As the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meets in a swanky Chicago hotel for its 40th annual summit this week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) has raised some important questions for the corporations that may be funding the group.
Roll Call reports that Sen. Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s civil rights subcommittee, has reached out to more than 300 corporations that are possible ALEC funders to ask for their positions on “Stand Your Ground” laws. Durbin announced last month that he will hold a hearing on these laws in the fall.
Because ALEC operates behind closed doors, it can be a challenge to expose the corporations, corporate trade associations, and corporate foundations backing its damaging work. Durbin’s letter notes:
Although ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members or donors, other public documents indicate that your company funded ALEC at some point during the period between ALEC’s adoption of model “stand your ground” legislation in 2005 and the present day.
Despite the potential roadblocks, Durbin’s letter shines a spotlight on the clear link between ALEC, an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators, and the “Stand Your Ground” laws it helped to get on the books in over two dozen states. And this is a critical connection to highlight, because as PFAW President Michael Keegan wrote last month, these are laws which “help create a climate like the one that encouraged George Zimmerman to use lethal force against an unarmed teenager.”
As you may have heard, 2010 Tea Party candidate Ken Buck has decided to throw his hat into the ring for the 2014 Senate race in Colorado. Unfortunately for him, no one has forgotten the extreme record that led voters to reject him last time around.
All photos by Scott Foval.
Bill Moyers once called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) the “most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of.” Today, PFAW is helping to change that – coming out in full force to shed some light on the harm ALEC’s extreme agenda causes to everyday Americans.
As ALEC holds its 40th annual meeting in Chicago, PFAW is there – along with ally organizations, labor groups, and advocates from around the country – to crash their party. The protest happening now outside Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton is the biggest anti-ALEC protest to date.
The mass of people at the rally underscores the growing momentum to expose and fight back against ALEC, which connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to pass special interest legislation in all fifty states. For four decades, ALEC has worked behind closed doors to get laws harmful to everyday Americans on the books – working against paid sick days, pushing tax policies favoring the rich, and helping “Stand Your Ground” become law in more than two dozen states. As our signs say, “ALEC corporations write laws, real people suffer.”
And today, we’re calling them out.
Now that we’re well into President Obama’s fifth year in office, there are no prizes for guessing what the GOP’s response is to a diverse slate of nominees to the critical DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
Obstruct. Obstruct. Obstruct.
Even before they were nominated, Republican Senators were laying the groundwork to block anyone nominated to the circuit. Now that President Obama has nominated three unquestionably qualified jurists with broad support from across the ideological spectrum…Republican leaders are still intent on denying them simple yes-or-no votes.
We’ve created a simple graphic to share on Facebook to let Republicans know you’re watching how they treat this diverse set of nominees. Click here to share.
The 2014 elections are quickly heating up in Kentucky. Two weeks ago, Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin announced his plans to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary, setting off a round of vicious attack ads from McConnell’s campaign almost instantly. Even more troublesome for McConnell though than Bevin’s primary challenge is the prospect of a general election fight with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who announced her candidacy in early July and who is expected to coast through the Democratic primary. According to a poll released on July 31st, Grimes is leading McConnell by 2% in a potential head to head race, and is polling 15% higher amongst those who have heard of both candidates – McConnell, a longstanding incumbent, currently enjoys substantially higher name recognition.
Although Grimes and Bevin are polar opposites on the political spectrum, they both are in agreement on one thing: Senator Mitch McConnell is vulnerable. Polling data released in April revealed that a full 54% of Kentuckians disapprove of McConnell’s job performance in the Senate, while only 36% approve.
Such numbers should not come as a surprise to any casual observer of the Senate. McConnell is the king of gridlock, and has become the personification of DC dysfunction. Kentuckians, like the rest of the country, have grown understandably fed up with his tactics.
Earlier this year, Public Campaign Action Fund explored McConnell’s obstruction in a report entitled, “Cashing in on Obstruction: How Mitch McConnell’s Abuse of the Filibuster and Other Senate Rules Benefits His Big Money Donors.” Among other findings, the report revealed that McConnell’s repeated and unprecedented use of the filibuster has benefitted the interests of his campaign backers. The report’s case studies were particularly instructive.
In March of 2012, on the very day debate began on a bill that would have repealed Big Oil subsidies, McConnell received an astonishing $131,500 in campaign contributions from Texan oil donors. Three days later, the bill was blocked by a filibuster.
In April of 2009, the House passed the “Helping Families Save Their Homes Act,” a bill that included a provision that would have granted bankruptcy judges more flexibility to modify mortgages for homeowners facing foreclosure, and that would have cost the country’s biggest banks billions of dollars in profits. That provision failed to receive the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and didn’t make it into the Senate version of the bill. Over the course of his career, McConnell has received $8.7 million in campaign contributions from Wall Street interests.
In 2010 and 2012, despite overwhelming public support for providing transparency in election spending, McConnell led the charge against the DISCLOSE acts, bills that would have closed current loopholes in federal election law and brought Citizens United-empowered “dark money” groups to light. Those groups – 501c4 non-profits and 501c6 trade associations – spent at a 5:1 ratio in favor of Republicans like Senator McConnell over Democrats in the 2012 election cycle.
In March of 2010, John J. “Jack” McConnell (no relation) was nominated to the District Court of Rhode Island, after successfully litigating against asbestos, tobacco, and lead paint interests on behalf of consumers. Jack McConnell faced substantial opposition from trade associations that represent those interests, like the Chamber of Commerce, and from Senator McConnell, who, after filibustering the nomination and delaying the vote so that it took a full 420 days to be confirmed, stated for the record he resented Jack McConnell’s “persistent hostility to American job creators.” Senator McConnell has received, it should be noted, $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the insurance industry alone.
