Citizens United Resolution Passes in California

Today, Assembly Joint Resolution 22 passed the California Senate with a 24-11 vote, and thus California became the sixth state – joining Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Maryland and Rhode Island – to call upon Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s disastrous 2010 Citizens United decision.  That decision opened the floodgates to corporate and special interest spending in our elections; and sparked a grassroots movement to amend the Constitution and restore government of, by, and for the people.

AJR 22 was introduced by Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski, who stated, “Today’s vote sends a clear message that California rejects this misguided ruling made by the conservative activists on the Supreme Court.” That same block of conservative Supreme Court justices who supported the majority opinion in Citizens United just weeks ago summarily reversed a case brought to the court by Montana, which refused to strike down their century-old anti-corruption law prohibiting corporate expenditures in elections – proving now, more than ever before, the need for an amendment to overturn the ruling. 

California’s largest cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have already passed amendment resolutions, as have well over 30 other municipalities in the state.  Support for the amendment strategy has been following this bottom-up trend (from grassroots to local; local to state; and state to federal) in a democratic surge of activism that demonstrates the power of the movement.  As recently witnessed in Philadelphia, public officials take note when these resolutions pass.

It is now the responsibility of the Californian congressional delegation to join – if they have not already – the growing list of public officials who have pledged their support for constitutional remedies.  And it is the responsibility of Californians, and people across the nation, to keep fighting and pushing for an amendment.

The money in politics problem is not going away … but neither are we.  Onward!


PFAW Staff Video on

Under the banner of United For the People, a new web platform launched today to collect and amplify the growing grassroots movement in America that is calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s flawed 2010 decision in Citizens United and restore the balance of influence in our elections to the people.

At, the American people, good government organizations and elected officials can record a short video about how their lives are affected by money in politics and the outsized influence in our elections enjoyed by corporations and wealthy special interests – and what we can do about it.

Here is one such video, by PFAW staff:


To see the rest, and to find out how to submit your own video, visit


Senate Judiciary Committee shines light on voter suppression

On June 26, 2012 the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act (S. 1994). Sponsored by Senators Charles Schumer and Ben Cardin, the bill would amend federal criminal law to prohibit deceiving voters about when to vote and the qualifications for voting. It would also prescribe federal criminal penalties for doing so.

Senator Schumer:

Efforts to mislead and confuse eligible voters by distributing false and deceptive voting information and campaign literature is part of what seems to be a larger strategy to keep certain voters away from the polls. This bill will rightly make this shameful practice illegal and will impose strict penalties on those who lie to their fellow Americans through false communications to try to keep them from voting.

Senator Cardin:

All Americans deserve the right to choose a candidate based on relevant issues and the quality of the candidates, not based on underhanded efforts designed to undermine the integrity of our electoral process.

Project Vote testified in support of the legislation, providing a striking example of the dishonest behavior that the bill addresses: In 2006, a postcard mailing sent to African American neighborhoods in Dallas falsely claimed that being a victim of voter fraud "could result in jail time." This was clearly an effort to intimidate voters, and minority groups in particular, into staying home on Election Day.

Tanya Clay House of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told the Judiciary Committee that the organization has received over a half million calls nationwide through its hotline complaining about election problems, including deceptive tactics. The group believes that the proposed law is an important step to take. House explained that "because [current laws] do not uniformly address these types of deceptive tactics, prosecutions are therefore rare. Ensuring that misinformation is immediately corrected and disseminated in a timely manner may often actually be the best remedy, especially when Election Day is near." Therefore the corrective power included in the bill is especially important.

Jenny Flanagan at Common Cause told the Committee that her group has also received numerous complaints about voter deception. She added that "most Americans are shocked and appalled to hear that these types of campaigns occur, but we know that they do, and cannot stand by and wait for it to get worse."

These are just a few of many organizations that submitted material in support of the bill.


Clergy File IRS Complaint Against ALEC

The formal complaints against the American Legislative Exchange Council are mounting. A group of clergy in Columbus, OH have filed a complaint with the IRS alleging that ALEC violated its tax-exempt status by “significantly misrepresenting its activities to the IRS, the states, and the public in order to advance a legislative agenda — an agenda largely crafted by the organization’s corporate members — that elevates commercial gain for a few over the well-being of society’s less fortunate.”

ALEC is an ultra-conservative organization that works to shepherd pro-corporate, lobbyist-drafted bills into model legislation to be introduced in statehouses around the nation. Their extreme agenda seeks to bolster corporate profits by privatizing public resources, defunding public education, damaging the environment and attacking working families.

