Most Americans recognize money in politics to be a pressing issue, but no one understands it quite like the candidates running for office to try and change our campaign finance system.
In a candidate forum yesterday at Netroots Nation, moderator and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker led panelists – Maine U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, Wisconsin U.S. House of Representatives candidate Kelly Westlund, and former California Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman – in a lively discussion of the role of money in politics in the 2014 elections.
Baker kicked off the discussion by noting both the magnitude of outside money flooding into the 2014 elections as compared to earlier elections, as well as the public will to quell this tide. She pointed out that nine in ten voters want to see their elected officials take action to fix our country’s money in politics problem.
The candidates began by telling the audience why they were inspired to make money in politics a central issue for their campaigns. Shenna Bellows, who said that her father was a carpenter and that her family did not have electricity or running water during her childhood, noted that “people like me” – those not from wealthy backgrounds – don’t often run for public office. This fact, she pointed out, contributes to the creation of laws tilted in favor of big business. Rick Weiland echoed that idea, and said that he believes money in politics is the number one issuing facing our country. For Kelly Westlund, the full weight of our country’s money in politics problem hit home for her when she approached her party about running for office and was asked whether she would be able to raise a quarter of a million dollars in three weeks. And Derek Cressman said that he was drawn to the opportunity of using the bully pulpit of a political office like secretary of state (or as Baker added, the platform of a being a candidate for that political office) to get support for measures like Proposition 49, a ballot initiative in California asking Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United that will now be on the ballot in the state in November.
Panelists also talked about fighting the cynicism and despair that can surround the issue of big money in politics for voters. Cressman said that while Americans already understand that this is a major problem, they are also eager to support solutions. He underscored the overwhelming grassroots energy around the issue. A number of panelists highlighted the importance of “connecting the dots” between money and policy – drawing the links for voters between progress on the issues they care most about and the creation of a political system not dominated by corporations and the super-rich. Multiple panelists also shared stories of the power of small dollar donors. For Bellows, a full half of the contributions her campaign receives are $6 or less. She lifted up the example of former senator and progressive hero Paul Wellstone, who she noted was outraised seven-to-one but still won his race.
As the panel wrapped up, panelists underscored the importance of pushing for a range of complimentary solutions to our money in politics problem, from the constitutional amendment now moving through the Senate to disclosure legislation to small-donor financing initiatives. As Westlund put it, it’s not enough to recognize the problems. We have to fight for solutions and get the right people at the table so that we can change the system and make sure the government’s policies reflect the will of the people.
Watch a video of the panel here:
People For the American Way Action Fund announced today the endorsements of a slate of dynamic young progressive candidates running for public office across the United States. The endorsees are a diverse mix of candidates 35 and under who are marking a new generation of progressive leadership for the future. These candidates and officials represent a vision that will benefit communities all over the country, as they fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, and equality for all.
The endorsements are part of People For the American Way Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program. YEP evaluates and endorses young progressive candidates ages 35 and under in their bids for elected office around the U.S. at all levels.
People For the American Way Action Fund is proud to endorse these YEP candidates for 2014:
James Albis – CT House District 99
James Albis is running for reelection to the Connecticut House of Representatives 99th District, representing East Haven. Albis has advocated consistently on behalf of the families of East Haven for better jobs, better schools, and better opportunities. In his second term as Representative, Albis worked to protect the environment, serving on the Speaker’s Task Force on Shoreline Preservation. Dedicated to supporting children and families, Albis has sponsored and voted for numerous laws that would expand family and medical leave, as well as healthcare, and to protect East Haven’s share of state education funding. Visit James Albis’s campaign website for more details.
John Paul Alvarez – FL House District 100
John Paul Alvarez is running for Florida House of Representatives District 100, representing Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Alvarez, a true Floridian born and raised in South Florida, knows first-hand about the issues facing his community and is dedicated to making Florida prosper. As a teacher, mentor, and community leader, Alvarez is a fierce advocate for public education. By fighting for the issues that matter most to students, working families, retired citizens, taxpayers, and South Florida’s most vulnerable citizens, Alvarez is determined to improve his community by creating more jobs, lowering the cost of living, and promoting equality for all. Visit John Paul Alvarez’s campaign website for more details.
