Early this morning, The Nation published a leaked recording of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's remarks at a secret meeting of major conservative donors put together by the Koch brothers.
While the first reactions to the recording may highlight what this means for McConnell's Senate race against Alison Lundergan Grimes, the story carries deeper implications as well. At its core, this is a story about why we need to reform the way we finance elections.
In the audio recording, Sen. McConnell says everything that the Koch brothers want to hear. At the beginning of his remarks, he gushes to the brothers: "I don't know where we'd be without you." He rails against Senate votes on raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and tackling student debt. It's no coincidence that he has received heaps of cash from wealthy special interests that oppose action on those issues. (Reporting today from The Huffington Post shows that at the same Koch retreat, Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and state Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa -- both Republican nominees for U.S. Senate -- "directly credited donors present...for propelling them forward.")
This is increasingly what our political system looks like. Those who can bankroll candidates can help set the political agenda -- even if that agenda looks nothing like what the majority of Americans want it to look like. Research has shown that the wealthy have fundamentally different political priorities than those of everyday Americans, but when the preferences of ordinary Americans conflict with those of billionaire donors like the Koch brothers, it's the rich whose preferences carry the day.
And no one is a more vocal supporter of our broken campaign finance system than Mitch McConnell himself. In the secret tapes, Sen. McConnell says that the Citizens United decision (which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending) simply "level[ed] the playing field for corporate speech," even calling the proposed constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United "an act of true radicalism" from people who want to "use the power of the government to quiet the voices of their critics."
But Americans know that it's not billionaires or corporations who need the playing field to be leveled. Their priorities are coming through loud and clear in our democracy, thanks to politicians like Sen. McConnell who are fighting to ensure that those with the most to spend can continue to buy our elections. It's ordinary Americans, who increasingly cannot be heard over the roar of big money, whose voices need to be protected. And that "radical" push for a constitutional amendment, which will be voted on in the Senate on September 8, is actually supported by nearly three in four voters.
Maybe if Mitch McConnell weren't so busy pandering to billionaire donors, he'd be able to see the tremendous grassroots call to reform our money in politics system, with 16 states and more than 550 cities and towns already on record in support of an amendment. Then again, with true money in politics reform, maybe our senators wouldn't need to pander to billionaires at all.
Today People For the American Way Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks was featured in a powerful BET segment on the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
In the interview, Brooks situates Brown’s death within the larger context of police harassment of and violence toward African American men. “We’ve learned that history continues to repeat itself — that we haven’t healed the old wounds that exist in this country,” Brooks says.
Brooks also underscores the importance of voter engagement in local elections for addressing these issues: “We need to really step up and demand our law enforcement to look like us and to represent us, to be a part of us — to be a part of the fabric of the community.”
Watch the full interview below:
As control of the Senate hangs in the balance this fall, we continue to see the damaging effects of the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision that paved the way for the explosion of outside spending influencing our elections. A report released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice details the deluge of money being funneled into 2014 races in battleground states and highlights an uptick in political spending from single-candidate groups that shield the identities of donors from the public eye.
The nine Senate races considered to be “toss-ups” have, with close to three months remaining before the elections, seen $72 million in spending by outside interests. This staggering figure dwarfs the $97 million in outside spending on all 37 Senate races in the 2010 cycle. While this disparity reflects the outsized, and growing, influence of big money in politics, the extent to which outside groups can influence election outcomes goes deeper than that one statistic:
The amount of dark money in elections is increasing dramatically: As of last month, across all federal elections, 2014 had seen 15 times more than in the 2010 midterms, and three times the level of 2012. To take the long view, before 2008 – when there was $69 million in spending by groups that disclose none of their donors in all federal elections – dark money was virtually nonexistent. Focusing on the Senate, according to the Sunlight Foundation, there was $97 million worth of dark money all senate elections in 2012. With three months to go, our sample of nine races has already seen $37 million.
The report added that spending from dark money groups accounted for 51 percent of the $72 million spent in this cycle so far in these nine Senate races.
This surge in outside spending in elections — and the lack of transparency in donor activities — underscores the serious need to amend our campaign finance laws. The Democracy for All Amendment, which would give Congress and the states the ability to regulate the onslaught of money in politics (including outside spending), would go a long way towards restoring the political voice each American voter deserves. In an electoral landscape where the better-financed candidate wins nine times out of ten, we need legislation that can stem the tide of big money distorting our democratic system.
