PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Push for voter ID marches on in Missouri

At the end of March, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Pat Joyce struck down Missouri’s proposed voter ID constitutional amendment (SJR 2) on the grounds that the ballot summary is “insufficient and unfair.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized, “In a perverted, poetic justice kind of way, it's pitch perfect that in their alleged attempt to stop voter fraud, Missouri Republicans committed, well, fraud.”

Prospects for an appeal are unclear, but the legislature immediately began working on contingency plans.

HCR 53 has already passed the House and made it out of committee in the Senate. It reconsiders last session’s bill with a new amendment, but the Secretary of State’s office has said that the General Assembly can’t correct its mistake by going this route. Enter a brand new bill, HJR 89, which could hit the House floor any day now.

If and when Missouri passes a constitutional amendment, the legislature will have to pass, or already have passed, enacting legislation. HB 1104 is out of the House and through committee in the Senate.

Representative Shane Schoeller, an ALEC member who is running for Secretary of State, is behind all three proposals.

Though Representative Schoeller’s separate effort (HB 2109) to pass proof of citizenship for voter registration made it out of House committee at the end of April, it may be stalled given the ruling against proof of citizenship in Arizona.

Missouri’s legislature is expected to adjourn at the end of May.

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

Walker's Millions and the Right's "Special Interests" Lie

On Wednesday, PFAW president Michael Keegan sent the following message to PFAW members:

Scott Walker is truly the worst governor money can buy. In 2010, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, Walker shattered state fundraising records in his campaign to be Wisconsin’s next governor. Now, faced with a recall election, he’s doing it again -- and then some.

It was reported this week that in the last three months, Scott Walker raised $13.1 MILLION to beat back his recall challenge. And that figure does not include the money being spent by right-wing Super PACs to support him and bash his opponents. To put this feat in perspective, Walker’s two leading Democratic challengers, Kathleen Falk and Tom Barrett -- currently locked in a primary in which they are spending resources against each other -- have raised $977,000 and $750,000 respectively.

Walker has milked his “golden boy” status among the ideological mega-funders of the right-wing movement. His aggressive attacks on workers’ rights, funding for important social programs and equal rights protections have made powerful corporate interests like Koch Industries and activists like Grover Norquist eager to host fundraisers for him around the country, from Oklahoma to New York. Amazingly, the Right continues to accuse our side of being fueled by “special interests” (as always, mischaracterizing “special interests” as people willing to stand up for their rights).

Many have called the Wisconsin recall election the second most important election battle of 2012 (second only to the presidential race), and it’s certainly shaping up to be the most emblematic of the crossroads at which America finds itself post-Citizens United. This recall battle is definitively one of Big Money vs. the People.

Mark Hanna, William McKinley’s right-wing millionaire campaign manager in 1896, famously said, “There are two things that matter in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” We MUST prove him wrong in Wisconsin ... we must prove that People Power can win the day.

With the help of Hanna and the robber barons of the era, McKinley won his race with only 51% of the popular vote after outspending his Democratic opponent 23 to 1. It’s up to us to make sure 2012 is not a repeat of 1896.

We won’t be able to outspend them, but what we do have we will spend smarter to help turn out the people’s vote. With your help, we’ll outwork Walker and his billionaire allies and RECALL THE RIGHT in Wisconsin.

Thank you for standing with us in this fight. Please stay tuned for more important information about the Wisconsin recall elections and People For the American Way’s campaign the Recall the Right.

Sincerely,
Michael Keegan, President

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in Wisconsin this week campaigning for Scott Walker and said, “For the next five weeks, America is going to find out the answer to what is more powerful, the people or the money and special interests from Washington, D.C. Wisconsin will answer that question."

Republicans are really going all in on the claim that the big money being spent in the recall election is coming from the Walker’s opponents. Jaw-dropping chutzpah considering Walker has already spent $20 million in his own defense, has another $25 million on hand and is being supported by outside groups with limitless funding from wealthy corporate interests. Meanwhile, the amount of money raised and spent both by the Democratic candidates and outside groups opposing Walker (including unions – the so-called ‘special interests’ to which Chris Christie was alluding) is hardly a fraction of Walker’s behemoth war chest. Oh, and for all the Republicans' handwringing about out of state money fueling the recall effort, it was reported a few days ago that two-thirds of Walker's money has come from outside of Wisconsin.

There's no question this race is a question of the grassroots versus big special interest money, but Scott Walker isn't the on the side of the grassroots.