Nelson Araujo – NV Assembly District 3
Nelson Araujo is a candidate for Nevada’s Assembly District 3, representing Clark County and Las Vegas. He is a native Nevadan that was born to struggling immigrant parents. Araujo, a determined leader, fought to help his family out of poverty and became the first in his family to graduate high school. As a community leader and elected official, Araujo is dedicated to stimulating job growth, providing greater healthcare access, and making higher education more accessible to everyone. We believe that with his leadership, Nevada will thrive. Visit Nelson Araujo’s campaign website for more details.
Mandela Barnes – WI Assembly District 11
Mandela Barnes is running for reelection in Wisconsin’s State Assembly District 11, representing central Milwaukee. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Barnes has done important work for Milwaukee as a community organizer and youth and development specialist. His dedication to creating jobs, reforming public education, and modernizing public transportation will serve the people of Milwaukee and strengthen the community. Visit Mandela Barnes’s campaign website for more details.
Jonathan Brostoff – WI Assembly District 19
Jonathan Brostoff, lifelong resident of Milwaukee’s East Side, is running for Wisconsin State Assembly’s 19th District representing central Milwaukee. Brostroff’s dedication to Milwaukee and experience as a legislative aide will help him lead Wisconsin toward a brighter future. Brostoff is determined to promote equal rights for all, to reinvest in public education, and to improve public transit in Wisconsin. Brostoff is a capable leader, devoted to making Wisconsin thrive for generations to come, whose real-world solutions will create progress in the state. Visit Jonathan Brostoff’s campaign website for more details.
Marina Dimitrijevic – WI Assembly District 19
Marina Dimitrijevic is running for the Wisconsin State Assembly District 19. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Dimitrijevic made history in 2004, when she became the youngest woman to be elected to the Milwaukee County Board. During her 10 year tenure, she has championed legislative victories on equal rights for the LGBT community, environmental sustainability, public transit, and workers’ rights. Dimitrijevic’s experience, leadership, and commitment to winning on progressive issues are exactly what the community of Milwaukee needs. Visit Marina Dimitrijevic’s campaign website for more details.
Justin Chenette – ME House District 134
Justin Chenette is running for reelection to the Maine House of Representatives’ 134th District , representing Saco. Before being elected as state Representative, Chenette served on the Maine State Board of Education, and has carried his passion for education into the state legislature. Chenette sponsored several education-related bills including legislation to promote community service in school and require internship experiences for high school students. Chenette, who was 22 years old upon his election to the House, has already proven himself to be a tireless and dedicated advocate and an important member in the next generation of leaders. Visit Justin Chenette’s campaign website for more details.
Luke Diaz –WI Verona Alder District 3
Luke Diaz is seeking reelection to the Verona City Council’s 3rd District, representing central Verona. Diaz has made it his mission to celebrate the city’s culture by cultivating a thriving downtown in Verona, working to expand jobs, improve transit, and provide important services to the community. An experienced city councilman, Diaz is an accessible leader that is dedicated to listening to the needs of his community. Visit Luke Diaz’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.
Zachary Dorholt – MN House District 14B
Zach Dorholt is running for reelection the Minnesota House of Representatives’ District 14B, representing St. Cloud City, and Haven and Minden Townships. Previously elected in 2011, Dorholt has been a champion for progressive values during his time in the House. He is an advocate for women’s rights and has sponsored bills to equalize pay in Minnesota and lengthen paid maternity leave. Dorholt has also fought for public education funding and is dedicated to creating a pathway to higher education for young Minnesotans. A proven leader, Dorholt will continue to make Minnesota a better and more prosperous place for the entire community. Visit Zach Dorholt’s campaign website for more details.
Crisanta Duran is running for reelection in the Colorado House of Representatives’ 5th District, representing Denver. As chairwoman of the joint budget committee, Crisanta guided the passage of a state budget that helped protect the environment, boost investments in education and job training, provide better women’s health services, help survivors of abuse, and create a better state economy for all Coloradoans. In her position as an elected official, she will continue to build a strong progressive foundation for the state’s future. Visit Crisanta Duran’s campaign website for more details.
