Secret McConnell Recording Shows Need for Money in Politics Reform

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post. 

Early this morning, The Nation published a leaked recording of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's remarks at a secret meeting of major conservative donors put together by the Koch brothers.

While the first reactions to the recording may highlight what this means for McConnell's Senate race against Alison Lundergan Grimes, the story carries deeper implications as well. At its core, this is a story about why we need to reform the way we finance elections.

In the audio recording, Sen. McConnell says everything that the Koch brothers want to hear. At the beginning of his remarks, he gushes to the brothers: "I don't know where we'd be without you." He rails against Senate votes on raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and tackling student debt. It's no coincidence that he has received heaps of cash from wealthy special interests that oppose action on those issues. (Reporting today from The Huffington Post shows that at the same Koch retreat, Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and state Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa -- both Republican nominees for U.S. Senate -- "directly credited donors present...for propelling them forward.")

This is increasingly what our political system looks like. Those who can bankroll candidates can help set the political agenda -- even if that agenda looks nothing like what the majority of Americans want it to look like. Research has shown that the wealthy have fundamentally different political priorities than those of everyday Americans, but when the preferences of ordinary Americans conflict with those of billionaire donors like the Koch brothers, it's the rich whose preferences carry the day.

And no one is a more vocal supporter of our broken campaign finance system than Mitch McConnell himself. In the secret tapes, Sen. McConnell says that the Citizens United decision (which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending) simply "level[ed] the playing field for corporate speech," even calling the proposed constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United "an act of true radicalism" from people who want to "use the power of the government to quiet the voices of their critics."

But Americans know that it's not billionaires or corporations who need the playing field to be leveled. Their priorities are coming through loud and clear in our democracy, thanks to politicians like Sen. McConnell who are fighting to ensure that those with the most to spend can continue to buy our elections. It's ordinary Americans, who increasingly cannot be heard over the roar of big money, whose voices need to be protected. And that "radical" push for a constitutional amendment, which will be voted on in the Senate on September 8, is actually supported by nearly three in four voters.

Maybe if Mitch McConnell weren't so busy pandering to billionaire donors, he'd be able to see the tremendous grassroots call to reform our money in politics system, with 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns already on record in support of an amendment. Then again, with true money in politics reform, maybe our senators wouldn't need to pander to billionaires at all.

PFAW

North Carolina Judge Rules Right-Wing Voucher Program Unconstitutional

People in North Carolina have been living with – and resisting – a devastating right-wing assault on public institutions and the common good since a far-right takeover of state government in 2012, which was funded by Art Pope, a local businessman who became the state’s budget director.

Part of the right-wing assault has been on public schools and teachers. The 2013 state budget included $10 million for “Opportunity Scholarships” that would be sent to mostly unaccountable and mostly religious private schools. But today a state judge ruled that state lawmakers’ school voucher plan violates the North Carolina constitution.

North Carolina Policy Watch has the details:

In a stunning rebuke to state lawmakers’ efforts to bring school vouchers to North Carolina, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood today found the recently-enacted “Opportunity Scholarship Program” unconstitutional and permanently enjoined disbursement of state funds for that purpose.

“The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything,” Hobgood said.

In his ruling, issued this morning from the bench, the judge broke down the program and detailed the many reasons why it failed constitutional muster:

This legislation unconstitutionally

1) appropriates to private schools grades K-12, by use of funds which apparently have gone to the university system budget but which should be used exclusively for establishing and maintaining the uniform system of free public schools;

2) appropriates education funds in a manner that does not accomplish a public purpose;

3) appropriates educational funds outside the supervision and administration of the state board of education;

4) creates a non-uniform system of education;

5) appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified;

6) fails to guard and maintain the rights of the people who privilege the education by siphoning money from the public schools in favor of private schools; and

7) allows funding of non-public schools that discriminate on account of religion.

NC Policy Watch reports that Judge Hobgood had issued a preliminary injunction against the program in February, but parents backed by the Koch-brothers-funded Institute for Justice appealed that order and the state Supreme Court overturned the injunction in May. But in today’s ruling, “Hobgood recognized the state’s obligation to provide a ‘sound basic education’ to the children attending public schools in North Carolina as mandated by the [state] Supreme Court in its Leandro decision .”

