PEOPLE FOR BLOG

President Obama’s Support for Amendment to #GetMoneyOut Predates Public Announcement

Nearly two years ago, President Obama caused a splash by expressing support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. Asked during the online forum what he was going to do to “end the corrupting influence of money in politics,” President Obama put the spotlight on the movement for a constitutional amendment by explicitly mentioning the amendment strategy:

Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it).

A new book released this week by POLITICO reporter Ken Vogel shows that President Obama had been privately discussing an amendment months before his public comment in August 2012. Vogel’s book describes President Obama telling Democratic donors in February of that year:

“Now, I taught constitutional law…I don't tinker with the Constitution lightly. But I think this is important enough that citizens have to get mobilized around this issue, and this will probably be a multiyear effort. After my reelection, my sense is that I may be in a very strong position to do it.”

The fact that President Obama was sharing support for an amendment even earlier than previously known underscores the importance of the issue to our nation’s president. In addition to President Obama, 44 U.S. senators, 123 U.S. representatives, and more than 1,700 state legislators have gone on record in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.

PFAW

Udall Constitutional Amendment to Restore Our Democracy: PFAW Member Telebriefing

The day after Sen. Tom Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics was considered at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Udall joined People For the American Way activists, supporters, and staff members on a member telebriefing to discuss the amendment and what Americans can do to support it.

Sen. Udall noted in his introduction that together we have come a long way in the movement to get big money out of politics, due in part to the work of People For the American Way. He said that in the last few years, our nation’s campaign finance laws have come under increasing attack. There are only two ways, Sen. Udall said, to have lasting reform on this issue: either the Court can reverse itself, or we can amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. Sen. Udall pointed out that elections should be about the quality of ideas, not the size of bank accounts. 

When asked by a participant to address the false claim pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz and other right-wing politicians and activists that this amendment is an attack on the First Amendment, Sen. Udall explained: “This is about restoring the First Amendment so it applies equally to all Americans.” He pointed out that our access to constitutional rights and our ability to participate in the democratic process should not be based on our net worth. 

Sen. Udall urged activists on the call to voice their support at every opportunity they have. Specifically, he encouraged advocates to get a copy of the amendment and urge their local officials to support it by passing resolutions. Despite the lengthy process of amending the Constitution, Sen. Udall asked participants not to be discouraged; with a strong grassroots movement, he said, we can make it happen.

PFAW executive vice president Marge Baker also fielded questions from participants on the call. She urged activists to connect campaign finance reform to the issues most important to them and their communities, whether that’s fighting for health and safety on the job, defending the environment, or protecting voting rights. On voting rights, Baker pointed out that the Supreme Court’s attacks on campaign finance laws go hand in hand with their attacks on the right to cast a vote; both have the effect of disempowering average Americans in our democracy. This is why, Baker pointed out, we must take on the Supreme Court and reclaim our political system – making it a democracy truly of, by, and for the people. 

You can listen to the call here:

PFAW

US Senators Who Support the Amendment Strategy

45 US Senators now support a constititutional amendment to undo the harm of decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon. Do yours?


State Senator

Alaska

Sen. Mark Begich

California

Sen. Barbara Boxer

California Sen. Diane Feinstein
Colorado Sen. Michael F. Bennet
Colorado

Sen. Mark Udall

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal
Connecticut Sen. Christopher Murphy
Delaware

Sen. Thomas R. Carper

Delaware Sen. Christopher A. Coons
Hawaii Sen. Mazie K. Hirono
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz
Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin
Maine Sen. Angus S. King, Jr.
Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin
Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski
Massachusetts

Sen. Edward J. Markey

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Michigan

Sen. Debbie Stabenow

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Montana Sen. Jon Tester
Montana Sen. John E. Walsh
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen
New Jersey Sen. Cory A. Booker
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez
New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall
New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich
New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan
North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley
Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed
Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy
Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders
Washington Sen. Patty Murray
Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin
West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller, IV

For more elected officials who support an amendment, visit United4thePeople.org.

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Deliver to Senate Hearing Two Million Petitions for an Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

Before yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a proposed campaign finance constitutional amendment had even begun, advocates from People For the American Way and partner organizations had already delivered a powerful message from the American people. Carrying signs saying “Restore the First Amendment” and “Amend the Constitution to #GetMoneyOut,” activists rolled in stacked boxes of more than two million petitions in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.

