PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Reuters Report: Voters Won't Let Billionaires Buy the Next Election

 With the 2016 national elections upcoming, wealthy donors supporting both parties are gearing up to throw hundreds of millions of dollars into the races; billionaires David and Charles Koch have already pledged to spend $889 million. But a report from Reuters shows that Americans, frustrated by the overwhelming influence of big money in politics, are organizing to fight back.

 In the Philadelphia mayoral race, three billionaires spent $7 million to elect Anthony Hardy Williams. In response, unions and community groups rallied around his challenger, Jim Kenney, organizing a march to stop the wealthy donors from “buying [their] next mayor.” Technological developments are making such organization easier: the creators of Crowdpac, an app that lets entrepreneurs gather funding towards donations, say that they want the app to be used to organize small donors to counteract the effects of billionaire spending.

  This is reflective of a wider trend in public opinion. Americans are sick of letting big money influence their elections; 84 percent say that money has too much influence in political campaigns today and nearly 3 in 4 Americans support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and limit campaign spending.

“There's growing public awareness about rich people trying to buy elections and that makes the task of winning all the more difficult," said Darrel West of the Brookings Institute.

  Americans have organized at all levels of government to get big money out of politics. Activists have held rallies and marches devoted to the cause and demanded that their representatives in Congress take steps to reduce big money’s influence. Five million of them have signed a petition calling for a constitutional amendment to limit the amount of money spent in politics. Sixteen states and more than 650 cities have already called for an amendment.

 President Obama is on board, and presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, Lindsey Graham, and Bernie Sanders have expressed support for a constitutional amendment. Clinton and Sanders have also emphasized the importance of nominating Supreme Court Justices who would restore balance to the Supreme Court and restore the American people’s ability to impose reasonable limits on money in politics.

  The movement against big money in politics is gaining momentum as the election nears.

 

PFAW

ALEC’s Secret Meetings Exposed in Georgia

Last week a local Atlanta television station went to an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Savannah GA to expose the secret relationship ALEC legislators have with corporate lobbyists. Watch the investigation unfold as ALEC’s staff scrambled to respond.

This investigation shows us firsthand how ALEC members are working in secret to develop policies that impact average Americans on behalf of corporate special interests without the public’s input. To learn more about ALEC, check out the PFAW Right Wing Watch report, “ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in State Legislatures.”

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Tell Congress to #GetMoneyOut

Last month, as part of a multi-pronged campaign to boost House and Senate cosponsorship of the Democracy for All constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United and get big money out of politics, People For the American Way kicked off a campaign to send letters to Congress.

PFAW’s letter highlighted the grassroots momentum around an amendment:

While amending the Constitution is unquestionably a weighty matter—only warranted in rare and compelling circumstances—this is one of those moments in our nation’s history. The American people and their elected officials are increasingly speaking out about the need for an amendment. As of April 30, H.J.Res. 22 had 108 cosponsors,xvi and S.J.Res. 5 had 40 cosponsors.xvii The building momentum in Congress for an amendment mirrors the robust grassroots organizing taking place across the country at the state and local levels. Since the landmark Citizens United decision, 16 states and more than 650 municipalities, including large cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, have gone on record supporting congressional passage of a constitutional amendment to be sent to the states for ratification. Transcending political leaning and geographic location, voters in states and municipalities that have placed amendment questions on the ballot have routinely supported these initiatives by large margins.xviii Five million American have signed their names to the amendment support petitions circulated by dozens of reform groups.xix The momentum to address the issue of big money in politics grows stronger by the day.

Since then, eight other organizations have sent their own letters to Congress.

U.S. PIRG:

The call for a solution is also clear. To return control of our elections to average constituents, we need an amendment to correct the Supreme Court’s misguided interpretation that money is speech protected under the First Amendment and reestablish the principle of protecting political equality. The drumbeat of support for this amendment has been heard loud and clear. 16 states and over 650 municipalities have gone on record against the flood of big money in our elections and called on their congressional delegations to pass the amendment and send it back to the states to be ratified.