As such, Clergy Voice, composed of 18 pastors from mainstream Christian churches, believes that such an organization has no right to the same tax status reserved for charitable organizations:

“It has angered a lot of us that there is this group of the big and powerful in terms of industries and the extremely wealthy that is courting legislators to pass cookie-cutter legislation that really favors their particular interests,” said the Rev. Eric Williams, spokesman for the group and pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ on the Northwest Side.

Earlier this year, Common Cause submitted a similar whistleblower complaint against ALEC to the IRS.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: Voter suppression package arrives on Michigan Governor’s desk

UPDATE: Though July 1 has now passed, Governor Rick Snyderstill has yet to sign the voter suppression package. The Michigan chapter of the National Action Network is planning a march from Detroit to Lansing on July 23-27 to protest these and other measures, should the Governor come down on the wrong side of civil rights. Chapter president Rev. Charles Williams II, a supporter of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, says that the bill’s proponents are "playing games" and "we’re standing against it."

A series of voter suppression bills, whose ALEC ties include Representative Dave Agema and Senators David Robertson and Darwin Booher, have now made their way to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Supporters claim that the legislation is necessary to combat voter fraud, but there is a reason the Right Wing has been so eager to invent such a problem and then offer gratuitous solutions: to disenfranchise the voters least likely to back conservative politicians.

The Michigan Daily editorialized:

There is no reason the government should be intervening to further diminish voter turnout as only 40 to 60 percent of American citizens vote in national elections. Strict voter ID laws shouldn’t be established to turn even more Americans away from the polls each year. Instead, the government should be working to increase voter turnout, so that as many American citizens as possible can vote and become part of our nation’s future.

While the Governor has been quiet on whether he will give his veto pen a workout, community opposition against the legislation has not. Earlier this week he was confronted by the council of Baptist Pastors. Detroit Free Press:

"That partnership will be difficult to achieve," said Rev. Bertram Marks, legal counsel for the pastors, "if Snyder signs the voting registration bills."

"These are issues that our ancestors fought very hard to achieve," Marks said. "We feel there is a national movement to curtail people’s ability to vote to impact the presidential election. If you sign these bills into law, it will have great ramification for any cooperation you’re looking to have with Detroit."

Snyder said he’s reviewing the bills, which would require more identification to register to vote and to cast a ballot. He acknowledged that some of the bills presented challenges.

"I don’t want to have legislation that would disenfranchise people," he said.

With July 1 the effective date of SB 754, action by the Governor is imminent.

In the meantime, 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

UPDATE: Voting rights victory in New Hampshire

UPDATE: The New Hampshire legislature has overridden Governor Lynch’s veto on SB 289 by an 18-5 margin in the Senate and 231-112 in the House. The SB 318 veto fell along similar lines, 18-5 and 232-110, respectively. Both are now on the books, but at least voter ID still has to be cleared by the Department of Justice.

With voting rights under attack nationwide it was refreshing to see New Hampshire Governor John Lynch veto two bills last week that would have required identification at the polls and profoundly impacted voter registration.

SB 289 was voter ID lite requiring voters unable to provide ID to sign an affidavit and have their photo taken, and after 2013, accepting as valid only state-issued IDs like a driver’s license, military ID, or passport, and rejecting student IDs.

Governor Lynch:

The right to vote is a fundamental right that is guaranteed to all citizens of this State under the United States and New Hampshire Constitutions. Our election laws must be designed to encourage and facilitate voting by all eligible voters in New Hampshire. […] SB 289 would put into place a photo identification system that is far more restrictive than necessary.

SB 318 would have altered residency requirements and other voter registration regulations that could have had a profound impact, especially among the student population. Its lead sponsor, Senator Sharon Carson, is an ALEC member who also supported SB 289.

Governor Lynch:

Persons who are 18 and older who attend college in New Hampshire should be able to vote regardless of where they drive or have a license. This provision is overly broad and will effectively require resident seniors, as well as retirees and young persons coming from out of state, to register a car and apply for a New Hampshire license in order to vote. […] Any changes to our voting procedures must ensure a person's constitutional right to vote is protected. This bill does not meet that test.

An attempt to override both vetoes is expected tomorrow, requiring a two-thirds majority.

In the meantime, 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

John Lehman Victorious in Wisconsin State Senate Recount

Official recount results released today show Sen. Lehman defeating incumbent Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard.

“The official canvas after the June 5 elections showed Lehman leading Wanggaard by 834 votes out of nearly 72,000 ballots cast in Racine County's 21st Senate District — a victory that would give Democrats a one-seat majority in the Senate. Wanggaard, however, refused to concede and demanded the recount.