 

In his opening remarks, Sen. Patrick Leahy noted that these petitions serve as a “tangible reminder that Americans are calling on Congress to act.”

In an rare move that underscored the importance of the proposed amendment, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell testified at the hearing. Sen. Reid issued a call to action for the amendment, urging Americans to work together to restore the basic principle of one American, one vote. “Our involvement in government should not be dependent on our bank account balances,” he said.

Sen. McConnell, on the other hand, used the platform to claim that the proposed amendment is about shutting people up, calling it the “latest proposal to weaken the First Amendment.” Later, Sen. Ted Cruz continued to push the false claim that the amendment would “repeal the free speech protections of the First Amendment” and “muzzle” Americans.

But other witnesses were quick to debunk this myth, including constitutional law expert Jamie Raskin, who is also a senior fellow at People For the American Way. In his testimony, Raskin noted:

[E]ven as our huge majorities of Americans support reclaiming our democracy, opponents of the Amendment are waving the flag of the First Amendment, as if political democracy and free speech are enemies. But the Citizens United era has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with plutocratic power. Citizens United did not increase the rights of a single citizen to express his or her views with speech or with money. Before the decision, all citizens, including CEOs, could express themselves freely, make contributions, and spend all the money they had to promote their politics. They could band together with the help of the corporation and form a PAC. All Citizens United did was confer a power on CEOs to write corporate treasury checks for political expenditures, without a vote of the shareholders, prior consultation or even disclosure.

In terms of real world consequences, Raskin went on to note, these damaging Supreme Court decisions did not “expand the political freedom of citizens but… reduce[d] the political power of citizens.”

North Carolina State Senator Floyd McKissick described some of those real world effects, noting that he can divide his time in the state legislature into two distinct periods: “before Citizens United, and after”:

Suddenly, no matter what the race was, money came flooding in. Even elected officials who had been in office for decades told me they’d never seen anything like it. We were barraged by television ads that were uglier and less honest than I would have thought possible. And they all seemed to be coming from groups with names we had never even heard of. But it was clear that corporations and individuals who could write giant checks had a new level of power in the state.

PFAW

Still In Store from the Supreme Court in 2014...

There is about a month remaining before the end of the Supreme Court’s current term, which is expected to be at the end of June.  The Roberts Court has already done great damage in the cases it has decided so far.  The far-right’s ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC drove another dagger into the heart of our democracy by empowering the wealthiest and most powerful among us to exercise even more control over our election.  Town of Greece v. Galloway continued the arch-conservatives’ goal to undermine the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

But there are many important cases remaining to be decided over the next several weeks.  Depending on how the Court rules, the entrenched power imbalance already harming our democracy could be significantly worsened.

Recess appointments and sabotage of the executive branch:  NLRB v. Noel Canning.

This case has the potential of completely remaking the president’s recess appointment authority from how it has been understood and exercised since the 1800s.  The recess appointment power has long been used by presidents of both parties during all kinds of recesses, not just those occurring annually between sessions of Congress.  And it has always been used to fill vacancies regardless of when those vacancies first became open.  But that may soon change.

It’s important to note that this case arose out of far-right conservatives’ efforts to nullify laws they don’t agree with.  In this case, the laws in their crosshairs were those protecting workers, which they sought to undermine by preventing the National Labor Relations Board from having enough members to conduct business.  Specifically, Republicans blocked the Senate from holding confirmation votes on President Obama’s  nominees to the NLRB, finally provoking him to make recess appointments in January of 2012.  This was during a vacation period when the Senate was meeting for pro forma sessions for a few minutes every few days, a practice that came about for the specific purpose of preventing recess appointments.

The Supreme Court has been asked to answer several questions:  (1) Can a recess appointment be made only during the recess between two sessions of Congress (which occurs once a year and can last only a split second), or can it be made during any recess?  (2)  Can the Senate use pro forma sessions to turn what would otherwise be a recess into a non-recess, thereby preventing recess appointments?  (3)  Is a recess appointment limited to those vacancies that first became open during the same recess during which the appointment is made?

Attacks on public sector unions:  Harris v. Quinn.