“The General Assembly cannot constitutionally delegate this responsibility to unregulated private schools by use of taxpayer opportunity scholarships to low income parents who have self-assessed their children to be at risk,” he said.

Hobgood noted that the private schools receiving the scholarships are not subject to any requirements or standards regarding the curriculum that they teach, have no requirements for student achievement, are not obligated to demonstrate any growth in student performance and are not even obligated to provide a minimum amount of instructional time.

The Judge also wrote, “It appears to this court that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low income families into non-public schools in order to avoid the cost of providing them a sound basic education in public school as mandated by the Leandro decision.”

And he rejected the budgetary sleight-of-hand engaged in by legislators to try to make the program pass constitutional muster:

The judge also made clear that he was not buying lawmakers’ argument that state funds were not funding the program.

This summer, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam pushed through an amendment to the voucher law that pulled $10 million out of the state’s General Fund to pay for the program. That budgetary maneuver allowed Stam to then readjust the public school budget back to what it would have been had school vouchers never existed.

As amended the voucher law stated that “scholarship grant funds awarded . . . to eligible students attending a non-public school shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina.”

Nowhere in the state’s General Statutes is there any provision for scholarship grants to come from any source other than taxpayer funds, Hobgood noted.

“If scholarship grants shall not be considered funding from the state of North Carolina, this court is at a complete loss to understand the source of those funds,” he said.

“Follow the money,” the judge added. “The clear legislative intent is to utilize taxpayer money to fund private schools.”

 

PFAW

PFAW Takes Fight Against Broken Political System To Kentucky’s Fancy Farm Picnic

Don’t let the name fool you—the event is neither fancy nor a picnic in the park for politicos. “Fancy Farm” is actually the worlds largest BBQ and Kentucky’s biggest political event of the summer. For nearly 100 years, politicians from across the state have been making the pilgrimage to kickoff their campaigns, giving their best stump speeches and trading insults with opposing candidates.

In case you missed it, catch all the fun here.

This year, Kentucky’s got one of the most important Senate races in the country. Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes is trying to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell, the current minority leader, who has been the self-proclaimed “proud guardian of gridlock” for nearly 30 years. Some have estimated that it will cost over $100 million before all is said and done, making it the most expensive Senate race in American history.

That’s not how democracy is supposed to work—our elections shouldn’t go to the highest bidder. That’s why in-state PFAW members drove five hours to help ditch Mitch. Volunteers passed out progressive gear, collected petition signatures, and brought their energy and enthusiasm to the political speeches (check out the pictures below).

PFAW’s petition to get big money out of politics received wide support at the picnic. Even proud supporters of McConnell signed the petition, agreeing that we need to get big money out of politics.

Polls continue to show Grimes and McConnell neck and neck. As November draws closer, conservatives like the Koch brothers will dump millions of outside dollars into this election to save McConnell’s seat and attempt to take over the Senate. But with grassroots support and on-the-ground activism, we’re not going to let them.

Fancy Farm proved that the energy to change our political system is real and will continue to grow. PFAW’s growing in-state membership base will continue to lead the charge.

PFAW

The Right Wing's Immigration Hysteria: Round-Up

Here’s a round-up of last week’s Right Wing immigration hysteria:

PFAW

PFAW Challenges Perdue’s Record in New Spanish-Language Radio Ad

Following David Perdue’s win last week in the Georgia GOP Senate runoff, People For the American Way released a Spanish-language radio ad today challenging Perdue’s history on jobs, workers’ rights, and immigration. The ad exposes Perdue’s record of exploiting workers in the private sector and his careless attitude about immigration reform, addressing issues important to voters.

This is the latest effort of PFAW’s award-winning Latino vote program working to mobilize Latino voters in key states, a constituency that can have a significant impact on elections, by highlighting the extreme views of GOP candidates.

Latinos currently make up more than 9 percent of Georgia’s population—enough to play a critical role in choosing the state’s next senator and governor.

