Pollster Tom Jensen Joins PFAW Telebriefing on the State of the Election

On Thursday People For the American Way hosted a member telebriefing on the current state of the 2016 election cycle to discuss the latest poll numbers and what PFAW is doing to engage in the election.

Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen joined the call to share recent polling data on both the presidential contest and key Senate races, providing an overview of the 2016 landscape just over two weeks before the election. PFAW’s Drew Courtney, Marge Baker, and Laura Epstein outlined some of the highlights of PFAW’s work in 2016 on engaging Latino voters and making the Supreme Court a winning election issue.

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:


Voter Suppression Is Not The Solution To Problems With Voter Registration

Throughout out his campaign, Donald Trump has been sounding the same voter fraud alarm that Republican leaders have been sounding for years.

Trump had this to say on the subject during Wednesday's final presidential debate:

If you look -- excuse me, Chris -- if you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote -- millions, this isn't coming from me -- this is coming from Pew Report and other places -- millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote.

What he appears to be referring to is a 2012 research report commissioned by the Pew Center on the States, which says:

  • Approximately 24 million—one of every eight—voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.
  • More than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters.
  • Approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.

Nowhere does Pew assert that there are 24 million cases of voter fraud. The only use of the word "fraud" in the entire report is this:

The inability of this paper-based process to keep up with voters as they move or die can lead to problems with the rolls, including the perception that they lack integrity or could be susceptible to fraud.

In fact, the rate of voter impersonation fraud is staggeringly low – 31 credible instances out of more than 1 billion ballots cast, according to another study.

A comprehensive 2014 study published in The Washington Post found 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. Even this tiny number is likely inflated, as the study’s author counted not just prosecutions or convictions, but any and all credible claims.

In case you're wondering, that's 0.0000031 percent.

What we have is a system desperately in need of modernization. Some states have taken positive steps forward on voting rights, while others have failed or been unable to act, or even worse, have taken steps backward with new, potentially suppressive restrictions. Members of Congress have introduced federal legislation, which has yet to receive any meaningful attention from the Republican leadership – the failure to restore the Voting Rights Act being one of the worst cases.

So, Mr. Trump, we do have a voter registration problem in this country. But fraud isn't the problem. And voter suppression isn't the solution.


Ayotte & Trump: All the Straws that Didn't Break the Camel's Back

Most Americans realized more than a year ago that a Donald Trump presidency would pose a grave threat to our nation.  But it took Trump’s “hot mic” recording about sexually assaulting women to push New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte into finally renouncing her party’s nominee.

But her explanation for why this was the last straw only highlighted all the straws she was willing to accept in a president, as long as it was someone of her party.  Ayotte explained her decision on Saturday:

I’m a mom and an American first, and I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women.

But she’s been willing to support Trump until now.  In essence, she’s been saying:

  • I can and will support a candidate for president who would round up 11 million mostly Latino immigrants, forcibly separate them from their families, and ship them out of the country … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who encourages his supporters to beat up peaceful anti-Trump protesters … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who encourages gun violence to effect political change … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who proposes to impose an unconstitutional religious test for visitors and immigrants, blocking Muslims from entering the United States … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who will use the force of government to go after media outlets that criticize his administration, severely undermining if not destroying the First Amendment’s freedom of the press … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who defends and admires the leadership of Vladimir Putin, the man who has his critics murdered and who turned Russia’s democracy into a dictatorship … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who declares that a federal judge cannot be unbiased (a judge’s most important quality) because he is a Latino … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who basks in the frenzied shouts of his supporters to put his campaign opponent in jail … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who retweets posts from notoriously anti-Semitic hate groups … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who routinely and publicly calls women he deems unattractive fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president whose campaign is based on demonizing millions of Americans as a threatening “other” … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.

Ayotte’s criticizing individual Trump statements while still supporting his efforts to gain the massive power of the presidency is hardly an exercise in leadership.

People in New Hampshire should be relieved that there is, at long last, something that Kelly Ayotte puts ahead of her loyalty the Republican Party.