Common Cause:

We cannot fully address the many challenges our country faces—jobs and the economy, energy independence, housing security, and many others—until we solve the root issue of money dominating politics. Passing a constitutional amendment is a critical way to elevate the voices of everyday Americans so that everyone, not just the wealthy few, can be heard.

American Association of University Women (AAUW):

American women fought too hard for their votes to count. Congress needs to get big money out of our elections—and put the focus back on the people—by passing a Democracy for All constitutional amendment.

MoveOn.org Civic Action:

It's a simple and direct solution to the problems of money in politics that were multiplied many times over by the Supreme Court's decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. Since those decisions opened the floodgates of unregulated political spending, we've seen an already fragile system become even further compromised. As spending on elections increases dramatically, a small handful of the wealthiest Americans control a growing percentage of the campaign donations—locking out millions upon millions of regular Americans from our democracy.

Daily Kos:

The flow of money into our political system—and the associated effects on our democratic processes—has reached a crisis level. In the wake of Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), McCutcheon v. FEC, 134 S.Ct. 1434 (2014), and other damaging Supreme Court decisions that have left Congress and the states unable to enact election spending regulations, American elections have grown increasingly expensive.

Public Citizen:

America faces great and serious challenges – putting people back to work, addressing deepening inequality, averting catastrophic climate change, fixing our schools, ensuring quality and affordable health care for all, and much more. Our country has the wealth and wherewithal, and the creativity and conscience, to meet these challenges. But we will fall short unless we repair our democracy.

Greenpeace:

Climate change is a salient example of the outsized influence of special interest money and Congress’ failure to address issues of highest national importance.

Sierra Club:

For at least the last decade, it has been abundantly clear that the people responsible for polluting our air, our water, and our climate with toxic contamination are many of the same ones responsible for polluting our democracy with hundreds of millions of dollars in toxic money. Fortunately, big money campaign donors are not getting away with this corruption of our democracy without the American people putting up a fight.

Click to learn more about Democracy for All and how you can be part of the solution.

And check out United For The People for ongoing coverage of the far-reaching amendment movement.

PFAW

Jeb Bush Shirks Campaign Finance Laws by Delaying Candidacy Announcement

A number of leading campaign finance lawyers assert that Jeb Bush’s continued refusal to declare himself as a 2016 presidential candidate, despite his robust fundraising, is a blatant evasion of campaign finance restrictions. The New York Times reported  today that campaign experts consider Bush’s activities, such as traveling to Iowa and other swing states and making stump speeches on his vision for the country, to have crossed the barrier into campaigning months ago. Organizations that work to eradicate big money in politics have taken action:

“Last week, two campaign watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Mr. Bush had broken election law by evading restrictions on candidates. The groups called his noncandidacy ‘a charade’ and called on prosecutors to intervene because they said the F.E.C. — perpetually gridlocked — was unlikely to do anything.”

Skirting campaign finance restrictions for as long as possible is profitable for Jeb Bush as it allows him to rake in contributions exceeding the $2,700 limit for official candidates and to continue to coordinate with his super PAC. By delaying his official announcement of candidacy, Jeb Bush is able to bring in an exorbitant amount of donations from wealthy backers and corporations, ensuring that big money has a substantial voice in the 2016 election.

Learn more about Jeb Bush with our 2016 Republican Candidates Report.

PFAW

Money in Politics Survey Shows the Toxic Legacy of the Roberts Court

The New York Times published a poll this morning that reveals - not at all surprisingly - that overwhelming majorities of Americans are thoroughly fed up with money in politics.

Among the findings:

  • Fewer than a third of Americans think all Americans have an equal chance to influence the elections process, while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more influence.
  • 85% said our system for funding political campaigns either needs fundamental changes or, even more, needs to be rebuilt completely.
  • Nearly three in five are pessimistic that changes will be made to improve campaign funding.