The final tally from the Racine County clerk's office Monday showed Lehman winning by 819 votes, with the Democrat tallying 36,358 votes to Wanggaard's 35,539.”

Sen. Lehman’s victory gives Democrats control of the Wisconsin Senate for the first time since Gov. Scott Walker took office in January of last year.

The razor thin margin affirms that every penny spent in this race was critical in helping Sen. Lehman reclaim the seat he lost to Sen. Wanggaard in 2010.  People For’s members played an active role in this race, and we couldn’t be prouder of what they achieved.

Despite Sen. Lehman's big win, the race is not over yet.  Wisconsin state law holds that the Government Accountability Board must wait 5 days before the results can be offically certified and Democrats can once again regain control of the Senate.  Sen. Wanggaard has until July 10th to formally file a challenge.

Once these final obstacles are cleared, John Lehman will rejoin his colleagues in the Senate and help continue the fight to protect the rights of Wisconsin workers.


PFAW Welcomes Nuns On the Bus

PFAW staff and supporters welcomed home the Nuns on the Bus as they arrived in Washington, DC following a two-week tour through nine states. The Catholic sisters went on tour to stand in solidarity with those living in poverty and to push back against the Ryan Budget, which further enriches the wealthiest Americans while slashing vital programs that help our neediest citizens.

The nuns drove through nine states to help spread the word about how the Ryan Budget, which passed the House this year, harms the most vulnerable American families, and does so -- in the words of the nuns -- in violation of Catholic teaching.

Speakers at this afternoon’s rally condemned those in Congress who voted to perpetuate a political system that benefits the privileged few at the expense of the many, limits participation in our democracy in order to maintain an established system that protects the powerful and fails to show compassion for all people. They coined the slogan “Reasonable Revenue for Responsible Programs – the Faithful Way Forward” to illustrate the priorities they would like to see adopted by Congress to help make our communities and country more just for all.


United Conference of Mayors Calls for Overturning Citizens United

At their annual conference in Orlando, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate and special interest spending on elections. Citing Justice John Paul Stevens and the dissenters in the Citizens United case, the mayors’ resolution declares the need to “broaden the corruption rationale for campaign finance reform to facilitate regulation of independent expenditures regardless of the source of the money for this spending, for or against a candidate.” Finding compelling “fundamental interests” in “creating a level playing field and ensuring that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to have their political views heard,” the Conference of Mayors resolves that corporations should not receive the same legal rights as natural persons and that “urgent action” be taken to reverse the impacts of Citizens United in opening the door to unlimited independent campaign expenditures by corporations that undermines “free and fair elections and effective self-governance.”

The resolution calls on other communities, jurisdictions and organizations to pass similar resolutions. So far over, over 250 municipalities have already passed resolutions calling for amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases and returning the power to influence our elections to the people. And more than 1600 public officials have gone on record in support of constitutional remedies to overturn the decision. More than 100 organizations have come together under the umbrella of United For the People to press for amending the Constitution to address the harm caused by Citizens United and related cases.


Republican Obstruction Means Less Judicial Diversity

Senate Republicans' ongoing obstruction of President Obama's judicial nominees is having a disproportionate impact on those who are women and people of color. A remarkable 64% of federal judges nominated by Obama are women and people of color, a rate that is double that of George W. Bush.

We often talk about the large number of nominees (currently 16) who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and have been waiting for a vote on the Senate floor. But there are also 19 nominees who are still being considered by the committee, and with more than four months before the election, there is more than enough time to hold confirmation votes on all of them.

This group of 19 exemplify the president's commitment to diversity: Twelve of them are women or people of color. Lorna Schofield could become the first person of Filipino descent to serve as an Article III judge in American history; her committee vote was scheduled for yesterday but got sidetracked due to the Supreme Court's healthcare decision. U.S. Magistrate Fernando Olguin, a former education program director at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, was the first in his family to attend and graduate from college; he testified before the Judiciary Committee earlier this week and is now awaiting a vote. Troy Nunley, who was born in San Francisco's Hunter's Point housing projects, has been a Sacramento County Superior Court judge for the past decade; he was nominated last week to fill a vacancy in the Eastern District of California.

