PEOPLE FOR BLOG

A United Front Against Partisan Obstruction of Judicial Nominations

This morning, a number of Senators gave impassioned floor speeches condemning the unprecedented Republican obstruction of judicial nominees. They talked about the vacancy crisis that is keeping Americans from having their day in court. They spoke of qualified nominees with wide bipartisan support who were nonetheless blocked by Republicans. They talked about a time when qualified consensus nominees could be confirmed easily by a united Senate that put the interests of the American people over partisan warfare.

Some of the highlights are now on video, featuring (in order) Sens. Dick Durbin (Illinois), Chuck Schumer (New York), Pat Leahy (Vermont – and also the chairman of the Judiciary Committee), Chris Coons (Delaware), Dianne Feinstein (California). It is well worth viewing.

PFAW

Senate to Vote This Week on Extremist Health Care Amendment

The Senate will reportedly vote this week on the Blunt amendment, an addition to the transportation bill from Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt that would, if it became law, throw the American health care system into chaos.

Blunt’s amendment, part of the right-wing overreaction to President Obama’s mandate that health insurance policies cover contraception, would allow any employer to refuse any employee insurance for any treatment on religious grounds. So not only could any boss refuse his female employees access to birth control, but any employer could refuse coverage for any procedure or medication he or she found morally offensive – including things like blood transfusions, vaccinations, or even treatment from a doctor of the opposite sex.

Not only would the Blunt amendment mean that comprehensive health insurance wouldn’t necessarily provide comprehensive health insurance – it would throw the country’s health care system into chaos, as each employer and each insurer carved out their own sets of rules.

The plan is bad public policy and antithetical to religious freedom, but it will probably get the votes of most Republican senators. In fact, the basic idea behind the plan is something that’s already been embraced by Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

A large majority of Americans think that insurance policies should be required to cover basic reproductive care – including contraception – for women. The Blunt amendment would not only deny that care to women, it would go even further in denying health care to all American workers for any number of reasons totally beyond their control.

This is straight-up extremism: and American voters know that.
 

UPDATE: The Democratic Policy and Communications Center estimates that the Blunt amendment could put preventative care for 20 million women at risk.

PFAW

Sen. Coons to GOP: End the Obstruction

Sen. Chris Coons was among those who went to the Senate floor earlier today to urge an end to Republican obstruction of judicial nominees. He spoke of his experience as a Delaware attorney, and of Delaware's long struggle to achieve a full complement of federal judges.

I rise today as ... the junior senator from Delaware, but also as a member of the Delaware Bar and a former federal court clerk and someone who has, I think, a personal sense from that experience and my service on the Judiciary Committee, of the consequences of these delays, the consequences of steadily climbing caseloads, significant judicial vacancies, judicial emergencies in districts across our great country, ... and what that means for people, for companies, for communities for whom justice is being delayed and thus denied.

Earlier this month, I attended the investiture ceremony of Judge Richard Andrews, who was sworn in to the U.S. District Court for Delaware. This is the first time in six years that the very busy District Court of Delaware has had a full complement of all of its district court judges. And although I am relieved and the people of Delaware are grateful to have a full bench, and although Judge Andrews is an extremely talented lawyer and a devoted public servant and utterly nonpartisan — just the sort of district court nominee of whom the presiding officer just spoke — his nomination took nearly six months to be confirmed by the Senate.

Judge Andrews was confirmed without opposition, yet it took 176 days to confirm this consensus district court nominee. In fact, that's actually well below the average in this era of GOP obstruction. On average, President Obama's confirmed district court nominees have taken 207 days to be confirmed (as opposed to only 132 days for Bush's district court nominees at this point in his administration).

Sen. Coons made a simple request of the authors of this unprecedented obstruction:

I call upon my colleagues on the other side to rethink this strategy of obstruction at all costs, because it is in the end the American people who pay the price.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to matter to many Senate Republicans.

