The Growing Call to #GetMoneyOut

This week, local activists in 12 states delivered petitions in support of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics.

Last September, a majority of the Senate voted in support of the Democracy For All Amendment, a proposal that would overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and let lawmakers put commonsense limits on money in elections.

Building off that progress, this week activists in more than 12 states delivered petitions to their House and Senate members asking them to support the Democracy For All Amendment. As wealthy special interests prepare to pour billions into the 2016 elections, ordinary Americans aren’t just shaking their heads. They are signing petitions, organizing events, lobbying their elected officials, and pushing for change.

In California, local leaders delivered 311,950 petitions – all signed by Californians who support an amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United – to Rep. Tony Cardenas. Their raised fingers represent the fight to protect the promise of “one person, one vote.”

In New York, activists did the same at the office of Rep. Yvette Clark.

One Maryland activist even hand-delivered his petitions directly to Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

A number of local leaders in New Hampshire came out to deliver thousands of petitions to Sen. Kelly Ayotte...

…which caught the attention of local media.

All in all, more than five million Americans have signed petitions in support of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Grassroots leaders across the country are going to keep up the pressure on their elected officials until support for the amendment in Congress reflects the overwhelming support among constituents.
 

PFAW

Arkansas Kicks Off 2016 Ballot Initiative to #GetMoneyOut

This week PFAW staff joined members of the Arkansas Democracy Coalition to kick off a 2016 ballot initiative campaign to increase disclosure in election spending and support a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court cases like Citizens United. The series of events, including a performance showcasing the story of legendary campaign finance activist Doris “Granny D” Haddock and a march for democracy through downtown Little Rock, culminated with a press conference on the steps of the state capitol building.



Speakers included Paul Spencer of Regnat Populus, a convening organization of the Arkansas Democracy coalition; Rep. Clarke Tucker, a member of the Arkansas state legislature; Rhana Bazzini, an 83-year-old woman who has marched hundreds of miles in the tradition of Granny D to promote campaign finance reform; and Rio Tazewell, the Government By the People campaign coordinator at People For the American Way. 

The Arkansas Democracy Coalition, in partnership with PFAW and other national allies, has submitted ballot language awaiting approval by the Arkansas Attorney General. Upon approval, a signature gathering campaign will launch to collect the 70,000 names needed to get the resolution on the ballot. If passed, the resolution would make Arkansas the 17th state on record in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.

PFAW

PFAW Kicks Off Letter Campaign for Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Free Speech For People, Common Cause, and US PIRG are mounting a multi-pronged campaign to boost House and Senate cosponsorship of the Democracy for All constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United and get big money out of politics.

Last week, we joined our allies in urging activists to thank members of Congress who are already on board, and to ask those who aren't to sign up now.

Today, we kicked off a “letter-a-day” campaign for the Democracy for All amendment. This means that supporting advocacy organizations have signed up to send their own letters to congressional offices on a specific day, resulting in each office receiving at least one letter per day in support of the amendment.

PFAW's letter was the first to make its way to the Hill:

While amending the Constitution is unquestionably a weighty matter—only warranted in rare and compelling circumstances—this is one of those moments in our nation’s history. The American people and their elected officials are increasingly speaking out about the need for an amendment. As of April 30, H.J.Res. 22 had 108 cosponsors,xvi and S.J.Res. 5 had 40 cosponsors.xvii The building momentum in Congress for an amendment mirrors the robust grassroots organizing taking place across the country at the state and local levels. Since the landmark Citizens United decision, 16 states and more than 650 municipalities, including large cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, have gone on record supporting congressional passage of a constitutional amendment to be sent to the states for ratification. Transcending political leaning and geographic location, voters in states and municipalities that have placed amendment questions on the ballot have routinely supported these initiatives by large margins.xviii Five million American have signed their names to the amendment support petitions circulated by dozens of reform groups.xix The momentum to address the issue of big money in politics grows stronger by the day.

We'll keep you posted as the “letter-a-day” campaign continues.