So a substantial majority of Americans think that the wealthy few have so much sway over elected officials that changes wanted by 85% of the population will not be made.

Such a lack of faith in the ability of our electoral system to channel popular will cannot be healthy for a democracy. For this, we can thank the Roberts Court, which helped create this situation with decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.

The far right conservatives on the Supreme Court have severely narrowed the permissible goals of laws regulating money in politics. They acknowledge that laws can be passed to prevent corruption and its appearance, but they have reduced that concept to little more than outright bribery. In other words, the current 5-4 majority on the Court has ruled that our elected governments cannot pass laws to address the arrogation of political influence and power by campaign funders with vast concentrations of wealth. When a narrow sliver of the nation's wealthiest individuals and families are able to leverage their political spending into special attention and favorable treatment from elected officials, democracy is not harmed in the eyes of the Roberts Court, but is instead working the way it is supposed to. It's simply constituents supporting candidates they support, and elected officials being appropriately responsive to their concerns.

So five years after Citizens United, it is not surprising that so many Americans have so little faith in the ability of our electoral democracy to function properly. This is just another part of the toxic legacy of the Roberts Court.

But it isn't the end of the story. As Americans' level of revulsion at the extent of money in politics continues to rise, elected officials will eventually have to take notice. It will not be the first time that a popular movement has prompted electoral and political changes too strong to be stopped by those who President Theodore Roosevelt once called the malefactors of great wealth. As with movements of the past, the will of the many can overcome the might of a few.

PFAW Foundation

Scott Walker Doesn't Get Why His 'Cool' Ultrasound Remark Was So Offensive -- And That's The Problem

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Gov. Scott Walker was chatting recently with right-wing radio host Dana Loesch about his efforts to set up regulatory hurdles to abortion access in Wisconsin, when heoffered this defense of a law he signed that would require a woman to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound before exercising her constitutionally protected right to an abortion:

I'm pro-life. I've passed pro-life legislation. We defunded Planned Parenthood, we signed a law that requires an ultrasound. Which, the thing about that, the media tried to make that sound like that was a crazy idea. You know, most people I talked to, whether they're pro-life or not, I find people all the time that pull out their iPhone and show me a picture of their grandkids' ultrasound and how excited they are, so that's a lovely thing. I think about my sons are 19 and 20, we still have their first ultrasounds. It's just a cool thing out there.

Right Wing Watch, a project of People For the American Way, was listening to the show and brought attention to Walker's comments, and they understandably hit a nerve.

Sure, an ultrasound could be "cool" if you are a woman carrying a healthy child, surrounded by family, love and support and making your own medical choices along with your doctor. Or you are excited grandparents looking forward to years of joy with a child. What's not "cool" is if the state mandates that you undergo a medically unnecessary procedure in an effort to prevent you from making a choice that you, an adult woman whose circumstances your politicians have no right to know or judge,have already made and are unlikely to change

Even less "cool" is the fact that the ultrasound bill was passed as part of an explicit effort to undermine women's access to health care. Its companion bill was an "admitting privileges" requirement, a common anti-choice tactic, that threatened to close two abortion clinics in the state. Since then, Walker has boasted to anti-choice leaders of using deceptive rhetoric about the ultrasound bill in order to downplay its true intentions.

Unlike the ultrasounds of the Walkers' children, forced ultrasounds like these aren't the kind that anyone wants to show off. What's astonishing is that Walker doesn't seem to get this. Instead, he's accusing the "gotcha" media of being "biased" and "lazy" and twisting the meaning of his comments. Unfortunately, some of the media are taking him at his word.

Walker's remarks weren't twisted. You can listen to his whole answer to the questionhere. The problem is that Walker just doesn't seem to get why what he said was so offensive. For someone who wants to be president, that's deeply troubling.

