Claire McCaskill Throws Her Support Behind Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

Yesterday, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill became the latest U.S. senator to cosponsor a proposed constitutional amendment that would give Congress and the states the authority to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures. An overwhelming majority of Americans, over 90%, want politicians to reduce the role money plays in politics. McCaskill’s decision to cosponsor S.J.Res.19, which many are calling the 28th Amendment, is in line with the desires of her constituents and the American people.

Missouri has its own fair share of millionaires and billionaires working to buy elections. Missouri political donor Rex Sinquefield, a major supporter of ALEC and the Club for Growth, spent $3.8 million in disclosed election spending in 2013 – and that only includes his traceable contributions. Fred Palmer, the chief lobbyist for Peabody Energy, contributed $112,500 to Missouri state politicians and party committees during 2012. Ron Fein, the legal director for Free Speech For People, points out in a recent opinion piece that Palmer’s 2012 contributions were more than double what the average Missourian family earns in a year.

When this amendment was first introduced it had only a handful of supporters.  We're making progress in our march towards taking back our democracy from corporations and the super wealthy, and we’re looking forward to a vote in the full Senate this year.

PFAW

Video: PFAW’s Diallo Brooks Discusses ALEC’s Role in Pushing Stand Your Ground Laws on The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann

On Wednesday, the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, PFAW’s Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks joined Thom Hartmann on The Big Picture to discuss how the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has helped promote Stand Your Ground laws in states across the country. 

Brooks highlighted how the secretive organization fueled by wealthy right-wing donors and corporations pushes legislation that hurts real people:
 

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Stand Up to ALEC

Last week ALEC held its annual meeting here in Washington, DC, once again bringing together state legislators and corporate representatives to advance legislation that hurts everyday Americans. But they weren’t alone.


Outside their meeting at the Grand Hyatt, PFAW and ally organizations led a protest to stand up to ALEC’s extreme agenda.  Holding signs like “ALEC shoots first… and hits real people” and “Stop the war on workers,” hundreds of advocates from diverse organizations and backgrounds marched, chanted, and made speeches about the real toll ALEC-supported policies have on Americans’ lives.


PFAW’s Diallo Brooks’ speech to the crowd was interrupted many times with cheers and applause.  He said:

It doesn’t matter where they meet—here in Washington or any other city. When ALEC comes to town, we need to let them know that it is not okay for them to have private meetings with our legislators and corporations and write legislation that impacts our lives every day. We’re here to let them know—loud and clear—that democracy is still alive. We’re paying attention, and we’re going to call them out wherever they go.

Following last week’s news that ALEC drafted an agreement for their state chairs calling on them to put the interests of ALEC first, Brooks and other protest leaders went into the meeting area and asked attendees to sign an alternative pledge – one asking ALEC legislators to honor the Constitution and their constituents rather than corporate interests. None of the attendees signed.

PFAW

ALEC and Koch-Funded SPN in the Spotlight

Last week The Guardian began to shine some light on the shadowy right-wing group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), exposing how the organization connecting corporations with conservative legislators to move a legislative agenda supporting special interests is declining in popularity. In the wake of tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s shooting, many former members are attempting to distance themselves from ALEC’s extreme agenda.

Close on the heels of that revelation, we now see that a Koch-funded network of state policy groups with ties to ALEC, the State Policy Network (SPN), plans to launch a coordinated assault on many of the issues and services most important to everyday working Americans. Newly-exposed funding proposal documents obtained by The Guardian outline what they call a “blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014.”

And what an agenda it is. According to the documents, the proposals take aim at public education, health services, worker’s compensation, environmental protections, and more. A new website (www.stinktanks.org) launched by allies ProgressNow and the Center for Media and Democracy helps to further expose the agenda behind these state policy groups and draw attention to some of SPN’s major funders.

SPN, a member of ALEC, should take heed of ALEC’s declining public image. The American people are tired of the coordinated attack on the services, rights, and protections vital to a thriving middle class.
 