PFAW

New Lawsuit Challenges Voter ID in Pennsylvania

This week, voting rights supporters in Pennsylvania filed suit against HB 934, the state’s voter ID law whose original sponsor, Daryl Metcalfe, is an ALEC member. They claim that it deprives citizens of their basic and fundamental right to vote. Witold Walczak, Legal Director of the Pennsylvania ACLU:

The commonwealth's phantom claims of in-person-voter fraud cannot be allowed to trump the very real disenfranchisement of long-time Pennsylvania voters. People need to wake up to the reality that not every voter has or can get photo ID, so making it a requirement will prevent many people from exercising one of our most precious rights.

Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year old woman from Philadelphia, is the lead plaintiff in the suit. Working as a welder during World War II and marching in support of civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Georgia, she has been voting since President John F. Kennedy came into office.

College students will also be greatly impacted come Election Day. Many college IDs in Pennsylvania will not be accepted as a valid form of identification since most lack an expiration date.

A recent study released today by PennPIRG and a broad coalition of voter protection groups found that Pennsylvania’s new photo ID voting law could potentially disenfranchise more than 80% of the state’s college students….Out of the 110 surveyed colleges and universities only 15 schools have student identification cards for all students that meet the requirements of having a photo, name and expiration date on the card.

Though the law will not be in full effect until the November election, its soft rollout during the April primary showed that the concerns of voting rights supporters are not without merit. For example, 91-year old Joyce Block attempted to acquire a photo ID but couldn’t. And we heard reports of several signs posted at polling places stating boldly, “ID Required to Vote”, with much smaller print (or none at all) clarifying that the requirement would not apply until November.

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

An ALEC Bill's Journey

Bloomberg Businessweek put together a handy infographic charting the path of one particular piece of ALEC model legislation, the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act, on its journey from approval as a model through introduction in 12 states across the country, and eventually becoming law in three. Shielding corporations from liability for causing harm to consumers and the environment is a major ALEC priority, and this legislation makes it harder for states to hire law firms to bring suits against businesses.

ALEC claims that it is just a library for bills and falsely states on its IRS returns that it conducts no lobbying, but documents submitted by Common Cause to the IRS last week all but prove otherwise. Internal documents show that ALEC actively engages in all the hallmarks of lobbying – from advocating for bills to tracking their progress through statehouses nationwide.

PFAW Foundation

EEOC takes step forward in fight to end transgender employment discrimination

In October and December of 2010, the Department of Education took a stand for LGBT youth by issuing guidance to address bullying in schools, especially as it relates to federal education anti-discrimination laws. One of those laws, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. While the language does not specify sexual orientation and gender identity, the Department has made clear that harassment on these grounds, under certain circumstances, violates Title IX.

Last month brought a similar ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, establishing that gender identity employment discrimination violates sex discrimination protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, thus allowing the complaint filed by Mia Macy to proceed.

Masen Davis, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center:

Given the incredibly high rate of employment discrimination facing transgender people, this is incredibly significant for us. Data [link] from the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 78 percent of transgender Americans say they've experienced workplace discrimination at some point in time. Given that transgender people do not have employment protections in the vast majority of states, this creates a whole new fabric of legal support for our community.

Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality:

It will help so much that the EEOC agrees with what more and more courts have been saying—discriminating against trans people because of their sex, or their perceived sex, or what an employer thinks about their sex is clearly sex discrimination, illegal and wrong.

Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

This is a historic victory for transgender people and their families — and it couldn’t come too soon. Our national survey on transgender discrimination found staggering levels of workplace discrimination against transgender Americans. This jeopardizes their ability to have or keep a job, have a roof over their head, and feed and take care of their family.

That the EEOC will now hear Mia Macy’s case is a hopeful sign that the American principles of fairness and equal opportunity might someday extended to all in the workplace. (Click here to learn about the backlash.)

Other recent developments include progress at US Citizenship and Immigration Services, a speech at my alma mater, Ohio University, and increased awareness (including PFAW Foundation) about the challenges faced by transgender voters.

PFAW

Wisconsin Recall Round-Up - May 4, 2012

The national media is focusing its gaze once again on Wisconsin, and this week it was all about the money.  Monday, April 30th, was the filing deadline for pre-primary election fundraising totals.  Wisconsin’s embattled Republican Governor Scott Walker turned in a filing that, on the surface, blew his Democratic rivals away, reporting $13 million in money raised during the January to April reporting period.