PFAW

Maryland Governor Vetoes Important Voting Legislation

Last Friday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would allow formerly incarcerated persons to regain the right to vote upon release from prison. The bill had passed through Maryland’s General Assembly with a significant majority. Hogan’s veto sustains current Maryland law, which prohibits people from voting until they have completed their entire sentence – including parole and probation.

This decision impacts approximately 40,000 Marylanders who live, work, and pay taxes in the state. The bill would have both supported formerly incarcerated persons in the reintegration process and addressed the systemic disenfranchisement of ex-offenders. As Maryland Delegates Cory McCray and Alonzo Washington put it:

In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process.

PFAW advocates in Maryland, and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, have been organizing with supporters to restore full voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons. They called on local community leaders and state representatives to promote this important cause.

Hogan’s decision is deeply disappointing and disproportionately marginalizes people of color, continuing a legacy of racially discriminatory ex-offender laws. It highlights how harmful the power to veto can be in the wrong hands. But the fight for voting rights for all is far from over, and activists in Maryland and across the country will continue to push to ensure that fundamental democratic rights are protected.

PFAW

Cornyn and Cruz Are Devastating Texas Courts

It is no exaggeration to say that the federal court system in Texas is in dire straits. Anyone doubting that need look no further than the state's two senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Even with judicial nominees they themselves recommended, Cornyn and Cruz don't lift a finger to help to prevent delays in committee or on the floor. Just ask Jose Rolando Olvera, who was denied a floor vote until nearly three months after his approval by a unanimous Judiciary Committee in February. That's particularly ironic, since at Olvera's hearing, Cornyn had said that he and Cruz would push for his "swift confirmation."

But even worse than this snail's pace post-nomination is the senators' foot-dragging pre-nomination, as they delay making recommendations to fill vacancies in the state's federal courts.

Even if there were no vacancies in Texas, the state would need more judges: The Judicial Conference of the United States has asked Congress to add eight new judgeships in the Lone Star State.

But Texas, in fact, does have judicial vacancies – nine of them, seven of which have been designated as judicial emergencies (meaning the current caseload is too much for the judges to handle). Not one has a nominee, because Cornyn and Cruz have shown little interest in recommending nominees to the White House in anything approaching a timely manner.

They have put together a Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee to vet potential nominees and make recommendations to the senators. But they wait absurdly long after learning about a vacancy before tasking the Evaluation Committee to address it, guaranteeing that the vacancy rate will remain needlessly high.

For instance, in April, the senators announced that the Evaluation Committee was accepting applications for vacancies in the Eastern District (Plano) and the Western District (Midland), both of which are judicial emergencies. This was two months after the Midland vacancy opened, but Cornyn and Cruz's delay was far longer than "just" two months. Midland Judge Robert Junell had actually announced his plans to go into semi-retirement more than a year in advance, in January of 2014. Waiting 15 months after learning of a planned vacancy before even beginning the process to fill it is hardly a sign of deep commitment to the federal courts in Texas.

As for the Eastern District seat in Plano, it had become vacant a month earlier when Judge Richard Schell took senior status. But Judge Schell's plans had been formally announced in March of 2014, a year in advance, and they were known even earlier than that, in January of 2014. Nevertheless, the senators chose to wait more than a year to activate their Evaluation Committee.

That Plano vacancy isn't the only one in the Eastern District. Almost a full year ago, in June of 2014, Judge Leonard Davis announced that he would be taking senior status in May of this year. That left more than enough time for a replacement to be identified by the senators, nominated by the White House, and confirmed by the Senate. After all, that's the reason departing judges tend to make their plans known so long in advance. However, Senators Cornyn and Cruz still have not publicly asked their Evaluation Committee to start work on this vacancy. As a result, the vacancy opened two weeks ago without a nominee. To no one's surprise – but to the detriment of people in Texas – it was immediately designated a judicial emergency.

The April directive to the Evaluations Committee was actually the second one this year. In January, they directed it to start vetting applicants for vacancies in the Southern District (Corpus Christi) and the Northern District (Lubbock). The Lubbock vacancy had just opened, but it had been announced nearly six months in advance. The Corpus Christi seat has been vacant since Judge Janis Jack took senior status in 2011.