McConnell’s career campaign contributions by sector
Source: Public Campaign Action Fund
Yet beyond obstructing the governing process to the benefit of his campaign backers, Senator McConnell has also pursued obstruction for the sake of gridlock itself. As People For the American Way continues to report , McConnell’s treatment of judicial nominees has been particularly abominable. The obstruction of Jack McConnell, a district court nominee, was not an aberration; it was part of a strategy of judicial obstruction that, under McConnell’s continued abuse of Senate rules, has become standard practice. During the eight years that President George W. Bush was in office, only one federal district court nomination was filibustered, requiring the majority to file a cloture petition; so far under President Obama, Republicans have forced Democrats into 20 such filings for district court nominees.
There’s a price to pay for unremittingly representing corporate interests, and for being the leader of an assault on the Senate’s functionality. And the American public, and the state of Kentucky, are well of aware of who’s to blame.
Reproductive choice is a central issue for women who otherwise might not vote in the Virginia gubernatorial election, a new NARAL survey finds. This is not good news for Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, who once described himself as “the most aggressive pro-life leader in the Virginia Senate.”
In a survey of 600 largely Democratic “drop-off” women in the state – those who have voted in presidential years but not in other years – choice was a make-or-break issue among pro-choice women, with 57% saying they “would never vote for anyone running for president who opposes a woman's right to have a legal abortion, no matter how much I agree with them on other issues.” It was such an important issue, in fact, that after hearing choice-based messaging about the race between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli, pro-choice drop-off women became significantly more interested in turning out to cast a vote in the election.
“They found that statements about Cuccinelli’s position on abortion had a bigger effect among this group than any other issue in generating both the level of support and intensity for Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. ‘Protecting a woman’s right to choose’ trumped health care, guns, transportation, spending and college affordability.”
And Cuccinelli’s track record on abortion rights is indeed bleak. He pressured the Virginia Board of Health to pass a set of unnecessarily burdensome building regulations that threaten to close the majority of the state’s abortion clinics. He supports the passage of radical “personhood” legislation giving fertilized eggs rights. He attempted to defund Planned Parenthood in Virginia. He has stated that his “ultimate goal” is to “make abortion disappear in America.”
Although Cuccinelli has tried to convince voters this year that his focus as governor would not be on social issues, he cannot hide his regressive, anti-choice beliefs from Virginia women who, according to the new data, will take their concern for protecting reproductive choice to the ballot box.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent yesterday’s confirmation hearing on D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Nina Pillard harping on two points: first, that they think the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need its three vacancies filled, and second, that they think Pillard’s arguments as an academic mean she would disregard the law as a judge.
As it happens, when George W. Bush was the one nominating federal judges, the very same senators held the exact opposite view on both of these issues.
As People For the American Way has extensively shown, the argument that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need judges holds no water – in fact, Bush nominees Thomas Griffith and John Roberts (now Chief Justice) were confirmed to the D.C. Circuit when each active judge’s caseload was significantly lower than it is today.
And Republican attacks on Pillard’s academic writings also directly contradict their previous statements on Bush nominees with academic records. As Pillard noted in her hearing, "Academics are paid to test the boundaries and look at the implications of things. As a judge, I would apply established law of the U.S. Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit."
Just a few years ago, Republican senators agreed. On the nomination of Tenth Circuit judge Michael McConnell, who took a number of far-right stands as an academic, including disagreeing with a Supreme Court decision declaring that a university ban on interracial dating constituted racial discrimination, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said, “The diversity of backgrounds and points of view are often the stitches holding together the fabric of our freedoms.”
“Surely, we can’t vote for or against a nominee on whether they agree with us on any number of a host of moral and religious issues, ” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said of Eleventh Circuit nominee William Pryor, a far-right culture warrior who was outspoken in opposition to gay rights, women’s rights and the separation of church and state.
Then-Sen. Jim Demint defended D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, one of the most outspoken conservative ideologues on the federal bench today, by saying, “A person with strong beliefs and personal convictions should not be barred from being a judge. In fact, I would rather have an honest liberal serve as a judge than one who has been neutered by fear of public opinion.”
And before the Senate confirmed Arkansas District Court Judge J. Leon Holmes, who used Todd Akin’s line about pregnancy from rape before Todd Akin did, Hatch told concerned colleagues, “This man is a very religious man who has made it more than clear that he will abide by the law even when he differs with it.”
These Bush nominees held positions that were clearly far out of the mainstream, yet Senate Republicans demanded and got yes-or-no confirmation votes on them, helping Bush to shift the federal judiciary far to the right.
What some Judiciary Committee Republicans objected to at yesterday’s hearings is what they apparently see as Pillard’s excessive support for women’s equality, both as an attorney and an academic. Pillard won the Supreme Court case opening the Virginia Military Institute to women and worked with Bush administration officials to successfully defend the Family and Medical Leave Act. She has strongly defended reproductive rights and criticized abstinence-only education that sends different messages to boys and girls. It’s this record that her Republican opponents have distorted beyond recognition.
By any measure, Pillard is well within the mainstream, and has made it very clear that she understands that the role of a judge is to apply existing law regardless of one’s personal views. But while Senate Republicans made plenty of excuses for Bush nominees who were far outside the mainstream, they are accusing Pillard of being just too much of a women's rights supporter to fairly apply the law.