PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Students Protest Corporate Political Spending

As part of the Corporate Reform Coalition, People For the American Way has been pressing for solutions to the problem of major corporations using their vast treasuries to influence elections. Our message to corporations is clear: leave democracy to the people and stop spending money on politics.

Corporate money in politics affects Americans not just as citizens, but as investors. If you own stock or contribute to a 401(k), corporations could be using your money to fund candidates, causes or political ads that you may not approve of, all without your knowledge. Even students are at risk – the endowments of many colleges and universities invest those funds with corporations that make secret political contributions.

This week, as activists descended on the annual shareholder meetings of 3M and Bank of America, student groups took the opportunity to stake their claim in the issue and demand that companies refrain from using endowment funding in order to influence our elections.

The branch of Bank of America in Washington DC we visited wasn’t eager to hear from students concerned about where there tuition dollars were going. The bank locked its doors during the protest – barring activists and customers alike from the premises. But the message has been sent: All Americans, from students to seniors, have a right to a electoral process that is free from the corrosive influence of undisclosed, unaccountable corporate and special-interest political spending.

PFAW

Obama Endorses Marriage Equality, Part 2

Last night, the tide went out. North Carolinians voted 61% to 39% in favor of an anti-gay constitutional amendment that not only deals another blow to gay and lesbian couples in the state, who are already prohibited by law from marrying, but also endangers protections for all unmarried couples, including domestic violence protections and health insurance coverage.

Just hours ago, the tide came in. President Barack Obama affirmed his support for the freedom to marry of same-sex couples.

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PFAW President Michael B. Keegan:

Today’s announcement marks a proud day for our country and for the President. For those of us who have been working towards marriage equality for many years, the impact of having the support of the President of the United States is incredibly powerful. As President Obama made clear in his comments today, marriage equality for all people is an idea whose time has come. Despite setbacks like the results from North Carolina last night, it’s more obvious than ever that the momentum is on our side.

Indeed, we must take advantage of the momentum. Add your name to PFAW's petition urging Congress to Dump DOMA and end this unconstitutional, discriminatory policy once and for all.

While we continue to fight to Dump DOMA and for LGBT equality broadly, please keep in mind how far we’ve come.

I know I am thinking about that now.

Eight years ago, as I was preparing to leave Ohio University, I said goodbye to one of my best friends. I remember writing to him in a card that I hoped our husbands would someday get to meet. That November – November 3 to be precise – I was on the phone with that same friend, who was heartbroken at what for many was a difficult (including Ohio Amendment 1) election. Fast forward to his Facebook status this afternoon:

THANK YOU President Obama! Those of you who know [my partner and me]: we have such an incredibly strong, stable, loving relationship. Opening our relationship up to marriage does nothing but STRENGTHEN the institution!

If we keep working hard, who knows what tomorrow will bring for my friend and his partner – and for us all.

Click here for more from PFAW.

PFAW

Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

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Today’s announcement marks a proud day for our country and for the President. For those of us who have been working towards marriage equality for many years, the impact of having the support of the President of the United States is incredibly powerful. As President Obama made clear in his comments today, marriage equality for all people is an idea whose time has come. Despite setbacks like the results from North Carolina last night, it’s more obvious than ever that the momentum is on our side.

In recent years, more and more Americans have come to understand that preventing loving same-sex couples from getting married causes real harm to the people they care about. In families and communities across the country, Americans are coming to the same conclusion as the President: when two people make a public commitment to love and care for each other, that’s a marriage no matter what the gender of the people involved.

Today the President did the right thing. For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone banked to help elect Barack Obama in 2008, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this President in the first place.

Now, we must redouble our efforts to knock down one of the biggest barriers to full legal equality nationwide: the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

With your continued dedication to core American values like Equality, and your support of our work expand the promise of our country and our Constitution to all families, together, we’ll Dump DOMA and achieve basic fairness for all: the American Way.

PFAW

As President Obama Supports Marriage Equality, a Look Back

Today, President Obama at last acknowledged that he personally supports the right to marry for gay and lesbian Americans. Although the president maintains his position that marriage laws should be decided on a state-by-state basis, his personal statement provides a huge boost to the marriage equality movement. At a time when over half of Americans want full marriage rights for gays and lesbians, the endorsement of a sitting president is a meaningful signal of progress.

Sixteen years ago, in May 1996, People For the American Way became one of the first national groups to endorse marriage equality and vow to work toward it. In a note to members of the organization’s board, which was to vote on the issue, PFAW’s staff wrote that the Right had started to use the “marriage issue” to “polarize Americans” – a strategy that had its first major victory in the passage of DOMA later that year.