This case is about home care personal assistants (PAs) in Illinois, who provide in-home care under two of its Medicaid programs to people with disabilities and other health needs.  But it has the potential, should the Roberts Court wish, to deliver a crippling blow to public sector unions nationwide.

Illinois PAs are classified as state employees for the purposes of collective bargaining and work under a common “agency shop” agreement:  If the employees in a particular group choose to have a union represent them, the government employer recognizes that union as their exclusive representative.  When the union carries out its collective bargaining functions, it does so on behalf of all the employees, regardless of whether they actually join the union.  Members pay dues to support this activity on their behalf.  To prevent “free riding,” the law requires non-union members to pay their fair share to support the basic collective bargaining activities being done on their behalf, but not to support non-collective bargaining activities such as political campaigning with which they might disagree.

The Supreme Court has long recognized that such arrangements for public employees are consistent with the First Amendment, dating back to a 1977 case called Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.  But that precedent is threatened in this case as petitioners – backed by the anti-worker National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation – call for the Roberts Court to overrule Abood.  According to the PAs who brought this case, the arrangement violates their First Amendment freedom to choose with whom to associate.  They also claim that exclusive representation violates their right to petition the government on matters of public policy, since the subject of their negotiations is the functioning and budgets of state Medicaid programs.

As Justice Kagan noted during oral arguments, this “would radically restructure the way workplaces across this country are run,” imposing so-called “right to work” regimes on all public employment throughout the United States.  In so doing, it would substantially drain the coffers of public sector unions, which has been a longtime political goal of conservative extremists.

Unfortunately, the far-right Justices on the Roberts Court have already demonstrated their eagerness to join in the political attack on workers.  Two years ago, in Knox v. SEIU (another case involving public sector unions), they severely undercut another longtime precedent that had enabled public sector unions to protect workers’ rights by deciding an issue that wasn’t before them, ruling against the union on an issue that it had not even had a chance to argue.  As Justice Sotomayor pointed out in her dissent, the majority was acting in violation of the Court’s own rules to achieve this result.  Whether they will show a similar eagerness to undercut public sector unions remains to be seen.

Corporate religious liberty rights:  Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius.

These cases have the potential to give religious liberty rights to for-profit corporations, and to empower their owners and managers to ignore laws on health insurance coverage, employment discrimination, and other areas based on their religious beliefs.

Under the Affordable Care Act and HHS guidelines, employers generally have to provide certain preventive health services, including FDA-approved contraception, to women employees.  The cases challenging this requirement involve several companies and their owners.  Conestoga Wood is a for-profit corporation with 950 employees, owned by members of the Hahn family.  Hobby Lobby is an arts and crafts chain store with over 500 stores and about 13,000 full-time employees, owned by members of the Green family.  The Greens also own a corporation called Mardel, a chain of 35 for-profit Christian bookstores with about 400 employees.

The Greens and the Hahns have religious-based opposition to the use of some of the contraceptives covered by the law.  They claim that the law violates not only their own religious freedom, but also the religious freedom of the large for-profit corporations they run.  The primary law at issue in the cases is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), enacted in 1993.  Under RFRA, a federal law cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless it advances a compelling government interest in the least restrictive manner.

A key question for the Justices is whether a for-profit corporation is a “person” covered by RFRA.  Unsurprisingly, before this litigation, no court had ever found that for-profit corporations have religious liberty interests either under RFRA or under the First Amendment.  Yet a divided Tenth Circuit ruled for Hobby Lobby: They concluded that since corporations have First Amendment political speech rights under Citizens United, it follows that they also have First Amendment religious rights, and that RFRA should be interpreted to include them as “persons.”  As PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin has written, “the outlandish claims of the company involved would not have a prayer except for Citizens United, the miracle gift of 2010 that just keeps giving.”

The next question is whether the coverage requirement is a substantial burden on the families’ (and possibly corporations’) exercise of religion, even though they are not forced to use or administer the contraception, or to affirm that they have no religious objection to it.  Since the ones providing the health insurance are the corporations and not the individual owners, a ruling in favor of the owners would have implications for a concept basic to American law: that a corporation is a legally separate entity from its owners.

If the Justices find a substantial burden on the corporations or their owners, then they will determine if the government interest (furthering women’s health and equality) is a compelling one, and if the coverage provision advances that interest in the least restrictive manner.