PFAW

Virginia Senate passes less terrible, but still terrible, mandatory ultrasound bill

Last week, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell buckled under nationwide pressure and forced his allies in the state’s legislature to revise a bill they had passed mandating forced, medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. That the bill was tweaked to no longer require women to be vaginally penetrated without their consent – a requirement that McDonnell, until he was met with a national outcry, was all set to sign into law -- was an important victory for pro-choice and common-decency activists.

But we need to remember just how far anti-choice politicians are willing to go. Just a few years ago, before the War on Women kicked into full swing, we wouldn’t have known that we’d have to be fighting state-mandated vaginal probes. In fact, just a few years ago, the amended bill passed by the Virginia Senate today would have been seen as extreme in itself.

The bill that the Virginia Senate passed in a 21-19 vote today requires all women seeking an abortion to first undergo a medically unnecessary external ultrasound – unless they can prove they are pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

It’s important to remember just how extreme the bill still is. Virginia Republicans are mandating that doctors perform a medically unnecessary procedure whether or not their patient requests it, unless that patient can produce a police report to prevent it. It creates a situation that’s ethically difficult for doctors and absolutely demeaning for women.

If Gov. McDonnell signs the bill, which he is expected to do, Virginia will join seven other states that currently require pre-abortion ultrasounds.
 

PFAW

Virginia poised to tighten voter ID requirements

Yesterday the Virginia Senate took up SB 1, a bill that would tighten voter ID requirements in the state by, among other provisions, removing the option for voters without ID to swear to their identity and replacing it with a provisional ballot that then forces voters to leave and prove their identity later but before their vote is counted. SB 1 came down to a tie that had to be broken by the Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling. It now heads to the Virginia House for concurrence, and thereafter to the desk of Governor Bob McDonnell.

There is no question that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that eligible Americans can exercise their right to vote. But the goal should be fair and honest enfranchisement, not the politics of distraction. Just as SB 1 did with its tie vote, voter ID has proven to be a political distraction.

Last fall’s 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 just how harmful the politics can be.

“This report reveals just how the far the Right Wing is willing to go to win elections,” continued Keegan. “Eroding the achievements of the Civil Rights movement by disenfranchising voters is abhorrent. All Americans have a fundamental right to vote, and we need to be vigilant to make sure that ever eligible voter is ready and able to vote on Election Day."

It certainly appears that the Right Wing is behind SB 1. ALEC Exposed reports that its lead sponsor, Stephen Martin (R-11), is ALEC’s Virginia Chair, and the lead sponsor of its House companion (HB 9), Mark Cole (R-88), is also affiliated with ALEC. ALEC itself is a voter ID proponent.

ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, was the subject of its own Right Wing Watch: In Focus report. PFAW Foundation describes the organization as:

A one-stop shop for corporations looking to identify friendly state legislators and work with them to get special-interest legislation introduced. It’s win-win for corporations, their lobbyists, and right-wing legislators. But the big losers are citizens whose rights and interests are sold off to the highest bidder.

Regarding voter ID and election laws:

ALEC is directly tied to the emerging trend among state legislatures to consider voter ID laws. Using false allegations of “voter fraud,” right-wing politicians are pursuing policies that disenfranchise students and other at-risk voters,--including the elderly and the poor--who are unlikely to have drivers’ licenses or other forms of photo ID. By suppressing the vote of such groups, ALEC’s model “Voter ID Act” grants an electoral advantage to Republicans while undermining the right to vote. In addition, ALEC wants to make it easier for corporations to participate in the political process. Their Public Safety and Elections taskforce is co-chaired by Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics, one of the most vociferous pro-corporate election groups, and promotes model legislation that would devastate campaign finance reform and allow for greater corporate influence in elections.
PFAW Foundation

Ben Cardin Urges Vote on MD Judicial Nominee

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland went to the Senate floor today to urge his Republican colleagues to end their partisan efforts to keep our nation's courts from functioning at full effectiveness. He discussed a district court vacancy in his state that could be filled today, if the GOP would allow a vote on nominee George Levi Russell III.