Despite all the progress that has been made for LGBT equality in the past sixteen years, the 1996 memo could have been written yesterday:

In recent years, People For the American Way has come to be a very important voice in the ongoing effort to rid America of discrimination and prejudice against gay men and lesbians.

We have done that over the years for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do. Opposing discrimination and fostering respect and appreciation for diversity are core values for People For the American Way. These are precisely the values under attack in this latest campaign.

Of course, the marriage issue has very real implications for the everyday lives of millions of Americans. In the area of health care for example, existing marriage laws allow a spouse to make critical decisions for an incapacitated spouse; not so for unmarried couples wou haven’t gone through the necessary legal steps. In many hospitals, the right to visit patients in an intensive care unit is limited to immediate family; gay and lesbian partners – lacking the legal status of family – are often excluded, to the great detriment of both partners. In addition, enormous economic consequences flow from the inability of gay men and lesbians to marry, including significant tax and inheritance benefits.

The lack of legal recognition of gay and lesbian families is of particular concern when children are involved, since the children are deprived of the protection of a legal relationship with the non-biological parent and the ability of that parent to make important decisions for them in any number of settings, including schools and hospitals. And if the biological parent dies, the children may well be taken away from their other parent, who has no legal relationship with them.

Sixteen years later, marriage discrimination continues to hurt gay and lesbian American and their families. That a sitting president has publicly acknowledged the impact of that discrimination is very powerful. We hope that soon the injustice we outlined in 1996 will be hopelessly out of date.
 

PFAW

Beverage Giant Diageo Drops Heartland Institute

Joining the scores of corporations that have recently dropped their support of ultra-conservative organizations that represent shady, undemocratic and disingenuous practices, the London-based beverage giant Diageo, which owns brands such as Guinness, Smirnoff, Johnny Walker and others, announced that they will no longer fund the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank. General Motors also discontinued their support for the organization earlier this year.

The decision came after the Heartland Institute ran an unsavory billboard ad showing a picture of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, with a caption that read, “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

In addition to the Unabomber, the Heartland Institute’s ad campaign also compares climate change scientists and advocates to murderers such as Charles Manson and the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and the organization believes that "The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society," a statement reads. "This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."

The Institute, which receives funding from the Koch Brothers, has also posted an impassioned defense of the American Legislative Exchange Council on their blog: “The Heartland Institute stands with ALEC in support of free enterprise, limited government, and federalism, and asks that you do so as well.” Apparently, this includes a blatantly disingenuous and hateful ad campaign that calls those who oppose their pro-oil, pro Koch-brothers agenda, even scientists, “murderers” and “tyrants.”

While Diageo should be commended for severing ties with the Heartland Institute, the corporation unfortunately has not joined a number of other corporations, including The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsi and Kraft Foods, who have severed their ties with ALEC.

PFAW Foundation

The state of our electoral system – in cartoon form

POLITICO’s Matt Wuerker, 2012 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, recently provided pointed commentary on the state of our electoral system.


The left side speaks to our ongoing voting rights work. The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation, details the worst of the worst of the Right’s fight to suppress the vote. Many states have indeed taken up this fight with voter ID, proof of citizenship, and other suppressive legislation.

The right side seizes on what we have documented since January 21, 2010: the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC threatens to tear apart the fabric of our democracy and grant powerful corporations unfettered influence in our political process. We’ve joined United For the People to call for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the decision.

PFAW

Right Wing Watch Research Exposes Extremism of Capitol Event

Last week, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch reported that a who’s who of Religious Right activists had recently gathered in the Capitol, with the endorsement of Speaker John Boehner, for a George Washington-themed prayer event.

Last night, Rachel Maddow did a segment on the event, drawing heavily from Right Wing Watch research to expose the extremism of its participants:

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 Right Wing Watch  uncovered video of Lou Engle claiming that marriage equality would “unleash” a “sexual insanity”; Engle praying against health care reform with Sen. DeMint and then-Sen. Brownback; Jim Garlow saying that Satan is attacking the U.S. with marriage equality; David Barton claiming that AIDS can’t be cured because it’s God’s punishment for being gay; and the head of Alveda King’s group saying that supporting abortion rights is akin to supporting terrorism.

Here at People For the American Way, we spend a lot of time monitoring right-wing figures who seem far out of the mainstream. And then the Speaker of the House invites them to the Capitol.
 