While a victory for either the corporations or their owners would directly harm women’s health, it could also open the door to employers being able to exempt themselves from other laws that they have religious objections to, such as anti-discrimination protections.

Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Clinics:  McCullen v. Coakley.

The Court is being asked to overrule a 2000 precedent upholding buffer zones around reproductive health clinics.  The current case involves a Massachusetts law that creates a 35-foot buffer zone around such clinics (with exceptions for employees, patients and others with business there, and people passing through on their way somewhere else).  Anti-choice advocates claim this violates their freedom of speech because it restricts only people with a particular viewpoint.

The lower courts disagreed, citing the 2000 case of Hill v. Colorado, where the Supreme Court upheld a buffer zone making it illegal to approach within eight feet of people at clinics for the purpose of counseling, education, or protesting.  (This applied anywhere within 100 feet of the clinic.)  That 6-3 decision analyzed the law as a content-neutral regulation of speech that was reasonable in light of the importance of protecting unwilling people’s right to avoid unwanted conversations and their right to pass without obstruction.  However, two of the conservative Justices in the 6-3 majority have been replaced by far more conservative Bush nominees:  Rehnquist (by Roberts) and O’Connor (by Alito).  Since Justices Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas dissented in the 2000 case, there may very well be five votes to not only strike down the Massachusetts buffer zone but also to overrule Hill completely.

As noted in an amicus brief that PFAW Foundation joined, the Massachusetts law applies to people regardless of the content of their speech and is a content-neutral way to ensure that women can enter the clinics to exercise their constitutional rights.  The law does not prevent abortion opponents from approaching women who are more than 35 feet from the clinic entrance (as opposed to the Colorado law, which prohibited unwanted close contact anywhere within 100 feet of the clinic). And the record in this case shows that anti-choice advocates have consistently been able to distribute literature to individuals approaching clinics, as well as to have quiet conversations with them.

Nevertheless, many felt after oral arguments that five conservative justices were likely to strike down the Massachusetts law.  If they do, we will see if they also overrule the 2000 precedent, opening the floodgates to another era of efforts to block women from exercising a deeply personal constitutional right.

Regulating greenhouse gases:  Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (and several companion cases).

In these cases, industrial interests and their allies are attacking the EPA’s ability to effectively regulate their greenhouse gas emissions.

In Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles, since they easily fit within the CAA’s broad definition of “air pollutant.”  This ruling, resisted by the Bush Administration, allowed the Obama Administration to adopt regulations on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks in 2010.

Under the EPA’s longstanding interpretation of the Clean Air Act, once EPA regulation of a pollutant from mobile sources (like cars and trucks) goes into effect, that pollutant is automatically subject to regulation under EPA rules for stationary sources (like factories and power plants).  Those regulations involve permitting requirements for facilities emitting pollutants over statutory thresholds.  But greenhouse gases are emitted in far greater volumes than other pollutants, and millions of industrial, commercial, and even residential sources exceed the statutory threshold.  The EPA recognized that immediately adding these millions of stationary sources to its permitting programs would impose tremendous costs to both industry and to state permitting authorities.  So in what is called the “Tailoring Rule,” the agency chose to move gradually, initially subjecting only the largest sources of emissions to mandatory greenhouse gas permitting, and planning a gradual phase-in for others, with planned rulemakings on how best to accomplish that phase-in.

Industrial interests, the Chamber of Commerce, and their conservative allies in state government have challenged the EPA rules.  They argue that since the addition of greenhouse gases to the stationary sources permitting programs would cause what they characterize as results not desired by Congress (such as bringing huge numbers of buildings, including churches, schools, bakeries, and large private homes into the programs), it means that greenhouse gases are not the type of pollutant to which these permitting programs apply.  And that lets the major industrial contributors to greenhouse gas pollution off the hook.  They also claim that the Tailoring Rule is a rewrite of the Clean Air Act, which only Congress can do.  So we end up with hyperbolic right-wing talking points in Supreme Court briefs, like this from Southeastern Legal Foundation:

This case involves perhaps the most audacious seizure of pure legislative power over domestic economic matters attempted by the Executive Branch since Youngstown Sheet & Tube [the 1952 case striking down President Truman’s seizure of steel mills during the Korean War].