An in-depth analysis by The Huffington Post, however, revealed that approximately two-thirds of Walker’s money raised was donated by individuals and entities from outside Wisconsin.  This draws a stark contrast to his nearest Democratic rivals filings, with Tom Barrett reporting $750,000 in donations in 25 days, and Kathleen Falk reporting $1 million.  99% of Barrett’s donations came from inside Wisconsin.  Falk only had $25,862 in her account at the end of 2011.

News analysis also revealed that Walker transferred $60,000 to his legal defense fund during the pre-primary period, according to his campaign finance report.  This revelation drew criticism from One Wisconsin Now and others, as it appeared to many Wisconsinites that Walker’s campaign is using nuances in Wisconsin GAB reporting requirements to avoid revealing who donated to the legal defense fund.

Mid-week, Marquette University released polling data that indicates the public’s perception of the Governor has not improved, despite his campaign spending $21 million dollars to bolster his image and fight against a recall from office.  The situation left prominent pundits and reporters alike referring to his numbers as “almost freakishly fixed in place,” with rivals using grassroots support and a focus on issues to prepare for next Tuesday’s primary elections to take on the Governor for the recalls.

Looking forward, next Tuesday is Primary Day!  Follow our Facebook page and Twitter feed for the latest information on where to find your polling place.  Exercise your duty to Fight The Right and vote!

PFAW

UPDATE: DOJ takes step forward with latest hate crime indictment

UPDATE: Also last month, the Harlan County case brought the first convictions under the sexual orientation provision of the federal hate crime law. Mable Ashley Jenkins, 19, and Alexis LeeAnn Jenkins, 19, plead guilty to aiding and abetting both kidnapping and a hate crime assault for having tricked Kevin Pennington into getting into a truck with the two other defendants currently under indictment. Click here and here for more information from the Department of Justice.

October 28, 2009 marked a historic step forward in the fight for equality. With the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, President Obama sent loud and clear the message that freedom from violence is a right all Americans should enjoy.

In an ideal world, the law would never be used. But we know that there are victims who need protections based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability. And today, the first-ever indictment was handed down for a violation of the sexual orientation provision of the statute.

The indictment alleges that on April 4, 2011, [David Jason Jenkins, 37, and Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20] kidnapped and assaulted Kevin Pennington because of Pennington’s sexual orientation. According to the indictment, the defendants enlisted two women to trick Pennington into getting into a truck with the defendants, so that the defendants could drive Pennington to a state park and assault him. According to the indictment, the defendants then drove Pennington [to] a secluded area of the Kingdom Come State Park in Kentucky and assaulted him.

What happened to Kevin Pennington is an outrage. That this prosecution is possible is a success for the rule of law.

PFAW

Call for ALEC Tax Investigation Spreads to the States

Fresh off of filing a major complaint with the IRS alleging that the American Legislative Exchange Council abused their tax-exempt status by acting primarily as a lobbying organization, the good-government group Common Cause is now pressing for state-level investigations. Yesterday, Common Cause asked New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to investigate whether ALEC’s activities are in violation of state law.

Nine companies based in New Jersey, including Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson and Merck are ALEC members, and an investigation by the Star-Ledger found that a close resemblance between ALEC model bills and several pieces of legislation and executive actions pushed by the Christie Administration. The investigation also noted that ALEC member corporations and their executives have given at least $200,000 to New Jersey officials who are responsible for advancing these bills.

ALEC claims that it only “provides a constructive forum for state legislators and private sector leaders to discuss and exchange practical, state-level policy issues,” and “does not lobby state legislatures.” But it’s difficult to understand how an organization that pays for state legislators to go to exclusive resorts, where they discuss and vote as equals with corporations on model legislation, can be considered anything but a lobbying front. One thing is clear: ALEC certainly is not the “charity” they claim they are on their tax returns.

PFAW Foundation

Boehner favors politics in pursuing yet another DOMA challenge

Back in February, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Department of Justice would not act in McLaughlin v. Panetta to defend, in the military context, the federal-recognition component of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The plaintiffs, each legally married, want the armed services to recognize their families and seek the same family support and benefits for their same-sex spouses that the services and Department of Veterans Affairs provide to opposite-sex spouses.

[ . . . ]

Currently, federal law requires the military to ignore these marriages and, therefore, prevents it from providing vitally needed benefits to these legally married spouses, including housing; health care; surviving spouse benefits; the issuance of military identification cards; and morale, welfare, and recreational programs.