Unfortunately, several qualified nominees have fallen victim to Republican obstruction via abuse of the "blue slip" system, in which the committee will take no action on a nomination unless the nominee's home state senators consent. Incredibly, of the four nominees with "blue slip" problems, all four are women:

  • Shelly Dick – blocked by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter
  • Rosemary Márquez – blocked by Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl
  • Elissa Cadish – blocked by Nevada Sen. Dean Heller
  • Jill Pryor – blocked by Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson

Among the nominees now pending on the floor, all three who were subject to a party-line vote are women or people of color:

  • Patty Shwartz – woman nominee for the Third Circuit
  • Gershwin Drain – African American district court nominee from Michigan
  • Brian Davis – African American district court nominee from Florida

President Obama's efforts to end the judicial vacancy crisis and place a diverse, highly qualified group of jurists in our nation's courtrooms have been stymied from day one by Senate Republicans. Every person he has nominated deserves a yes-or-no vote before Election Day.


New Reporting Guts Central GOP Arguments Involving ‘Fast and Furious’ Operation

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, prompting a walkout of 108 Democrats who wanted to make clear that the vote was a baseless political stunt aimed at tarnishing the Attorney General and the Obama Administration.

But a bombshell new report released on Wednesday, June 27th makes perfectly clear how hollow attacks on Holder’s handling of the “Fast and Furious” program really are. Investigative reporter Katherine Eban, writing for Fortune Magazine, recounts in exhaustive detail how the scandal unfurled into a political circus, in a tale of “rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.”

Eban reports how a key player in the botched operation, former Marine David Voth, fell victim to a swirl of false accusations by disgruntled former-ATF agents with ulterior motives.

“Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA 49), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been in pursuit of additional documents pertaining to Fast and Furious, in addition to floating dubious conspiracy theories regarding the operation. Eban notes how the increased scrutiny of the ATF has made it more difficult for the agency to execute one of its core missions: arrest and prosecute the people who traffic illegal guns.

“Issa's claim that the ATF is using the Fast and Furious scandal to limit gun rights seems, to put it charitably, far-fetched. Meanwhile, Issa and other lawmakers say they want ATF to stanch the deadly tide of guns, widely implicated in the killing of 47,000 Mexicans in the drug-war violence of the past five years. But the public bludgeoning of the ATF has had the opposite effect. From 2010, when Congress began investigating, to 2011, gun seizures by Group VII and the ATF's three other groups in Phoenix dropped by more than 90%.”

Eban’s reporting unearthed absolutely no evidence that the tactic of “gun walking”, which Rep. Issa and his allies continue to put front and center, was ever actually in play. “The ATF's accusers seem untroubled by evidence that the policy they have pilloried didn't actually exist”.

Predicated upon erroneous and misleading information, the Fast and Furious ‘scandal’ is heavy on political intrigue, yet light on substance.


Fight over voter ID heating up in Minnesota

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota along with the League of Women Voters Minnesota, Common Cause Minnesota, Jewish Community Action, and five Minnesota voters have challenged an amendment to the Minnesota constitution (HF 2738, sponsored by ALEC State Chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer) because it would confuse some voters into believing that prohibited forms of identification, such as student or company ID, would be accepted. The plaintiffs argue that the amendment is “misleading and false” because the ballot language references “valid photo identification” while the amendment uses the phrase “government-issued.”

With oral arguments in the case set for July 17, several prominent Minnesotans have joined the fray, including former Presidential candidate, Vice President, and US Senator Walter Mondale:

Minnesota has the best record of openness, of honesty, of voter participation, of any state in the union. This is a clean, solid, exemplary state. This constitutional amendment is designed to discourage voting.

And former Governor Arne Carlson:

"It comes from the Koch brothers,'' said Carlson, referring to David and Charles Koch, owners of Koch Industries and major funders of a number of conservative causes nationally.

"This is an outside force, coming to Minnesota, telling us how our Constitution ought to be designed," added Carlson.

Mondale and Carlson will help lead the Our Vote Our Future coalition against the ballot measure, which University of Minnesota student research has cautioned “will fundamentally change the state’s election system.”

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

Contempt: Republican Witch-Hunt Makes History

On Thursday, President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. The blatantly political move by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives was the culmination of a multiyear plan by right-wing activists and politicians to undermine the nation’s top law enforcement official. Let’s recall how we got here. 

Attorney General Holder has had a target on his back from day one. He has played a key role in, among other things, defending voting rights for all Americans and advancing equal rights for gays and lesbians – things that the right wing vehemently opposes. In the case of the Fast and Furious program, which Holder’s opponents used to find him in contempt, he was the person who shut it down:
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the George W. Bush Administration, and it was this Administration’s Attorney General who ended it. Attorney General Holder has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico – is a top priority of the Department. Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General and just yesterday the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee acknowledged that he had no evidence – or even the suspicion – that the Attorney General knew of the misguided tactics used in this operation.