Daneya Esgar – CO House District 46
Daneya Esgar is a candidate for Colorado State House of Representatives’ District 46, representing Pueblo. A dedicated public servant and product of Pueblo’s public education system, Esgar has dedicated her career as a television news producer and a community organizer to improving this community. Esgar has a clear vision for the future of Pueblo, and will continue to work toward job growth and improved public education as an elected official. Visit Daneya Esgar’s campaign website for more details.
Ryan Fecteau – ME House District 11
Ryan Fecteau is a Biddeford native running for Maine House of Representatives’ District 11, representing his hometown. Fecteau has a fresh and progressive perspective on the issues affecting Maine today. As representative, Fecteau will bring strong support of public education, women’s rights, and equal opportunity for all Americans by championing for middle-class workers, seniors, and college graduates of his district. Visit Ryan Fecteau’s campaign website for more details.
Joe Fitzgibbon – WA House District 34
Joe Fitzgibbon is running for reelection to the Washington House of Representatives’ District 34, representing Burien, West Seattle, White Center, and Vashon and Maury Islands. Fitzgibbon has been a fierce advocate for undocumented students, voting for both the DREAM Act and for in-state tuition for undocumented students. A champion for equality in Washington, Fitzgibbon has le d efforts to legalize gay marriage and expand healthcare and Medicaid to help ensure safe abortion procedures. Fitzgibbon is a true progressive and will continue to work toward equality for all Washingtonians. Visit Joe Fitzgibbon’s campaign website for more details.
Chris Larson – WI Senate District 7
Chris Larson is running for reelection to the Wisconsin State Senate’s 7th District, representing Milwaukee County. In Larson’s first term as senator, he served as the Minority Leader and worked tirelessly to end marriage discrimination in Wisconsin, to promote public education, and to protect the environment. Larson has worked to stimulate job growth and to increase access to health care, proving that he is truly in-tune with the needs of his community. “Larson is a true progressive leader,” PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager said. “He is clearly dedicated to his community and determined to help each person and his community as a whole.” Visit Chris Larson’s campaign website for more details.
Eric Luedtke – MD House District 14
Eric Luedtke is running for reelection to the Maryland House of Delegates’ District 14, representing Montgomery County. Luedtke, who was first elected in 2010, has already made his mark as a progressive representative for Maryland. Luedtke, a teacher by profession, has advocated for public education reform, especially advocating for equality for students with special needs. Committed to families and children, Luedtke has worked on a variety of issues, from promoting easier access to healthcare to sponsoring bills that provide greater aid and support for survivors of sexual assault. Visit Eric Luedtke’s campaign website for more details.
Stefanie Mach – AZ House District 10
Stefanie Mach is running for reelection to the Arizona House of Representatives’ 10th Distric , representing Tucson. Since she was elected in 2012, Mach has proven herself to be a fighter, both professionally and personally. In her time as representative, Mach has worked to improve public education, to make higher education more affordable, to encourage job growth and the expansion of local businesses. An advocate for women and minorities, Mach has demonstrated she is dedicated to making Arizona a prosperous community for everyone. Visit Stefanie Mach’s campaign website for more details.
Marcus Madison – OH Senate District 13
Marcus Madison is a candidate for the Ohio State Senate’s 13th District, representing Huron and Lorain counties. Madison, currently serving as a city councilman in Elyria, has already proven that he is a dedicated public servant. He is the former student body president of Lorain County Community College, and previously served as deputy field officer for Obama for America, as well as Communications Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County. A determined advocate, Madison is committed to improving public education, protecting workers, and providing sustainable jobs that will strengthen the middle class. Visit Marcus Madison’s campaign website for more details.
Aaron Marquez – AZ Senate District 27
Aaron Marquez is running for Arizona State Senate District 27, representing Maricopa County. Marquez, a captain with the U.S. Army Reserve, has been a courageous public servant both overseas and at home. Marquez is a fearless advocate for women’s rights, strong supporter of veterans, and a fighter for public education. A dedicated leader, Marquez will be a force for good in the Arizona legislature. Visit Aaron Marquez’s campaign website for more details.
