C4

Scalia’s Misdirection on Citizens United

Does buying lipstick give you special influence over elected officials when they're making policy?
PFAW

New Young Elected Progressives Endorsees

Today we are unveiling three more new endorsees of People For the American Way’s Young Elected Progressives program: Sean Garballey (MA), Carl Sciortino (MA), and Luz Robles (UT). These three, young individuals, under the age of 35, have been great progressive leaders in their respective states.

Sean Garballey (MA)

Sean Garballey is running for reelection to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He has been a member since 2008, representing Arlington, MA. Garballey has established himself as a leader of the Massachusetts progressives and currently serves on four committees, including as Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. Prior to serving in the House, Garballey was an Arlington Town Meeting Member for 5 years. He has been a proven progressive champion in the Massachusetts legislature, sponsoring several bills to increase the funding of public education and grants for those seeking public higher education. Garballey also received the Public Service Award in 2011 from affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Visit his website here.

Carl Sciortino (MA)

Carl Sciortino is running for reelection to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He has been serving the Somerville and Medford areas in the House since 2005. Sciortino serves on the Public Health and Transportation Committees, among others, and has been a leader in the House for the past several terms. He was named "Best of the New" by Boston Globe Magazine and "Legislator of the Year" by the National Association of Social Workers and has been a great progressive leader in fighting for equal, social rights. Visit his website here.

Luz Robles (UT)

Luz Robles is running for reelection to the Utah Senate. She has represented Utah’s 1st district since 2008. Robles serves on the Senate Ethics Committee, the Health and Human Services Committee, and two others. Robles has fought hard for equal rights for all individuals and sponsored a bill which would give illegal immigrants an accountability card allowing them to gain work without changing their legal status. She was named the Fifth Most Influential Person in Utah by Deseret News and is a great progressive representative for the people of Utah. Visit her website here.

PFAW

"End a" Discriminatory Workplace with ENDA

As a freshman in high school I approached my principal to request a space to perform one of the five mandatory Muslim prayers that happened to start and end during school hours. I had been praying for years in school and thought nothing of it, until she said no.  As unfortunate as her response was, I was lucky for two reasons. The first was that there were laws in place that protected me from facing this type of discrimination, and I was eventually allowed to pray in school thanks to the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The second reason is that experience was transformative and opened my eyes not only to the struggles of other Muslim Americans, but to all groups who face discrimination. As lucky as I was with my specific situation, I soon realized that not every group had legal recourse in situations arising from discrimination.

Yesterday, over nine years after my high school experience, I went to the office of US Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to lobby for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). I, along with two other constituents from the Lone Star State, met with a staffer to discuss our desire for the senator to support this legislation that would protect the millions of Americans who identify as LGBTQ. We explained that current legislation does not extend to LGBTQ individuals in the workforce who face discrimination and action must be taken to protect the rights of these millions of Americans. We each told her why this issue matters to us individually – I told her about my experience seeking time to pray in high school. She explained a number of factors that might keep the senator from supporting ENDA, including states’ rights concerns and the timing around the election. She also reminded us how long the process has been for previous groups trying to secure equal rights in America.

But why does this group of Americans needs to wait any longer to enjoy equal rights? We need our senators and representatives to be leaders. The rights of minority groups may not always be popular with the majority, but leadership on a federal level is required to protect those rights, just as it was and remains necessary with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. LGBTQ individuals should be able to walk into their places of employment or prospective employment and not fear that who they are is going to result in discrimination – and they should be able to do so today. I call on Sen. John Cornyn and every other member of Congress to get one small step closer to ending discrimination by passing ENDA. It’s the American thing to do.

PFAW

Newest Young Elected Progressive Candidates

We are continuing to roll out our new Young Elected Progressives candidates this week with three more candidates under the age of 35. Today we are introducing you to Bret Binder (PA), Will Sylianteng (PA), and Sarah Gillooly (MO).

Bret Binder

Bret Binder is running for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 156th district. Binder is currently an attorney and small business owner. He founded Binder & Canno, LLC and is part owner of Pudding Lane Brookline, a gourmet rice pudding emporium. He also played important roles with multiple real estate companies, including being the general partner of Seamazing, LLC. Prior to the creation of his law firm, Binder was a law clerk to Justice Sandra Schultz Newman of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He hopes to use this background while in the state legislature to fight back against the recent Voter ID law and will promote the importance of public education to the leaders in Harrisburg. Visit his website here.

