C4

Senators Argue for Constitutional Amendment, DISCLOSE Act on Senate Floor

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkely (D-OR), Tom Udall (D-NM) and others took to the floor to speak about the state of campaign finance today, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Although the only way to completely fix the decision would be for the Supreme Court to reverse itself or to pass a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 (“Disclose 2.0”) is critically important legislation that would bring much-needed transparency to the political process.

Sen. Whitehouse began by analyzing the dramatic increase in unregulated, anonymous spending in our elections. “In the 2010 elections, the first after Citizens United, there was more than a four-fold increase in expenditures from Super PACS and other outside groups compared to 2006, with nearly three-fourths of political advertising coming from sources that were prohibited in 2006.” He noted that outside groups are vastly outspending the campaigns themselves – yet there is so much overlap between campaigns and PACs that their differences are hard to distinguish.

“Our campaign finance system is broken. Action is required to fix it,” Sen. Whitehouse said. “Americans are disgusted by campaigns that succeed or fail based on how many billionaires the candidates have in their pockets.”

Senator Udall made the case that amending the Constitution to ensure that elections remain about the quality of ideas instead of the quantity of dollars spent is a worthy cause: “We cannot truly fix this broken system until we undo the flawed premise that spending money on elections is the same thing as exercising free speech. That can only be achieved in two ways: the Court can overturn Buckley and subsequent decisions based on it, something the current court seems highly unlikely to do; or we can amend the Constitution to not only overturn the previous bad Court decision, but also to prevent future ones. Until then, we will fall short of the real reform that is needed.”

“I know amending the Constitution is difficult, and it should be,” continued Sen. Udall, who then quoted PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin: "'A constitutional amendment always seems impossible, until it becomes inevitable.’” Sen. Udall also noted the growing grassroots movement that has led to more than 200 state and local resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment that have been adopted around the country.

Senator Jeff Merkley engaged in a colloquy with Senator Whitehouse, focusing on the first three words of the preamble to the Constitution, “We the People.” The senators discussed the fundamental conflict with that fundamental value posed by the Citizens United decision. Watch below:

PFAW

PFAW continues push for Paycheck Fairness Act

Together, we’re sending the message that it’s time to make real progress on fair pay.
PFAW

Bain's Not Just Fair Game, It's the Only Game

Romney's experience at Bain is beyond fair game: if this election is truly about jobs and the economy, then Bain is one of the only games in town.
PFAW

Bipartisan Call to Re-examine Citizens United

As the Supreme Court decides whether or not to hear a challenge to Montana’s prohibition on corporate independent expenditures to affect state elections, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) urged the court to let the Montana law stand, according to a report in Roll Call. Since that decision was handed down, super PACs have spent close to $100 million in this election. It’s time to take another look at the system and restore the balance of power to the people.

In the wake of Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to unprecedented, unlimited corporate spending on politics, municipalities across the country have enacted resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Passed before the Supreme Court’s decision, Montana has refused to stop enforcing its clean elections laws. Three corporations have filed a challenge, claiming the law is invalid under the Court’s ruling.

The Court can and should use this case as a means to full re-examine the Citizens United decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged that the case presents the Court with an opportunity to re-examine the Citizens United case. “A petition for certiorari will give the court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway,” Justices Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, wrote in a statement.

Senator McCain is a longstanding proponent of campaign finance reform, and Senator Whitehouse is a supporter of a constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United. Together they filed an amicus brief, echoing the justices’ concerns: “Evidence from the 2010 and 2012 electoral cycles has demonstrated that so-called independent expenditures create a strong potential for corruption and the appearance thereof. The news confirms, daily, that existing campaign finance rules purporting to provide for ‘independence’ and ‘disclosure’ in fact provide neither.” Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock and others also filed briefs urging the Court to either let the Montana ban stand or re-examine the Citizens United Ruling. A decision as to whether to hear the case is expected by June.

The Supreme Court was wrong when it decided that corporations should be able spend their vast treasuries on elections. The State of Montana is providing a welcome chance to fix that mistake.

PFAW

Tell the Senate: We need the Paycheck Fairness Act!

With a vote expected in the coming weeks, your Senators need to hear from you now. Today and tomorrow, May 22 and 23, we want to jam the phones to send a clear message of support for the Paycheck Fairness Act. Call 888-876-9527.
PFAW

Wisconsin’s Walker Tells a Big Lie About Voter Fraud

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who’s currently in a tough recall election battle, has a new line about what could tip the election against him. From the Weekly Standard via Dave Weigel:

"I’ve always thought in this state, close elections, presidential elections, it means you probably have to win with at least 53 percent of the vote to account for fraud. One or two points, potentially."

