Don't Like Fracking? #GetMoneyOut

Last week, PFAW’s Government By the People campaign coordinator Rio Tazewell joined Food and Water Watch, along with a dozen partner organizations, in delivering more than 350,000 petitions in support of the Protect Our Public Lands Act. This bill would outlaw the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, commonly known as “fracking”, on federally-owned lands. In his remarks, Tazewell highlighted the importance of connecting the dots between issues like protecting our public lands and the influence of unchecked, unlimited and undisclosed money in our elections, as well as the need for an amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.

If scientific and public opinion were the driving forces in Congress, this bill would likely be passed with little resistance. But given that big money and corporate interests have rigged the electoral process to gain undue influence on the legislative process, reform organizations have to work even harder to advance commonsense legislation. Passing the Protect Our Public Lands Act would be a significant step toward ensuring a more sustainable country for all Americans to enjoy, present and future.

The groups represented in the petition delivery understand that in order to protect our public lands from the perils of fracking we must also address an underlying problem: too much corporate special interest money flowing into our elections. Fortunately organizations are already mobilizing around a set of solutions to address this issue. First and foremost, we need an amendment to the Constitution to reverse Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United. A monumental effort like amending the Constitution will require extensive cross-issue organizational collaboration, and last week’s petition delivery built on the foundation of what is becoming a broad movement to address the influence of big money in politics. 


Why Is Jeb Bush Courting Pat Robertson?

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Jeb Bush, battling slumping poll numbers, will travel to Regent University this Friday for an interview with the school's founder, televangelist Pat Robertson.

Jeb's decision may be mystifying, particularly to millennial voters who knowRobertson mostly as a televised buffoon given to outrageous and embarrassing comments, bad advice, faulty predictions, and personal conversations with God about presidential politics. But while Robertson's influence has diminished over the years, he has had a lasting (and damaging) impact on American culture and politics.

Like the late Jerry Falwell, Robertson was a pioneer in the use of television to build a Christian ministry, and Robertson joined Falwell and other televangelists who teamed up in the late 1970s to create the Religious Right political movement. Falwell was a fundamentalist Baptist and Robertson a charismatic Pentecostal, but they found common ground in promoting a sustained, religion-based attack on separation of church and state, feminism, gay rights, unions, and other enemies of the right-wing political strategists, like Paul Weyrich, who recruited them into politics

Robertson actually ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. He didn't get very far as a candidate, but he built a huge list of supporters. Political operative Ralph Reed turned that list into the Christian Coalition, which at the beginning of the 1990s set itself the goal of taking working control of the Republican Party.

Pat Robertson, in other words, helped create today's polarized politics -- a Republican Party that is much further to the right than Ronald Reagan's and far less willing to engage in the compromises required to govern, and a Religious Right movement that continues to poison our political climate by treating politics as spiritual warfare and political opponents as demonic enemies of faith and freedom.

A memorable example of that attitude came just after the 9/11 attacks, in which Robertson joined Jerry Falwell in blaming the attacks on gays, feminists, defenders of church-state separation, and People For the American Way. But we can hear the same attitude from GOP candidates and right-wing activists every day.

Regent University, where Jeb Bush will speak on Friday, is part of the massive cultural and political infrastructure that Religious Right leaders like Robertson have built in recent decades. Religious Right schools of government and law produce people like Michele Bachmann and former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who see public office as a way to make America conform to their "biblical worldview."

Another part of Robertson's infrastructure is the American Center for Law and Justice, which he created to be a Religious Right counterpart to the ACLU. The ACLJ has undermined church-state separation in the U.S. and promotes global culture war through offices in Europe, Russia, and Africa. While it portrays itself as a champion of religious freedom, the ACLJ fought bitterly against the building of a Muslim community center that was falsely dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque." 

ACLJ founder and chief counsel Jay Sekulow is scheduled to moderate the audience Q&A at Bush's appearance. He may or may not mention that his son Jordan, executive director of the organization, was hired earlier this year as an adviser to Jeb's Right to Rise PAC.

Jordan Sekulow's hiring was seen as a signal that the Bush campaign was serious about competing for conservative evangelical voters who might initially be more excited about other candidates. Bush's pilgrimage to Regent University is another sign that even "establishment" Republican candidates are dependent on the Religious Right activists who make up a big part of the party's base.

And Bush, whose plans to run as the financially dominant above-it-all powerhouse were derailed by Donald Trump, is back to the GOP primary slog. And he's looking for support from Religious Right leaders with their own political agenda, one that threatens the rights of women, LGBT people, religious minorities, and anyone who doesn't meet their definition of a real American.