Will Sylianteng

Will Sylianteng is running to represent the 151st district in the Pennsylvania House. He currently practices law in Blue Bell, PA and has chaired the Montgomery County Bar Association’s Diversity Committee as well as being the vice-chair of its Civil Practice Committee. Additionally, Sylianteng volunteers to teach a 6th grade Civics and the Law class at a local school. He has received several awards since he began practicing law, including being named a SuperLawyer Rising Star, Lawyer on the Fast Track and Pennsylvania Diversity Attorney of the Year. If elected, Sylianteng will become the first Asian-American to be elected to the Pennsylvania legislature. Visit his website here.

Sarah Gillooly

Sarah Gillooly is running for Missouri House of Representatives in the 24th district. She is a progressive champion who has put forth great time and effort into the fight for equality. She worked for Missouri’s LGBTQ organization, PROMO, and serves Missouri and Kansas women in the battle for equal health benefits. Gillooly has dedicated herself to furthering the civil rights agenda through activities that have pushed for protection of federal family planning funds, the promotion of public education, and adding gender identity to the Kansas City Human Rights Ordinance. Visit her website here.

PFAW

Mitt Romney and America’s “Anglo-Saxon Heritage"

Mitt Romney traveled to Europe last night, and flew right into a political mess. Romney’s campaign is running away fast from a comment made by one of the candidate’s foreign policy advisers to Britain’s The Telegraph:

One of his advisers told Britain’s Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that Romney is better positioned than President Obama to foster a strong relationship with the U.K. because of his "Anglo-Saxon" connection to the country. "We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels the relationship is special," the unnamed aide said of Romney. "The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have."

The accusation that President Obama doesn’t appreciate America’s “Anglo-Saxon heritage” is a barely veiled racist attack against the president, not to mention the millions of Americans who are not descended from ancient Britons. Newt Gingrich was getting at the same thing when he accused the president of having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview. Mike Huckabee was too when he said Obama grew up near “madrassas” rather than “going to Boy Scout meetings.”

Unsurprisingly, the Romney campaign is now denying that the words were ever said (though they won’t specify by whom they were not said, nor have they asked for a retraction). I hope they’re telling the truth: the comment was massively offensive, and shouldn’t be coming from anywhere near a major political campaign. But the Romney campaign’s denials aren’t really letting the candidate off the hook. That sort of comment calls for a strong rebuke, not just a tepid denial.

But I’m not holding my breath. After all, when another Romney surrogate, former George H.W. Bush chief of staff John Sununu said the president needs to "learn how to be an American" – another appeal to the popular right-wing idea that the president is some sort of foreign imposter – Sununu attempted to walk back his own comment, but the campaign was silent.

As it happens, Romney is in a similar situation with another of his foreign policy advisers, former Bush administration official John Bolton who went on anti-Muslim activist Frank Gaffney’s radio show yesterday to defend Rep. Michele Bachmann’s attacks on Muslim-Americans working for the U.S. government. Bolton’s comments set him apart from prominent Republicans including John McCain and John Boehner, who have rebuked Bachmann’s witch hunt. Yet Romney, who apparently will be only appearing for photo ops in London tomorrow, hasn’t said a word.

PFAW

Who Would Be on the Romney Court?

Romney's supporters have a familiar wish list of far-right ideologues they want to see on the Supreme Court.
PFAW

POLITICO: Supreme Court a Critical 2012 Issue

A POLITICO article out today reaffirms that the 2012 election is of “Supreme importance” to the future of the nation’s highest court.

The piece takes note of the critical role the court will play in the upcoming elections and reminds readers that the next presidential term will be particularly important in determining the composition of the court for decades to come.

Four Supreme Court justices enter the next term in their 70s, and any changes during the next presidential term could tip the balance of the court on some of the nation’s hottest social issues, including same-sex marriage, civil rights and abortion.

There’s also the often-overlooked aspect that the president nominates judges to fill the nation’s appellate and district courts, which produce some of the country’s most lasting decisions.

POLITICO also notes that due to widespread GOP efforts at voter suppression, there is a possibility that the court may have a hand in determining the outcome of the presidential race.

Mitt Romney’s top judicial adviser, the far-right former judge Robert Bork, weighed in as well:

Few see the Supreme Court actually becoming a prominent attack line when the candidates are speaking to the general public. “It should be, but the economic issues will far outweigh other questions,” Robert Bork, the former Reagan Supreme Court nominee now serving as a top Romney legal adviser, wrote in an email to POLITICO.