In an interview this week with the National Law Journal, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shed light on what she sees as the biggest mistake the Court has made. Responding to a question about the Supreme Court being viewed as a political institution, Ginsberg volunteered her thoughts on the systemic problem of money in politics:
I think the biggest mistake this court made is in campaign finance, which Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor could have saved us from. She left. Justices O’Connor, [John Paul] Stevens and [David] Souter (who supported campaign finance regulations) were Republican voters from the time they could vote and came from families that were always Republican. It should be increasingly clear how [money] is corrupting our system, and it is spreading in states that elect their judges.
The 81-year-old Ginsberg has served on the court since 1993, when she was nominated by President Bill Clinton. Many controversial decisions have been handed down by the Supreme Court in recent years, and citing campaign finance as the greatest mistake is significant — particularly in light of the ongoing push for a 28th amendment to roll back the undue influence of big money in politics. The proposed Democracy for All Amendment is gaining steam at the right time. Individuals, organizations, and now even Supreme Court justices are recognizing money in politics as the underlying issue that stymies progress on so many other fronts.
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Congress may be on recess, but activists across the country are not taking a break from the nationwide push to get big money out of politics. Today activists teamed up for a massive petition drop, delivering petitions in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United to 21 Senate offices in 15 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington).
Activists delivering petitions raise their pointer finger in support of reclaiming our democracy from wealthy special interests by protecting the promise of “one person, one vote.” The one finger represents the idea that democracy is about equal representation without special privileges granted to a few.
As the Sept. 8 Senate vote on the Democracy for All Amendment rapidly approaches, the Progressive Democrats of America teamed up with People For the American Way and thirteen other groups to compile and deliver the petitions to key Senate offices. More and more people nationwide are now calling for an amendment – within our organizations alone we're up to 2.4 million in support! And now is the time for senators to hear from constituents about how important the fight against big money’s outsized influence in our democracy is to them. To date, 50 senators have already heeded the call and support the amendment.
Americans have made clear that this is not a fight that they will shy away from. Our political system is supposed to reflect the will of the people — and today’s massive, nationwide petition delivery underscores just what that political will is.
A successful movement begins with a plan for change. People For the American Way’s plan is simple: identify people with an interest and a passion for service who represent the diversity of their communities, equip them with the knowledge, skills and tools necessary for success, and offer long-term support and access to a network of like-minded leaders.
This summer’s primary elections prove this plan is not just theoretical. It stands up to the test. Its success can be seen last week in the state of Michigan — a prime battleground for state and national issues ranging from marriage equality to workers’ rights to women’s rights — where a group of young, progressive leaders won their primary elections.
One candidate for a Michigan House of Representatives seat is Jon Hoadley. He’s an openly-gay man, 30 years old, who is running for office for the first time. He’s also an alumnus of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Youth Leadership Programs – Young People For and the Front Line Leaders Academy. Last week Hoadley won his primary race for the District 60 seat in the Michigan State House of Representatives and, if he wins the general election in November, will become a member of the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network.
And Hoadley is in good company. Last month PFAW Action Fund endorsed a slate of young progressive candidates through the Young Elected Progressives endorsement program. Together they represent a progressive direction for the state. PFAW is proud to support these leaders as they move towards the general election in November or toward future efforts to advance progressive values in Michigan.
If the 2014 primary elections and the slate of candidates, including Hoadley, running for office this year are an indication of the payoff of PFAW’s investment in young leaders, then we are off to a great start. It shows that what we have works. We’ve made real change. But it also proves the necessity of continued investment in progressive infrastructure to make a difference on these critical issues, now and in the long term.
We’re at a time when the influence of money in politics goes unchecked, access to the ballot box is challenged, and the far Right is becoming increasingly extreme, intolerant, and out of touch. The individuals endorsed in PFAW’s Young Elected Progressives campaign are standing up to defend and lead with the values of freedom, fairness, and equality for all.
The Latino population is growing, and with it a bloc of eligible Latino voters. From 2000 to 2010, the Latino population grew by 43% according to the Census bureau. That population has continued to grow from 2010 until today, making up over 16% of the total population, which means more Latinos than ever are becoming eligible to vote each year. Despite this growth, Nate Cohn argued in his New York Times column last week that this voting bloc won’t make a difference in the November elections:
“Yet the vote is unlikely to deal a severe blow to the [Republican] party’s chances in November’s midterm elections. Hispanic voters may be flexing their growing political muscles in presidential elections, but they have far less sway over the composition of the House or the Senate, particularly in 2014.”