PFAW

ALEC Experiences ‘Donor Exodus’ Following Trayvon Martin Tragedy

Apparently not all press is good press, after all.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) documents recently obtained by The Guardian show the popularity of ALEC, an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to push special interest legislation, to be in sharp decline.  In the wake of the national outcry surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death, ALEC saw both its corporate and state legislative membership drop in numbers – experiencing what The Guardian describes as a “donor exodus.”   

That’s because among the many damaging pieces of legislation ALEC has pushed over the years are “Stand Your Ground” laws, which became a cornerstone of the national conversation about the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Drafted in part by the National Rifle Association, ALEC promoted these types of laws as “model legislation.”  But some legislators and corporations – including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and more – decided they didn’t want any part of it.

Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg report:

The Guardian has learned that by Alec's own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.

For forty years, ALEC has helped advance bills that hurt everyday Americans, and PFAW works with allies like the Center for Media and Democracy to expose their extreme agenda. 

If you’re in the DC area, you can join us this Thursday for a “DC Stands Up to ALEC” rally to make clear that it’s not only legislators and corporations who have had enough of ALEC – it’s the American people.
 

PFAW

PA Legislator Introduces ALEC Bill That Would Block Paid Sick Leave

Paid Sick LeaveOn Tuesday, November 12, legislators will debate Pennsylvania State Representative Seth Grove’s (R) bill that would block cities and local governments in PA from implementing paid sick days bills and other forms of paid leave (domestic violence and domestic partnership leaves, for example) that aren’t already guaranteed at the state level.

As paid sick days legislation moves forward in other states and cities throughout the nation, Pennsylvania’s Tea Party Republicans are busy pretending that they actually care about small government (last I checked, preempting municipal legislation on the state level is not exactly something out of the local control playbook.)

Grove’s bill and those like them have been fueled by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a coalition of big business interests and conservative legislators who handed out model legislation at a national meeting in 2011. And this is not the first time Rep. Grove has introduced model ALEC legislation.

If you’re outraged about this (and you should be) consider signing this petition. Better yet, give your state rep a call and tell him or her to oppose HB 1807, and focus on helping families and the economy instead of working to destroying both.

(See ThinkProgress’s piece on the bill for more info.)

Crossposted at http://www.justactionllc.com.

PFAW

New Poll Shows Overwhelming Opposition to Private School Vouchers

This morning, the annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools was released. Its findings on private school vouchers was notable:

Seventy percent of Americans oppose private school vouchers — the highest level of opposition to vouchers ever recorded in this survey.

This is an encouraging development, since private school vouchers are a constitutionally troubling tool designed in part to funnel public funds to religious schools. They are also part of the assault on public education funded and coordinated by ALEC and its corporate allies. As discussed in PFAW's Predatory Privatization report last year:

It is important to understand that targeted voucher programs that allow students from poor families, children with disabilities or students in underperforming schools to attend private schools that will accept them are not the ultimate goal of school privatizers. They are a tactical means to a much larger strategic end, which is the end of public education altogether, as pushed by David Koch in his run for the White House in 1980, echoing his late father's John Birch Society antipathy to public schools as socialist or communist.

"Like most other conservatives and libertarians, we see vouchers as a major step toward the complete privatization of schooling," stated Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast in 1997. "In fact, after careful study, we have come to the conclusion that they are the only way to dismantle the current socialist regime." Heartland has received significant funding from right-wing foundations over the years, including the Charles Koch Foundation.

...

As Milton Friedman, intellectual godfather of the movement, said "Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a free-market system."

With all the firepower from the religious and corporate right aimed at our public school system, it is encouraging to know see a survey showing 70% opposition to one of their key weapons, private school vouchers.

PFAW

RNC Calls Upon ALEC to Dismantle Campaign Finance Reform

The powerful right-wing organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has long claimed that it “respects diversity of thought” and that it is a “non-partisan policy resource for its members,” Democrats and Republicans alike.  Indeed, in a television interview with FOX news, an ALEC spokesperson once stated, “we have legislators of all political stripes coming together to talk about the most critical issues facing the states,” and adamantly defended the non-partisan nature of the organization.