PFAW

Judicial Elections and Government Integrity at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court issued a 5-4 campaign finance ruling this morning. But rather than another Citizens United or McCutcheon, the Court this time upheld a state campaign finance restriction against a First Amendment challenge. In the case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the Roberts Court narrowly upheld Florida's ban on state judicial candidates directly soliciting campaign funds. With the difference of only one vote, even this reasonable limitation would have been struck down.

If only the Court would apply the reasoning of this case outside the narrow area of judicial elections. The Justices acknowledge that a state can reasonably conclude that an appearance of bias and impropriety is created when a judicial candidate directly asks someone to give her a campaign contribution. The Chief Justice wrote that "it is the regrettable but unavoidable appearance that judges who personally ask for money may diminish their integrity."

But that isn't only because they are judges. Any elected official has an obligation to serve the public, whether that is by ruling consistent with the law (like judges do) or pursuing the interests of your constituents and community (as legislators and executives do). That is very different from using that public office to serve the interests of wealthy private interests. When a congressional or presidential candidate wins office due to the financial largess of a small number of extremely wealthy and powerful donors, it just may "diminish their integrity" in the eyes of the public.

It isn't just judges who risk the appearance of corruption when they engage with funders. As we have seen in cases like Citizens United and McCutcheon, Roberts and his conservative colleagues are unwilling to concede that Americans see corruption and the appearance of corruption in the outrageous sums of money being funneled into non-judicial elections.

As for judicial elections (the subject of this case) Justice Ginsburg's concurring opinion is worthy of significant attention. She wrote separately to expound on the "substantial latitude" the Court should give states to regulate judicial campaign finance, and she discussed how much money is now flowing into judicial elections, and the harm that causes to justice:

When the political campaign-finance apparatus is applied to judicial elections, the distinction of judges from politicians dims. Donors, who gain audience and influence through contributions to political campaigns, anticipate that investment in campaigns for judicial office will yield similar returns. Elected judges understand this dynamic. ...

In recent years, moreover, issue-oriented organizations and political action committees have spent millions of dollars opposing the reelection of judges whose decisions do not tow a party line or are alleged to be out of step with public opinion. ...

Similarly portraying judges as belonging to another political branch, huge amounts have been spent on advertisements opposing retention of judges because they rendered unpopular decisions in favor of criminal defendants. ...

Disproportionate spending to influence court judgments threatens both the appearance and actuality of judicial independence. Numerous studies report that the money pressure groups spend on judicial elections "can affect judicial decision-making across a broad range of cases."

The threat to the judicial branch of government in states with high-dollar judicial elections is serious and real.

Today's opinion on judicial elections is an opportunity to focus on the threat to the political branches, as well.

PFAW Foundation

Montana Activists Clinch a Victory Against Big Money in Politics

Last week, Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed into law a sweeping campaign finance reform bill that represents a major bipartisan victory in the movement to get big money out of politics.

SB289 – the Montana Disclose Act – will require dark money groups to report their spending on state political races. The bill is a much-needed update to Montana’s campaign laws, and will help provide Montana voters with more information on the groups behind the political attack ads they see every election cycle.

During the state legislature’s debates on SB289, Montana PFAW members and other local activists lobbied their representatives, calling state representatives and urging them to support  greater transparency in Montana’s politics. While signing the bill, Gov. Bullock announced that the state finally has a law “that mandates that every penny spent in our elections will be disclosed.”  

“When it comes to Montanans as individuals having control of our elections, this is the most significant day in the last 112 years since Montanans passed the Corrupt Practices Act,” said Bullock.

SB289 passed with bipartisan support in both the State House and Senate. Montana’s victory is yet another indicator that big money’s threat to our democracy transcends party affiliation – and that money in politics is really only a partisan issue in Washington, DC.

PFAW

How Big Money In Politics Is Making It Harder For Criminal Defendants To Get A Fair Trial

When the Supreme Court struck down limits on outside spending in elections in the 2010 Citizens United case, critics pointed to a potentially huge public policy impact in issues ranging from environmental protection to tax policy to health care to voting rights.