PFAW's Right Wing Watch Riles Up the Far Right

At Right Wing Watch – a project of People For the American Way – we know we’ve done our job when we’ve made the Right Wing really, really mad. So if the coverage we’ve been seeing in the right-wing media is any indication, we’ve been doing our job especially well lately. Here’s a roundup of some recent anti-endorsements:

  • The conservative blog Newsbusters calls Right Wing Watch PFAW’s “hit squad” in an article we couldn’t have written better ourselves. In addition to crediting PFAW with “destroying Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s reputation in the 1980s,” the article touts some of Right Wing Watch’s greatest successes – including its coverage of the anti-choice and anti-gay HGTV stars David and Jason Benham. Newsbusters correctly notes that Right Wing Watch broke the news when then-presidential candidate Scott Walker defended mandatory and medically unnecessary ultrasounds as “a cool thing out there” (though they incorrectly allege that the reporting “twisted” Walker’s words). And while the Newsbusters article fails to achieve its goal of discrediting Right Wing Watch, it does provide many great examples of Right Wing Watch’s reporting appearing in major news outlets like USA Today, MSNBC, Salon, Slate, and the Huffington Post.
  • In an interview with Family Research Council Vice President Jerry Boykin, far-right radio host Rick Wiles suggested that the gunman in the recent mas shooting at Umpqua Community College might have been inspired by reading Right Wing Watch. Boykin went on to accuse Right Wing Watch of using the “exact same tactics as ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
  • Despite messianic rabbi Jonathan Cahn’s doomsday prophecy, the United States didn’t experience a cataclysmic disaster this past September, which must have rattled right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson who have spent months anticipating it. Right Wing Watch pointed out that the prophecy didn’t come true -- much to the frustration of WND, a Religious Right news site that Right Wing Watch has been reading and covering for years. WND took specific issue with Right Wing Watch blogger Brian Tashman, who had reported on the Cahn prophecy, for his “slander” and “lack of truthfulness.” It’s not clear how pointing out that the world didn’t end last month qualifies as slanderous, but you can read the rest of WND’s criticism here.
  • Right Wing Watch might consider outlandish criticism from the Radical Right to be a sign of a job well done, but many on the Right feel the same way about a mention on Right Wing Watch. Ann Corcoran, an anti-refugee resettlement advocate, has made several appearances on Right Wing Watch for her xenophobic remarks about Syrian refugees, posted on her blog that she considered the coverage to be “a great honor” and “a goal to work toward” for other right-wing activists.

Right Wing Watch is as committed as ever to monitoring and exposing the activities of the right-wing movement – no matter what they might say about us. Read more Right Wing Watch coverage.


PFAW Telebriefing: The Future of the Supreme Court

On Monday, the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term, People For the American Way hosted a telebriefing for members detailing what’s at stake at the Court over the next year.

PFAW Senior Communications Specialist Layne Amerikaner moderated the call.  Affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon, who recently published an extensive Supreme Court term preview, and PFAW Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg, lead author of the new PFAW report, “Judgment Day 2016: The Future of the Supreme Court as a Critical Issue in the 2016 Presidential Election,” were joined by PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker to brief members and answer questions.

Paul kicked off the call by discussing the critical issues on the Court’s docket right now: the rights of working people, equal representation through voting, education opportunities through affirmative action, and more. For example, Paul explained that Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association could “severely weaken the ability of workers to form unions” that negotiate salary, benefits, and more. In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Supreme Court could make it very difficult to “maintain healthy diversity at colleges and universities.”

As Paul explained, the mere fact that these and some other cases are on the docket is disturbing. These cases have been “ginned up to topple precedents that conservatives don’t like.” Affirmative action, union fair share fees to prevent free-riding, one person one vote for equality of representation: these are principles that the Court decided decades ago. It used to be that conservatives couldn’t muster up four justices to take on cases like these, but now that Justices Roberts and Alito have joined the Court, we’re seeing more and more cases and decisions that challenge fundamental rights.

Elliot detailed the importance of the ideological makeup of the Court: There have been more than 80 5-4 decisions in the Supreme Court since Roberts and Alito joined the Court. Most of these cases have been extremely harmful to our rights, in areas like money and politics, voting rights, and reproductive freedom. Some, though, have protected important rights, as Justice Kennedy has at times been unwilling to join the conservatives on the Court. For example, he voted with the majority in Obergefell v. Hodges to make marriage equality the law of the land. But as Elliot reminded members, there will be four justices in their 80s by the end of the next president’s first term, and another conservative justice would be devastating for issues that PFAW and members care deeply about, such as abortion rights, worker protections, and religious liberty, just to name a few.