And last July, the senators tasked their committee to begin work on vacancies in the Southern District (Galveston) and the Northern District (Dallas). The Dallas vacancy had been announced in April 2013, more than a year before. The Galveston vacancy had opened just a few weeks earlier when Judge Gregg Costa had been elevated to the Fifth Circuit, but he had been nominated with the senators' full support in December of 2013, so this, too, was a vacancy that was known well in advance.

Yet even though these long-delayed Evaluation Committee processes have finally begun, they have still resulted in a total of zero nominees so far.

Then there are the two longstanding judicial emergencies at the Fifth Circuit. Traditionally, home state senators play a much smaller role in filling circuit court seats than they do with district court seats. Nevertheless, the White House has long been consulting extensively with Cornyn and Cruz, who have apparently stated their opposition even to moderate district judges originally recommended for those positions by Republicans.

So it is not a surprise that Texas has nine vacancies without nominees, seven of them judicial emergencies. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz seem to be doing everything they can to maximize the number of vacancies available for (what they hope will be) a Republican president to fill starting in 2017, heedless of the harm this does to their constituents.

Senator Cornyn recently blamed the White House for the vacancies he and Cruz have fostered:

We can't nominate the judges. The president has to nominate the judges.

Given the senators' deliberate and successful sabotage of the federal court system in Texas, the President would be more than justified in going forward with nominations to these vacancies. Then Senators Cornyn and Cruz should press for fair hearings before the Judiciary Committee on which they both serve.

PFAW

From Wisconsin to Washington, Anti-Choice Legislators Push Unconstitutional 20-Week Abortion Bans

In Congress and state legislatures across the country, right-wing politicians are pushing hard to construct new barriers to women exercising the constitutional right to have an abortion.

Earlier this month the U.S. House passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and GOP legislators in Wisconsin are staging a parallel attack. They introduced a similar 20-week ban, which Gov. Scott Walker has indicated he would sign, and have scheduled a hearing on the bill for next week. PFAW supporters in Wisconsin will be out in force to demonstrate their commitment to protecting this core right.

A couple of important points about 20-week bans: first, they are plainly unconstitutional. One of the main holdings of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was a woman’s right to an abortion before the fetus becomes viable – that is, the point when a fetus could survive outside the uterus. As Imani Gandy writes at RH Reality Check:

In the past 40 years, the Court has never wavered from the fetal viability benchmark…Courts have consistently smacked down legislative attempts to ban abortions at 20 weeks. But states are undeterred by such pedestrian concerns as constitutionality.

Pushing these bans are a deliberate effort to prompt a challenge to the Roe decision, which anti-choice groups believe they can win.

Second, the overwhelming majority of abortions (close to 99 percent) happen before 21 weeks. Those that happen after that are often because of a complicated situation – such as the discovery of a severe fetal abnormality – and the path forward should be determined by a woman and her doctor, not by politicians looking to score points with their base.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these bans are part of an anti-choice agenda with a much broader goal: banning abortions across the board. From mandatory waiting period laws to “personhood” efforts which would give embryos full legal rights from the moment of conception, the anti-choice movement is playing the long game and slowly “chipping away at choice.”

When legislators try to insert themselves into decisions that should be made by women and their health care providers, it’s more than a political ploy. It’s a real threat to every woman’s health and autonomy.

PFAW

Arkansas Attorney General Delays Ballot Initiative to #GetMoneyOut: Coalition Will Continue Pressing

This week Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected a proposed 2016 ballot initiative that seeks to increase disclosure in election spending and support an amendment to overturn Supreme Court cases like Citizens United. Groups leading the effort, including the Arkansas Democracy Coalition, People For the American Way and other national allies, plan to resubmit the ballot initiative language today, as the objections given by the attorney general are minor and can be easily addressed. Once submitted the attorney general will have ten business days to respond with her decision.

