A Big Week for #Demcoracy4All

People For the American Way and our pro-democracy allies have been working hard to boost House and Senate cosponsorship of the Democracy For All Amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United and get big money out of politics.

Based on the pressure we have brought to bear, we just reached a major milestone in the House. Eleven new cosponsors have signed on since July 8. That makes 159 total – as many as all House amendments from the last Congress combined, and then some. That's more than halfway to the two-thirds majority needed to send an amendment to the states for ratification.

We also made progress in the Senate this week, adding Maria Cantwell of Washington and Chris Coons of Delaware to our list of supporters, bringing the total to 44 – more than sixty percent of the votes needed.

Thank you for helping us get to this point.

We hope that you'll continue to stand with us and tell Congress to overturn Citizens United.

PFAW

Major Win for Democracy in New York

Last week New York became the 17th state to formally call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This landmark achievement came as the result of a multiyear collaborative campaign involving several advocacy groups including People For the American Way.

On behalf of the 156,000 PFAW members who live in New York, Government By the People Campaign Manager Rio Tazewell spoke at the state capitol in Albany on Wednesday to help commemorate this significant victory. After remarks from activists, organizational leaders, and lawmakers, a strategy session was held to discuss what comes next for democracy reform organizing in the state of New York.

Over twenty municipalities from across the state including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

People in this country want a government that represents them and their interests. In New York and across the nation, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. Not only does this win help affirm the hard work and value of partnerships on the ground between activists, organizations and lawmakers, it helps drive a national narrative that the days of Citizens United are numbered.

PFAW

Big Win for Democracy in New York

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today the people of New York scored a significant victory for democracy in the United States by officially becoming the 17th state on record in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn disastrous Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This decision, among others, has created an out-of-balance system that allows powerful corporations and other wealthy interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy access and influence to advance their political agenda at the expense of everyone else.

This landmark accomplishment in New York comes as the result of a multi-year effort to encourage legislators in the state Senate and Assembly to sign onto a formal letter calling for such an amendment. Because of the work of dedicated activists and a broad coalition of organizations, lawmakers from both parties, representing a majority of each house of the legislature, have joined to represent the will of the people. Over twenty municipalities from the state of New York including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

This victory represents the results of collaborative campaigning, with a diverse coalition of organizations coming together to educate, organize, and apply the political pressure necessary to win. On behalf of our more than 156,000 New York members,  People For the American Way is proud to have been one of several national organizations to play a role in advancing this effort. Since the start of this campaign several years ago, our members have signed petitions, written letters, called their legislators and shown up to advocate and protest in person.

In New York and across the country, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. And with this historic win, the people of New York have contributed to the momentum of a growing national movement calling for a constitutional amendment to remedy a system that is tilted in the favor of wealthy special interests. If history is any guide, it’s not a  question of whether unaccountable money in politics will be addressed, it’s a question of when. Since our founding, this country has been on an uneven but ultimately forward-moving path towards creating a government that is truly of, by and for all the people. New York has just helped the nation take yet another step in making this promise a reality.  

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Call on Platform Committees to Incorporate Money in Politics Reforms

As the Democratic and Republican platform drafting committees gear up in advance of the party conventions, PFAW joined other national democracy organizations this week in submitting letters calling for the committees to include a comprehensive package of reform measures to fight big money in politics in the platforms.

Specifically, the groups called for the policy reforms outlined in the “Fighting Big Money” agenda — which was released by 13 reform organizations last year — to be incorporated. These measures include: a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing, a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, increased disclosure of political spending, and stronger enforcement of existing campaign finance rules.

The letters note that the presidential candidates have talked about the need to reform our big money system throughout their campaigns, and polling consistently shows that voters of all political backgrounds agree. With an overwhelming majority of Americans frustrated with our out-of-balance political system, incorporating a comprehensive reform agenda within the party platforms is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

You can read the letters to the DNC and RNC platform committees here and here.
 

PFAW

Budget Bills Provide Another #DoYourJob Moment For GOP Congress

Last December, months before the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the nomination of DC Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland to fill his seat, the GOP-led Congress faced another #DoYourJob moment. With a government shutdown looming, they introduced a budget proposal chock-full of harmful policy riders that undermine our rights, our health, and our democracy. We eventually won on some riders but lost on others.

Today another federal budget process is underway, and we are once again facing the threat of sneaky provisions that help special interests exert outsized influence over the political process:

Last year, hundreds of riders were proposed for inclusion in the omnibus spending legislation, and in this year’s budget process, some members of Congress already have started to insist on them. Even though the congressional leadership appears determined to return to regular order by passing 12 smaller spending bills instead of a last-minute omnibus, the threat of riders remains.

PFAW will continue to stand strong with the more than 100 groups insisting on no riders in spending legislation.

We urge Members of Congress to oppose flawed funding proposals that include ideological policy riders. We further urge the administration in the strongest possible terms to oppose any funding bills that have such riders, whether moving via regular order or as part of a funding package.