The ad is running in Atlanta starting today until August 6. You can hear the Spanish version of the ad here.

PFAW

PSSST -- Rand Paul Calls for End Run Around Roe v. Wade, Is Just Another Extremist

Share this article:

Sen. Rand Paul is urging his supporters to push for passage of the Life at Conception Act, which he says will “overturn Roe v. Wade.” The bill “declares unborn children ‘persons’ as defined by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, entitled to legal protection.

This is something that every progressive and every American who cares about women’s equality and reproductive freedom needs to remember in the next couple of years, as Sen. Paul continues to position himself for a presidential run.

Paul

Rand Paul’s election to the Senate was among the very first high-profile victories for the Tea Party movement. He thanked the Tea Party in his Election Night victory speech. And he’s remained an iconic figure in the movement.

As a member of Congress, Paul has carved out his own lane as an iconoclast by embracing some ostensibly Libertarian positions in defiance of Republican Party – and even Tea Party – orthodoxy. He has been extremely vocal against NSA spying on Americans, leading a class-action lawsuit against the Agency. At times, he has been similarly out-front in arguing against the use of drones, draconian Drug War policies and aggressive military action. A sharp departure from the modern Republican Party’s commitment to blaming President Obama for everything bad that happens in the world, on Meet the Press, Paul said, “What’s going on now [in Iraq] -- I don’t blame on President Obama,” and instead pointed the finger at “those who supported the Iraq War.”

Some of these ostensibly “anti-war” or “civil libertarian” positions are popular with independents and a great many on the political Left. And Sen. Paul has even been a recent critic of his party’s unwillingness to reach out to minority voters and address their interests. Indeed, he seems like a “different kind of Republican” than we’ve seen these last few years, and he certainly seems to have his finger on the pulse of the American public.

Paul is uniquely situated to use his credibility as a “Tea Party original” to buck right-wing positions on certain issues (“only Nixon could have gone to China”). But despite his masterful ability to read the zeitgeist, beneath the façade one finds the same hypocrisy and extremism that have come to define the modern GOP.

  • For all of Sen. Paul’s big talk on “civil liberties,” his purported commitment to individual freedoms stops well short of support for LGBT people to be guaranteed equal rights or enter into marriage, or for women to have control over their own reproductive choices – as evidenced by his crusade against Roe v. Wade.
  • While Sen. Paul is acknowledging the need – and touting his ability – to reach out to minority voters and meet their concerns, he remains in favor of the voter ID laws that keep minorities from the polls … and let’s not forget his troubling past with the Civil Rights Act.
  • He takes a softer tone on immigration than the hardline nativists  who comprise one of the Tea Party’s most vocal constituencies, acknowledging the need for reform but refusing to advocate for a path to citizenship -- instead promoting the banal “secure the border, and provide more work visas” line (something to satisfy both the Minutemen and corporations looking for cheap labor).
  • He sheds crocodile tears over the corrupting influence of money in politics but is completely on board with Citizens United.
  • And, of course: guns, guns, guns, guns.

 

PFAW

David Perdue: Too Extreme for Georgia

On Tuesday, David Perdue triumphed over longtime representative Jack Kingston in the Republican runoff for Saxby Chambliss’ U.S. Senate seat. The former Dollar General CEO has never run for political office, a distinction he has made the central theme of his campaign. Perdue has boasted that he is a “different kind of candidate,” but we’ve seen a candidate like him before: 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The similarities between Romney and Perdue are striking: both CEOs, both millionaires, and both completely out of touch. Romney, however, was accused by right-wingers of being one thing Perdue clearly isn’t: moderate. Perdue has made no attempt to seem even relatively moderate and has dragged his extremist ideals as far to the right as he can. Make no mistake: he will not represent Georgia. Instead, he’ll represent those like him: wealthy, anti-immigrant and anti-equality.

Perdue already has proven that he is wrong for Georgia. He signed the FAIR Pledge, a pledge created by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) Task Force, vowing to oppose not only a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students but also any increase in work visas for legal immigrants. He is also anti-choice and anti-equality. With nearly 10 percent of Georgia’s population identifying as Latino and over 260,000 Georgians identifying as LGBTQ, Perdue would have a duty to represent all of his constituents—and that is a duty he won’t fulfill.