The rejection has generated a flurry of media attention and comes in the wake of a series of events in support of the initiative held last week in Little Rock. As PFAW and allies prepare to potentially launch a full-scale ballot initiative campaign, the decision of the Arkansas Attorney General remains an obstacle in the path of making Arkansas the 17th state to pass a resolution in support of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics.

Paul Spencer, Chairman of Regnat Populus, a convening organization of the Arkansas Democracy Coalition, said in a news release the group would revise the measure and submit a fifth version.

“The people of Arkansas deserve the opportunity to vote on these important issues,” he said. “We intend to respond to the very few points the attorney general has raised and trust that the office will not find any further reasons to block the campaign to put this on the ballot.”

PFAW

PFAW Telebriefing Explores Ferguson, Baltimore and the Fight for Racial Justice

As police violence plagues cities across the nation, communities are actively responding with initiatives to mitigate violence and work toward justice. Elected officials, faith leaders and community activists have come together to strengthen their communities in places such as Ferguson and Baltimore. As Pastor Barry Hargrove, president of the Progressive Baptist Convention of Maryland and an active minister in our African American Religious Affairs Program, explained, “There are lots of things happening behind the scenes, happening on the ground, that are not being reported.”

On Tuesday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing for members about the Black Lives Matter movement. PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated a dialogue among Hargrove, Missouri State Senator and member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network Maria Chappelle-Nadal, PFAWF Director of Youth Leadership and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and PFAWF Director of African American Religious Affairs Leslie Watson Malachi.

In the telebriefing, these leaders answered questions about Baltimore and Ferguson and discussed progressive measures taking place in their own communities. In both Baltimore and Ferguson, local leaders have turned toward broad and responsive solutions – such as community policing, social justice education curricula, and prayer rallies – to address targeted violence against minorities.

Despite these steps, Chappelle-Nadal noted that there are still “a significant number of issues that have not been addressed by the legislature.” Chappelle-Nadal, as well as Hargrove, Gillum, and Malachi, encouraged participants to continue advocating for local policies that can help to provoke a systemic change in police practices and empower communities.

Call participants posed many productive questions, including a member who asked what steps could be taken to address tension between the police and communities. Hargrove suggested working within “spheres of influence,” whether it be faith-based organizations or public policy proposals. He also encouraged dialogues between police and community members; Chappelle-Nadal echoed this sentiment by urging citizens to build connections based on commonalities rather than differences.

Listen to the full briefing here:

PFAW

PFAW’s Drew Courtney Discusses Josh Duggar and Mike Huckabee Hypocrisy on ‘Politics Nation with Al Sharpton’

On Friday, PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney joined Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC’s ‘PoliticsNation’ to talk about Mike Huckabee’s response to Josh Duggar’s sexual abuse scandal. After Duggar admitted to sexually abusing young girls as a teenager, Huckabee, a presidential hopeful, posted a lengthy Facebook status supporting Duggar and his family. He claimed Duggar was victimized by the public’s “insensitive bloodthirst” for scandal, and called Duggar’s actions inexcusable, but not unforgivable.

Courtney said that while he doesn’t believe he should tell Huckabee how to respond to the allegations, it is fair to look at how Huckabee has responded to other issues. As Courtney explained, Huckabee “responded with outrage when gay and lesbian people were allowed to serve openly in the military. He responded with outrage every time we’ve seen laws to protect LGBT people at work.” And Courtney reminded viewers that Huckabee has even “responded with so much outrage to marriage equality that he’s compared gay people to Nazi propagandists and people who have sex with sheep.”

Huckabee’s support for the Duggars is shaded by his own hypocrisy, Courtney explained: Huckabee “seemed kind of stunned by the judgment that he feels the Duggars have received, but he’s responded with bitterness and judgment at every step along our country’s way to legal equality for gay people.” Courtney commented, “I hope that, frankly, [Huckabee] remembers this feeling next time he decides that he should be attacking gay and lesbian families in order to score some political points.”

