In Time of Crisis, Too Many Politicians Feed Fear and Scapegoating

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

In the somber days since ISIS terrorists killed 130 people in coordinated attacks on Paris, elected leaders from around the world have been searching for solutions. But far too many American politicians have fallen back, instead, on that old standby in times of crisis: Stirring up fear and finding someone, anyone, to scapegoat, no matter how unconnected the scapegoated person is with the problem at hand.

Sadly, in Congress that took the form of a House vote to in essence stop the U.S. resettlement of refugees from Iraq and Syria by imposing nearly impossible bureaucratic requirements on what is already the toughest vetting system for anyone seeking entry into the U.S. This bill was scapegoating in its purest form, framing as terrorists people who are fleeing the very violence that this bill was supposedly trying to prevent. 

The House vote -- in which 47 Democrats joined nearly every Republican -- was the culmination of a week of cowardice and bigotry sweeping the political landscape.

There was the Missouri state legislator who urged his governor to watch out for "all flavors" of Muslims and the mayor of Roanoke who invoked the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as a positive model for how to treat American Muslims. 

And there were the 31 governors who declared that their states would turn away Syrian refugees who go through the U.S. refugee resettlement program. 

Not wanting to miss out on the action, of course, Republican presidential candidates have been tripping over themselves to outdo one another. Donald Trump hasspeculated that refugees from Syria "could be one of the great Trojan horses." Mike Huckabee, in what can't even be described as a dog-whistle, has told Americans to "wake up and smell the falafel" when it comes to Syrian refugees. Chris Christie saidhe'd get tough on Syrian orphans. Ted Cruz has suggested that the U.S. only admit Christian refugees from Syria, although how he plans on testing people's religious faith is unclear. Jeb Bush has hinted at the same thing, saying he would back refugees who can "prove" that they're Christian, which shows what this is all about. If you have a system that's strong enough to "prove" someone's true religion, don't you think it could also properly vet people for national security purposes? Jeb Bush was supposed to be the mature establishment candidate. So much for that.

These politicians are feeding what a new Public Religion Research Institute pollreports is an "increased xenophobic streak in the American public." It's no coincidence that threats against American Muslims have been reported across the country in the days since the Paris attacks.

It is of course reasonable to ask that refugees be vetted -- they already are -- but if security were the real issue, our current debate wouldn't be about refugees at all. In fact, if someone were intent on sneaking into America to cause harm, exploiting the refugee resettlement program with its intensive and lengthy screening processes would be the hardest way to do it. No, what is behind the anti-refugee campaign of the Right is not reasonable concerns about security, but something much uglier.

The candidates who are now spewing cynical anti-refugee rhetoric are often the same ones who claim that their opponents don't believe in "American exceptionalism," and the movement so willing to embrace explicit anti-Muslim bigotry is the same one constantly telling us that religious freedom is under attack. They seem to have forgotten the vibrant pluralism and commitment to shared values that make us exceptional, and a beacon of freedom to the persecuted, in the first place. Looking back on the history of our country, our best days have been when we opened ourselves to people facing persecution, not the times we turned them away and demonized them. Let's not let this become the American Way.


PFAW Telebriefing: The Future Of Voting Rights

Last week, People For the American Way hosted a telebriefing for members to review the recent attacks on voting rights and illustrate PFAW’s vision for the future of voting rights in America. PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated the discussion with PFAW’s Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks, Executive Vice President Marge Baker, and resident Supreme Court and judicial nomination expert Paul Gordon joining the call.

Drew began the call with an introduction to the consequences of the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court case, which gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The decision has resulted in many states passing new legislation that results in voter suppression. Diallo explained that 36 states have passed new restrictions on early voting and more strict voter identification laws, which disproportionately affect people of color, low-income citizens, and women. Supposedly, these efforts attempt to prevent voter fraud. However, voter fraud is not documented as a widespread, or even small-scale, problem anywhere in the country. Marge later elaborated that there is evidence that true intention of passing these laws is to suppress the vote; many right-wing organizations have acknowledged that conservative leverage in elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.