As the Constitutional Accountability Center noted in their amicus brief supporting the EPA, the agency’s gradual approach satisfies rather than subverts the central purpose of the Clean Air Act:

This is not a suspension of the relevant statutory provisions nor a failure to enforce the CAA as written.  To the contrary, EPA is setting priorities based on both practical realities and its limited resources, biting off no more than it or, as important, the regulated entities themselves, can chew at any given time. This phase-in of the CAA’s requirements is not a rewrite of the statute, and it is fully consistent with the executive authority vested in the President by Article II of our enduring Constitution and the separation of powers evidenced in the Framers’ design.

PFAW Foundation

The Religious Right’s Persecution Complex: PFAW Member Telebriefing

Yesterday, People For the American Way activists and supporters joined members of PFAW’s Right Wing Watch team for a preview of our upcoming report on the Religious Right’s claims of persecution and discrimination.

PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery and Senior Researcher for Special Projects Miranda Blue discussed how the Right has developed a powerful echo chamber pushing stories — many of which have been soundly debunked — painting conservative Christians as a victimized minority.

You can listen to a complete recording of the call below, and keep an eye out for PFAW's upcoming report: "“The Persecution Complex: The Religious Right's Deceptive Rallying Cry."

2001 Recording Undercuts Boggs' 2014 Testimony

At his confirmation hearing, Georgia judicial nominee Mike Boggs tried to explain away a number of troubling aspects of his record. Those efforts were unconvincing, which is why People For the American Way opposes Boggs' nomination. Many senators, both on and off the Judiciary Committee, have expressed serious doubts about the nominee. Those doubts are likely magnified after evidence has surfaced contradicting some of Boggs' sworn testimony about a vote relating to abortion providers that he cast as a member of the Georgia House in 2001.

Ordinarily, a nominee's voting record as a legislator doesn't tell us how they would rule on issues as a judge. But Boggs is no ordinary nominee: When he was a Georgia House member running for election as a state judge in 2004, he assured voters at a judicial candidates' forum that his decisions as a state judge would conform to his positions as a legislator: "I am proud of my record. You don't have to guess where I stand – I oppose same-sex marriages. I supported and authored the Child Protection Act to protect children from predators. I have a record that tells you exactly what I stand for." His misunderstanding of the role of the courts and of judges goes to the heart of whether he is qualified to be confirmed to a lifetime federal judgeship. It also makes his legislative record directly relevant.

In 2001, he voted for a floor amendment to add information about the number of abortions performed by a doctor to public profiles maintained by the state. No other specific procedure would have had to be listed. This was at a time of significant public concern and reporting on violence against doctors who provide abortions. At his confirmation hearing, Boggs repudiated the provision and said he hadn't had time to study it, so he didn't know that there was a risk of violence inherent in the amendment, an explanation that some senators seemed to find hard to believe.

A new report from Huffington Post's Jennifer Bendery casts doubt on Boggs' assertion of ignorance:

[At his confirmation hearing, Boggs] made the case that he had no idea of the public safety risks associated with one controversial measure he voted for that would have required doctors who perform abortions to post their profiles online along with the number of abortions they'd performed every year.

But an audio recording of that March 2001 debate in the Georgia House, obtained Tuesday by The Huffington Post, makes it clear that legislators -- including Boggs, who was serving at the time -- knew what the amendment would do and why it was so dangerous. It had already been rejected by the Georgia Senate.

The recording, which is online, makes clear that legislators discussed the threats to abortion clinics and providers posed by the amendment. Yet Boggs voted for it.

If senators conclude that Boggs was not honest with them, that may be yet another reason to oppose the nomination.

PFAW

YEO Evan Low Dedicates Harvey Milk Stamp

Last week, the highly-anticipated Harvey Milk stamp made its debut in a White House dedication ceremony featuring a roster packed with dynamic speakers including Evan Low, a Campbell, California city councilmember and participant in PFAW Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network, who recounted his personal story and stressed the importance of electing LGBT Americans to public office.

US Senator Tammy Baldwin later touched on where the LGBT equality movement stands today, more than 35 years after Harvey Milk's tragic assassination, crediting the youngest among us for understanding what's at the heart of the progress made and the work left to be done – love and fairness.