Congress needs to do its job and fund must-needed programs and services for the American people, NOT use must-pass appropriations bills to advance ideological agendas.

PFAW

New Report Looks at Wins on Money in Politics Reform Since Citizens United

It’s no secret that the Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates for an influx of money into our elections. But a new report released today by PFAW and six other organizations highlights what else it did: energize a movement to fight big money in politics that’s made real progress in the six years since the decision was handed down.

As the report notes, since 2010:

  • More than 5 million people have signed petitions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United. Sixteen states and more than 680 cities and towns – as well as a majority of the U.S. Senate in 2014 – have called for an amendment.
  • At least 23 states have put in place disclosure rules to ensure the peoples’ right to know about the big donors trying to buy political influence.
  • States and cities across the country have acted to pass or strengthen publicly funded election systems to amplify the voices of small donors, including Seattle and Maine in 2015.

As the 2016 presidential race sees an increasing focus on the problem of big money in politics, the magnitude of our country’s current crisis can make progress seem unlikely, or even impossible. But as this report outlines, change is already happening in cities and states across the country, as people organize in their own communities for solutions to make sure that our democracy is working for everyone – not just for billionaires and corporations.

You can read the full report here.

PFAW

Charles Koch To Support Candidates Who Support His “Right” to Buy Elections

In an interview released last week with Susan Peters of KAKE-TV, the ABC affiliate in Wichita, Kansas, Charles Koch shared his top factor in supporting 2016 candidates:

Koch said, “The number one thing I would look at in supporting anyone in politics: Are they for the first amendment? Are they for freedom of speech?”

“So, do you consider your donations freedom of speech?” [Peters] asked.

“Absolutely, they are,” he said.

That the number one criteria of a man whose network plans to spend hundreds of millions on next year’s elections is whether they are “for the First Amendment” – that is, a radical reinterpretation of the First Amendment to prohibit Americans from effectively addressing the corrosive effect of money on our democracy – speaks volumes about the way the power of those already on top is preserved and expanded in our country. Koch, one of the wealthiest people in the country, already holds unparalleled influence in politics through the extraordinary sums of money flooding our elections from the Koch-led network, Koch Industries, and the Kochs themselves. And now, Koch’s top priority for whether he will bankroll future candidates is, in effect, whether they support his ability to continue to spend unlimited sums of money to buy elections.

This exchange is Exhibit A on the extent to which our campaign finance system is utterly broken. With our lawmakers unable to set commonsense limits on money in elections in the wake of decisions like Citizens United, Charles Koch is free to pour unlimited amounts of cash into our democracy. And he’s free to make a condition of his financial support a commitment to perpetuating that broken system.

It’s no wonder that 85 percent of Americans think we need a complete overhaul of our country’s campaign finance system. Without it, a handful of billionaires can continue to set the agenda for all of us – even when it’s an agenda targeting the rights and interests of most Americans.

PFAW

Standing United Against Harmful Policy Riders

Eight days out from the December 11 government shutdown deadline, clean budget advocates are standing united against harmful policy riders that advance ideological agendas rather than fund must-needed programs and services for the American people.

In the House, newly minted Speaker Ryan offered a Republican proposal chock-full of sneaky provisions that help special interests exert outsized influence over the political process. It was swiftly rejected by Democrats and rebuked by the White House.

The White House on Wednesday accused Republicans of threatening a government shutdown by attaching dozens of controversial riders to a must-pass spending bill.

“Congressional Republicans are whistling past the graveyard of a government shutdown,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

Earnest slammed GOP lawmakers for what he said is an effort to “lard the bill up with ideological riders” in order “to compensate for their pretty sorry legislative record thus far this year.”

House Democrats have warned for some time that such ploys are wholly unacceptable.

Unfortunately, nearly all of the appropriations bills approved this year have included deeply divisive policy riders that-if attached to an omnibus spending package-could lead to yet another unnecessary political impasse or even a damaging government shutdown. To avoid these harmful outcomes, we strongly urge you to bring forward legislation to fund the federal government that is free of poison-pill provisions.

Senate Democrats too are outraged at the GOP's unrelenting prioritization of political gamesmanship in the face of budget catastrophe. Senators Bill Nelson, Jack Reed, Elizabeth Warren, and Jeff Merkley took to the floor Wednesday to decry riders that would gut the sweeping financial reform package that passed in 2010, which included the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

People For the American Way proudly stands with them and is an active member of the nearly 200-strong anti-riders coalition.

We urge Members of Congress and Senators to oppose flawed funding proposals . . . if they come to the floor attached to the omnibus funding package. We further urge the administration in the strongest possible terms to oppose any funding package that includes these or any other dangerous legislative proposals. If included in a final package, any ideological policy riders would undo key safeguards and protections for Main Street.

PFAW is also among women's health advocates pushing back against riders.