Then in March, Representative Jerrold Nadler and the other lead sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act sent a letter to Speaker Boehner asking that he abandon his defense of DOMA.

At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet and asking Congress to focus on jobs, the economy, and federal spending, all Members should be concerned that taxpayers dollars are being used to pay costly legal fees to make arguments that lack adequate factual or legal support, in pursuit of a law that is not worthy of a defense.

This week brings word to the contrary – Speaker Boehner has directed the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, controlled 3-2 by Republicans, to seek intervention in McLaughlin.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, who filed the suit, sent a strong message that the Speaker is hurting military families. Army veteran and Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

Speaker Boehner's request to defend this case in the wake of the ongoing harm done to military families by these discriminatory laws is reprehensible and callous. The Speaker has turned a deaf ear to the urgent pleas of CW2 Charlie Morgan and countless families like hers, who are living with the day-to-day realities of a military that has been forced to create two classes of service members . . . [His] politically motivated ongoing defense of these unjust laws is hurting military families. It's time to repeal DOMA and revise these antiquated laws that are preventing all military families from being treated with fairness and equality. There cannot be two classes of service members.

Heed Sarvis’s call to action. Add your name to PFAW's petition urging Congress to Dump DOMA and end this unconstitutional, discriminatory policy once and for all.

Click here for more from PFAW.

PFAW

Educators Ditch ALEC's Corporate-Schools Agenda

Who has ditched ALEC so far?

The rolling tally: 14 Corporations, 33 State Representatives.

A major component of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s agenda to transfer the public’s resources to a few private hands revolves around privatizing our public school systems. From model bills that sanction “Virtual Public Schools” run by for-profit companies to subsidizing private school vouchers with taxpayer money, ALEC places corporate profits above children’s needs.

Perhaps this is why the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), the national certifying body for teachers in the United States and an organization that is ostensibly dedicated to serving children’s educational needs, announced that they are severing ties with ALEC:

Given recent events, the new NBPTS President and CEO decided to discontinue engagement with ALEC. As a result, NBPTS terminated its membership as an Education Task Force Member of ALEC effective April 18, 2012, and also withdrew from participating in the upcoming ALEC conference....The decision to participate in ALEC had been made by previous NBPTS leadership.

–NBPTS spokesperson Brian Lewis

NBPTS is a non-profit organization, but they take positions on many aspects of education policy, including teacher-certification regulations. Before their departure, the organization sat on ALEC’s Education Task Force, which, as the Center for Media and Democracy reports, boasts private-sector members such as the James Madison Institute of Florida and the Pioneer Institute of Massachusetts, both members of the Koch-funded State Policy Network.

ALEC is too toxic even for some for-profit education companies. Last week, Kaplan announced that they are declining to renew their ALEC membership. 

PFAW Foundation

Introducing the 2012-2013 YP4 Fellows

After weeks of reviewing applications and conducting interviews, we’re pleased to announce People For the American Way Foundation’s 2012-2013 Young People For (YP4) Fellowship class! From a large and diverse pool of over 450 applications, 150 dynamic progressive leaders were selected.

Young People For (YP4) is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities.YP4 develops Fellows’ leadership capacity and strategic thinking through a capstone project, the Blueprint for Social Justice. YP4 helps them refine their plans, organize and network with fellow campus leaders, partners and alumni at regional trainings, through mentorship and at the National Summit.

YP4’s newest class is comprised of young progressive leaders from 32 states, 76% represent communities of color, 67% are women, 21% identify as LGBT. The Fellows will begin their YP4 experience this summer at their respective Regional Training, where Fellows will meet with 30-40 other young activists and organizers from their region as well as YP4 staff and organizational partners. The regional trainings provide Fellows with the opportunity to gain expertise in the issues affecting their communities and participate in workshops designed to develop the skills they need to become leaders in the progressive movement.

Meet YP4’s new Fellows!

PFAW Foundation

The Partisan Advantages of Citizens United

 

Just how much has Citizens United altered the electoral landscape? While the overall amount of outside money in politics has risen dramatically with each passing election cycle, the Citizens United decision eliminated restrictions on corporate and special-interest spending to influence or elections. The result shows that the new rules have stacked the deck in favor of Republicans.