But they should be terrified at all the monstrous and dangerous things she is willing to accept, since, for Ayotte, political calculations clearly outweigh things like democracy and equality.


Demonstrators Send McCain Message That He Was "Too Little, Too Late" In Denouncing Trump

When Arizona Senator John McCain and Representative Ann Kirkpatrick took the stage on Monday night for their one and only debate, theirs weren't the only voices heard at PBS studios in Phoenix.

People For the American Way joined Planned Parenthood, ProgressNow, and other Arizona activists to send a clear message to Senator McCain: he jumped the Trump ship too little, too late.

In her remarks outside of the debate, Stacey Champion, PFAW's Arizona Campaign Organizer, pointed out just how dedicated to the Trump cause Senator McCain has been:

For over a year, Donald Trump has pushed racist, sexist, and bigoted attacks against far too many Americans -- and through it all, Sen. McCain continued to pledge to vote for him. He's made clear he stands with Trump and the extreme Republican Party, not Arizonans.

Senator McCain has been just as dedicated to blocking Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and for the same disingenuous political reasons. As we noted on Tuesday, McCain’s "straight talk" on the Supreme Court exposes that his obstruction has never been about “the integrity of the Court” as he claimed, but rather about his desire to play politics with judicial nominations.

Shame on Senator McCain for not doing his job, and for waiting far too long to dump Trump.


PFAW Members Speak Out Against Ayotte’s Plan to Write In Mike Pence

Members of People For the American Way protested Monday outside of U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte’s Manchester district office following her announcement that she plans to write in vice presidential nominee Mike Pence instead of voting for Donald Trump, in light of his comments about sexually assaulting women. While it’s high time that Sen. Ayotte acknowledged just how unacceptable a Trump presidency would be, a vote for Pence would be a vote for far-right policies devastating for women and the LGBT community.

“Ayotte’s withdrawal of support for Trump has much more to do with politics than principle,” said Linds Jakows, New Hampshire Campaign Organizer with People For the American Way. “Support for Mike Pence’s agenda is little better—a man who has spent his career attempting to redefine rape, eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, and pass laws to legalize discrimination against LGBT people is also incredibly dangerous. A far better way for Ayotte to display the political independence she so often claims on the campaign trail would be to push obstructionists in her party to move forward on the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.”


'You Should Resign': Sen. Warren Slams Wells Fargo CEO for Scamming Customers

In a Senate Banking Committee haering last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren was unrelenting in her questioning of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, who was giving testimony on the bank's fraudulent practice of opening unauthorized accounts for customers in order to help meet sales goals.

Sen. Warren is an ardent champion of policies that protect everyday Americans from bilking at the hands of wealthy special interests, especially those in the financial sector. In her questioning, Warren called out Stumpf for making millions of dollars in the Wells Fargo scam, and for showing "gutless leadership" by refusing to resign, fire any senior executives, or even return any of his earnings.

Warren said:

This is about accountability. You should resign. You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission. This just isn't right.

Watch the full video here:


Down The Racist Rabbit Hole With Donald Trump

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today, Donald Trump pretended to end a lie and, in the process, told more lies.

After years of being a leading proponent of the racist “birther” movement, ignoring all actual evidence in order to raise questions about the first African-American president’s legitimacy, Trump today declared that he no longer believes that President Obama was born overseas.

First, Trump promised the press that he would address the birther issue in a press conference at his new hotel in Washington this morning. Then he made them sit through a parade of fawning endorsers before finally spending 30 seconds addressing his birtherism. Trump at last told the truth that Obama “was born in the United States, period.” But he couldn’t help packaging this rare truth with more lies, ludicrously, unbelievably claiming: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.”

Trump claims he “finished” the birther myth by causing President Obama to publicly release his long-form birth certificate in 2011, but he himself continued to enthusiastically promote the myth for years afterward, saying as recently as this January that he would write a very successful (of course) book on his “own theory” about the president’s birth.