That’s enough to change the outcome of the election. “Absolutely. I mean there’s no question why they went to court and fought [to undo] voter ID.”

This is a blatant lie.

Every single time the federal government or a state has gone looking for evidence of widespread voter fraud, it’s come up short – including in Wisconsin, where an investigation of the 2008 election turned up 14 instances of voter fraud out of 3 million votes. As has been proved time and again, the myth of widespread voter fraud is in itself a fraud.

Gov. Walker claims that the reason progressives worked to overturn the Voter ID law he imposed was so that they could win elections with fraud. That is also a blatant lie. Progressives oppose Voter ID and other voter suppression laws because they keep eligible voters from voting – the Brennan Center for Justice estimated that these laws could keep 5 million eligible voters from the ballot box in 2012.

The voter-fraud fraud isn’t a misunderstanding. It’s a lie perpetuated by politicians like Gov. Walker to cast doubt on the election of progressives and build support for suppressive measures like Voter ID laws. The fact that Gov. Walker can parade totally made-up “facts” about voter fraud to a conservative publication and not get called out for it shows just how much traction the myth has gained.

PFAW

Poll Finds Voters Don’t Want a Romney Court

 Think Progress alerts us to a recent Fox News poll which finds that a strong plurality of voters would prefer that President Obama, rather than Mitt Romney, pick the next Supreme Court justice. (46 percent said they’d prefer Obama make the pick; 38 said Romney).

This shouldn’t be surprising. President Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, have been a strong voice for the rights of ordinary Americans in the court that brought us Citizens United. Meanwhile, Romney has said that he’d appoint more Justices like Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts, the core of the Corporate Court.

And, of course, there’s the matter of who Romney is going to for advice about picking judges:

PFAW

How the Weakened House Version of VAWA Hurts Immigrant Women

Yesterday, we wrote about the House GOP’s effort to gut the Violence Against Women Act in response to a Senate reauthorization of the act that expands protections for gay and lesbian victims, Native Americans and immigrants. In the Daily Beast today, Michele Goldberg looks at some of the way the House-passed version of VAWA not only doesn’t expand protections for vulnerable groups, but removes existing domestic violence protections for immigrant women:

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, has been representing immigrant victims of domestic violence for 15 years. In all of the hundreds of cases she has worked on, she says, “I’ve never had a case where the abuser did not use his immigration status as a tool.” Often an abusive American citizen or permanent resident with an immigrant wife will threaten her with deportation, which could separate her from her American children. Or he’ll begin the paperwork to sponsor his spouse for a green card but threaten to withdraw it. “You have no rights in this country,” an abuser will tell his victim, says Ruiz-Velasco.

The Violence Against Women Act offers these women some protection. But on Wednesday, House Republicans passed a reauthorization bill that significantly weakens it, claiming that VAWA facilitates immigration fraud. “For those of us who’ve been in the antiviolence movement for the last 30 years, some of the biggest victories are being completely turned on their head by what’s going on,” says Mallika Dutt, president and CEO of Breakthrough, a human-rights organization that has worked closely with immigrant victims of violence.

GOP opposition to the VAWA reauthorization is mind-boggling The sponsor of the House Republican’s bill, Florida’s Sandy Adams, claims that defending victims of domestic violence is a sort of zero-sum game. “Once you start listing out groups or listing in groups, then you’re excluding groups,” she told MSNBC today.

Needless to say, there is no evidence that making it easier for immigrant women to escape abusive relationships or making sure gay and lesbian victims are served by VAWA grantees or letting Native American women seek legal recourse through the tribal court system will hurt women who seek protection through the existing parts of the bill.

Each time Congress has reauthorized VAWA it has worked to improve it, to make it work better for more victims. This time is no different. Except, it seems, for the identity of the victims.

PFAW

A Look at Citizens United in Practice

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, election watchers have predicted that the influx of unaccountable and often anonymous election spending would lead to a dramatic increase in dirty, dishonest attack ads. A report by the New York Times confirms those fears. High-profile Republican strategists for a super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts created a proposal titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” which lays out an aggressive character attack against the President. Focusing on his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the ads will seek to portray the President as unfit to lead because of his formative experiences – a strategy that his 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain, refused to authorize. Even Mitt Romney has avoided such attacks, believing that they would backfire – but unaccountable super PACs are not necessarily taking it off the table:

“Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal says. “And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”

How can one person’s extreme opinion make its way to aerial banners flying over the Democratic Convention, outdoor advertisements and television screens across the country?

“Joe Ricketts is prepared to spend significant resources in the 2012 election in both the presidential race and Congressional races,” said Brian Baker, the president and general counsel to Mr. Ricketts’ super PAC, called the Ending Spending Action Fund. “He is very concerned about the future direction of the country and plans to take a stand.”