Anne Kronenberg, Harvey Milk's campaign manager, included in her closing remarks a simple statement of what the Milk stamp means – that new people and places will get to meet Harvey simply by opening a mailbox.

We remember.

We remember Harvey Milk

PFAW Foundation

Reid, Pelosi, PFAW & Others Call Out Kochs at Cap Hill Event

This Tuesday at a press conference in the US Capitol hosted by Brave New Films and featuring Robert Greenwald’s latest documentary, “Koch Bros Exposed,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Bernie Sanders and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker made a resounding call for amending the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s egregious decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC.

“We need our voices heard… we need to change the status quo,” Majority Leader Reid stated after calling for an amendment.

“We need a government by the many, not a government by the money,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed. She went on to declare, “the time to amend the Constitution is now!”

Comparing the amount the Koch brothers spent in the 2012 election cycle to the amount they made, on average, over the past three years, Sen. Sanders pointed out: “$400 million is not a lot of money when you make $11 billion a year.”

Following Sen. Sanders, People For the American Way’s Executive Vice President for Policy and Program, Marge Baker, took the podium and stated, “The time has come to discuss solutions.”  She highlighted the growing support for the amendment strategy, the momentum behind the small donor empowering Government By the People Act, the push at the state level for disclosure and campaign finance law, and the growing movement around the country of everyday citizens who are working to build a more democratic government.

 

PFAW

Countering the Conservative Campus Crusade

The following is a post by Gabriela De Golia, Advocacy Associate for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.

Last week, in a speech in support of a constitutional amendment to reduce the influence of big money on our political system, Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “No one should be able to pump unlimited funds into political campaigns.”  On political spending, Sen. Reid noted, the “Koch brothers are in a category of their own.”

Indeed, the Koch brothers’ influence in shaping our national political dialogue is stronger than many realize. In March the Center for Public Integrity wrote about David and Charles Koch’s financial investments in colleges and universities—the nation-spanning “campus of Koch Brothers Academy.” By pouring millions into schools across the country, the Koch brothers bankroll academic programs to promote their economic and social ideologies. They champion regressive political philosophies and create a pipeline for youth to become engaged in conservative activism. In effect, the Koch brothers are leading a crusade to funnel young people into the conservative movement.

However, we in the progressive movement are also investing in our youth. Despite not having as much money as oil tycoons, key players in the progressive movement understand the power of youth and are fighting back with a long-term progressive infrastructure. Programs like Young People For (YP4) of People For the American Way Foundation provide young progressive leaders the tools to create systemic change, roll back conservative advances, reclaim our democracy, and fight for justice.

By teaching young adults to identify key issues in their communities, create concrete action plans, and mobilize others through organizing and advocacy, YP4 helps Millennial change-makers build power to win on progressive issues. For example, through our program’s Money in Elections campaign, young activists have held rallies, gathered petitions, protested banks, and spoken at national events in support of reclaiming our democracy. Ariel Boone, a 2009 YP4 Fellow, lead a successful campaign urging the University of California at Berkeley to divest $3.5 million out of Bank of America and reinvest these funds in a local bank that contributes millions to the surrounding community. Last year 2013 Fellow Brendien Mitchell spoke alongside Senator Bernie Sanders and other pro-democracy movement leaders at a rally to get big money out of politics on the steps of the Supreme Court. These are but a couple examples of how YP4 is supporting young people in taking a stand against corporate influence in our political system.

As YP4 enters its tenth year, we continue to recognize that to build a movement, you need to think long-term. From recruiting youth from marginalized communities into our Fellowship program, to assisting them in getting more voters to the polls through our voter engagement programs, to training them to run successful campaigns through our Front Line Leaders Academy, we support youth every step of the way of their leadership journey.

Often in conversations about politics and civic participation, young adults are afterthoughts, considered an “apathetic” audience that doesn’t vote. But Millennials are far more engaged than given credit for. In fact, today’s young adults are anything but disengaged. Despite being the first generation to be economically worse-off than their parents through no fault of our own, Millennials are far more likely to do community service than older generations. About half of us vote, and we currently account for over 20 percent of the voting-eligible population in the US – and that number is growing as more of us turn 18. We must constantly overcome conservatives’ best attempts to keep us from the polls, efforts which in themselves show how much power we hold over the political process – no one would try to disenfranchise us if we didn’t matter. And last but certainly not least, we are the most diverse and progressive generation in recent history.