Many members called in with pertinent questions, including one about how members can be more involved in the fight for voting rights. Diallo described how People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers network has been active on the ground helping folks understand their local laws so that they can obtain the correct identification and register successfully. He also suggested people get involved in local groups that do similar work.

Marge detailed how people can get involved in PFAW’s efforts to fight for fair and just courts, which have an enormous impact on voting rights. The winner of the 2016 election will have the opportunity to nominate as many as four Supreme Court justices, and therefore have influence over critical voting rights cases following Shelby County v. Holder. The Supreme Court is not the only place where the fight is occurring. Marge described court challenges to voter suppression laws in numerous lower federal courts and in state courts, further highlighting the importance of courts in the progress for voting rights.

Diallo ended the call on a positive note, describing recent municipal and state-level expansions to early voting and motor voter laws, which allow citizens to automatically register to vote when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Listen to the full briefing here:


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.


Will Nebraska's Senators Help Our Federal Courts?

If Nebraska's senators want to see their judicial nominee confirmed, they should push to clear the nominations bottleneck Mitch McConnell has created.

Latinos Vote! Dolores Huerta’s Four-State Tour with PFAW

Over a two-week span, People For the American Way (PFAW) staff and volunteers joined PFAW board member Dolores Huerta for a four-state tour to get out the vote in Latino communities and push back against anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric and policies of Republican presidential candidates.

Huerta attended the last two Republican debates, spreading the message that all of the Republican candidates stand firmly against the priorities of working families and Latino communities. At the start of our tour, leading up to the debate in Colorado at the end of October, Huerta joined Colorado Latino leaders and voters to discuss how the Republican candidates are out of line with Colorado Latinos.

latin life denver

latin life denver

Huerta also spoke at a rally that thousands attended. As Suzanne Gamboa at NBC News reported:

“Huerta planned to participate in an event with other Latino leaders Wednesday afternoon to launch a voter registration campaign and protest rhetoric of the campaign and some proposals she considered to be anti-Latino.

[…]"The Republican candidates are not really reflecting or even addressing the needs of the Latino community or American families," Huerta said in an phone interview with NBC News.

After Colorado, Huerta traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to get out the vote leading up to municipal elections and to call out North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory for signing the severely anti-immigrant HB 318.

After her third radio interview of the morning – which also happened to be the day before Halloween – Huerta posed with the radio hosts of Charlotte’s La Raza 106.1.

la raza

Huerta joined Charlotte voters and activists to deliver an “award” to Gov. McCrory for his ability to disguise himself as a friend of immigrants and then to turn his back on the community.


After Charlotte, Huerta joined PFAW staff and volunteers to get out the vote in Virginia. PFAW had already begun laying the groundwork in Virginia with Spanish-language ads encouraging voters to head to the polls on Election Day.

The Washington Post’s write-up of the ad included this explanation from PFAW’s Carlos A. Sanchez:

“By highlighting in Spanish how local and national Republican politicians from [former Virginia gubernatorial candidate] Ken Cuccinelli to Donald Trump have demonized immigrants, our ad urges voters to stand up against them by going to the polls."

While on the ground, Huerta mobilized voters and volunteers in State Senate District 29 to support Democrat Jeremy McPike.

Our efforts paid off, as McPike won his race!

To wrap up our four-state tour, Huerta traveled to Wisconsin leading up to the Republican debate there. PFAW joined with Voces de la Frontera Action to shed light on the anti-immigrant, anti-Latino policies of all the Republican candidates.

dolores press conf

Huerta also joined with allies for a Fight for $15 rally urging politicians to support a $15 minimum wage. Watch Huerta discuss her efforts on local CBS.

The 4-state tour is a part of PFAW’s Latinos Vote! program. Stay tuned for more updates on our work!