And even if Trump had stopped being a birther in 2011, that doesn’t mean he could take credit for “finishing” a myth that he himself had helped create. Obama would never have had to go as far as to make his long-form birth certificate public if Trump hadn’t helped create an alternative universe dominated by the lie that the president’s citizenship was in doubt.

In fact, this is a pattern that Trump has followed many times.

Take Hillary Clinton’s recent bout of pneumonia. A reasonable reading of Clinton’s situation would be this: Clinton, a woman who is used to working long hours in demanding jobs, got sick and decided to power through that illness in order to get her work done.

But Trump and his allies had spent months building an alternative universe in which Clinton was hiding some sort of mysterious infirmity. In Trump World, that meant that Clinton was hiding some deep dark secret illness for nefarious reasons. When Clinton fell ill, the press held her to the standards of Trump World rather than the real world, portraying her as secretive and shady for failing to announce to the world that she had caught a common illness.

Trump has done the same thing with his lies about having opposed the Iraq War and his lies about his constantly changing position on the issue of abortion. He tells whatever version of events he thinks will be convenient at the time and everyone, including his fellow candidates, are suddenly supposed to live in whatever new reality he’s created.

Trump pretended that a racist conspiracy theory was true when it would help him get attention and win the support of the GOP’s fringe. Now he’s pretending that his hands are clean and that it was his opponent who was dredging up racist myths for the past five years. Trump wants us to accept whatever convenient new reality he’s concocted at any given time. The media has to stop being played by his rules.


Trump and the So-Called ‘Values Voters’

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Countless articles have been written on Donald Trump’s relationship with the Religious Right, often by those who argue that his rise reveals the movement’s increasing irrelevance. After all, how could social conservatives ever get behind a thrice-married failed casino mogul who is more comfortable at the Playboy Mansion than at church? He has bragged that he has never asked God for forgiveness, insisted that Jesus Christ had a massive ego (in an interview with Playboy) and, in an episode that carries obvious symbolism, threw cash on the communion plate in an Iowa church. 

It’s almost as if the Religious Right cares more about gaining political power than defending Christian teachings. 

Trump is slated to make an appearance today at the Values Voter Summit, the annual Washington, D.C., convention organized by the Family Research Council that’s the marquis event on the Religious Right’s calendar. Trump’s appearance at the summit isn’t discordant; as his campaign has progressed, it has become clear why the movement has rallied behind him and why he has relied on its support.

Trump once told a crowd at a Christian university not to forgive their enemies but to “get even.” The leaders of today’s Religious Right have been preaching that message for years, treating politics as a no-holds-barred battle against opponents who they regard not just as people with different points of view, but as spiritual enemies.

For instance, Tony Perkins, the president of Family Research Council (FRC), has described supporters of LGBT rights as pawns of Satan

Just as Trump championed the birther movement, arguing that President Obama is neither an American nor a Christian, Perkins has suggested that Obama is not a true Christian (and is most likely a Muslim) and raised questions about his birthplace. Obama supporters, according to Perkins, must repent for voting for him. One past Values Voter Summit speaker even told the crowd that Obama would shut down all of the country’s churches before leaving office.

Trump’s demagogic, hateful rhetoric has nothing on the Religious Right, whose leaders have been belittling and denigrating LGBT people, religious minorities and Christians who don’t agree with their right-wing political ideology for years. 

It wasn’t surprising that most Religious Right leaders who talk a big game on religious liberty either stayed silent or were openly supportive when Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the country. A spokesman for the American Family Association, a cosponsor of the Values Voter Summit, had called for a Muslim ban long before Trump ever did.

While many evangelicals, along with Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, have worked tirelessly to reform the country’s immigration system, conservative Religious Right groups like the FRC and the AFA have denounced immigration reform. 

Trump and Religious Right groups have also joined together in portraying American Christians as a marginalized group under constant persecution thanks to the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits houses of worship and other nonprofits from explicitly endorsing candidates if they want to maintain their tax exempt status, and injustices like the “War on Christmas,” with Trump even claiming that he was personally a victim of anti-Christian persecution because he was subject to a routine IRS audit. 