David Perdue has made it clear that he does not understand needs of Georgia’s diverse, changing population, which is why PFAW will help to make it clear that he is not the right choice for Georgia.
 

PFAW

How the Shifting Cuban Vote Can Change History

The Pew Research Center reported last week that the partisan affiliations of Cuban Americans are shifting dramatically as the younger generation coming of age in the United States is affiliating with the Democratic party rather than the GOP.

The shift in the Cuban population — which long leaned Republican — is helping to create a larger shift to the left among Latino voters. Studies of the Cuban population in Florida mark 2004 as the turning point when the number of registered Republicans in Miami-Dade County began declining dramatically. In 2000, 75 percent of Florida Cubans voted for George W. Bush; in 2004, 71 percent voted for Bush; and in 2008, 65 percent voted for McCain. But in 2012, Obama won 49 percent of the Cuban vote in Florida, compared to Romney’s 47 percent, the first time in recent history that a Democratic presidential candidate has outpolled the Republican in that demographic.

This shift provides a powerful example of the increasingly pivotal role of the Latino community in national elections. If Cuban Americans had voted in 2000 in the same patterns as they vote now, the outcome of the 2000 presidential election — which was decided by a handful of votes in Florida (and a bad Supreme Court decision) — could very well have been different, as would our history.

These changes are reflected in the larger Hispanic/Latino community. While the percentage of Latinos may be small, this community is growing fast and increasingly provides the margin to put progressive candidates over the top.

That’s why it makes such a dramatic difference when progressives reach out to the community and hold Republicans accountable for their anti-Latino, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Watch below some of PFAW’s ads that have engaged Latino communities in recent elections.

PFAW

Hobby Lobby: 'Closely Held' Does Not Mean 'Mom and Pop'

In the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, the Court held for the first time ever that a for-profit corporation counts as a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that a “closely held” corporation basically shares the religious exercise rights of its owners.  This leads American law into a treacherous minefield, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg made clear in her dissent.

It’s worth pointing out, as Justice Ginsberg also noted, “’Closely held’ is not synonymous with ‘small.’” Hobby Lobby is a massive corporation employing some 13,000 people, but there are other closely held companies that are much larger. In a footnote, Ginsberg mentions family-owned Mars, Inc. and closely held Cargill, which are both among the largest five private companies in the country. Guess which is number two? Koch industries, with $115 billion in revenue and 60,000 employees. Brothers David and Charles Koch reportedly own 84 percent. Rounding out the top five private companies are Dell and Bechtel. Those five companies employ more than 436,000 people. What religious claims might their owners find useful to make in undermining laws that protect their workers?

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Mobilizes Latino Voters to Save the Senate, Has First Spanish Language Ad in North Carolina Race

The National Journal just cited our work in an article about how control of the Senate could hinge on Latino voters. The story focused on the North Carolina race and noted that PFAW was the first group out with a Spanish Language ad targeting extreme Republican candidate Thom Tillis. PFAW’s political director, Randy Borntrager, spoke with the National Journal about why Tillis is out of touch with North Carolinians, and why his extreme agenda is bad for Hispanics.

From the article:

"North Carolina is the first state we've gone into because Thom Tillis's extreme agenda is forcing our hand to get involved early," said PFAW political director Randy Borntrager. "We're extremely concerned about the Latino community understanding what's at stake, so we engaged quickly."

Borntrager said Tillis's record on Medicaid, education, and tax breaks for the wealthy, combined with a history of "foot-in-mouth" comments when it comes to minorities, was something PFAW would make sure all Latinos were aware of come November.

"He's so bad on so many issues that's it is an incredible motivation to get out and vote," Borntrager said.

PFAW's award-winning program to mobilize the Latino vote has made a difference in key races over the last several election cycles – including major impacts in several presidential swing states in 2012. As Latino voters become more and more critical to progressive victories at the ballot box, our program will continue to grow with the support of allies who understand the urgent need to speak directly to this long-overlooked community.

Read the entire article here.

PFAW