Koch Communications Officer Delivers Spin to St. Anselm’s College, Activists Call Out #KochProblem

koch visibility event

It’s not just secret money and front groups for the Koch Brothers this election season. Sometimes, the Kochs are up front in their attempts to sell their toxic agenda — like when they decide to send Koch Industries Chief Communication and Marketing Officer, Steve Lombardo, to St. Anselm’s Institute of Politics to pitch a softer side of Koch.

A group of about 10 activists from People For the American Way and Granite State Progress gathered Tuesday outside the Institute of Politics to hold signs that read “#KOCH PROBLEM” and “PR Stunt” — among other messages.

The event was brazenly titled, “Beyond the Political Spin: How Koch is is Driving Freedom, Fairness and Prosperity."

The Kochs — no strangers to attempting to buy support at college campuses through stipulations about hiring and coursework — are planning on spending up to $900 million in this year’s election cycle through their secretive network of organizations.

When asked if the Kochs will acknowledge that the candidates they back are beholden to them, Lombardo failed to explain a difference between other forms of “crony capitalism” the Kochs like to decry and the political work done by the Koch network.

Question: “In a recent interview with the Wichita Eagle, Charles Koch claimed that politicians are ‘beholden to corporations and cronies who get them re-elected’ and deemed this ‘welfare for the wealthy.’ The Koch network has poured millions of dollars into our political system—do the Kochs agree that the candidates they back are beholden to them?”

Lombardo: “Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m going to answer it the way Charles has recently answered that. And that is – beholden is the wrong word. Charles is frustrated right now, to be honest with you, he’s very frustrated that a lot of the candidates that the network that he’s a part of, along with a lot of other donors, hundreds of donors, thousands…have not done a lot of things that they said they were going to do, okay. And he’s quite frankly very frustrated and we have not at this point in time, supporting any presidential candidate. And Mr. Koch believes- is worried right now that none of them are going to do what they say they’re going to do.  So the folks that we supported in 2014 frankly a lot of them have not lived up to the things that I’ve been talking about in terms of fighting corporate welfare, in terms of supporting criminal justice reform among other things. Beholden is wrong. We all, everybody who votes for someone or contributes money to them, contributes $5 — you’re hoping that they’re gonna do what they said they were gonna do. Now if you call that beholden you can call that beholden, but to me, it’s I give $5 to a candidate because I think — they said they were gonna do something, and I go ‘wow, I agree with that, I want them to do that, I’m giving them $5.’ Now you can call that beholden, or $500 million or whatever it might be…I don’t think it’s the same way but we are expecting them to do the things they say they were gonna do, and frankly a lot of them aren’t.”

The Kochs clearly expect a lot in return for the amount they’re spending on politics — so yes, the candidates that they back are beholden to them, and much more so than they would be to any small donor.  Downplaying their own effectiveness doesn’t change the fact that they are blatantly attempting to buy influence, with their network expected to spend as much as, or more than, either political party.


An Anniversary Pat Toomey Should Be Ashamed Of

Pat Toomey has spent a year helping his party obstruct the nomination of L. Felipe Restrepo, who he says he supports.

5th Circuit Immigration Ruling Shows Importance of Courts & Elections

One of the most important issues in any presidential election is the type of judges the person elected to the office would place on the bench.

PFAW Board Member Dolores Huerta Speaks Out for DACA+, DAPA

People For the American Way board member and civil rights legend Dolores Huerta speaks out against the 5th Circuit Court decision holding up President Obama's executive actions that protect families from deportation:

“Because of Republican-appointed judges on the court, families who have lived in and contributed to our country for years could be torn apart. Yesterday’s 2-1 decision from the 5th Circuit Court was fundamentally incorrect. It is a reminder of how much courts matter, as well as how important presidential elections are, since it’s the president who nominates justices.