Thanks to his wealth and Citizens United, he can do just that. Unfortunately, average Americans don’t have this luxury, and our democracy suffers greatly as a result.

Following the outcry in response to today’s article, Mr. Ricketts issued a statement claiming he had never approved the plan and disavows the type of politics it represents, saying that the proposal “was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.” Nonetheless, the critical harm posed by Citizens United is clear. Just because Mr. Ricketts chose not to run this attack ad doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. The need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United to protect our democracy from the lopsided influence of wealthy special interests is even more clear today.

PFAW

Educators Dismiss ALEC

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) will not renew their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization said in a statement released on Tuesday. NACSA is the third major educational organization to drop their association with ALEC, joining Kaplan and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Both ALEC and NACSA support charter schools, but NACSA appears to have decided that ALEC’s extreme vision for charter school systems – which place corporate profitmaking above the needs of students, parents and communities – is out of touch with its mission to “advance excellence in public charters schools as a way to improve public education for all children.”

Rather than proposals designed to improve our public education system, ALEC’s model bills instead transfer public education funds into the hands of private corporations. Such proposals include voucher programs and publicly funded subsidies for religious and other private schools. ALEC’s Education Accountability Act would allow a state to override the elected school board and declare schools “educationally bankrupt,” then divert its funds to private schools. Of course, ALEC’s assault on public education wouldn’t be complete without attacks on teachers, school personnel and basic educational standards.

Just as important, there was never a legitimate reason for NACSA to support an organization that promotes legislation that attacks working families, rolls back consumer rights, blocks access to courts of law and disenfranchises thousands of eligible voters.

It’s not surprising that NACSA and other educators have concluded that ALEC is far more trouble than it’s worth.

PFAW

White House Condemns Obstruction of Judicial Nominations

Jay Carney discusses the unprecedented obstruction of qualified judicial nominees at the daily White House press briefing.
PFAW

All of a Sudden, House GOP Doesn’t Like “Issues that Divide Us”

 The National Journal today reports on the rocky progress of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which for the first time this year has become an object of partisan dispute. Why? The Democratic-backed reauthorization includes new protections for LGBT people, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. That bill passed in the Senate despite 31 no votes – all from Republican men.

In response, the House GOP put together an alternate bill that not only axes the new protections recommended by Democrats but eliminates some protections that are already in the bill. Yesterday, the White House threatened to veto the House bill.

Now, the House GOP is playing the victim, accusing Democrats of trying to make them look bad by including things like help for gays and lesbians and undocumented immigrants in the bill:

The Senate version would expand current protections to gay, bisexual, or transgender victims of domestic abuse, subject non-Native American suspects of domestic abuse occurring on reservations to the jurisdiction of tribal courts, and increase temporary visas for victims who are undocumented immigrants. The House bill was amended on Tuesday to allow illegal immigrant “U visa” recipients to receive permanent residence if the perpetrators of the crimes against them are aliens, are convicted of the crimes, and are deported to the visa holders’ home countries.

But Republican leaders have accused Democrats of adding those hot-button issues to intentionally create a fight for political advantage—and lash out at House Republicans for waging a “war against women.” House GOP leaders—including Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia—say they want to stay away from “issues that divide us.”

That’s right. House Republican leaders – who threatened to shut down the government to stop Planned Parenthood funding, who won’t even consider cutting tax loopholes for giant corporations, who continually go out of their way to express their opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians – are now worried about “issues that divide us.” Like, apparently, protecting gay people, Native Americans and immigrants from domestic abuse.

One “issue that divides us” apparently didn’t turn off some House Republicans. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia offered an amendment to the bill that, according to the National Journal, would provide “help for convicted domestic abusers who want their gun-ownership rights back.” That one, at least, didn’t make it past the Rules Committee.

PFAW

Virginia Rejects Openly Gay Judicial Nominee After Campaign By Far-Right Activists

Virginia’s House of Delegates yesterday rejected the nomination of a state prosecutor to serve as a judge – just because he is openly gay.

Tracy Thorne-Begland, a Navy veteran who has been a prosecutor in Richmond for 12 years, enjoyed bipartisan support in the House of Delegates until, at the last minute, he came under attack from far-right Delegate Bob Marshall and the right-wing Family Foundation. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports:

A late-hour lobbying offensive by social conservatives prevailed in the House of Delegates early Tuesday to torpedo bipartisan support for the judicial nomination of an openly gay Richmond prosecutor.

After a lengthy discussion, the GOP-controlled House of Delegates defeated the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland, Richmond's chief deputy commonwealth's attorney. He would have been the first openly gay judge elected in Virginia.