Watch the clip here, from Mediaite. 
 

PFAW

Correcting an Imbalance: Expanding Benefits for Survivors of Domestic Violence in Montana

The following is a guest blog by Montana Representative Jenny Eck, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network and Minority Whip in the Montana House of Representatives.

It hasn’t been easy, but after years of debate and hard work, Montana now has a law extending the unemployment benefits available to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. This is a huge development. It means that someone trying to leave an abusive spouse can now focus on tasks like seeking counsel, navigating the legal system, looking for a new place to live, moving children into a new school district, or finding another job in a new town – without the added burden of finding the money to make it all happen.

At the bill’s signing, Governor Steve Bullock said, “No Montanan should be forced to choose between the physical safety of themselves and their children, and their economic security.” It’s a stark choice, and one that nobody should have to make.

Yet for the hundreds of women in recent years who have been murdered at their workplace by current or former intimate partners, this choice is all too real. Intimate partner violence is a leading cause of fatalities for women at work, and women are at a significantly higher risk than men of being the target of a violent act while on the clock. A 2012 Labor Department study found that of all workplace incidents of intimate partner violence from 1997 to 2010, 38 men were victims, while women numbered 346 over the same period. There are severe economic ramifications, too – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women in the U.S. lose around 8 million days of paid work each year because of intimate partner violence.

Leaving an abusive relationship is hard enough; the state shouldn’t make it even harder. Yet historically, that is precisely what Montana has done. Until HB 306 was signed into law, survivors of sexual assault were eligible for just 10 weeks of unemployment insurance. Victims of a natural disaster, on the other hand, were entitled to 28 weeks of benefits. This disparity was shocking; surely suffering the trauma of sexual assault can be just as debilitating as living through an earthquake or tornado.

The new law corrects this imbalance. Extending support to these survivors was the right thing to do, and it will save lives as a result.
 

PFAW Foundation

On the 7th Circuit, It's Time for Ron Johnson to Get Out of the Way

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is once again playing politics with the nation's oldest appellate court vacancy. This time, he's changing the rules when they don't work for him, violating an agreement he previously made with fellow senator Tammy Baldwin. His latest efforts to delay filling a five year-old vacancy on the Seventh Circuit are absurd and should simply be ignored by the White House.

Here's the background: Since taking office in 2011, Johnson has been anything but cooperative. He set the tone just five days into his term, when he expressed opposition to nominee Victoria Nourse as well as district court nominee Louis Butler because he had not been consulted in advance on their nominations, both of which had occurred before he was even elected.

He also demanded changes in how Wisconsin's senators identify potential judges to recommend to the White House. For decades, senators had used a Federal Nominating Commission comprised of members selected by the senators. Consistent with practice in other states when one senator is not of the president's party, and regardless of whether the president at the moment happened to be a Democrat or a Republican, a Wisconsin senator of the president's party chose more commission members than the other senator. But Johnson refused to go forward unless he could name as many members as Baldwin, a demand Baldwin agreed to in 2013 in an effort to get the long-stalled process moving after years of inaction.

Under their agreement, each senator would name three commissioners. But to make sure he could keep the Seventh Circuit seat vacant for as long as possible, Johnson ensured that the commission not address that vacancy until it first made recommendations for two district court vacancies. Slowing the process even further, the commission was not allowed to work on the second district court vacancy until the president made a nomination for the first one. This meant that it was not permitted to even start looking for potential Seventh Circuit judges until last summer, 15 months after its formation.

The White House, consistent with its practice of extensive outreach to senators of both parties on judicial nominees, opted to cooperate with this effort. Although presidents generally give home-state senators substantial influence in selecting district court judges, senators usually play a much smaller role in filling circuit court seats. Nevertheless, even with the substantial delay built into the system, President Obama gave Johnson the benefit of the doubt and chose to hold off on a Seventh Circuit nomination until the Wisconsin senators could receive and act on the recommendations of the nominating commission.