“While every single one of the Republican presidential candidates has spoken out against President Obama’s executive actions, Democratic candidates have discussed ways to expand his actions to protect people from deportation. Latino communities across the country are listening, and in the next election we’ll hold Republican candidates responsible for their efforts to break up families.”


Restore The Voices Of The Excluded

After more than two years stymied by congressional inaction on voting rights, House Democrats this week renewed their efforts to Restore The Voices Of The Excluded – to #RestoreTheVOTE.

See, It's Not So Hard to Be Fair to Judicial Nominees!

You shouldn’t have to be Chuck Grassley’s hand-picked judges to get fair treatment from the Judiciary Committee.

35 Years After Reagan's Election, His Justices Still Have a Huge Impact

The next president may pick 3-4 justices who could transform the Court for a generation.

2015 Election Recap

As the dust settles from many important elections around the country yesterday, we have some great news to report.

In the race PFAW put our focus on in Virginia, we won! Progressive Jeremy McPike captured the Senate seat. I’m happy to report that PFAW’s work in this election on the air and on the ground -- which Virginia and regional PFAW members supported with their volunteer time and hundreds of PFAW members from around the country stepped up to support with donations -- was effective.

In addition to the victory in this race, we made important inroads into the Latino community that will be critical in 2016, when Virginia is expected to be perhaps THE most important swing state and the Latino vote could be THE deciding factor. We were proud to produce the first ad ever to use Donald Trump’s hateful immigrant-bashing rhetoric as a vote motivator, rightly tying that bigotry to the Republican brand.

Image - Legendary Civil Rights Activist & PFAW Board Member Dolores Huerta campaigns for PFAW in Virginia’s 29th Senate District

In other great news from Virginia, a radical anti-gay and anti-immigrant county supervisor in northern Virginia, who PFAW’s Right Wing Watch has long tracked, lost his seat. As Right Wing Watch has reported, Republican Eugene Delgaudio has said the “homosexual lobby” wants to make it legal to “rape and murder young boys” and has warned that allowing LGBT people to adopt would lead to gay men “skipping down to adoption centers to pick out a little boy for themselves.” He also referred to his county’s growing Latino immigrant population as “hordes” that are exacting “a greater and greater toll.”

And in both Maine and Seattle, voters dealt a serious blow to big money in politics!

In Maine, a Clean Elections initiative passed by 10 points that strikes back against Citizens United and bolsters the state’s public financing system. In Seattle, by an even wider margin of 20% voters passed a sweeping initiative to limit the influence of big money in politics by, among other things, capping contributions by corporations with city contracts or that spend significant funds lobbying, making it illegal for city officials and their top aides to take lobbying jobs immediately after leaving office, empowering low-dollar donors, and increasing transparency and accountability.

Election Day didn’t bring only good news though.

The results statewide in Virginia were a mixed bag, and because of strong Republican showings in other parts of the state, effective GOP gerrymandering, and, yes, a ton of money spent, the GOP was able to maintain party control of the state Senate.

And in other parts of the South, far-right -- and I mean very far-right -- Republicans won races for governor that will have a tremendously detrimental impact on the people of those states.

In Kentucky, the election of Republican Matt Bevin to governor yesterday means that the more than half a million Kentuckians who have health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act could lose their health care very soon. Bevin has promised to eliminate Kynect, Kentucky’s state exchange established under the ACA, and could undo the Medicaid expansion accepted by the outgoing Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, which insured 400,000 people alone and cut the state’s uninsured rate by more than half.

It’s worth noting that Tea Party Governor-elect Matt Bevin’s winning strategy was to turn out his right-wing base by campaigning on themes such as the backlash to marriage equality, support for county clerk and Religious Right cause célèbre Kim Davis, and promises to defund Planned Parenthood.