But one impact of Citizens United has gone without as much public discussion as it deserves: It’s making it harder for criminal defendants to get a fair trial.

Last fall, the American Constitution Society released a report by two Emory University law professors illustrating that the big spending that Citizens United let loose in state judicial elections created a climate in which elected judges were more reluctant to side with defendants in criminal cases.

Joanna Shepherd and Michael S. Kang found that outside groups seeking to influence judicial elections — usually for reasons unrelated to criminal justice policy — often relied on “Willie Horton” style attack ads implying that targeted judges were “soft on crime.” The proliferation of outside spending and the attack ads that the spending bought, they found, correlated with a decrease in the frequency with which elected state appellate judges ruled in favor of defendants in criminal cases.

“Unlimited independent spending is associated with, on average, a seven percent decrease in justices’ voting in favor of criminal defendants,” they wrote. “That is, the results predict that, after Citizens United, justices would vote differently and against criminal defendants in 7 out of 100 cases.”

Shepherd discussed her findings yesterday at a panel convened by ACS, along with retired Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Norman Reimer and Tanya Clay House of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Nelson, who was on the Montana Supreme Court when it famously ruled that Citizens United didn't apply to that state's unique history of corruption (Nelson dissented, saying the high court’s ruling applied to Montana, but took the opportunity to demolish the decision while he was at it), said he had lived first-hand the impact of big money in judicial races.

“The fact of the matter is that is when justices running for political office are attacked during their campaigns, it forces them to look over their shoulder constantly,” he said. “And I can tell you that from personal experience. You have to fight to make yourself vote the way the law requires you to vote. And most judges do. But it’s in these marginal cases where there’s a close call and perhaps the case should go to a defendant, it doesn’t go to the defendant.”

The groups spending money on judicial attack ads, he said, “really don’t give a damn about defendants’ rights. They really don’t care. What they want to do is to get somebody onto a court who marches in lockstep with their philosophy, or get somebody off the court that does not march in lockstep with their philosophy.”

Reimer sounded a similar note: “The fight is really about commercial interests. It’s usually about the plaintiffs’ bar versus the corporate interests, the unions, the conservatives. It’s about nothing to do with criminal justice. But because of the fear factor, that’s where you go after somebody.”

“I think we all need to understand and appreciate what’s really at risk here,” Nelson said. “And what’s really at risk is the fair, independent and impartial judicial system that most citizens in this country, and I think most lawyers in this country, simply take for granted. And if the dark money flows from Super PACS and the Koch brothers and RSLC and groups like them get control of the judiciary … That’s what this is all about: getting control of the third branch of government. If they get control of that third branch by spending their way to the top, then we’re going to lose that fair, impartial and independent judiciary that we’ve all come to expect and rely upon. Certainly criminal defendants are going to suffer immeasurably.”

Clay House pointed out that there is already “a different perception of the criminal justice system and judiciary among communities of color.” Pew found in 2013 that 68 percent of black Americans said they were “treated less fairly than whites” in the courts, while the majority of whites were oblivious to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Unchecked spending in judicial elections, the evidence shows, may be making that perception, and the reality, even worse.

PFAW

Grassroots Organizing to Make Money in Politics a Key Issue in 2016

From a mailman flying a gyrocopter to the Capitol to protest big money in politics, to Hillary Clinton making the issue a centerpiece of her campaign, to Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Lindsey Graham being asked about their stances on campaign finance reform at Q&A events, it’s clear that money in politics is shaping up to be a major issue in 2016. Yesterday The Washington Post’s Matea Gold reported on the grassroots push to spotlight the topic of big money’s influence on our democracy:

[F]ive years after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision — which held it was unconstitutional to ban independent political spending by corporations and unions, and helped set off a financial arms race — there are signs that politicians are beginning to confront a voter backlash.

….For those who feel strongly about it, the 2016 primaries and caucuses — and the up-close access they bring to the presidential contenders — offer a ripe opportunity to elevate the topic.