And above all, the movement’s leaders are thrilled that Trump has promised to give them the Supreme Court of their dreams, even letting conservative activists hand-pick his nominees. 

The Religious Right, with its constant talk of the country’s imminent undoing by evil anti-American actors, promotion of conspiracy theories and patently hateful rhetoric, paved the way for Trump’s success in the GOP primaries. Now, Trump needs the movement to help put him over the top in November, and will be more than happy to further its agenda if he makes it into the White House. 

At the Values Voter Summit, Trump will surely pander to the Religious Right. But he should also thank them.


A New Species of Politicians: “Trumpublicans”

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The number of Republican elected officials criticizing Donald Trump and condemning his policies while pledging to vote for him has many people understandably scratching their heads, and it’s not hard to see why: politicians calling out the GOP nominee in one breath and then working to bring him and his agenda into power in the next utterly defies logic.

I’d like to propose a name for this odd species of politicians: Trumpublicans.

Trumpublicans: /trəmˈpəbləkən/ — n., pl. 1. Republicans who’ve endorsed or pledged to vote for Trump to win support from far-right voters. 2. Republicans who claim to oppose Trump’s hateful campaign, yet work to advance his candidacy and agenda (e.g. holding a Supreme Court seat open for him to fill.)

Examples of Trumpublicans abound. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire has tried to separate herself from Trump, refusing to endorse him and saying that she would “stand up” to him. But she also says that she’s “glad to get his endorsement” and still plans to vote for him. Huh? Senator John McCain of Arizona is trying to toe the same line, at times criticizing Trump while repeatedly stating his commitment to vote for him. Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey says that Trump’s actions “give me great pause” but has still refused to disavow him.

There’s no more egregious example than the fight over the Supreme Court vacancy to show how each of these senators are already actively working to support Trump’s extremist agenda. They may express misgivings about Trump with their words, but with their actions, they are holding open the vacant Supreme Court seat so that it can be filled by him. They are going to extraordinary lengths—ignoring their constitutionally-defined responsibilities—to let the next Supreme Court justices be picked by Donald Trump, a man who says a judge can’t do his job because of his Mexican heritage.

Senators’ comments against Trump mean nothing when their actions and votes are still with him in all the ways that count. These senators are trying to have it both ways in a straddle to appeal to both voters with common sense and decency and those who are turned on by Trump’s hate. 
Too many people have written off the Trumpublican phenomenon as being only about Trump as if he’s a one-time thing. “He’s coming out of left field,” the story goes. “He’s so out-there that he’s putting ‘moderate’ Republicans in a tough place.” But when it comes to his anti-Latino, anti-women, anti-just-about-everyone agenda, Trump’s not coming out of left field; he’s coming straight from home plate. He’s riding the sorry momentum that the Republican party has built for years.

After all, way before Trump, this is the party that has threatened to shut down the government over immigration reform and the funding of Planned Parenthood. The party of “self-deportation.” The party that wants to ban abortion. The party that now denies science and doesn’t believe in the president’s birthplace or religion. There is no question that Trump’s rhetoric is horrific, but don’t believe the myth that he is a wild aberration; in many ways, he is tapping into the very core of the Republican party that tragically for the country has become more and more extreme every year.

There’s a reason why the strong recommendations of the infamous 2012 GOP post-loss post-mortem couldn’t be heeded, and this was long before the idea of a Trump candidacy was a glimmer in any Republican eye.

This is no longer your granddaddy’s GOP. And it’s not going to be the “the party of Lincoln”—a description they love to throw around, no matter how increasingly inaccurate—again until people start to stand up to the likes of Donald Trump and to the base that so decisively elected him. It’s as simple as that. You can’t tell your children and grandchildren that you stood against a man who proposed banning all members of a religious group from the country, who smeared an entire community as rapists and criminals, who claimed a judge couldn’t do his job because of his heritage. No, Trumpublicans will have to tell them that even though they said Trump was in the wrong, they stood by him all the way.