And, in Texas, there was the defeat of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, leaving Houston the largest city in the country and the only major city in Texas with no nondiscrimination protections for LGBT residents. That election was especially ugly. Anti-equality groups resorted to fearmongering and inflamed prejudice, distorting the true purpose of the ordinance by referring to it derogatorily as the “Bathroom Ordinance.” Sadly, there is still a lot of work to do in Texas and the South.

One thing is clear: yesterday’s wins AND losses both point to the need to keep fighting.

Americans deserve better than the regressive, draconian agenda that right-wing Republicans are offering. And because the Right is so well-funded and tenacious, we must fight to defend our gains -- some on the Right are already talking about legal challenges to yesterday’s victories for the People over big money in politics.


Coalition Nearly 200-Strong Takes a Stand and Says "NO" to Harmful Policy Riders

Far-right members of Congress take a dislike to something, say . . . the critical reproductive and preventive healthcare services offered by Planned Parenthood, and they write a line or two into an appropriations bill that says that government money cannot be used for that purpose. All kinds of programs and laws are subject to this kind of indirect assault: Just prohibit any money from being spent on it.

Courts' Vital Role in Protecting Women's Health and Everyone's Rights

A ruling for Planned Parenthood in Alabama is just one example of why federal courts are so important.

Poll Has Ben Carson Now LEADING Trump

A New York Times/CBS News poll has Ben Carson now leading Donald Trump in the GOP presidential contest. Apparently all somebody had to do to edge out Trump was to sink to his level and then keep going, by spewing even more extreme and bigoted positions!

For example, here are just a few of the things Carson has gotten press for over the last few weeks:

  • He compared abortion to slavery -- and women who have abortions to slaveholders -- and reiterated his belief that all abortions should be banned, even in cases of rape and incest.
  • He said he thought someone who is Muslim should not be president because that person’s religious beliefs are not “consistent with the Constitution,” despite the Constitution’s explicit rejection of religious tests for office.
  • He blamed the Holocaust on gun control, saying that if not for Hitler confiscating guns, Germans -- Jews and non-Jews alike --would have fought back against his plans for genocide.
  • He also blamed the victims of the Oregon mass shooting for not attacking the shooter, saying HE “would not just stand there and let him shoot me.”

The reason Carson’s rise amidst these controversial comments is so important is because it shows that the more hateful and detached from reality a candidate appears, the more the far-right base will favor him.

Make no mistake -- the demagogues of the Religious Right and the Tea Party are a problem, but base voters they are so eager to please with wild internet-fueled conspiracy theories and naked bigotry are arguably the bigger problem.

A September poll from Public Policy Polling found that 54 percent of Republican voters believe the president is a Muslim. Let that sink in.

This isn’t just benign wackiness that’s confined to Republican nominating contests, it’s a SIGNIFICANT chunk of the American electorate. And it’s the people who represent those views who are now IN CHARGE of Congress and fighting to get into the White House!

Rep. Paul Ryan looks all set to come in as the new Speaker of the House -- and there’s a faction of House Republicans who are accusing this rigidly anti-choice, Medicare-slashing Ayn Rand fanboy of being “too moderate!”

And whoever the eventually wins the GOP nomination for president, we know he or she will be one of the most right-wing candidates, pursuing one of the most extreme right-wing agendas, ever.

The GOP lives to serve its base. Let’s not forget exactly who is in charge. Ben Carson’s rise is a good reminder.

* * * * *

For much, much more on Ben Carson’s radical views, check out RightWingWatch.org.

Here are some particularly off-the-wall examples:









Why Next Week's Election in Virginia is So, So Important

Next Tuesday, November 3, Virginia will have its state elections and who votes, how they vote, and the work that goes into mobilizing voters in advance of Election Day are all critically important to 2016.

Virginia is more likely than not to be THE deciding swing state in 2016. So we need to lay the groundwork NOW for victory next year, and that means building voter turnout infrastructure, especially for the Latino vote, in key parts of the state.