Both conservative and progressive groups know that the next president could very well shift the makeup of the Court and thus the outcomes of key cases. Questions from members focused on what to do to take action on this issue. Elliot and Marge encouraged members to discuss with their friends and colleagues the critical impact the 2016 election will have on how pressing issues will be decided for decades to come. They also discussed with members the possibility of attending town halls for presidential candidates, who will nominate the next Supreme Court justices, as well as Senate candidates, who must confirm the justices, in order to ask questions about the types of justices they will support.

Listen to the full briefing here:


President 'Stuff Happens'?

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

On Thursday, Americans braced ourselves as reports trickled in about yet another mass shooting, this one at a community college in Oregon, leaving 10 people dead.

It was a horrific scene that we’d seen too many times before. But Jeb Bush was taking it in stride, and told an interviewer on Friday that although the shooting was “very sad,” it didn’t require government action.

“Look,” he said, “stuff happens, there’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

Remember the good ole days of the Bush administration when right after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as Bagdad was collapsing into chaos, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went before the press to inform us that “stuff happens”?

“Stuff happens,” he declared, “and it’s untidy and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that’s what’s going to happen.”

More stuff happened throughout the Bush years. Remember the Katrina stuff?  And yesterday it was reported that the Jeb! team is considering bringing George W. Bush out on the trail so he can bolster his sagging poll numbers and the entire country can relive the dream!

Regarding this most recent use of “stuff happens,” it perfectly encapsulates the attitude about gun violence that is now prevalent in the Republican Party, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the NRA and its fellow gun groups. The fact that this “stuff” happens more in America than anywhere else in the developed world doesn’t seem to change their mind that mass shootings are an inevitable act of nature.

But it also encapsulates a disturbing view of the role of government in solving national problems. Bush wasn’t saying just that our representatives in the government shouldn’t act when “stuff happens.” He was also saying that we should just let the stuff keep happening. Stop me if you’ve heard about this presidency before.


Who's Behind the Anti-Choice Smear Campaign on Planned Parenthood?

Congressional Republicans continue to push for a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding, but the ongoing smear campaign against the healthcare organization that anti-choice activists are using to justify defunding hasn't held up to honest scrutiny. But who's behind these dishonest and strategically edited videos?

PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery writes in The Hill this morning about the real intentions behind the radical anti-choice attacks on Planned Parenthood:

The Center for Medical Progress was created by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden for the purpose of conducting the kind of "stings" used in previous efforts to “take out” Planned Parenthood. Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Conyers have urged an investigation into potentially illegal actions by Daleiden and CMP. But Daleiden’s lawyers have said he will invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than defend his actions.

Read the full article in The Hill here.

PFAW's latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report, entitled "Operation Rescue’s Big Break: How an Organization Rooted in the Radical Fringes of the Anti-Choice Movement Is Threatening to Shut Down the Government," offers an in-depth look at David Daleiden's history within the radical anti-choice movement.


Why November 8, 2016 is Judgment Day for the Supreme Court -- and Our Rights

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

What would have happened if a President McCain had appointed conservatives to the Supreme Court, instead of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, before the Court ruled on marriage equality in the Obergefell case? And what if a President Kerry had filled the seats that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito took before the Court decided theCitizens United campaign finance case? Clearly both those rulings would have come out very differently, with enormous consequences for all Americans. As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Roberts-Alito Court and as the 2016 elections get more and more attention, these examples and many more should alert us that Election Day 2016 is truly judgment day for the Supreme Court and for Americans’ rights and liberties. 

Today, People For the American Way released a comprehensive report, Judgment Day 2016, which looks at pivotal Court decisions since Roberts and Alito joined the Court that were decided by a single vote. Many have seriously harmed the rights of ordinary Americans and promoted the interests of powerful corporations. Examples include Citizens United, the ruling striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act inShelby County v. Holder, the decision allowing corporations to claim religion and  deny contraceptive coverage to women in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, and the holding reinterpreting the Second Amendment and severely limiting efforts to limit gun violence in District of Columbia v. Heller. All these and many other decisions could be overruled or limited if a progressive justice replaces just one conservative on the Court, significantly blunting the right-wing judicial assault on a broad array of our rights and liberties.