In New Hampshire, nearly 500 people have volunteered to attend public forums and press the White House hopefuls about money in politics, Weeks said.

In an interview aired Friday on National Public Radio, PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker underscored the importance of top candidates elevating this issue:

"When the leading candidate for president says she's going to make reducing the influence of money in politics one of the four pillars in her campaign, you know that that's going to be a major issue in 2016," Baker said. "So this is a very, very big deal."

While there are many issues that divide Americans, addressing the big-money takeover of our political system is not one of them. That both Lindsey Graham and Hillary Clinton expressed support for an amendment to get big money out of politics in the past two weeks underscores the fact that fighting to fix our broken democracy is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good politics – across the political spectrum.

PFAW

Clinton’s Focus on Fighting Money in Politics Mirrors Americans’ Commitment to the Issue

With the movement to take back our democracy from wealthy special interests growing by the day, some of the country’s top political leaders are taking note and bringing the issue of money in politics front and center for 2016.

Yesterday presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed support for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics and said that campaign finance reform was going to be one of the four pillars of her campaign.

As PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker pointed out:

That Hillary Clinton will make the fight against big money in politics the centerpiece of her campaign is indicative of how much Americans care about this issue. She’s tapping into a deep-seated belief among people of all political stripes that we have to reclaim our democracy from corporations and billionaires. Americans are ready for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, and ready for leaders who are going to make it a priority.

Amending the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United is a widely popular proposal with cross-partisan support. A July 2014 poll of Senate battleground states found that nearly three in four voters (73 percent) favor a constitutional amendment, including majorities “in even the reddest states.” In the five years since the Citizens United decision, local organizing has led 16 states and 650 cities and towns to support an amendment to overturn the decision and get big money out of politics. More than 5 million Americans have signed petitions in support of an amendment.

PFAW

Lindsey Graham Says We Need an Amendment to Fix Money in Politics

At an event with a local television station in New Hampshire this weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham was asked a question about what he would do to fight big money in politics. In his response, Graham pointed to the need for a constitutional amendment to address the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United:

Well, Citizens United has gotta be fixed. Y'all agree with that? You're gonna need a constitutional amendment to fix this problem. I was for McCain-Feingold, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that provisions in McCain-Feingold basically no longer apply.

You're gonna get sick of watching TV in New Hampshire. So the next President of the United States needs to get a commission of really smart people and find a way to create a constitutional amendment to limit the role of super PACs because there's gonna be like $100M spent on races in New Hampshire — which'll be good for this TV station — ripping everybody apart. You don't even know who the people are supplying the money, you don't even know their agenda. Eventually we're gonna destroy American politics with so much money in the political process cause they're going to turn you off to wanting to vote. [emphasis added]

This is not the first time Sen. Graham has spoken out against the big money takeover of our elections. In March, Bloomberg’s David Weigel wrote about a comment Graham made to a voter — again, in New Hampshire — about his desire to see some “control” over money in politics so it won’t “destroy the political process.”

While voicing support for an amendment is important, when the Senate voted in September on the Democracy for All Amendment, a proposal that would overturn decisions like Citizens United and help get big money out of politics, Sen. Graham voted against it.

So here’s a follow-up question for Sen. Graham: Will you back up your words with action? Will you work with your colleagues in Congress who are already pushing for an amendment and help tackle the issue of big money in politics? 

PFAW

Warren Buffett: Citizens United Pushes U.S. Toward a Plutocracy

In a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow released this week, Warren Buffett had some strong words about Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United that have handed increasing political power to the super-rich. Responding to a question about income inequality, Buffett raised the issue of money in elections:

With Citizens United and other decisions that enable the rich to contribute really unlimited amounts, that actually tilts the balance even more toward the ultra-rich…The unlimited giving to parties, to candidates, really pushes us more toward a plutocracy. They say it’s free speech, but somebody can speak 20 or 30 million times and my cleaning lady can’t speak at all.

Watch the interview clip here:

PFAW