Incredibly, the very same politicians who condemned Holder were supportive when President Bush asserted executive privilege in an unprecedented and expansive way to conceal potentially illegal activity by government employees. On the other hand, Holder and the Obama administration have gone to great lengths to accommodate the often unreasonable demands of Republicans in Congress:

Over the past fourteen months, the Justice Department accommodated Congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven Congressional hearings. In an act of good faith, this week the Administration made an additional offer which would have resulted in the Committee getting unprecedented access to documents dispelling any notion of an intent to mislead.

Holder and the Obama administration only asserted executive privilege when Republicans demanded documents that would put the agents fighting gun violence at risk. This is yet another irony.

As Right Wing Watch reported, Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee and Holder’s chief inquisitor, has been pushing a conspiracy theory for months that Obama and Holder intentionally allowed gun-smuggling to Mexico in order to boost violence and use it as the justification for an assault weapons ban here. It’s such a completely unhinged and baseless argument that it’s hard to take seriously. But Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the NRA and even elected officials like Issa have aggressively pushed this lie and whipped their base into fever pitch.

While Holder is taking it on the chin for protecting agents working to keep us safe, the right wing is saying that the Obama administration intentionally let people, including an American border patrol agent, get killed as part of some gun control conspiracy. In reality, Mexico is awash with American guns. And the right-wing created the extremely lax gun control system that makes it possible.

In the Republican House of Representatives, where up is often down and black is white, the people working to prevent gun violence are smeared as having blood on their hands. That’s why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called the contempt vote a “heinous act” and “unprincipled.” Sadly, a full 17 House Democrats were successfully pressured by the NRA to part ways with Pelosi and condemn Holder.

It’s clear now, if it wasn’t already, that we’re up against people who will say just about anything to win. We should expect more nonsense heading into the election. But ultimately the best way to beat back their lies is going to the ballot box.



Changes to voter registration forms problematic in Maine

Changes to Maine’s voter registration form have lead the Secretary of State’s office to halt production of the old version, thus leaving voter registration drives with limited options as they await the new release. Colleen Lachowicz, a Democratic candidate for State Senate, recalls her trip last week to pick some up.

I was told they only had 250 left so they said they could give me 20 […] And I said, 'Could I have 50?' And so I was able to get 50 of them. And they had me sign a paper saying they could give me 50. […] I'm just concerned that if there's only 250 of these things left, I'm sure there's more than 250 people that want to get registered to vote at this time.

Normally the office allows persons to request up to 1000 forms per week. Now those seeking large quantities are being told that all they can do immediately is print the federal voter registration application, placing a potentially serious financial burden on those carrying out voter registration drives.

The Maine Democratic Party alleges that Secretary of State Charlie Summers, also a candidate for US Senate, is disregarding his own policy in the interest of voter suppression:

This situation demonstrates a broader change going on at the Secretary of State's office. Rather than working as hard as possible to encourage Mainers to vote and be part of the process, Charlie Summers is now placing the burden on the individuals and organizations by adding an extra step and extra expenses to the registration process in the midst of a presidential election season.

The Maine People’s Alliance has called on Summers to resign.

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

Ruling in Florida purge case

A lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice after Florida Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner refused to stop the voter purge suffered a blow this week when Judge Robert Hinkle of the US District Court of Northern Florida refused to issue an injunction against the state.

DOJ stresses that the purge is unlawful under the National Voter Registration Act, and an emergency injunction is needed, because it it’s occurring within 90 days of a federal election and has "critical imperfections" that cause voter confusion, but Judge Hinkle disagreed, saying that federal law does not prohibit Florida from identifying ineligible voters, even with the August 14 primary in sight. Still Hinkle concedes that the purge is "discriminatory, at least in effect" and that:

Determining citizenship is not as easy as the state would have it. Questioning someone's citizenship isn't as trivial as the state would have it.

Not only have Hispanic voters, who make up 61% of the people identified on the list but only 14 % of registered Florida voters, been unfairly targeted, but so have countless other likely eligible voters. Even Governor Scott was forced to cast a provisional ballot in 2006 because election officials mistakenly thought he was dead. He was lucky enough to have his vote later counted.

Click here and here for more information, and be sure to 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.

PS – The Right is indeed interested in the outcome in Florida. J. Christian Adams has sought intervention on behalf of True the Vote and Judicial Watch.

PFAW Foundation