Andrew McLean – ME House District 129
Andrew McLean is running for reelection to the 129th District in the Maine House of Representatives, representing North Gorham, White Rock, Little Falls, the Village and South Gorham. McLean was previously elected in 2012 and has worked tirelessly to support legislation that would protect the environment, expand healthcare, and reform gun laws in Maine. A resilient advocate, as representative McLean will continue to work on behalf of children and families in his next term and for years to come. Visit Andrew McLean’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.
Matt Moonen – ME House District 118
Matt Moonen is running for reelection in the 118th District in the Maine House of Representatives, representing part of Portland. Moonen has been dedicated to improving healthcare in Maine by sponsoring bills that would prohibit smoking in public places and that would expand Medicaid coverage and eligibility. Additionally, Moonen has been a fierce advocate for raising the minimum wage, passing comprehensive immigration reform, and reforming campaign finance. A true progressive candidate, Moonen will continue to make Maine an accepting and thriving place for all. Visit Matt Moonen’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.
Joe Neguse – CO Secretary of State
Joe Neguse, who is running for Colorado Secretary of State is the right choice for Colorado. Neguse brings with him knowledge and experience as a business attorney, member of the University Of Colorado Board Of Regents, and as a public servant. As secretary of state, Neguse will perform his duties with integrity and transparency, and will work to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote in Colorado. Neguse will advocate for everyone, regardless of wealth, age, or social standing. Visit Joe Neguse’s campaign website for more details.
Kesha Ram – VT House District 6-4
Kesha Ram is running for reelection to the Vermont House of Representatives’ District 6-4, representing Chittenden. Ram has worked to promote green job creation, affordable housing, and expanded access to healthcare. Both personally and in her capacity as a representative, Ram has worked to support survivors of domestic violence and is an active advocate for women’s rights. Ram is forward-thinking and dedicated, and her service will help Vermont flourish. Visit Kesha Ram’s campaign website for more details.
Laurie Anne Sayles – MD House District 17
Laurie Anne Sayles is running for Maryland’s House of Delegates District 17, representing Montgomery County. Sayles is a committed parent who has overcome obstacles to become a dedicated public servant in Maryland. A smart and capable leader, Sayles is a determined advocate for affordable healthcare, stronger public education, and accessible public transportation. As an elected official, Sayles will be a truly progressive leader for years to come. Visit Laurie Anne Sayles’s campaign website for more details.
Katrina Shankland – WI Assembly District 71
Katrina Shankland is running for reelection to the Wisconsin State Assembly, representing Stevens Point and its neighboring counties. In her one term as representative, Shankland has become a dedicated advocate for women’s rights and workers’ rights in Wisconsin. Shankland has worked to improve public education opportunities, and has been a fighter for environmental preservation and clean and sustainable energy practices. Visit Katrina Shankland’s campaign website for more details.
Alonzo Washington – MD House District 22
Alonzo Washington is running for reelection to the Maryland House of Delegates’ District 22, representing Prince George’s County. Washington, who has served in the House since 2012, already made a name for himself as a fighter for progressive values. He has sponsored and voted for bills that will increase the minimum wage, expand access to higher education, and strengthen public schools. As an important leader for Maryland’s future, Washington has and will continue to support progress in Maryland. Visit Alonzo Washington’s campaign website for more details.
Faith Winter – CO House District 35
Faith Winter, running for the Colorado House of Representatives’ 35th District to represent Westminster, is the right choice for Colorado. Winter has dedicated her life to public service, previously serving as a city councilwoman, mayor pro tem, and as the Emerge Colorado’s Executive Director, supporting women running for public office. In these capacities, Winter worked to create long-term jobs, expand affordable housing, and increase usage of sustainable energy in Colorado. Visit Faith Winter’s campaign website for more details.
In an op-ed printed in the Portland Press Herald this weekend, retired congressman Barney Frank offers a sharp critique of the far right Supreme Court under John Roberts. Explicitly noting the importance of the Court in defining law that affects all citizens, Frank makes clear not only that courts matter, but everyday citizens have a hand in how these courts are shaped.