Ironically, two individuals who spend enormous amounts of money to influence the civic lives of young adults represent political leanings at odds with much of the Millennial generation’s values. The Koch brothers singlehandedly influence the US political arena more than almost anyone else thanks to their nearly limitless pool of oil money. They are two of the most radical and influential right-wing leaders today who are attempting to abolish the minimum wage, get rid of Social Security, defund the Affordable Care Act, equate money with speech, and lead the transformation of American democracy into an oligarchy.  As shown in the Center for Public Integrity report, in 2012 they gave nearly $13 million in tax-deductible donations to higher education institutions, including many that are often considered “liberal,” to promote their ideologies.

These contributions show that conservative leaders do understand the power of youth and the return they get from investing in youth leadership development opportunities. By shelling millions into programs for young conservatives since the 1970s and focusing on long-term capacity building rather than just mobilization during elections, conservatives see the fruits of their labor in congressional dysfunction and the weakening of our democratic processes.

But programs like YP4 are doing the work to turn this tide by developing young progressive leaders. As Andrew Gillum, Director of Youth Leadership Programs at People For the American Way Foundation, wrote earlier this year: “Investing in progressive young people is the key to ensuring our movement’s capacity to create and sustain social change for years to come.”

Creating change is hard and takes time, especially when up against big money like that of the Koch Brothers. But by investing in young people, the progressive movement can make a real difference in both the short and long terms. We simply cannot afford to not invest in youth.

PFAW Foundation

Harvey Milk Memorialized with Stamp

Today the United States Postal Service releases its highly-anticipated Harvey Milk stamp, memorializing the LGBT equality pioneer on what would have been his 84th birthday. Evan Low, a Campbell, California city councilmember and participant in PFAW Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network, is expected to join other trailblazers at the White House dedication ceremony.

Councilmember Low had this to say last November in marking the 35th anniversary of Milk's tragic assassination:

In 2009, I became the youngest openly gay mayor as well as the youngest Asian-American mayor in the country. Some journalists wrote about how I was making history, but I like to point out that I was preceded by a number of other courageous “firsts.”

I became mayor 35 years after Kathy Kozachenko was the first openly LGBT person elected to public office, and 32 years after Harvey Milk – affectionately known as “the mayor of Castro Street” – was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the same state I serve today.

This week marks the anniversary of the tragic end of Milk’s short time in office, when he and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Supervisor Dan White. But the legacy of Harvey Milk and other LGBT trailblazers is very much alive. Today there are more than 500 openly LGBT elected or appointed officials serving our country. Through their service and that of public officials representing other marginalized communities, it is clear that our democracy works best when our lawmakers reflect the nation’s diversity.

South Dakota State Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell, another YEO, also reflected on Milk's impact:

Milk’s legacy has been a personal inspiration for me, as an openly bisexual elected official. Earlier this year, I became a Harvey Milk Champion of Change. While I was honored to be recognized by the White House with an award bearing his name, I actually had some hesitation about accepting. As a bisexual woman married to a man, I was worried about people thinking I didn’t really “deserve” it. But I realized that line of reasoning was not what Harvey Milk would have embraced. His legacy is about sharing your own identity, your own truth in whatever form that might take.  Besides, there’s a “B” in “LGBT” for a reason.

Though the right-wing has long tried to rewrite Milk's legacy, as affiliate People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch notes in this report on Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber . . .

Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber is upset that the US Postal Service will issue a stamp honoring Harvey Milk, telling the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow that Milk was a rapist and “demonstrably, categorically an evil man.”

. . . it's clear that today is a day to celebrate how far the LGBT equality movement has come and to recognize the work that remains.

We remember.

We remember Harvey Milk

PFAW Foundation

Marriage Equality Continues Its March Forward

The march toward marriage equality nationwide continues at an astounding pace.

On Monday Oregon became the 18th state added to the win column when Judge Michael McShane struck down its ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Then on Tuesday Judge John Jones issued a similar ruling in Pennsylvania, followed Wednesday by the news that Governor Tom Corbett won't appeal – make that 19!

