that. And that is why those who would force through unconstitutional actions – restrictions on voting rights, violations of church-state separation, intrusions on reproductive choice – have long focused their efforts on putting like-minded ideologues on the federal courts, especially the Supreme Court and our nation's circuit courts.

Today, our judicial system worked exactly as intended. As a result, efforts to make it harder for African Americans in Ohio to vote have failed.

PFAW Foundation

Louisville PFAW Activists Deliver Petitions Supporting Democracy For All Constitutional Amendment to Mitch McConnell


On Wednesday, PFAW activists in Kentucky joined other activists representing ally organizations in delivering petition signatures to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s state office calling for amending the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United and get big money out of politics. Nationally, more than three million Americans have signed such a petition.

The delivery comes days before the Senate is set to vote on the Democracy for All Amendment (S.J. Res 19), a joint resolution that would amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases. An overwhelming majority of Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s rulings opening the floodgates to unlimited money in our elections, with sixteen states and over 550 cities formally demanding that Congress vote to pass a constitutional amendment to allow common sense campaign finance rules to be enacted.

The event in Louisville is part of a nationwide push to make the Democracy for All Amendment our Constitution’s 28th Amendment. Rallies and petition deliveries also occurred in the state offices of nine other senators throughout the country.

PFAW

Louisiana's Marriage Ban Upheld By Judge Citing "Lifestyle Choices"

Judge Martin Feldman, nominated to the Eastern District of Louisiana thirty years ago by President Reagan, today upheld that state's marriage ban against same-sex couples. But his opinion concluding that the ban is constitutional is hardly a model of rigorous and dispassionate legal or factual analysis.

Early in the opinion, he makes clear that he simply doesn't see gay and lesbian couples as anything at all like opposite-sex couples:

This national same-sex marriage struggle animates a clash between convictions regarding the value of state decisions reached by way of the democratic process as contrasted with personal, genuine, and sincere lifestyle choices recognition. (emphasis added)

This fundamental misunderstanding – reducing the love and commitment shared by lesbian and gay couples to nothing more than a simple "lifestyle choice" – colors his entire approach to the case.

In his Equal Protection analysis, he rules that classifications based on sexual orientation are subject only to the lowest-level, "rational basis" scrutiny. He gives two reasons. First, he cites higher court cases like Windsor that have avoided squarely answering that question, "despite opportunities to do so." Second, applying heightened scrutiny would "demean the democratic process." That's pretty circular reasoning, considering that heightened scrutiny exists in recognition that even democratically-enacted laws can violate a vulnerable group's Equal Protection rights.

His conclusion that the ban isn't sex discrimination is similarly flawed. Under the bans, your sex determines whether you can marry a particular person, playing the same role that race did in Loving v. Virginia. In that case, the Supreme Court rejected Virginia's argument that laws prohibiting interracial marriage did not trigger Equal Protection concerns because they applied to blacks and whites alike. Once the Court recognized that the law treated people differently based on their race, it followed standard Equal Protection analysis, striking down the law under the strict scrutiny that applies to racial discrimination. Other courts have recognized that bans against same-sex couples getting married similarly trigger Equal Protection concerns. In disagreeing with those courts, Judge Feldman rewrites Loving (and the Fourteenth Amendment):

Heightened scrutiny was warranted in Loving because the Fourteenth Amendment expressly condemns racial discrimination as a constitutional evil … [N]o analogy can defeat the plain reality that Louisiana's laws apply evenhandedly to both genders--whether between two men or two women. Same-sex marriage is not recognized in Louisiana and is reasonably anchored to the democratic process. The Court is therefore satisfied that rational basis applies.

First off, the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't "expressly condemn racial discrimination" or even specifically mention race. Its ringing call for liberty and equality applies to "any person." Sorry, Judge Feldman, but that includes lesbians and gays.

Secondly, Feldman flips Loving on its head. Loving recognized that the state's marriage laws were subject to Equal Protection scrutiny despite, to use Feldman's formulation in this case, "the plain reality that [Virginia's] laws appl[ied] evenhandedly to both [races]." The Supreme Court didn't see through the ruse of "it applies to everyone" because of strict scrutiny; it used strict scrutiny because it saw through the ruse of "it applies to everyone."