It does not take much examination of ALEC policies, funders, or public-sector membership rolls to put these claims into true perspective. ALEC’ s right wing policies are so extreme that over 43 corporations – from Wal-Mart to General Electric – have cut ties with the organization.  As documented by the Center For Media and Democracy, more than 99% of ALEC’s public sector leaders are Republican lawmakers.  And a quick perusal of ALEC funding reveals that the same funders who back the network are also major sponsors of many Republican initiatives.

Yet what may be the most telling evidence of ALEC’s ties to the GOP emerged just this morning. Today, the Republican National Committee (RNC) released its wide-ranging “autopsy” report in response to the party’s disastrous 2012 elections. The report, entitled “Growth and Opportunity Project,” outlines a variety of policy recommendations including, among other base ideas, abolishing campaign spending regulations and contribution limits. In the report, the RNC specifically calls on ALEC to help develop and implement model legislation to “improve” these campaign finance laws.

The RNC places ALEC alongside the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC)  and the RNC as an organization that is well-suited to “improve” campaign finance laws and propagate them nationwide:

The RNC has called upon ALEC to do its bidding because it knows that ALEC is 100% in support of its anti-democratic agenda.  Beyond pushing for Voter ID laws and adopting restrictive registration requirements – like the registration requirements that ALEC adopted years ago as model policy and that today are being argued over in the Supreme Court – ALEC has a history of opposing campaign finance reform.  The organization has consistently opposed public financing of elections and even issued a resolution in favor of the Supreme Court’s disastrous 2010 Citizens United decision.

If ALEC and the GOP were truly interested in “improving” campaign finance laws, they would be pushing for greater oversight, not trying to dismantle what little there is left of campaign finance regulation in America.  If they really cared about American democracy, they would join the growing chorus of voices who are calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and enact free and fair elections.

Yet ALEC and the GOP care more about gaming the system and rewarding their corporate constituents than empowering the American people.  As today’s report makes perfectly clear, their pro-corporate and anti-voter agendas unmistakably go hand in hand.

 

** Public Policy Intern Kyler Geoffroy contributed to this blog post

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: Reported Voting Troubles

UPDATE: Shortly after the election, several voting rights advocacy groups released reports or statements detailing problems voters encountered at the polls. Demos put out a report describing how all the various voter suppression tactics affected the 2012 election. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement addressing the problems voters faced and the steps that should be taken to prevent future problems. Project Vote also released a statement praising diligent voters for overcoming adverse voting circumstances.

Despite the concerted efforts by conservative legislators to suppress voters’ rights throughout 2011 and 2012 using a number of tactics in the supposed interest to combat voter fraud, millions of Americans took time last week to cast their vote on Election Day. However, a number of problems for voters still occurred, shedding light on some obvious inadequacies within our voting process.

The foremost issue on Election Day: long lines of epic proportions. In Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia a lack of an appropriate amount of voting machines and too few poll workers led to hours-long waits at multiple voting locations. In Florida, voters were forced to wait until the early hours of the morning before being able to finally cast a vote due to ridiculously long lines, prompting Governor Rick Scott (a known advocate for vote suppressing measures) to call for a review of Florida’s voting process, even though his policies may have contributed to the long lines.

A recent study and a 2008 survey indicate that African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities are disproportionately more likely to be subject to longer poll lines than others and this is largely a result of reductions in early voting. In Ohio, where restrictions on early voting were blocked, early voters showed perseverance over the cold weather as they waited in long lines stretching for blocks to cast their votes. Various Representatives and even President Obama weighed in on the issue, with all agreeing that a lack of voting machines and poll workers contributed to the overwhelming lines and that the issue should be preventable.

Glitches in voting machines also added to the longer-than-usual lines. Electronic voting machines were reportedly malfunctioning, causing vote flipping and ballot presentation errors that resulted in confused voters and the shutting down of faulty machines. These errors, coupled with insufficient available machines to begin with, had voters waiting much longer than expected.