A recent analysis from Moody’s Analytics projected that (based on current economic and political indicators), Democrats would win the White House by just 2 electoral votes -- which would be the closest margin in U.S. history. Their findings concluded that one state -- Virginia -- would deliver the election for the Democratic nominee.

There are few states that can change the electoral math more than Virginia, and one of the most important factors is the Latino share of the electorate -- a crucial 5% of the vote that will determine who wins and loses in the state.

PFAW is already on the air in Virginia with a Spanish-language ad that’s been getting a lot of press attention – highlighting for Latinos the importance of voting against the party of Donald Trump and its anti-immigrant, anti-working family agenda.

Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión said of our ad (translated):

“It’s the first ad that uses Trump to drive Latino voters to the polls, but it won’t be the last. Its focus on women and on two generations, immigrants and first generation, is innovative.”

And it’s not just 2016 that makes Virginia important on the national level. The upcoming 2015 elections for Virginia’s state legislature matter too.

In a recent court filing, Republicans ADMITTED that the GOP intentionally rigged the state’s congressional districts in order to produce a delegation heavily tilted their way.

It’s the Republican state legislature that has made Virginia one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. In 2012, President Obama won Virginia narrowly, but Republicans still picked up 8 of the state’s 11 congressional seats under the GOP-friendly maps drawn by the state legislature.

Now, party control of the state legislature is up for grabs.

If we can flip control of the State Senate away from right-wing Republicans, it will be a MAJOR DEFEAT for the Radical Right in what was once one of their most reliable strongholds!

Virginia not only housed the capital of the old Confederacy, it's the home of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, the Founding Fathers of the modern radical Religious Right -- as well as the foundational institutions of the movement they created, like Robertson's Regent University and Falwell's Liberty University.

It's so sweetly fitting that People For the American Way -- the organization founded to counter their hate that was a constant thorn in their sides -- would be instrumental in finally turning what was once their deep red home state solid blue.

La Opinion Quote

Virginia is an Early Opportunity to Tarnish the GOP Brand

This year’s fight for control of the State Senate in Virginia has emerged as an excellent opportunity to engage Virginia’s Latino community and to further attach the extreme rhetoric and policies of the Republican Presidential candidates to the overall GOP brand. Targeting the Northern Virginia area, with its large Latino population, we’ll have an impact in the Senate District 29 race -- which is likely to determine party control of the state Senate. It will also allow us to connect with the Latino community and deepen the association of radical, anti-immigrant sentiment with the Republican Party at the local, state, and national level.

Building on our previous work and refining it ahead of 2016, PFAW’s 2015 plans include:

  • Radio and digital advertising targeting the Latino community in Northern Virginia, with the message that the state elections are the best way to make their voice heard ahead of 2016.
  • Media strategies to capitalize on the consistent stream of anti-immigrant remarks from national Republican candidates.
  • On the ground events and mobilizing volunteers along with partner organizations and PFAW Board Member Dolores Huerta ahead of Election Day.

Not only will these efforts boost Latino turnout in 2015, they will further damage the Republican brand with Latinos and help increase civic participation -- boosting the “muscle memory” of voting ahead of 2016.

Turn this purple state blue

PFAW’s Proven Track Record of Success

People For the American Way has a demonstrated record of mobilizing Latino voters, especially in Virginia, where our Latinos Vote! campaign has been active since 2012. That year, we made a full investment in Virginia and built a comprehensive program of outreach to the Latino community through TV, radio, digital, and direct mail. In the 2013 Governor’s race, we worked hand-in-hand with the McAuliffe campaign to secure victory over Tea Party darling Ken Cuccinelli and in 2014, we ran targeted digital ads to help secure Senator Warner’s re-election. In each of these races the Latino vote proved decisive in the Democratic candidates’ success. 2015 presents an excellent opportunity to continue to engage the Latino community and to further build the overall narrative about the dangerous policies and ideology that Republican candidates hold.

Is this a plan you can support? If so, please help PFAW fund this work with a donation today>>