Although other courts have struck down marriage bans under rational basis, Feldman upholds Louisiana's ban as related to the state's goals of linking children to their birth parents and managing social change through democratic consensus. He suggests that it could be struck down only if motivated solely by animus, which he rejects (although other courts have struck down the law under rational basis without a finding of animus). (The Supreme Court has held that animus against gays and lesbians is not a legitimate justification for a law.)

As for the Due Process claim, he sees the constitutional right at issue not as marriage, but as "same sex marriage." This is not surprising, since he doesn't see the couples before him as anything except people exercising and seeking approval of an alternative "lifestyle choice." And since there has not been a longstanding recognition of the right to "same sex marriage," he uses rational basis for the Due Process claim, and the couples before him lose again.

Toward the end of the opinion, Judge Feldman channels his inner Scalia, condemning judges who, like "philosopher kings," have ruled in favor of same-sex couples. He writes:

Perhaps in a new established point of view, marriage will be reduced to contract law, and, by contract, anyone will be able to claim marriage. … For example, must the states permit or recognize a marriage between an aunt and niece? Aunt and nephew? Brother/brother? Father and child?

That canard is so easily rejected. Can Judge Feldman really not come up with a single reason to ban child marriages or incestuous marriages that would not apply to marriages between unrelated adults of the same sex? Not one? The reasons for not letting a father marry his child really have nothing to do with the fact that one of the parties is a child, and that the other party is their father?

Judge Feldman was put in the bench back in 1983 by President Reagan. Our country was a much darker place for lesbians and gays then, and a ruling such as his would not have been surprising thirty years ago. But given the enormous changes in constitutional law that we have seen since then, Feldman's ruling is clearly a throwback to an earlier and less equal time.

PFAW Foundation

Wisconsin PFAW Members Protest Walker Fundraiser

On Friday morning, PFAW members gathered outside the Nakoma Golf Club in Madison, WI to protest a fundraiser held by Scott Walker. Activists held signs calling on voters to “Ship Walker Overseas, Not Jobs,” and letting Walker know that “Time is Up” and Wisconsinites have had enough.

Recent media reports have exposed how Walker’s alleged efforts to garner support for his extreme political agenda violate Wisconsinites’ basic principles of fairness and honesty in the political system. The protest highlighted how Wisconsinites are sick of Walker’s shady practices while campaigning and while in office.

One sign read “Dear Governor Walker: You took my job. You took my rights. You took my money. You took my smile. Now I’m taking them back!!!”

The Progressive’s Rebecca Kemble who was at the protest wrote that with “wit and creativity” PFAW members and other activists wanted to “let Walker and his supporters know what they think of the outsized influence of money in politics and of the inhumane and unjust policies that this influence buys.”

Friday’s protest shows Wisconsinites are paying attention and don’t want Walker’s corrupt practices to continue polluting their government.

PFAW

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Emphasizes Importance of Amendment to Get Big Money Out of Politics

In a discussion at the National Book Festival this weekend about her recent book, The Bully Pulpit, presidential scholar and author Doris Kearns Goodwin used the opportunity to highlight the danger of big money in our democracy and the importance of resisting the despair it can create:

“Without citizens taking on an active role in our country, we despair over what’s happening in Washington…We despair over money-in-politics, which I do think is the poison in the system. If I were younger, that’s what I’d be doing – leading a constitutional amendment to get money out of the system. It’s all up to us – we can’t wait for somebody else to do it.”

Her comments come just days before the September 8 Senate vote on the Democracy for All Amendment (SJ Res 19), a proposal that enjoys broad public support and aims to reclaim our democracy from the outsized influence of big money. 

PFAW

PFAW Members Protest McConnell in Zombie Fashion

This Friday, PFAW members joined allies at two events in Louisville to hold Sen. Mitch McConnell accountable for his support of big money in politics.
 