Thorne-Begland received 33 votes, and 31 delegates voted against him. He needed a majority of the 100-member House -- 51 votes -- to secure the judgeship.

….

In an email blast to supporters late last week, the Christian conservative Family Foundation questioned Thorne-Begland's fitness for the bench given his support for gay marriage, which is not legal in Virginia. Thorne-Begland and his partner, Michael, live together and are raising twins.

Marshall, too had charged that Thorne-Begland pursued an "aggressive activist homosexual agenda.

Opponents of gay rights, in their effort to keep LGBT people out of the public square, have in the past few years gone after several openly gay judges and judicial nominees. Supporters of California’s discriminatory Prop 8 tried to get a federal judge’s ruling against them thrown out because the judge is openly gay. Another judge issued an epic takedown of their argument.

A number of Republican delegates in Virginia, as well as the state’s socially conservative governor Bob McDonnell backed Thorne-Begland’s nomination until Del. Marshall began his onslaught.

Del. Marshall is the one who claimed in 2010 that disabled children are God's punishment for abortion. On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a policy that Thorne-Begland worked to end after his distinguished career in the Navy – Marshall said openly gay troops would distract their fellow servicemembers: "It's a distraction when I'm on the battlefield and have to concentrate on the enemy 600 yards away and I'm worried about this guy whose got eyes on me." Once Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, Del Marshall tried to get gay Virginians banned from the state’s National Guard.

Marshall later told the Washington Post that he objected to Thorne-Begland’s brave coming out in protest of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

I would guess — law of averages — we’ve probably nominated people who have homosexual inclinations,” Marshall said. Marshall faulted Thorne-Begland for coming out as a gay Naval officer on “Nightline” two decades ago to challenge the military’s now-repealed ban on gays openly serving in the military. He said that amounted not just to insubordination, but to a waste of taxpayer dollars, since it resulted in his dismissal from the Navy. “The Navy spent $1 million training him,” Marshall said. “That’s cheating the country out of the investment in him.”

In the end, it was Del. Marshall’s arguments that won out in the effort to halt the career of a dedicated Virginia public servant.

PFAW

WI Recall: In film, Walker talks of 'divide and conquer' union strategy

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (emphasis added):

A filmmaker released a video today that shows Gov. Scott Walker saying he would use "divide and conquer" as a strategy against unions.

Walker made the comments to Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, who has since given $510,000 to the governor's campaign -- making her Walker's single-largest donor and the largest known donor to a candidate in state history.

...

In the video shot on Jan. 18, 2011 -- shortly before Walker's controversial budget-repair bill was introduced and spawned mass protests -- Hendricks asked the governor whether he could make Wisconsin a "completely red state, and work on these unions, and become a right-to-work" state. The Republican donor was referring to right-to-work laws, which prohibit private-sector unions from compelling workers to pay union dues if the workers choose not to belong to the union.

Walker replied that his "first step" would be "to divide and conquer" through his budget-adjustment bill, which curtailed most collective bargaining for most public employee unions.

More proof that Walker is working to serve the billionaire ideologues who want to bulldoze every institution set up to protect the public interest against rapacious corporate interests. And this shows, in his own words, how Walker sought to divide Wisconsin workers against each other with his unconscionable smear campaign last year against public employees.

This is why we're going to recall him on June 5!

UPDATE: Here's some video:

PFAW

President Obama recognizes LGBT families

It’s clear that, for the President, this isn’t just about couples getting married. It’s also about couples raising children with the sense of security that comes from family equality.
PFAW

Students Protest Corporate Political Spending

As part of the Corporate Reform Coalition, People For the American Way has been pressing for solutions to the problem of major corporations using their vast treasuries to influence elections. Our message to corporations is clear: leave democracy to the people and stop spending money on politics.

Corporate money in politics affects Americans not just as citizens, but as investors. If you own stock or contribute to a 401(k), corporations could be using your money to fund candidates, causes or political ads that you may not approve of, all without your knowledge. Even students are at risk – the endowments of many colleges and universities invest those funds with corporations that make secret political contributions.

This week, as activists descended on the annual shareholder meetings of 3M and Bank of America, student groups took the opportunity to stake their claim in the issue and demand that companies refrain from using endowment funding in order to influence our elections.

The branch of Bank of America in Washington DC we visited wasn’t eager to hear from students concerned about where there tuition dollars were going. The bank locked its doors during the protest – barring activists and customers alike from the premises. But the message has been sent: All Americans, from students to seniors, have a right to a electoral process that is free from the corrosive influence of undisclosed, unaccountable corporate and special-interest political spending.

PFAW