PFAW

President Obama Committed to Continued Push on Judicial Nominations

Capping off an extremely important day of discussions with senior White House officials and Capitol Hill offices about ending the unprecedented Republican obstruction that is contributing to our severe federal judicial vacancy crisis, several state and national advocates had the opportunity to meet with President Obama about the urgency of addressing this crisis.

PFAW President Michael Keegan and I joined several representatives from among the 150 advocates from 27 states who participated in the Summit, in a meeting in the West Wing of the White House, where we heard the President reaffirm his commitment to press for the confirmation of judicial nominees who are ready for a vote in the full Senate or being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee – and his commitment to continue vetting and making nominations through the balance of this year in an effort to fill the remainder of the vacancies.

We celebrated the Administration’s extraordinary success so far in diversifying the federal bench, while agreeing that there was even more to be done. Advocates talked about the millions of Americans who are denied meaningful access to the courts because there simply are not enough judges on the bench. And we heard the President affirm the importance of pressing obstructionists in the Senate to end the unprecedented dysfunction that is impeding individual Americans’ access to justice.

For me this was a sobering day as we focused on the urgency of filling our federal bench with quality judges who will keep faith with the Constitution -- and inspiring to see the allies we have in states around the country, on Capitol Hill, and in the White House to get the job done.
 

PFAW

Mitt Romney Caved to the Religious Right and This is the Thanks He Gets

Last week, in response to pressure from the Religous Right -- much of which was documented by PFAW's Right Wing Watch -- the Romney campaign forced out an openly gay spokesman who had been on the job for less than two weeks.

While the Romney campaign attempted to deny that right-wing pressure led to the spokesman's resignation, news reports suggested that that is exactly what happened.

But Romney's effort to appease the anti-gay right didn't even work. Right Wing Watch caught a clip of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, the leading critic of the candidate's decision to hire an openly gay spokesperson, criticizing Romney for listening to him. "How is he going to stand up to North Korea if he can be pushed around by a yokel like me?" Fischer demanded.

Earlier this week, Lawrence O'Donnell played and discussed the Fischer clip on his show. Watch:

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PFAW

Marriage Equality: A State-By-State Guide

As North Carolinians go to the polls today to cast their ballot on an anti-gay constitutional amendment which would write discrimination into the state’s constitution and potentially harm all unmarried couples regardless of orientation, The Guardian put together an interactive feature summarizing the state of LGBT equality across America.

The infographic examines each state’s laws pertaining to LGBT persons’ right to marry, visit loved ones in the hospital or adopt a child, as well as protections from hate crimes and from discrimination in employment, housing and schools. While progress has been made, there is much work to be done.

Regardless of today’s vote, North Carolina will not be adding a dark red section to the outer ring, since state law already prohibits same-sex marriage. The proposed amendment simply inscribes discrimination into the state constitution.

Unfortunately, not all Americans have access to the all the protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide, and this map demonstrates striking differences from state to state and region to region. That’s why we need the federal Respect for Marriage Act more than ever – to ensure that all Americans, straight and gay, are treated equally under the law.

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Rally Against the Recall

Over the weekend, Republicans and right-wing activists gathered for a rally in Oshkosh, WI. The Oshkosh Northwestern filmed the event, and our friends at We Are Wisconsin PAC clipped some highlights (below).

The rally seems to have consisted of right-wing politicians spewing one distortion after another about the Walker administration’s policies and their opponents’ intentions. The interviews with the audience members unfortunately show a typical “tea party” misunderstanding of the issues, and that Republicans’ talking points about collective bargaining and teachers’ health benefits have taken root with at least the party’s avid supporters.

Some of the highlights included in the video above show U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde angrily railing against public unions (and completely rewriting the history of Scott Walker’s union busting in the process), a downright bizarre song-and-dance number mocking the protests against the Walker administration’s anti-middle class policies and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch noting the national importance of the recall elections. (Kleefisch begins 1:54 into the video.)

You can support PFAW’s Recall the Right campaign to send Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his right-wing cronies packing on June 5 here >>

 

 

 

PFAW

Voter ID likely off the table for Wisconsin recall

You heard the good news from Connecticut and Louisiana. Now it’s Wisconsin’s turn.

Voter ID is likely off the table for the recall election!

Last May, Wisconsin Governor and ALEC Alum Scott Walker signed Act 23 (aka AB 7), a voter ID law that also counts ALEC affiliated legislators among its sponsors. It has been challenged in two cases: one brought before Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess by the League of Women Voters, and the other brought before Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan by the Milwaukee NAACP and Voces de la Frontera.

Back on April 16, the state Supreme Court refused to immediately take up the pair of cases, sending them back to regular order in the lower appeals courts.