While it is true that many of this year’s most critical Senate races aren’t in the states with the largest Latino populations, there are races in states where the growing Latino population can exercise major muscle and make a critical difference. Cohn’s argument fails to consider how this growing population coupled with the anti-immigrant rhetoric fueled by the Republican party can drive up Latino voter turnout this year. This can make a big difference in states with tight races.
In Colorado, for example, where the number of Latinos has grown significantly — by 41% between 2000 and 2010, now making up over 20% of the population — this voting bloc can play a big role in a close race. Similarly, in states with tight races like Georgia and North Carolina, even though Latinos make up around 9% of the population, that population grew by 96% and 111% respectively since 2000. This dramatic growth makes this a voting bloc that can have a major impact in what are expected to be two very close elections.
On Wednesday, just over a month before the Senate votes on the Democracy for All Amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, People For the American Way members and supporters joined Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) for a telebriefing on the proposed amendment. As our telebriefing facilitator and Director of Communications Drew Courtney noted, Rep. Deutch has been a champion of the push for an amendment in the House of Representatives, where it already has a whopping 117 cosponsors.
In his introduction, Rep. Deutch noted that he was running for Congress when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision came down in 2010. As he reflected on the issues he was discussing on the campaign trail – from immigration reform to climate change – he saw that for progress to happen on any of them, we need to reform the way we do business in Washington. Rep. Deutch said that with so much dark money coming into our political system, the matters that the overwhelming majority of Americans want to see being addressed by Congress are pushed to the side as wealthy special interests set the political agenda.
To fix this problem and return democracy to the people, he said, we need to overturn decisions like Citizens United. Rep. Deutch underscored the importance of every member of Congress hearing from their constituents again and again on this issue, urging them to become a cosponsor of the Democracy for All Amendment. He also debunked the myth pushed by amendment opponents that the proposal would harm or restrict free speech. To the contrary, Rep. Deutch clarified, the amendment would help us hear the voices of all Americans, no matter what their viewpoint may be. He closed his remarks with an acknowledgment that although amending the Constitution isn’t easy – nor was it meant to be – there are times in American history when we have to take that step.
PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker also spoke on the call and fielded questions from activists. She outlined the campaign in support of the Democracy for All Amendment underway this summer, including a week of writing letters to the editor, a week of social media activity, and a week of petition deliveries. Baker highlighted the fact that advocates have to keep up the push not only before and during the Senate vote on Sept. 8, but also in its aftermath. We have to make the phones of our elected officials ring off the hook on the day after the vote, she said, to make clear that we are paying attention to how our representatives voted and that we will keep up our work until the Democracy for All Amendment becomes the 28th Amendment to the Constitution.
Don’t let the name fool you—the event is neither fancy nor a picnic in the park for politicos. “Fancy Farm” is actually the worlds largest BBQ and Kentucky’s biggest political event of the summer. For nearly 100 years, politicians from across the state have been making the pilgrimage to kickoff their campaigns, giving their best stump speeches and trading insults with opposing candidates.
In case you missed it, catch all the fun here.
This year, Kentucky’s got one of the most important Senate races in the country. Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes is trying to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell, the current minority leader, who has been the self-proclaimed “proud guardian of gridlock” for nearly 30 years. Some have estimated that it will cost over $100 million before all is said and done, making it the most expensive Senate race in American history.
That’s not how democracy is supposed to work—our elections shouldn’t go to the highest bidder. That’s why in-state PFAW members drove five hours to help ditch Mitch. Volunteers passed out progressive gear, collected petition signatures, and brought their energy and enthusiasm to the political speeches (check out the pictures below).
PFAW’s petition to get big money out of politics received wide support at the picnic. Even proud supporters of McConnell signed the petition, agreeing that we need to get big money out of politics.
Polls continue to show Grimes and McConnell neck and neck. As November draws closer, conservatives like the Koch brothers will dump millions of outside dollars into this election to save McConnell’s seat and attempt to take over the Senate. But with grassroots support and on-the-ground activism, we’re not going to let them.
Fancy Farm proved that the energy to change our political system is real and will continue to grow. PFAW’s growing in-state membership base will continue to lead the charge.