But there have also been many critical 5-4 decisions over the past ten years where the Court’s  moderate justices, usually joined by Justice Kennedy, have succeeded in protecting Americans’  rights and liberties. In addition to Obergefell, which found a constitutional right to marriage equality, examples include Massachusetts v. EPA, where the Court upheld EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases; Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, which invalidated a state redistricting scheme that used race to harm minority voters; and Boumediene v. Bush, which narrowly ruled that prisoners detained at Guantanamo can challenge their detention through habeas corpus petitions. All these and many other rulings could be overturned or limited if a right-wing justice replaces just one of the moderates on the Court. A Supreme Court with a far-right supermajority would put more and more of our rights at risk.

Why is this particularly important now? During the first term of whoever is elected President in 2016, four Supreme Court justices - including extreme conservative Antonin Scalia, conservative swing vote Anthony Kennedy, and moderates Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer - will be over 80 years old. Given that the average retirement age for justices since 1971 is 78, the odds are overwhelming that the President elected next year will be able to nominate one or more justices who could produce a critical shift in the Court’s ideological balance.

Leading presidential candidates from both parties have already recognized the importance of future Supreme Court appointments and made clear their intent to nominate justices in accord with their views on crucial constitutional issues. In criticizing the Court’s recent 5-4 decision in Obergefell striking down discriminatory marriage bans, for example, Republican candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio pledged to appoint to the Court “people with a proven record of judicial restraint” and “justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood,” in the hope of undermining or reversing the Court’s decision. On the other hand, in criticizing the Court’s 5-4 decisions striking down federal campaign finance law in Citizens United and part of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County, Hillary Clinton pledged to “do everything I can to appoint Supreme Court justices who protect the right to vote and do not protect the right of billionaires to buy elections.”

PFAW’s report carefully reviews 5-4 decisions in eleven key areas where the next President and Supreme Court justice could make such a crucial difference to all Americans. These include money in politics; civil and voting rights (including immigration); LGBT rights; reproductive freedom and women’s rights; workplace fairness; protecting the environment; religious liberty; gun violence; marketplace and consumer fairness; access to justice; and protection against government abuse. In addition to past 5-4 rulings in these areas that could be limited or overruled, the Court is quite likely to be deciding cases on these and other key subjects in the years to come.

 Conservatives clearly understand the crucial importance of the Court and the next election in all these areas, with one far right activist noting that “we cannot overstate the importance of the Supreme Court in the next election.” In fact, her group - the Judicial Crisis Network - recently launched an ad campaign criticizing Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy as not conservative enough,  and demanding that Republican candidates pledge to appoint even more conservative justices. The group noted that Court decisions affect “every aspect of our lives today” and that “the next President could appoint a new majority to last a generation.” Hopefully, statements like that will help all Americans to pay close attention to the Supreme Court in the 2016 election and to recognize that November 8, 2016 truly is judgment day.


Supreme Court Nominations: An Issue Affecting All Other Issues, in 2016 and Beyond

In the past decade, scores of Supreme Court decisions addressing some of the most fundamental questions in our country have hinged on the vote of a single Supreme Court justice. Who can marry? Can everyone access the ballot box? Can women be denied reproductive health care? Can corporations flood elections with money?

In past 5-4 decisions on questions like these, from Citizens United to Hobby Lobby to Obergefell, the impact of each presidential Supreme Court nomination on our rights and liberties is clear. And for future decisions, Election Day 2016 – when Americans elect a president who will almost certainly be nominating one or more new justices – becomes a “judgment day” for our rights going forward.

A new PFAW report out today, “Judgment Day 2016,” looks at 80 5-4 decisions the Court has issued since Bush-nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito joined the Court ten years ago in key areas like money and politics; civil and voting rights; LGBT rights; women’s rights; workplace fairness; protecting the environment, and more. On a range of issues, the report underscores what’s at stake when Americans vote next November.

As principal report author and PFAW Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg put it:

In the 2016 election, the Supreme Court is on the ballot…Our next president may very well be nominating three or more Supreme Court justices who could tip the balance in critically important cases.

You can read the report here.


Far Right SCOTUS Isn't Extreme Enough For GOP Presidential Hopefuls

GOP presidential hopefuls would make the already-right-wing Supreme Court even more extreme.