NAACP and Voces got their ruling on April 25, where a temporary injunction will stand at least until late June and the conclusion of post-trial briefing before Judge Flanagan. The LWV ruling came on April 26, where Judge Niess’s permanent injunction remains in force pending appeal.

Though the battle is far from over, since no further rulings are likely prior to June 5, voter ID mostly likely won’t be required when voters go to the polls for the general recall election.

These are the cases furthest along, but other challenges are being mounted, including from the Advancement Project and ACLU. On April 23, the ACLU plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction and an expert report.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: “Gut and go” used to move up proof of citizenship in Kansas

UPDATE: Representative Scott Schwab, an ALEC member who chairs the Committee on Elections, brought H Sub SB 17 to the House floor. It passed by a 67-53 vote on May 8, and now goes to the Senate, which supports delayed enactment. Representative Ann Mah, a voting rights supporter: “Putting this before them and asking them to vote on it gives them one more chance to be the hero and act like the adults in the room.” Regardless of the date, the law could be vulnerable following the ruling against proof of citizenship in Arizona. Click here for more from the Topeka Capital-Journal.

In 2011, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback sign into law HB 2067. Sponsored by Representative Lance Kinzer (an ALEC member), this law contained requirements for ID when voting and proof of citizenship when registering. While the effective date for ID was set at January 1, 2012, it was delayed a year and set at January 1, 2013 for citizenship.

Last month, the Kansas House passed HB 2437 to move the citizenship effective date up to June 15, 2012. Last week, the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections decided not to vote on it.

Enter Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, no stranger to ALEC or Right Wing Watch.

Kobach and his supporters used a backdoor maneuver known as “gut and go” to bring HB 2437 back to life. Essentially they stripped the contents of SB 17 and inserted HB 2437. Now known as H Sub SB 17, it is has a new life and a viable path to Governor Brownback’s desk.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Senators Hear from Americans Concerned about the Courts

After 150 activists from 27 states met with senior Administration officials to discuss how to resolve the unprecedented vacancy crisis in our nation's courts, they spent the afternoon visiting their senators' offices on Capitol Hill. Democratic and Republican senators alike heard the same message from concerned Americans: Courts Matter. For those Republicans who may have thought the obstruction that is keeping our court system from functioning properly had gone unnoticed, it must have been an unpleasant surprise to learn their constituents are paying attention.

At the end of the afternoon, the activists from across the country all gathered together to discuss their meetings and steps they can take going forward to make sure that senators know their constituents recognize the importance of our nation's courts. In addition, they also heard from and spoke with two key senior Senate staff members whose work is central to advancing nominations at each stage of the Senate process: Serena Hoy (from the office of the Senate Majority Leader) and Jeremy Paris (from the Judiciary Committee). Their commitment to getting the president's nominations through was clear.

By the end of the day, senators from 27 states and the highest levels of Senate leadership saw the grass roots energy behind Americans' commitment to our nation's system of justice. And those Americans saw reflected back the leadership's commitment to turn their energy into action in the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.

PFAW

Political Spending Resolutions Filed at 3 Corporations

Thanks to Citizens United, corporations have been spending unprecedented sums for political purposes. Short of a constitutional amendment to overturn that flawed decision, good government advocates are pressing a variety of strategies to minimize the undue influence corporations currently hold over our electoral system.

Requiring disclosure of corporate political expenditures is one powerful way to return some of the balance of influence to the American people. Activists are pressing for the passage of the DISCLOSE Act and the Shareholder Protection Act, and also submitted a record-setting action to the Securities and Exchange Commission calling for a rule requiring publicly-traded companies to disclose their political spending.

This week, the Corporate Reform Coalition is taking this call to the true owners of public corporations: the shareholders. This coalition of organizations, which includes People For the American Way, Public Citizen and others, is supporting first-time “political spending” resolutions and helping to organize rallies at the annual shareholder meetings of 3M and Bank of America, which are taking place this week, and also at Target Corporation, which will meet on June 14th.

The message is simple: Leave democracy to the people. Corporations should stop spending money on influencing our elections and focus on what they were created to do: make a profit for their shareholders. And if these corporations refuse to cease using their vast treasuries for political purposes, they at least should disclose their activities so that shareholders can make informed decisions.

These reforms speak to many Americans because so many people are shareholders. If you’ve ever bought a stock, had a 401(k) account or a pension, then you’re a shareholder – and it is your money might be spent on a candidate, cause or attack ad you don’t support, without your knowledge. We all have a right to know if our money is being spent to influence our democracy, and we should have the power to say no.

PFAW