As Congress continues its attacks on Planned Parenthood, which provides critical, high-quality health care services to millions of women, men, and young people, the undersigned organizations write to strongly oppose any consideration in year-end funding legislation of ideological policy riders that are harmful to women’s health and to support efforts towards a budget deal that stops sequestration and raises the spending caps that continue to harm women’s health.

Opponents of women’s health have used the appropriations process to undermine women’s access to comprehensive reproductive care, including access to safe and legal abortion. We continue to strongly oppose policy riders that deny insurance coverage of abortion for women enrolled in Medicaid, women who work for the federal government, women who live in the District of Columbia, and others.

Please join us by signing our clean budget petition:

Republicans in Congress have introduced a budget bill jammed with ideological party riders that undermine our rights, our health, and our democracy. These riders could strip funding for women's health services, environmental protections, campaign finance regulations, and more.

Our budget shouldn't be used by lawmakers to push extreme agendas and do favors for special interests.

PFAW

Clean Elections Win in Connecticut Shows Power of Movement to Fight Big Money

Following an outcry from a range of local and national leaders, including PFAW president Michael Keegan, Connecticut legislators withdrew a plan yesterday that would have cut funding for the state’s clean elections law.

Connecticut’s landmark program is a model for the country, one that has allowed people to run for office and become elected officials even if they don’t have access to special interest money or wealthy backers. When the proposed attack on clean elections was announced, the pushback was swift. A cohort of young Connecticut lawmakers, many of whom are members of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, spoke out against the proposal in a letter. They highlighted the clean election program’s success in allowing young people to compete in the state’s elections “based on policy positions and ideas” rather than “who has access to the biggest donors.” PFAW members in Connecticut made calls to their state legislators and asked them to reject any plan to undermine clean elections. State groups like Common Cause Connecticut and ConnPIRG rallied against it, and former Gov. Jodi Rell, who signed the landmark reform into law, spoke out against attempts to “turn aside” the program “many of us worked so hard to put in place to prevent political corruption scandals.”

That the proposal was withdrawn after just three days is a win not only for the state of Connecticut, but for the national movement to fight big money in politics. From clean elections victories in Seattle and Maine earlier this month to yesterday’s win in Connecticut, it’s clear that policies to help lessen the influence of big money in politics are popular, valued, and people will fight for them.

PFAW

Justice Scalia's Ironic Comments About Democracy

Justice Antonin Scalia had some interesting things to say at a speech yesterday to Georgetown University law students.  The Washington Post reports on Scalia’s response to a question about minority rights:

But a question about whether courts have a responsibility to protect minorities that cannot win rights through the democratic process — the issue that animated the court’s landmark decision this year on same-sex marriage — brought a caustic response.

“You either believe in a democracy or you don’t,” Scalia said. “You talk about minorities — what minorities deserve protection?”

Religious minorities are protected by the First Amendment, Scalia said, and so are political minorities. But beyond that, he asked rhetorically, what empowers Supreme Court justices to expand the list.

“It’s up to me to decide deserving minorities?” Scalia asked. “What about pederasts? What about child abusers? So should I on the Supreme Court [say] this is a deserving minority. Nobody loves them.”

“No, if you believe in democracy, you should put it to the people,” he said.

No, Justice Scalia, if you believe in democracy governed by the Bill of Rights, people have rights that cannot be violated by majorities.  The majesty of the Equal Protection Clause is that it was intentionally written broadly, rather than being limited to certain people.  And it doesn’t have a clause saying “except for gay people.”

In addition, given Scalia’s caustic dissents in cases recognizing the constitutional equality and basic humanity of gay people, it is hardly a surprise that he answered a question implicating LGBT equality by dragging in pederasts and child abusers.  From a legal perspective, can he really not see any difference between protecting innocent but unpopular people who aren’t harming anyone, and policies designed to prevent adults from committing acts of violence against unwilling children?

Legal comparisons aside, why bring up child molesters at all?  For far too long, far right extremists have long peddled the pernicious lie that gay people are inherently a threat to children.  Why did Scalia’s mind go there?  Surely there are other categories of people he could have mentioned to make the same point.

Scalia’s comment about believing in a democracy also has to be taken in context: He voted with the 5-4 majorities in Citizens United (opening up our elections to unlimited corporate and special-interest money) and Shelby County (gutting the heart of the Voting Rights Act and empowering those who seek to win elections by disenfranchising Americans who might vote against them).  And, of course, he was with the 5-4 majority in the ultimate judicial middle finger to democracy, Bush v. Gore.

At the heart of our democracy is the right to vote in free and fair elections.  That means elections without barriers designed to keep the “wrong” people from voting, and elections where the voices of ordinary people are not drowned out by a tiny sliver of phenomenally wealthy and powerful interests.  That is what a healthy democracy looks like, and it makes Scalia’s comments quite ironic.

PFAW Foundation