Wednesday also brought the filing of a marriage equality lawsuit in Montana. Governor Steve Bullock:

Montanans cherish our freedom and recognize the individual dignity of every one of us. The time has come for our state to recognize and celebrate – not discriminate against – two people who love one another, are committed to each other, and want to spend their lives together.

I look forward to a future where all Montanans have the opportunity to marry the person they love, just as Lisa and I did almost 15 years ago. We are on the path to greater understanding and equality, and we will all be better for it.

Montana is the 29th state without marriage equality that has a lawsuit pending.

That leaves only two states, North and South Dakota, with unchallenged bans on same-sex marriage. Their suits could be filed any day now.

Onward!

Check out our website for more LGBT equality updates.

PFAW Foundation

Pennsylvania Marriage Ban Struck Down

Another day, another discriminatory ban struck down. Today a federal judge ruled in Whitewood v. Wolf that Pennsylvania’s 1996 ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This victory for marriage equality follows closely on the heels of the striking of Oregon’s ban only yesterday and makes Pennsylvania the 19th state allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Congratulate Pennsylvanians by sharing our graphic below:

PFAW Foundation

Oregon Marriage Ban Struck Down

More good news from the fight for marriage equality: today a federal judge struck down Oregon’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

If you are feeling a sense of deja-vu, it’s understandable – the Washington Blade notes that this ruling is the “13th straight win for gay nuptials in the federal courts” in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision last year, which struck down a key section of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act [emphasis added].

Given that decision, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum declined to defend the state ban, and the judge did not allow the right-wing National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to defend it. Earlier today NOM lashed out at the case, calling it “an ugly example of inappropriate cooperation between the Attorney General and the gay marriage lobby.”

Judge Michael McShane wrote:

It is at times difficult to see past the shrillness of the debate. Accusations of religious bigotry and banners reading "God Hates Fags" make for a messy democracy and, at times, test the First Amendment resolve of both sides. At the core of the Equal Protection Clause, however, there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds; that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities.

As the Right continues to fight a losing battle to prevent loving couples from accessing the protections they need to take care of each other, we’ll keep fighting for nationwide equality.
 

PFAW Foundation

Six Decades Later, Still Fighting for Equality in Schools

The following is a guest post from the Reverend Dr. Merchuria Chase Williams, a former school teacher and a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council.

Last month, sixty years after the Supreme Court threw out the toxic doctrine of “separate but equal,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked us to keep our “eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.” She pointed out that in law and in daily life, race still matters deeply and cannot “be wished away.”

Justice Sotomayor wrote those words in a dissent to the Schuette decision that upheld Michigan’s state constitutional ban on race-based affirmative action, six decades after the famous Brown v. Board of Education ruling that said schools may not be segregated by race. It’s no coincidence that both of these decisions were about education. If anything proves that race still matters in America, it’s our public schools.

While the 1954 Brown decision brought badly needed change and helped invigorate a nationwide civil rights movement, glaring racial inequalities persist to this day – and nowhere are they more evident than in the classroom. In recent years, school segregation has actually gotten worse rather than better. On average, a black student today goes to a school where 29 percent of her fellow students are white – a percentage that has dropped seven points since 1980. Students of color are less likely to have access to a broad range of math and science courses and are more likely to be suspended than their white peers. And according to the Center for American Progress, on average American schools spend hundreds less on each student of color than they do on each white student.

While we may no longer be legally separate, educational opportunities and conditions for our nation’s students are far from equal.

Despite these gaps, big funders on the Right continue to pour money into efforts to privatize the education system rather than strengthen the public education system that the vast majority of our nation’s children use. The Walton Family Foundation, created by the family that established Walmart, has pumped millions into efforts to expand private school vouchers, undermining the public schools that are, in education advocate Diane Ravitch’s words, “the heart of most communities.”

Those of us who have been working for many years to improve the education system in Atlanta and across the country know that we need to support and strengthen public education, not undercut it. We need to work to address ongoing education inequalities for students of different backgrounds, not pretend that race simply doesn’t matter or that racial inequalities do not exist. Let’s use the anniversary of this landmark decision to recommit ourselves to building an education system that truly provides equal opportunities to all of our nation’s children.

Today’s Supreme Court majority may not get it, but the millions of children failed by our school system do.
 

PFAW Foundation