Reviewing the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions — from overturning “more than 100 years of federal and state efforts to regulate the role of money in campaigns” to declaring that corporations have the right to religious freedom under RFRA—Frank states that “the court has ended this term with a barrage against laws it does not like” (emphasis added).
…The Supreme Court is now strongly inclined to impose conservative ideology via Constitutional interpretation on a broad range of public policy. It is true that Kennedy and to some extent Roberts occasionally deviate from this, but Justice Samuel Alito has surpassed even Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in his ideological purity.
The relevance of this to the next two elections is very clear. Four of the sitting justices are in their late 70s or older. This means that there is a strong possibility that President Obama will have a chance to appoint another justice before his term expires, but his ability to do so will be determined not simply by the health of the justices in question, but by the composition of the U.S. Senate. The increasing partisanship in the Senate, the continued virulent influence of the tea party and recent history strongly suggest that even if a vacancy occurs, Obama will be prevented from filling it (emphasis added).
Frank refers to the unceasing Republican obstructionism and argues courts are critical for defining laws that affect Americans on a daily basis, highlighting the importance of this year’s midterm elections. As he concludes in this piece,
This makes it highly likely that among the issues that will be determined in the next senatorial and presidential election will be the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. Voters should act accordingly.
Last week activists and concerned citizens across the country came together at the district offices of their senators to show support for a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution to curtail the influence of big money in politics. PFAW members joined other activists in gathering petitions, distributing information and engaging in various forms of street theater to make their voices heard.
In the demonstrations, activists got creative in their call for an amendment. In Hawaii, people dressed as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin carried giant cardboard cutouts of $1, $5 and $100 bills as they marched to money-themed music. In Vermont, a parade of more than 200 people concluded with a rally that featured an appearance by Sen. Bernie Sanders. In Kentucky, demonstrators gathered to watch a live performance about the issue of money in politics and called on Sen. Rand Paul to sign on as a cosponsor of the amendment. In Louisiana, activists with Public Citizen even put on a street theater performance outside Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office, a video of which can be viewed here.
With the proposed 28th Amendment (SJ Res 19) coming up for a Senate Judiciary Committee vote this Thursday, it is more critical than ever that senators hear from their constituents. If passed by the committee this week, the amendment will be sent to the Senate floor for an official vote in September. Currently there are 45 senators that support the amendment.
The Pew Research Center reported last week that the partisan affiliations of Cuban Americans are shifting dramatically as the younger generation coming of age in the United States is affiliating with the Democratic party rather than the GOP.
The shift in the Cuban population — which long leaned Republican — is helping to create a larger shift to the left among Latino voters. Studies of the Cuban population in Florida mark 2004 as the turning point when the number of registered Republicans in Miami-Dade County began declining dramatically. In 2000, 75 percent of Florida Cubans voted for George W. Bush; in 2004, 71 percent voted for Bush; and in 2008, 65 percent voted for McCain. But in 2012, Obama won 49 percent of the Cuban vote in Florida, compared to Romney’s 47 percent, the first time in recent history that a Democratic presidential candidate has outpolled the Republican in that demographic.
This shift provides a powerful example of the increasingly pivotal role of the Latino community in national elections. If Cuban Americans had voted in 2000 in the same patterns as they vote now, the outcome of the 2000 presidential election — which was decided by a handful of votes in Florida (and a bad Supreme Court decision) — could very well have been different, as would our history.
These changes are reflected in the larger Hispanic/Latino community. While the percentage of Latinos may be small, this community is growing fast and increasingly provides the margin to put progressive candidates over the top.
That’s why it makes such a dramatic difference when progressives reach out to the community and hold Republicans accountable for their anti-Latino, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Watch below some of PFAW’s ads that have engaged Latino communities in recent elections.
Yesterday, People For the American Way members participated in a special telebriefing to discuss the Supreme Court term that wrapped up this Monday and to unpack some of the critical decisions handed down by the Court this year. The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured Senior Fellows Jamie Raskin and Elliot Mincberg, as well as Executive Vice President Marge Baker.