Conservatives See 2016 as Key to a More Conservative SCOTUS

Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices will be in their 80s during the first term of whoever is elected president next year, meaning he or she could usher in an enormous shift in the Court’s makeup.  The Court issues enormously consequential rulings on numerous issues affecting everyone across the country – LGBT equality, money in politics, workers’ rights, religious liberty, workplace discrimination, abortion rights, and many others.  With the current Court so often divided 5-4, usually tilting toward far-right conservatives, it’s clear that the Supreme Court is perhaps the most important issue in the 2016 presidential election.

You certainly don’t need to persuade conservatives.  In fact, according to press reports, the far-right Judicial Crisis Network is launching a new website and ad campaign to pressure GOP presidential hopefuls ever rightward on the issue of Supreme Court nominations.  A reported in The Hill, the group blasts the arch-conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and very conservative Anthony Kennedy as insufficiently conservative.

“Demand justices with a proven record of upholding the constitution. We can’t afford more surprises,” a narrator says as the video shows the faces of Roberts, Kennedy and former Justice David Souter, who retired in 2009.

The three justices are “examples of bad GOP appointments,” the Judicial Crisis Network said in a statement announcing the advertisements.

[JCN] says it made the $200,000 television and digital ad buys ahead of the Republican presidential debates to get candidates on the record about their approach to Supreme Court picks. The next Republican debate is Wednesday.

The television and digital ads are set to run in Iowa, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. starting Monday, the group said.

Roberts and Kennedy … not conservative enough?  Along with Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, they formed the five-person majority that gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County), opened the floodgates to corporate money in politics (Citizens United), twisted religious liberty into a tool to deprive others of their legal rights (Hobby Lobby), and regularly misinterpret and severely undermine our nation’s anti-discrimination laws (Ledbetter, for a start).  True, Justice Kennedy authored the Court’s key opinions recognizing the constitutional rights and basic humanity of LGBT people, but he is no liberal.

If conservative activists succeed in electing a conservative president who wants to drive the currently far-right Supreme Court even farther rightward, the repercussions will be enormous.

But imagine instead if Americans elect a president who wants to restore a high court that recognizes and protects our constitutional and statutory rights to liberty, equality, and democracy … Again, the repercussions for people across the entire country would be enormous.

There is one thing where we agree with the JCN.  As their ad says:

On the most important issues, the Supreme Court decides.  The next president could appoint a new majority to last a generation.

Keep that in mind between now and Election Day.  You can be assured that conservatives will.


Bush Will Back GOP Nominee, Even If It’s Trump

Last week, Jeb Bush said “Of course I would” support Donald Trump if he won the Republican nomination. Bush’s embrace of Donald Trump and, in turn, Trump’s xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia is disturbing but unsurprising. As PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager put it:

“Naturally Jeb Bush has no qualms about supporting Donald Trump. From speaking out against increases to the minimum wage to opposing a woman’s right to choose, Bush and Trump are united in pushing an extreme agenda that would be devastating to working class families. Moreover, the fact that Bush would support Donald Trump and his mass deportation policies shows that Bush’s loyalties lie only with the extreme Republican base, not immigrants or working families.”

Bush, Trump, and the rest of the GOP presidential candidates have shown time and again during the primary campaign that no idea is too extreme if it can win votes from the party’s radical base. 

From ignoring the science of climate change to supporting tax plans that favor the wealthiest in our society while harming  working families, on critical issues, PFAW Coordinator of Political Campaigns Carlos A. Sanchez pointed out, “Trump and his less flamboyant competitors all share virtually identical positions.” At points, Trump has even been the voice of moderation in the GOP field. As PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker wrote last month, Trump has been one of the few Republican presidential candidates to speak out against the undue influence of big money in elections.

In every primary election, candidates cater to their base. But Republicans have outdone themselves this year. Pledging to support Trump if he becomes the party’s nominee, as Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates have done, is just the latest example of how extreme Bush, Trump, and all of the leading GOP candidates are.


House Judiciary Committee Takes Up Planned Parenthood Witch Hunt, Women And Voting Rights Suffer

An overwhelming amount of energy spent rehashing decades of settled law and Supreme Court precedent at the expense of women who seek not only abortion services from Planned Parenthood, a very small portion of their work, but a wide range of reproductive and preventive healthcare.

House Judiciary Committee Investigates Planned Parenthood But Still Refuses To Hold VRA Hearing

The Committee is putting its commitment to this far-right smear campaign ahead of its commitment to democracy. As they take up Planned Parenthood, Congress is more than two years past due in restoring what the Voting Rights Act lost in 2013 through the Supreme Court's damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision. They should instead be holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Advancement Act.