Trump Protects Fraudulent Trump University with Racist Attacks, Possible Bribes

Donald Trump will seemingly stop at nothing to try to get what he wants at the expense of everyone else.

At this point, in the public eye, Trump University is seen for what it was: a scam university used to pad Trump’s pockets by deceiving students. The school offered no real degree, it lied to students about the caliber of its professors and it systematically targeted potential students who Trump University employees knew would have to take on debt or empty their retirement savings in order to pay for it.

But even with universal condemnation, Trump University has suffered no legal repercussions for its con. 

Now, though, Trump University is facing three lawsuits. One of these is a class action suit in California. Trump responded to the case in typical fashion: by launching racist, personal attacks. He baselessly attacked the federal judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, accusing him of not being able to preside over the case impartially simply because of his Mexican-American heritage.

It seems though that the racist attacks were only his backup plan. In at least two states, it appears that Trump acted before any charges reached the courts: Trump engaged in pay-to-play with attorneys general to get them to drop any possible actions against Trump University.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview that NPR’s Robert Siegel did with Associated Press reporter Michael Biesecker about Texas’ decision not to prosecute Trump University:

Biesecker: Well, in Texas, public records obtained by the Associated Press show that there was a very robust investigation of Trump University and that lawyers in [then-Texas Attorney General Greg] Abbott's own Consumer Affairs Division proposed suing Trump and his associates for about $5.4 million in fines and restitution back to their alleged victims. The case files show that they spent more than a year investigating Trump University, had what they considered very strong evidence that Trump University had violated numerous state laws and was operating in the state without a license.

Ultimately, people above the Consumer Affairs Division decided not to take action. Abbott denies that he knew of his agency's investigation or that he decided to drop the suit. What AP has reported is that three years later when he ran for governor of Texas, Mr. Trump put forward two checks to his campaign totaling $35,000.

SIEGEL: You can't demonstrate a quid pro quo here that either in the Texas or the Florida case somebody said, you drop the case; I give you money.

BIESECKER: We can't, but the former deputy chief of consumer protection of Texas, a man named John Owens, stepped forward and was quoted in local media there saying that he believes the case was dropped for political considerations because Mr. Trump was a donor of Republican causes.

In Florida, it looks even worse. From that same interview:

BIESECKER: Well, in 2013, Pam Bondi - the attorney general's office was quoted by the Orlando Sentinel as saying they were reviewing New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's proposed lawsuit against Trump University to determine whether Florida should join that multi-state case. Four days after that appeared in the newspaper, Bondi's campaign account notes that it received a $25,000 check from the Trump Foundation, the family foundation of Donald Trump.

It was subsequently reported that Bondi herself may have been involved in soliciting the contribution, so it should be deeply troubling (but not all that surprising) that Bondi chose not to sue. These allegations were first reported earlier this summer. If all this wasn’t bad enough, this story is finally picking up steam because not only does it seem that Trump potentially bribed Bondi, he made the suspicious donation to Bondi’s campaign from the Trump Foundation.

That’s blatantly against the law. Nonprofit foundations, which are tax exempt, cannot in any way, shape, or form contribute to political candidates! This isn’t some murky situation where the law wasn’t clear—foundations are nonprofits, and they cannot engage in political campaign work, much less make a direct contribution. But as Trump has made clear time and time again, he doesn’t care what the rules are or who he hurts along the way, as long as he gets his way.

Trump had to pay a $2,500 penalty to the IRS because of the donation. This is far from the first time Trump has found himself in deep water over campaign contributions (as just one example, in the 1990s he spent $47,050 over the campaign contribution limit in just one year). With the allegations against Bondi and Abbott, and with renewed focus on the Trump Foundation’s payment to the Bondi campaign, this story won’t go away any time soon. But if there’s one silver lining, it’s that as more and more details emerge about the pay-to-play schemes and the fraudulent university, voters can hold Trump responsible in the polls, and judges can hold Trump responsible in the courts.