Discussing Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Raskin explained the case and the damaging implications of the 5-4 decision. Highlighting the “extreme and extravagant” claim made by Hobby Lobby that its religious rights were violated, Raskin described the court’s decision that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act covers “closely held” corporations and noted that this creates a “dangerous expansion of corporate personhood.” Raskin described how this exemplifies the Court in the Citizens United era, where the far right Justices regularly find ways to rule so they can enhance the power of corporations.
Mincberg also provided background on RFRA and explained how the law was distorted and expanded in this decision far beyond what anyone had in mind when it passed by an enormous bipartisan majority 20 years ago.
Members wanted to know what actions can be taken to help address the imbalance in the Court and the troubling decisions made by the Roberts’ Court in the last few years. Baker addressed the issue of rebalancing the Court, emphasizing the importance of presidential elections on the Court’s make-up.
Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.
The National Journal just cited our work in an article about how control of the Senate could hinge on Latino voters. The story focused on the North Carolina race and noted that PFAW was the first group out with a Spanish Language ad targeting extreme Republican candidate Thom Tillis. PFAW’s political director, Randy Borntrager, spoke with the National Journal about why Tillis is out of touch with North Carolinians, and why his extreme agenda is bad for Hispanics.
From the article:
"North Carolina is the first state we've gone into because Thom Tillis's extreme agenda is forcing our hand to get involved early," said PFAW political director Randy Borntrager. "We're extremely concerned about the Latino community understanding what's at stake, so we engaged quickly."
Borntrager said Tillis's record on Medicaid, education, and tax breaks for the wealthy, combined with a history of "foot-in-mouth" comments when it comes to minorities, was something PFAW would make sure all Latinos were aware of come November.
"He's so bad on so many issues that's it is an incredible motivation to get out and vote," Borntrager said.
PFAW's award-winning program to mobilize the Latino vote has made a difference in key races over the last several election cycles – including major impacts in several presidential swing states in 2012. As Latino voters become more and more critical to progressive victories at the ballot box, our program will continue to grow with the support of allies who understand the urgent need to speak directly to this long-overlooked community.
While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) took a giant leap toward reducing voting discrimination, a wealth of evidence today shows that discrimination at the polls persists. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights documents148 separate instances of voting violations since 2000, with each affecting hundreds to thousands of voters.
The report, The Persistent Challenge of Voting Discrimination, came just days before today’s one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a key provision of the VRA. The litany of voting rights violations detailed therein underscores the need for reform – now.
Key takeaways gleaned from recent examples:
• Racial discrimination in voting remains a significant problem in our democracy. Nearly 50 years after the enactment of the VRA, racial discrimination in voting remains a persistent problem in many places around the country…
• The problem of racial discrimination in voting is not limited to one region of the country. The examples outlined in this report document instances of voting discrimination from 30 states, representing every region of the country…
• Voting discrimination occurs most often in local elections… They often concern the election of city, county or other local elected officials, where many of the contests are nonpartisan.
• Discrimination in voting manifests itself in many ways, and new methods continue to emerge. Voting discrimination occurs today in both overt and subtle forms.
Here are just a handful of the cases in which systematic discrimination threatened to discourage or sideline voters:
• In 2008, the state of Alaska requested preclearance of a plan to remove polling places in multiple Native villages. The state intended to consolidate predominately Alaska Native voting precincts with those of other communities, creating new polling places that were geographically remote and inaccessible by road. Instead of complying with a “More Information Request” by the Department of Justice regarding the proposed changes, Alaska withdrew their submission.
• Between 2004 and 2011, DOJ alleged that five counties and four cities in California had been in violation of Section 203 of the VRA, citing failures to implement bilingual election programs for language-minority voters, as well as failures to translate election-related materials for precincts with large language-minority populations.
• Between 2002 and 2011, multiple school districts and localities in Louisiana proposed redistricting plans that would have eliminated districts in which an African American majority was able to elect the candidate of their choice.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights notes that because the study was only able to take into account reported cases, the statistics are likely a conservative estimate of the real magnitude of the problem.
Sadly, discrimination in the electoral process still happens. Moving forward on legislation to update and modernize the VRA would help return a voting voice to Americans who are too often, even today, marginalized.