But that effort failed. The Commission's charter required it to recommend no fewer than four and no more than six potential nominees to the senators within 75 days of the application deadline. If it couldn't do that, the senators could grant it a one-time 30-day extension. By the end of last year, it was clear that – under the charter that Johnson agreed to – the commission could not make any recommendations.

With the process that the senators asked the president to wait for completely broken down, the White House can make its nomination knowing that they've done all they can do to give the senators input.

Earlier this month, Sen. Baldwin sent the White House the names of the eight people who had advanced as far as the interview stage with the commission. She didn't express support or opposition for any of them. But with the commission process having failed under its own terms, Baldwin acted to make sure the White House could exercise its constitutional prerogative to move forward on the nomination with at least some useful information.

Johnson's response has been interesting. A couple of weeks ago, Johnson said the whole committee process should start again. Then late last week, he released a statement suggesting the White House should consider two of the applicants (those who had the support of five of the six commissioners). He accused Baldwin of a "unilateral breach of a successful agreement," although it is hard to describe an agreement as "successful" when it has undeniably failed under its own charter to make recommendations to the senators. He also claims that "[f]illing vacancies for federal judges in a particular state is the prerogative of the U.S. senators of that state," glossing over the distinction between circuit and district court nominations.

In his statement, Johnson claims he never wanted the commission charter to require a minimum number of circuit court recommendations. So now he is just ignoring the part of his agreement he negotiated that he didn't like. That turns the "give and take" of negotiating an agreement into a "take and take," which summarizes Johnson's actions relating to judicial nominations since he took office.

It isn't just Johnson's own history that provides context for recognizing the motivations behind his current actions. The past few weeks have seen plenty of examples of Republican senators trying to keep circuit court vacancies open for as long as possible rather than let President Obama fill them. Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey blocked committee consideration of Third Circuit nominee Phil Restrepo for half a year, until the local press coverage became too much for him to bear. In Indiana, Republican Senator Dan Coats this month called for the creation of a nominating commission to fill an Indiana slot on the Seventh Circuit. This came as a surprise to Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly, who noted that he's been working on identifying potential nominees for over a year consistent with an agreement he and Coats had reached. Of course, up-ending that agreement and moving to a commission process would create so much delay that it would likely be up to the next president to fill the vacancy, a president that Coats hopes will be a Republican.

But back to Wisconsin, where it is long past time to fill a vacancy that has been open for more than five years. Both President Obama and Senator Baldwin have gone to incredible lengths to accommodate Ron Johnson. Now that the system that he demanded and agreed to has fallen apart, it's time he got out of the way. If he has objections to whoever the president nominates, the proper place to air them will be at a Judiciary Committee hearing.

PFAW

The Growing Call to #GetMoneyOut

This week, local activists in 12 states delivered petitions in support of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics.

Last September, a majority of the Senate voted in support of the Democracy For All Amendment, a proposal that would overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and let lawmakers put commonsense limits on money in elections.

Building off that progress, this week activists in more than 12 states delivered petitions to their House and Senate members asking them to support the Democracy For All Amendment. As wealthy special interests prepare to pour billions into the 2016 elections, ordinary Americans aren’t just shaking their heads. They are signing petitions, organizing events, lobbying their elected officials, and pushing for change.

In California, local leaders delivered 311,950 petitions – all signed by Californians who support an amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United – to Rep. Tony Cardenas. Their raised fingers represent the fight to protect the promise of “one person, one vote.”

In New York, activists did the same at the office of Rep. Yvette Clark.

One Maryland activist even hand-delivered his petitions directly to Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

A number of local leaders in New Hampshire came out to deliver thousands of petitions to Sen. Kelly Ayotte...

…which caught the attention of local media.

All in all, more than five million Americans have signed petitions in support of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Grassroots leaders across the country are going to keep up the pressure on their elected officials until support for the amendment in Congress reflects the overwhelming support among constituents.
 

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