In Maryland, Mr. President, we are trying to fill a vacancy that was created during the end of President Bush's term of office, when Judge Peter Messitte took senior status in 2008. Judge Russell is an excellent candidate, received bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee, and is ready to take office upon being confirmed by the Senate. The time for action is now.

Judge Russell brings a wealth of experience to this position in both state and federal courts. Earlier in his career he served as a federal prosecutor and as an attorney in a private law firm. He now sits as a state court trial judge in Maryland.

After discussing his experience as an attorney both in private practice and for the Department of Justice, Sen. Cardin turned to the bipartisan confidence that Russell has inspired among the people of Maryland.

In January 2007, Governor Ehrlich, a Republican, appointed him to serve as an Associate Judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court for a term of 15 years. As a trial judge, Judge Russell has presided over hundreds of trials that have gone to verdict or judgment, and has experience in handling jury trials, bench trails, civil cases, and criminal cases. He has the professional experience which has been recognized by a Republican Governor and a Democratic President.

Judge Russell is a highly qualified African American who would fill a seat that has been declared a judicial emergency. His nomination garnered bipartisan support on the Judiciary Committee, where only Utah's Mike Lee voted against him (presumably to continue protesting President Obama's recent recess appointments).

Sen. Cardin explained who Senate Republicans are hurting the most with their obstructionism:

The real victim here is not only the nominee and their family that are awaiting final Senate action. The real victim is the American people, who face increasing delays in courts that are overburdened and understaffed. A higher vacancy rate means lack of timely hearings and decisions by our federal courts, affecting our citizens' ability to have access to justice and a fair and impartial resolution of their complaints.

PFAW

The Judicial Vacancy Crisis in Illinois

Among the senators taking to the floor earlier today to condemn the GOP obstructionism harming the our nation's judicial system was Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. Sen. Durbin discussed the crisis facing Americans in the Northern District of Illinois, a crisis exacerbated by unprincipled Republican partisanship.

Last week, I received a letter from the chief judge of the Northern District of Illinois, Judge Jim Holderman. His district is one that has been declared a judicial emergency, meaning the backlog of cases is stacking up and the vacancies need to be filled. He was writing me and Senator Kirk asking that we do everything in our power to move two noncontroversial, strongly supported nominees through the Judiciary Committee.

When the district's chief judge is writing to beg you to do everything in your power to advance two utterly noncontroversial nominees, you know the situation must be dire. But as Sen. Durbin noted:

Well, they're moved through. These two who came through a bipartisan process are now sitting on the Senate calendar. They are John Lee and John Tharp. John Lee, my nominee; John Tharp, Senator Kirk's nominee. A bipartisan agreement, a bipartisan committee has led to their selection. No one has questioned their ability to serve well on the federal court.

Indeed, neither nominee is controversial. Each cleared the Judiciary Committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, with only Utah's Sen. Mike Lee voting no (presumably to continue protesting President Obama's recent recess appointments). Each would fill a judicial emergency. Each has the support of both Democratic Sen. Durbin and Republican Sen. Kirk.

The only reason to oppose them is that they were nominated by President Obama, and that is a shameful reason.

PFAW

Senate Democrats Condemn GOP Obstruction of Judges

This morning, a number of Senate Democrats took to the floor to condemn the unprecedented obstruction of qualified, consensus judicial nominees that Senate Republicans have been engaged in since the start of the Obama Administration. Here are just a few of the many highlights:

Sen. Klobuchar:

Today I'm here to discuss along with my colleagues another dynamic of Capitol Hill that is making people lose faith in Washington, the apparent inability of Congress to get routine business done, specifically, the failure of the Senate to fill the dozens of judicial vacancies that exist around the country.

Sen. Durbin:

The bottom line -- judicial nominees with no controversy, widespread bipartisan approval are being held up on the Senate calendar and not approved. Why? Well, I can tell you why. It's fairly clear. ...

What we are seeing now is an effort by the Republicans to hold up our stop judicial nominees in the hopes that they'll be left vacant through the entire calendar year and then if they have their way at the polls a Republican president will fill the vacancies a year from now with new nominees. That is crass, it is unfair. ...