Here’s a round-up of last week’s Right Wing immigration hysteria:
Remember Ted Cruz and the myth of the censored grandma? Despite Cruz's absurd fear mongering over nonexistent government censorship, the proposed Democracy for All Amendment to get big money out of politics would really protect the speech of ordinary Americans... because our voices are already being drowned out (and not by commonsense campaign finance regulations like the proposed amendment).
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Senate candidates, take notice: a new poll of 12 Senate battleground states released today finds that supporting a constitutional amendment to undo the damage of cases like Citizens United is not only good for our democracy, it’s good politics.
The poll, conducted by Democracy Corps for Every Voice, found strong, cross-partisan support for a constitutional amendment such as the Democracy for All Amendment now gaining momentum and moving through Congress. Nearly three in four voters (73 percent) favor it, including majorities “in even the reddest states.” Even among Republicans, supporters strongly outnumber opponents — by a sizable 26 percent margin.
The polling data also found that candidates’ support for an amendment can help win favor among voters. While a plurality of voters were more likely to support a Democratic candidate after hearing a pro-amendment argument, two thirds of voters had “serious doubts” about Republicans when they learned of their support for the Citizens United decision — including a majority of Republican voters.
The release of these new polling numbers could not come at a better time. This summer, a nationwide grassroots push for the Democracy for All Amendment is heating up. Already sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for an amendment, and individual Americans are raising their voices in support more than ever before. After passing the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, the amendment — which currently has 50 supporters in the Senate — is expected to get a vote after the August recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid even noted on the Senate floor this morning that the amendment is a priority for September.
Americans of all political stripes have made it clear that getting big money out of politics and ensuring that all voices are heard in our democracy is a priority issue. Across the board, people believe that the strength of your voice in our government should not be determined by how much money you can spend in elections. Now we know that this is not only an issue that Americans care deeply about, it’s one that will help shape their decisions on Election Day.
Following David Perdue’s win last week in the Georgia GOP Senate runoff, People For the American Way released a Spanish-language radio ad today challenging Perdue’s history on jobs, workers’ rights, and immigration. The ad exposes Perdue’s record of exploiting workers in the private sector and his careless attitude about immigration reform, addressing issues important to voters.
This is the latest effort of PFAW’s award-winning Latino vote program working to mobilize Latino voters in key states, a constituency that can have a significant impact on elections, by highlighting the extreme views of GOP candidates.
Latinos currently make up more than 9 percent of Georgia’s population—enough to play a critical role in choosing the state’s next senator and governor.
The ad is running in Atlanta starting today until August 6. You can hear the Spanish version of the ad here.
Judicial vacancies slow down courts’ work, drive up litigation costs, cause evidence to go stale, make it harder to settle civil cases, and even pressure defendants into pleading guilty, according to a report released this week by the Brennan Center. The report cites example after example of how not having enough judges erodes our nation’s system of justice. Everyone counts on having their day in court, a fundamentally American principle that is threatened by persistent vacancies. The report quotes Chief Judge William Skretny of New York’s Western District:
We don’t neglect the Seventh Amendment, the right to a civil trial. But we tell people, if this is what you want to do, it will take time to get there.
Heavier caseloads and backlog created by vacancies also take a toll on judges, reducing the amount of time they have to spend on each case.
Chief Judge [Leonard] Davis in the Eastern District of Texas described the situation in his district as “simple math.” With more cases “you have less time to give to [an individual] case,” he explained. “It affects the quality of justice that’s being dispensed and the quantity of work you can complete,” he added.
[Judge Davis] also highlighted the impact of the Sherman vacancy on the timing of sentencing. “It’s a hardship for the litigants,” he explained. “Due to the backlog and [the] vacancy [in Sherman], we have a very high population of criminal defendants, about 200, sitting in county jails, having pled guilty and waiting for sentences. They can’t get their cases processed.” He noted that inmates are typically housed in a county jail because there are no federal facilities available, which is more costly for the government and leaves inmates with fewer work and educational opportunities. “That’s not fair to [the inmates] and adds a great deal of unnecessary cost by having to house them for so long in county jail holding facilities,” he said.
As the report makes clear, vacancies have real impacts for all citizens. This is why PFAW supports the speedy confirmation of qualified judicial nominees to federal courts. Filling judicial vacancies with quality judges will reduce backlogs and costs while allowing the judicial system to better serve all Americans. Maintaining the third branch is one of the most important constitutional functions that the Senate performs.