This chart from the Center for Responsive Politics shows how, while spending by outside groups has been on the rise since the 90’s, it was not until 2010 Supreme Court decision that conservatives saw a sudden, major advantage in outside-expenditure spending on their behalf:

Total Liberal vs. Conservative Outside Spending, Excluding Party Committees

As Ian Milllhiser at Think Progress notes, the much of the 2012 spending on Republican candidates went to intra-party contests during the primaries, though it will likely continue through the general election. But the overall trend is clear: As a result of the Citizens United, Republicans will continue to enjoy outsized spending on their behalf by corporations.

PFAW

Governor McDonnell set to make decision on voter ID in Virginia

Last month, instead of signing the voter ID bill, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell sent it back to the legislature for several amendments, with mixed results:

McDonnell amended the bills to add any college identification, including two-year schools. The House and Senate signed off on that change when it reconvened this week to pass a budget and consider McDonnell’s seven vetoes and amendments he made to more than 100 bills.

But the General Assembly balked at another change McDonnell had proposed for the bills. Under that amendment, a vote cast without ID would get counted if the signature on the provisional ballot matched the one on the voter’s registration record.

Now voter ID is back before Governor McDonnell, and this time he must decide whether to sign or veto a bill that is clearly part of the Right Wing agenda. ALEC Exposed reports that the lead sponsor of the original Senate version, Stephen Martin (R-11), is ALEC’s Virginia Chair, and the lead sponsor of its House companion, Mark Cole (R-88), is also affiliated with ALEC.

A recent article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch further exemplifies how politics have colored the debate. While it relies heavily on reports of widespread voter fraud in Virginia, it minimizes what the Virginian-Pilot pointed out in its editorial – that this fraud would not be addressed by the current voter ID legislation. As Delegate Joe Morrissey makes clear in his letter to the editor:

HB9 was what we in the General Assembly call a solution looking for a problem. Why, when there has not been one single incident of voter identification fraud in the past four years, would we need to spend our precious time in the General Assembly debating and passing a voter identification bill?

Joataka Eaddy, Senior Director of the NAACP Voting Right Initiative, and Rev. Nathaniel Young, President of the NAACP's Virginia State Conference, have also responded with letters to the editor.

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

Record-Breaking Effort to SEC: Disclose Corporate Spending on Elections

Until a constitutional amendment can overturn Citizens United, progressives around the country are working on various legislative workarounds to address the flood of corporate money being spent to influence our elections. While only a constitutional amendment can restore to the American people the authority to regulate such spending, there are several ways to compel companies to disclose their political spending to the public and bring much-needed accountability to corporations that use their vast treasuries to sway our elections.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has the rulemaking authority to require corporations to disclose their political spending to their shareholders. This is significant because so many Americans are shareholders in one form or another: if you own a 401(k) or similar retirement account, you’re a type of shareholder; and the companies you invest with could be spending your money to support candidates or fund attack ads – all without your knowledge.

The American people have told the SEC to do its job. Yesterday, we broke the record for total number of comments submitted to the SEC on a particular rule: 178,000 Americans have written to the SEC, telling them to protect Americans from the undue influence of wealthy corporations and special interests. PFAW supporters contributed a sizeable chunk of about 24,000 signatures to the effort.

The Corporate Reform Coalition, a group of progressive organizations including PFAW, Common Cause, Public Citizens, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending and others has been pushing a consumer-driven campaign to ask corporations to refrain from engaging in political spending. We are also pursuing legislative solutions like the Shareholder Protection Act as well as other means to help shine light on the influence of corporate money in our democracy.

PFAW

Alec Baldwin Talks Bork

Last night, actor and PFAW board member Alec Baldwin appeared on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, where they discussed, as the host put it, “the number one reason to vote for president”: the United States Supreme Court.

Baldwin noted that the Supreme Court affects the daily lives of all Americans, and that the prospect of Mitt Romney making lifetimes appointments to that institution is nothing less than “scary,” especially with Robert Bork as his top judicial advisor.

 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

 

“To most people, the court is an idea, they don’t realize the impact it has on our daily lives,” Baldwin said. But People For the American Way has been “drilling home the relevance of the court…this is the most abjectly politicized Supreme Court I’ve ever seen in my life,” he continued. Decisions like Bush v. Gore and Citizens United, he said, are “changing the nature of this country.”

Baldwin is helping to spread the word about RomneyCourt.com, where you can read “Borking America,” PFAW’s extensive report on Mitt Romney’s top judicial advisor – whose views are so extreme his own nomination was rejected by a bipartisan coalition more than 20 years ago.

PFAW