Sen. Coons:

President Obama's nominees have waited four times longer after committee approval than did President Bush's nominees at this point in his first term.

Sen. Cardin:

I am concerned, Mr. President, that our judicial confirmation process here in the Senate has broken down due to partisanship, particularly for noncontroversial judges.

Sen. Schumer:

We have confirmed only three judicial nominees this session, only five in the past two months, and only 11 in the last 90 days. And of the three judges whom we've confirmed this session, we've had to file cloture on two of them. This isn't a responsible use of the Senate's advise and consent powers.

Sen. Feinstein:

Today, partisanship has stalled even the most uncontroversial judicial appointments. Senate Republicans allowed no nominees to be confirmed at the end of the last session, and have allowed but five so far this year. In this environment, even those reported out of committee by voice vote, without any controversy, are unable to receive a floor vote for many months, if they ever receive one at all.

Sen. Leahy, who as chairman of the Judiciary Committee has spoken out many times on the issue, today said:

These highly qualified – consensus – nominees should be confirmed without further delay.  They should have been confirmed last year.  One hundred and thirty million Americans live in circuits or districts with a judicial vacancy that could be filled if Senate Republicans would consent to votes on these nominees.  The delays are as damaging as they are inexplicable.  Ultimately, it is the American people who pay the price for this unnecessary and harmful delay in confirming judges.

There are now 19 pending nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee who are waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. Seventeen were approved by the Judiciary Committee with very strong bipartisan support: 12 without any opposition at all, and 5 with only one no vote. Ten have been waiting for three months or more for a vote from the full Senate. Ten have been nominated to fill vacancies classified as judicial emergencies. Fourteen of the 19 are women or people of color, and one is an openly gay man.

It is long past time to allow the Senate to vote on their confirmations.

PFAW

Why is the GOP Filibustering Hispanic Judicial Nominees?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid minced no words yesterday discussing the Senate GOP’s seeming indifference to Latino voters:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Monday that GOP prejudice against Latinos is coloring everything from the immigration stance its presidential contenders are taking on the campaign trail to Senate Republicans filibustering an ambassadorship.

“Let’s talk about some of the things happening to Hispanics in the Senate,” Reid said during a call with reporters, citing past GOP filibusters of immigration-reform bills and the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador.

“What is going on here answers whether there is some prejudice here,” Reid added, referencing a prior question on whether racism played a role in what Reid and other Democrats depict as extreme anti-immigrant positions taken by GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and other GOP presidential hopefuls.

Reid said that Republican candidates are “catering to the tea party” and competing for favor from extremists in their party with their immigration stances.

It’s not just immigration policy and the Aponte nomination. Republicans in the Senate have also been filibustering Hispanic judicial nominees at an alarming rate. This practice gained national attention when Democrats were forced to break a filibuster of the nomination of Judge Adalberto Jordan to sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Jordan was to become the first Cuban-American to sit on the circuit that covers Florida, and had the support of Cuban-American GOP senator Marco Rubio, yet was filibustered for four months. The pointlessness of the extended filibuster was made even clearer when the Senate ultimately confirmed Jordan in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote. Writing about the Jordan filibuster, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank asked, “Does the GOP care about Latino voters?

Senate Republicans are now stalling votes on two Hispanic nominees to the federal courts. They were both approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, and no Republican has publicly expressed any reason to question their fitness for the bench.

President Obama has made a concerted effort to bring diversity to the federal bench – 36 percent of his nominees have been people of color and 45 percent have been women. The president, in prioritizing bringing diversity to the federal courts, has made a strong statement. The statement that the Senate GOP is making in obstructing those nominees is equally strong.
 

PFAW

Federal Courts - A PAC-Free Zone

According to the FEC, a mere 23 wealthy donors have contributed a breathtaking $53 million to the super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Sheldon Adelson has said he is willing to give as much as $100 million to Newt Gingrich's super PAC. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's infamous willingness to drop everything to take a call from one of the Koch Brothers makes clear that wealthy benefactors have access and influence on elected officials far beyond that which ordinary people could ever dream of.