On Friday evening, hundreds of PFAW members and other local activists joined the world’s largest annual Zombie Walk dressed as #ZombieMitch to highlight his zombie-like support of big money in politics. Activists marched with McConnell masks and signs including “Mitch McConnell is a zombie for big money in our elections” and “Need… more… brains money!” Some of the zombies attending the main event told PFAW members that the McConnell zombies were the “scariest thing I’ve seen all night.”

Earlier that day, members and allies met in front of the local GOP headquarters for a rally organized by MoveOn.org. Activists gathered in response to the tapes leaked last week that caught McConnell speaking at a secret meeting hosted by the Koch brothers. Check out the recordings here.

Sen. McConnell is a leading voice against efforts to get big money out of politics, fighting against a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, despite the fact that three in four voters support the measure. For years he has been fighting hard to protect billionaires’ and millionaires’ influence in our elections. The turnout of supporters at both of these events shows that the people of Kentucky are tired of Sen. McConnell’s love of big money in politics.

PFAW

Wealthy Donors Aren't Like You and Me

The Washington Post has an article today with a thoroughly unsurprising headline: Wealthy political donors seize on new latitude to give to unlimited candidates. The short version: Since the Roberts Court's 5-4 McCutcheon decision striking down longstanding aggregate campaign contribution caps, wealthy contributors have ramped up their direct contributions – and personal access – to political candidates.

[Andrew] Sabin, who owns a New York-based precious-metals refining business, was delighted when the Supreme Court did away with the limit in April. Since then, he has been doling out contributions to congressional candidates across the country — in Colorado, Texas, Iowa and "even Alaska," he said.

Top Republicans have taken notice: Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have paid him personal visits this year, he noted proudly.

"You have to realize, when you start contributing to all these guys, they give you access to meet them and talk about your issues," said Sabin, who has given away more than $177,000. "They know that I'm a big supporter."

If you think that unfairly distorts our democracy away from the interests of regular folks, one major Republican donor explains why you're wrong:

But many wealthy donors rejected the notion that the playing field is tilted in their favor.

"Baloney," said Stanley Hubbard, a Minnesota media mogul who largely backs Republicans and conservatives. "The average person can get their friends together and raise small donations that amount to big donations."

And what "average person" might that be?

It would take an awful lot of "average people" to get anywhere near the levels of political giving that we are seeing this election cycle. Even if someone bundled enough small-dollar donations from ordinary people to make a large contribution, it would still pale in comparison to the enormous sums that America's wealthiest are showering throughout the country on their chosen candidates and party organizations. And how many of those small-dollar donors would get personal visits from party leaders?

Most Americans don't want to – and cannot afford to – get into a spending contest with plutocrats to purchase access to and influence over our elected officials. It's an arms race that we as ordinary Americans would lose, but more importantly, that isn't what democracy is about.

Next Monday, senators will have a chance to repair the significant damage to our democracy that Roberts Court rulings like McCutcheon and Citizens United have done by voting to advance the Democracy For All constitutional amendment. We know they've heard from the plutocrats. But have they heard from you yet?

PFAW

LISTEN: McConnell's Remarks at Koch Bros Summit

This week, The Nation published a leaked audio recording from a June strategy hosted by the Koch brothers. In the recording, Sen. Mitch McConnell tells the audience of millionaire and billionaire donors that he believes the Citizens United decision gave us "the most free and open system we’ve had in modern times" and "leveled the playing field for corporations."

You can read the full transcript of McConnell’s remarks here.

PFAW

Secret McConnell Recording Shows Need for Money in Politics Reform

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post. 

Early this morning, The Nation published a leaked recording of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's remarks at a secret meeting of major conservative donors put together by the Koch brothers.

While the first reactions to the recording may highlight what this means for McConnell's Senate race against Alison Lundergan Grimes, the story carries deeper implications as well. At its core, this is a story about why we need to reform the way we finance elections.