Besides the long lines, other issues arose for voters. Even though Pennsylvania’s ALEC-linked voter ID law was blocked from being enforced on Election Day, poll locations throughout the state had confusing messages about voter ID requirements with many distributing old information that said voters needed a proper ID to vote. Upon being reported, poll workers were instructed to remove the misleading information and not demand ID from voters.

Elsewhere, voters received inaccurate robocalls the night before Election Day. The Arizona Republican Party allegedly called thousands of voters and provided incorrect addresses to polling locations. Information to Spanish speaking voters distributed by an Arizona County Election Department had also listed the wrong date for Election DayTwice! The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund also brought to light several instances where required language assistance was not readily available to help communities with large non-English speaking Asian American populations and cases where poll workers separated Korean American voters into segregated lines because “there were so many."

Although things were difficult at times, Americans still got out to vote last week, demonstrating determination to overcome broken machines and patience in long lines. Voting rights also had a significant win in Minnesota, where an amendment for voter ID requirements was struck down. However, the battle for ensuring voting rights has only just begun – the Supreme Court has accepted a case arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 5 requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before putting any voting changes into effect, a vital protection that has served as the lynchpin of protecting voting rights for nearly half a century. The Court’s decision will have a profound impact on future elections and the future of guaranteeing the fundamental right to vote for all.

PFAW Foundation

Reported Voting Troubles

Despite the concerted efforts by conservative legislators to suppress voters’ rights throughout 2011 and 2012 using a number of tactics in the supposed interest to combat voter fraud, millions of Americans took time last week to cast their vote on Election Day. However, a number of problems for voters still occurred, shedding light on some obvious inadequacies within our voting process.

The foremost issue on Election Day: long lines of epic proportions. In Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia a lack of an appropriate amount of voting machines and too few poll workers led to hours-long waits at multiple voting locations. In Florida, voters were forced to wait until the early hours of the morning before being able to finally cast a vote due to ridiculously long lines, prompting Governor Rick Scott (a known advocate for vote suppressing measures) to call for a review of Florida’s voting process, even though his policies may have contributed to the long lines.

A recent study and a 2008 survey indicate that African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities are disproportionately more likely to be subject to longer poll lines than others and this is largely a result of reductions in early voting. In Ohio, where restrictions on early voting were blocked, early voters showed perseverance over the cold weather as they waited in long lines stretching for blocks to cast their votes. Various Representatives and even President Obama weighed in on the issue, with all agreeing that a lack of voting machines and poll workers contributed to the overwhelming lines and that the issue should be preventable.

Glitches in voting machines also added to the longer-than-usual lines. Electronic voting machines were reportedly malfunctioning, causing vote flipping and ballot presentation errors that resulted in confused voters and the shutting down of faulty machines. These errors, coupled with insufficient available machines to begin with, had voters waiting much longer than expected.

Besides the long lines, other issues arose for voters. Even though Pennsylvania’s ALEC-linked voter ID law was blocked from being enforced on Election Day, poll locations throughout the state had confusing messages about voter ID requirements with many distributing old information that said voters needed a proper ID to vote. Upon being reported, poll workers were instructed to remove the misleading information and not demand ID from voters.

Elsewhere, voters received inaccurate robocalls the night before Election Day. The Arizona Republican Party allegedly called thousands of voters and provided incorrect addresses to polling locations. Information to Spanish speaking voters distributed by an Arizona County Election Department had also listed the wrong date for Election DayTwice! The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund also brought to light several instances where required language assistance was not readily available to help communities with large non-English speaking Asian American populations and cases where poll workers separated Korean American voters into segregated lines because “there were so many."

Although things were difficult at times, Americans still got out to vote last week, demonstrating determination to overcome broken machines and patience in long lines. Voting rights also had a significant win in Minnesota, where an amendment for voter ID requirements was struck down. However, the battle for ensuring voting rights has only just begun – the Supreme Court has accepted a case arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. Section 5 requires areas with a history of racial discrimination to get federal approval before putting any voting changes into effect, a vital protection that has served as the lynchpin of protecting voting rights for nearly half a century. The Court’s decision will have a profound impact on future elections and the future of guaranteeing the fundamental right to vote for all.

PFAW Foundation