But while the wealthiest of businesspeople seek to buy influence with presidential and congressional candidates, there is one branch of the government that stands apart from this unseemly activity: the federal judiciary. With a promise of Equal Justice Under the Law, courtrooms offer a forum where justice is not for sale. Judges with lifetime tenures don't rely on big donors to keep them in office or propel them to a higher court.

Most people don't have easy access to high-level elected officials. But when an individual walks into the courthouse, she has as much right as the mightiest corporate giant to argue her case before a federal judge. Courts have a special and unique role in our society, one that cannot be replaced.

But without enough judges, that special role is at risk. The Congressional Research Service says the federal judiciary is experiencing the longest sustained vacancy crisis in 35 years. While President Obama is nominating highly qualified people to the federal bench, Senate Republicans are engaged in unprecedented obstruction to keep them from being confirmed – even though they have no objection to the actual nominee.

A courtroom where any American can stand equal with the most powerful plutocrat isn't worth much if there is no judge available. Senate Republicans should explain why they are keeping our federal judiciary from functioning effectively by keeping qualified nominees off the bench.

PFAW

Senate Set to Turn Attention to Judicial Nominations Backlog

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that one of the key focuses of the Senate’s next five weeks of work will be “clearing the backlog of judicial nominees that threatens the effectiveness of our justice system.”

Reid’s announcement is important for several reasons. Because of unyielding Republican obstructionism, Senate Democrats have been unable to schedule confirmation votes on all but a few federal judicial nominees in the past several months. This situation had created a backlog of nominees waiting for Senate votes and a vacancy crisis in the federal courts, where about one in ten seats is vacant.

The reason why it’s been so hard for Democrats to schedule votes on President Obama’s judicial nominees is that the Senate GOP has in the past few years taken full advantage of all the tools of obstruction that it has available. The Senate has to have unanimous consent to schedule an up-or-down vote – something that in the past has been routinely granted to judicial nominees with strong bipartisan support. But since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have been refusing to grant votes on nearly every nominee – even the vast majority who have little to no Republican opposition -- effectively filibustering dozens upon dozens of nominees. Only after months of delay are the votes finally allowed. Last week, Senate Democrats made it clear that they’d had enough and filed cloture to end the filibusters of two of the nominees – each of whom was subsequently confirmed in overwhelming numbers.

That’s right: Senate Republicans haven’t just been obstructing nominees who they find fault with – they’ve been obstructing everybody. President Obama’s nominees have been forced to wait an average of 100 days after committee approval just to get a yes-or-no vote from the Senate. The average wait for George W. Bush’s nominees at this point in his presidency was 24 days.

This afternoon, senators voted on the nomination of Margo K. Brodie, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern New York. Although she was unopposed in the Judiciary Committee, Brodie has waited for more than four months for her nomination to be voted on. She was approved on a vote of 86 to 2.

There are now nineteen judicial nominees still waiting for a Senate vote, most of whom were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with absolutely no opposition. Ten of them have been waiting three months or more from a vote, and ten have been nominated to fill officially-designated judicial emergencies. Fourteen of the twenty are women or people of color and one is an openly gay man.

Sen. Reid is doing the right thing in calling out Republicans on their obstructionism and ensuring that our courts continue to be fair and functioning.
 

PFAW

Santorum Says He Doesn’t Want to Impose His Values on the Rest of Us

On Meet the Press yesterday, David Gregory questioned GOP presidential frontrunner Rick Santorum about the social issues – opposition to reproductive choice and gay rights – on which he has built his career. Stunningly, Santorum denied that he has focused on social issues and claimed, “There’s no evidence at all that I, that I want to impose those values on anybody else.”