In the audio recording, Sen. McConnell says everything that the Koch brothers want to hear. At the beginning of his remarks, he gushes to the brothers: "I don't know where we'd be without you." He rails against Senate votes on raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and tackling student debt. It's no coincidence that he has received heaps of cash from wealthy special interests that oppose action on those issues. (Reporting today from The Huffington Post shows that at the same Koch retreat, Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and state Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa -- both Republican nominees for U.S. Senate -- "directly credited donors present...for propelling them forward.")

This is increasingly what our political system looks like. Those who can bankroll candidates can help set the political agenda -- even if that agenda looks nothing like what the majority of Americans want it to look like. Research has shown that the wealthy have fundamentally different political priorities than those of everyday Americans, but when the preferences of ordinary Americans conflict with those of billionaire donors like the Koch brothers, it's the rich whose preferences carry the day.

And no one is a more vocal supporter of our broken campaign finance system than Mitch McConnell himself. In the secret tapes, Sen. McConnell says that the Citizens United decision (which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending) simply "level[ed] the playing field for corporate speech," even calling the proposed constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United "an act of true radicalism" from people who want to "use the power of the government to quiet the voices of their critics."

But Americans know that it's not billionaires or corporations who need the playing field to be leveled. Their priorities are coming through loud and clear in our democracy, thanks to politicians like Sen. McConnell who are fighting to ensure that those with the most to spend can continue to buy our elections. It's ordinary Americans, who increasingly cannot be heard over the roar of big money, whose voices need to be protected. And that "radical" push for a constitutional amendment, which will be voted on in the Senate on September 8, is actually supported by nearly three in four voters.

Maybe if Mitch McConnell weren't so busy pandering to billionaire donors, he'd be able to see the tremendous grassroots call to reform our money in politics system, with 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns already on record in support of an amendment. Then again, with true money in politics reform, maybe our senators wouldn't need to pander to billionaires at all.

PFAW

PFAW’s Diallo Brooks Discusses Michael Brown Shooting on BET

Today People For the American Way Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks was featured in a powerful BET segment on the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

In the interview, Brooks situates Brown’s death within the larger context of police harassment of and violence toward African American men. “We’ve learned that history continues to repeat itself — that we haven’t healed the old wounds that exist in this country,” Brooks says.

Brooks also underscores the importance of voter engagement in local elections for addressing these issues: “We need to really step up and demand our law enforcement to look like us and to represent us, to be a part of us — to be a part of the fabric of the community.”

Watch the full interview below:

PFAW

New Study Explores Staggering Impact of Outside Spending on 2014 Races

As control of the Senate hangs in the balance this fall, we continue to see the damaging effects of the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision that paved the way for the explosion of outside spending influencing our elections. A report released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice details the deluge of money being funneled into 2014 races in battleground states and highlights an uptick in political spending from single-candidate groups that shield the identities of donors from the public eye. 

The nine Senate races considered to be “toss-ups” have, with close to three months remaining before the elections, seen $72 million in spending by outside interests. This staggering figure dwarfs the $97 million in outside spending on all 37 Senate races in the 2010 cycle. While this disparity reflects the outsized, and growing, influence of big money in politics, the extent to which outside groups can influence election outcomes goes deeper than that one statistic:

The amount of dark money in elections is increasing dramatically: As of last month, across all federal elections, 2014 had seen 15 times more than in the 2010 midterms, and three times the level of 2012. To take the long view, before 2008 – when there was $69 million in spending by groups that disclose none of their donors in all federal elections – dark money was virtually nonexistent. Focusing on the Senate, according to the Sunlight Foundation, there was $97 million worth of dark money all senate elections in 2012. With three months to go, our sample of nine races has already seen $37 million. 

The report added that spending from dark money groups accounted for 51 percent of the $72 million spent in this cycle so far in these nine Senate races.

This surge in outside spending in elections — and the lack of transparency in donor activities — underscores the serious need to amend our campaign finance laws. The Democracy for All Amendment, which would give Congress and the states the ability to regulate the onslaught of money in politics (including outside spending), would go a long way towards restoring the political voice each American voter deserves. In an electoral landscape where the better-financed candidate wins nine times out of ten, we need legislation that can stem the tide of big money distorting our democratic system.  

PFAW