One year ago this week, the Supreme Court's conservative majority struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and took yet another step toward undermining our democracy. Since then, civil rights leaders have been hard at work trying to clean up the Court's mess.
The Shelby decision was a devastating loss, especially for those who fought to see the original Voting Rights Act enacted. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the sole surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington and a leader of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, accused the Supreme Court of "stab[bing] the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart." Civil rights advocates mourned the naïve assumption that Selma had been relegated to ancient history and that racial discrimination in voting went with it. People For the American Way's director of African American religious affairs noted on the day of the decision: "Those who sided with the majority clearly have not been paying attention, reading the paper, attending community meetings, living in America."
Indeed, anyone who has been paying attention knows that voting discrimination is far from ancient history. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found nearly 150 documented instances of voting rights violations since 2000, with each case affecting between hundreds and tens of thousands of voters.
Happily, reform is finally underway in the Senate. On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to put the VRA back together again. It's a critically important first step in getting our country's laws back to where they need to be on voting rights protections. But so far House Republican leadership has refused to move forward. Maybe they think that if they pretend a problem doesn't exist, they won't have to fix it.
The push for voting rights protections isn't the only effort underway to clean up the mess the Supreme Court has made of our democracy. With the 2012 election the most expensive in history, this week the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous 2010 ruling that paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. Like Shelby, Citizens United was a contentious 5-4 decision with a strong dissent. Also like Shelby, it set our democracy back dramatically. Citizens United let corporate bank accounts overwhelm the voices of everyday Americans. Shelby made it easier for state and local governments to create barriers to voting.
But Americans know that the answer to attacks on our democracy isn't despair -- it's action. Sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics like the one moving forward in the Senate, and that number is growing rapidly.
National leaders are also speaking out. President Obama has expressed his support for an amendment to overturn Citizen United multiple times since the decision. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are just a handful of other high-profile amendment supporters. And earlier this month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not hold back her disdain for the recent democracy-harming decisions coming from the Supreme Court's majority: "Like the currently leading campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I regard Shelby County as an egregiously wrong decision that should not have staying power."
The Supreme Court has made some very bad calls when it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to participate meaningfully in our political system. But Justice Ginsburg is right: these wrong-headed decisions shouldn't have staying power. And if the American people have anything to do with it, they won't.
The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”
People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.
Last Thursday, People For the American Way, joined by the UC Hastings Appellate Project (HAP) and the ACLU of Southern California, submitted an amicus brief to the California Court of Appeal in Velasquez v. Centrome, Inc. dba Advanced Biotech, a toxic tort case brought by an undocumented immigrant that resulted in a gross denial of justice.
Wilfredo Velasquez filed a lawsuit against a chemical manufacturer seeking damages for medical expenses after contracting a devastating lung disease due to exposure to one of the company’s toxic chemicals while on the job. During the jury selection process, where prospective jurors are questioned to discover potential biases, the trial judge wrongly disclosed Mr. Velasquez’s immigration status to the entire jury pool, despite the fact that it was not relevant to any issues in the case. The disclosure appears to have harmed Mr. Velasquez’s pursuit of justice: Even though the jury ultimately found the chemical manufacturer negligent, it awarded no damages to Mr. Velasquez. He effectively lost his case. The court refused to grant a mistrial for its error in possibly tainting the jury, and Mr. Velasquez appealed the verdict.
PFAW submitted its amicus brief in support of a new trial for Mr. Velasquez because of the highly prejudicial nature of the court’s wrongful disclosure of his citizenship status, explaining, “Rather than protect against prejudice, the judge’s statement unnecessarily injected prejudice into the [jury] selection process, making it impossible to know whether Mr. Velasquez received his constitutionally guaranteed fair trial by impartial jurors.” Given the ongoing hostility towards undocumented immigrants, as chronicled by PFAW’s Right Wing Watch blog, PFAW’s brief urges the appellate court to find that when a trial court erroneously discloses a litigant’s citizenship status to the jury during voir dire a new trial must be awarded.
Read the full text of the amicus brief for more information