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FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: It's so funny. I get the question all the time. Why are you talking so much about these social issues, as they, as, as people ask about me about the social issues.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, no, wait a minute.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Look, the...
MR. GREGORY: You talk about this stuff every week. And by the way, it's not just in this campaign.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: No, I talk about, I talk...
MR. GREGORY: Sir, in this campaign you talk about it. And I've gone back years when you've been in public life and you have made this a centerpiece of your public life. So the notion that these are not deeply held views worthy of question and scrutiny, it's not just about the press.
FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah, they, they are deeply held views, but they're not what I dominantly talk about, David. You're taking things that over a course of a 20-year career and pulling out quotes from difference speeches on, on issues that are fairly tangential, not what people care about mostly in America, and saying, "Oh, he wants to impose those values." Look at my record. I've never wanted to impose any of the things that you've just talked about. These are, these are my personal held religious beliefs, and in many forums that I, that, that are, in fact, religious, because I do speak in front of church groups and I do speak in these areas, I do talk about them. But there's no evidence at all that I, that I want to impose those values on anybody else.


This is, of course, a bunch of baloney. While Santorum has spent a lot of time in his presidential campaign talking up regressive tax policies, irresponsible deregulation and anti-environmentalism, the core of his brand has always been social conservatism. His campaign has consistently and explicitly distinguished his anti-choice, anti-gay record with Mitt Romney’s in order to successfully appeal to culture-warring voters.

Santorum has also never shied away from wanting to “impose” his far-right values on the rest of the country. In a 2005 interview with NPR, for instance, he railed against the libertarian wing of the Republican party, saying, “They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulation low and that we shouldn't get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn't get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world.”

And here he is at a Republican debate in November discussing how our civil laws must “comport with God’s law”:

The former senator has said that states should be allowed to outlaw birth control and gay relationships, but supports the federal law banning recognition of legal same-sex marriages. He supports so-called “personhood” laws, which would not only outlaw all abortions regardless of circumstances, but would jeopardize legal access to contraception. He says that as president, he would reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, putting the careers of openly gay members of the military at risk. Yet he says he doesn’t want to “impose” his far-right values on the rest of us.

Santorum’s interview on Meet the Press is far from the first time he’s claimed that he’s not overly interested in social issues. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch found a speech he gave in 2008 in which he claimed that it’s liberals who have made sex an issue on the campaign trail. For liberals, he said, politics “comes down to sex” and that the Democratic Party has become “the party of Woodstock.”:

And it’s just insidious. And it’s most of the time focused on the sexual issues. If you’re a hard-core free-market guy, they’re not going to call you “zealous”. They’re not going to call you “ultra-conservative”. They’re not going to do that to you.
It comes down to sex. That’s what it’s all about. It comes down to freedom, and it comes down to sex. If you have anything to with any of the sexual issues, and if you are on the wrong side of being able to do all of the sexual freedoms you want, you are a bad guy. And you’re dangerous because you are going to limit my freedom in an area that’s the most central to me. And that’s the way it’s looked at.
...
Woodstock is the great American orgy. This is who the Democratic Party has become. They have become the party of Woodstock. The prey upon our most basic primal lusts, and that’s sex. And the whole abortion culture, it’s not about life. It’s about sexual freedom. That’s what it’s about. Homosexuality. It’s about sexual freedom.
All of the things are about sexual freedom, and they hate to be called on them. They try to somehow or other tie this to the Founding Father’s vision of liberty, which is bizarre. It’s ridiculous.
 

 

PFAW

Marriage Equality Advances in Maryland

Last night the Maryland State Senate approved legislation ending the prohibition against marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Governor Martin O’Malley has promised to sign the bill into law.

That’s an important step forward for all Maryland families. It’s become clear in Maryland, as in other states, that preventing same-sex couples from getting married causes real harm to real people.  But that doesn’t mean the fight is over.  As the Baltimore Sun reports:

With the state Senate's approval Thursday night of the governor's bill to legalize civil marriage for same-sex couples, opponents are expected to State elections officials say they are already getting calls seeking information on how to start the process.

Even the bill's staunchest supporters expect its opponents to easily gather the 55,736 signatures necessary to put the question on the November ballot.

Getting enough signatures would prevent the law from going into effect before the referendum. If the campaign against marriage equality plays out like it did in states like Maine and California, that means there are a lot of ugly, dishonest ads coming to Maryland’s airwaves.  But if the debate in the legislature is any indication, ugly smears against gay people won’t be any match for honest conversations with those affected by the law.

PFAW

Unlimited Donations Toward an Extreme Agenda

Talk about Citizens United usually revolves around the anti-democratic fact that corporations and wealthy donors are now free to give unlimited amounts to oppose or support candidates of their choice. While it’s obvious that those wealthy individuals seeking to buy an election are likely to hold significant influence over their candidate of choice, it’s important to remember that these donors aren’t just hoping to elect the candidate they would most like to have a beer with – they are trying to buy the opportunity to enact a far-reaching policy agenda.

An editorial in today’s New York Times explores the policy interests of some of the approximately two-dozen individuals, couples and companies who have given 80 percent of the money collected by Super PACs – a whopping $54 million. These people want more than just President Obama’s defeat; an extreme Right-Wing policy agenda is part of the package.

Harold Simmons, a billionaire corporate raider, has given $1 million to Mr. Gingrich’s political action committee, $1.1 million to Rick Perry’s PAC, $100,000 to Mitt Romney’s PAC, and $10 million to American Crossroads, the super PAC advised by Karl Rove that is supporting many Republican candidates. Mr. Simmons’s companies make metals, paints and chemicals, among other things, and have gotten into trouble over lead and uranium emissions from previous decades. He also runs a radioactive waste dump in Texas that has clashed with environmental regulators over its proximity to a nearby aquifer. He controls Waste Control Specialists, which has contracts to clean up federal hazardous waste sites, including emissions from other companies he controls.

Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an outspoken libertarian, gave $2.6 million to Ron Paul’s PAC. In 2009, he wrote that the 1920s were the last decade when one could be optimistic about American politics, lamenting the subsequent rise of the welfare state that he blamed in part on giving women the right to vote.

Foster Friess, who gave $1 million to Rick Santorum’s Red White and Blue PAC, is a mutual fund manager who recently declared that aspirin used to be an effective contraceptive when women put it between their knees. He is a former president of the Council for National Policy, a secretive club of some of the country’s most powerful conservatives, which opposes unions, same-sex marriage and government regulation.

If roughly 24 people can use their gigantic bank accounts to pursue an agenda like this, it’s no wonder that the vast majority of Americans believe the pervasive influence of money in politics –exasperated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United – is not working in the people’s best interest.

PFAW Foundation

ALEC Gives Cash to Congressmen?

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) strategy of corporations enact favorable legislation at the state level across the country by wining and dining state legislators at fancy conferences and then presenting them with model bills to shepherd into law is well documented. Apparently, ALEC also sees value in currying favor at the federal level as well.

Common Cause’s Nick Surgey reports that ALEC gave a cash award of $1,350 to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) in 2009 as part of their Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award, according to an investigation of ALEC’s tax filings. This presents a potential breach of ethics because House members are prohibited by law from receiving any cash gift.

While ALEC’s main focus is on pro-corporate state legislation, common cause notes that ALEC’s influence extends far into the realm of the federal government:

Although ALEC’s primary focus is in promoting corporate-friendly state legislation, the group also has a clear federal agenda. A 2005 ALEC document obtained by Common Cause outlines 42 distinct ALEC model bills that attempt to influence federal policy. Those bills include resolutions calling for lower corporate taxes and supporting construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. In effect, corporations working through ALEC are using state legislators to lobby Congress on their behalf. ALEC boasts of the 91 “ALEC alumni” currently serving in the US House, including both Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

As Rep. Cantor graciously accepts his award in this 2009 video, it’s not difficult to imagine how flattery and cash gifts can go a long way in winning the favor of powerful people.

 

Rep. Cantor’s office subsequently released a statement denying that he took the cash and that the engraved bust he received was legal. This still doesn’t explain, as Common Cause notes, why ALEC considered the bust to be a cash gift on their tax filings, unless the value of the bust was high enough that disclosure was required.

Regardless, it smells fishy.

PFAW Foundation