As the decision in Citizens United and other cases clearly demonstrates, the current Supreme Court is one of the most conservative in American history. It’s hard to imagine a court even further to the right, and yet that is exactly what a Romney presidency would ensure.

For more on the Supreme Court and Robert Bork, See PFAW’s report “Borking America” and visit RomneyCourt.com.

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Young Elected Progressives Program Candidates

As we continue to reveal the 2012 endorsed candidates of PFAW’s Young Elected Progressives program, here are three more great individuals, 35 or younger, running for office: Andrew Gounardes (NY), Micah Z. Kellner (NY) and Tim Keller (NM).

Andrew Gounardes

Andrew Gounardes is running to represent Brooklyn in the New York Senate. He currently serves as a member of Community Board 10 in New York City and is an attorney for the Citizens Committee, a non-profit organization focusing on providing funds for neighborhood improvement. When in school, Gounardes was the first Student Advisory Member to the Panel for Education Policy in New York City and he later worked as a legislative aide to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez. If elected, Gounardes will use his leadership experience to pass legislation improving public education, campaign finance laws and more. Visit his website here.

Micah Z. Kellner

Micah Z. Kellner is running for reelection to the New York Assembly. He has been serving in the Assembly since 2007 and has proven to be a great progressive leader. Kellner is a member on several committees including the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection and the Committee on Cities. He has been a strong advocate for the disabilities community, as well as for marriage equality and reproductive freedom. Kellner also has fought for increases in the quality of public education through increased funding and is a champion for the middle class, as well, with efforts to make housing more affordable for all New Yorkers. Visit his website here.

Tim Keller

Tim Keller is running for reelection to the New Mexico Senate. After graduating from college, Keller established Data Digital Divide, which helps land mine victims in Cambodia. Upon moving back home to New Mexico, he began working for Booz and Company, a management and strategy firm, and eventually rose to the position of Senior Manager. He has built up a strong record in office and with his business experience, has fought to put New Mexicans back to work and improve the economy. Keller was elected to the Senate in 2008 and has been named to multiple committees including: Education, Military & Veterans’ Affairs and is the Chair of Science, Technology & Telecommunications. Visit his website here.

PFAW

Scalia Interview Reminds Us of the Stakes This November

Justice Antonin Scalia gave a TV interview last night on CNN in which he reminded Americans of his right-wing ideology. Since Mitt Romney has said he would nominate Supreme Court Justices like Scalia if elected president, the interview also served as a warning to Americans of what's at stake this November. Talking Points Memo summarizes some of the interview's highlights:

Scalia defended Citizens United, which took elections from the people and handed them to often-secretive powerful interests that drown out the voices of non-millionaires. He added, however, that people are "entitled" to know who is financing the messages they are bombarded with.

In an era when Roe v. Wade has already been watered down, Scalia repeated his belief that women have no constitutional right to abortion at all. "[M]y only point is the Constitution does not say anything about it. It leaves it up to democratic choice." (That would be news to those who adopted the Ninth Amendment specifically to counter future assertions that the rights specifically mentioned in the Constitution are a ceiling, not a floor.)

Scalia also stated his opinion that torturing an innocent person taken from a battlefield isn't cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. "I don't think the Constitution addressed torture, it addressed … punishment for crimes."

CNN adds another highlight:

When asked if he had ever broken the law, the justice said, "I've had a few speeding tickets, though none recently."

Let's hope for his sake that the traffic stop didn't lead to an unwarranted and humiliating strip search, as occurred to Albert Florence. When Florence challenged the strip search as unconstitutional, Scalia was part of the conservative 5-4 majority that denied his claim.

Do we really want a president who looks to Antonin Scalia as a model to emulate?

PFAW

Young Elected Progressives Program

People For the American Way is dedicated to fighting for equal rights, freedom of speech, religious liberty and equal justice under the law for every American. One way we do that is by supporting great progressive candidates throughout the country through the Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program. The YEP program supports progressive candidates 35 and younger running for local and state offices, helping them win elections so they can start enacting change nationwide. This is done with an endorsement from PFAW’s Action Fund, along with monetary donations, volunteer hours and political support from people like you!

We will be revealing this year’s Young Elected Progressives program endorsed candidates through a series of blog posts highlighting a few candidates and their accomplishments. Today, we’ll introduce you to State Senator Angie Buhl (SD), Representative Dwight Bullard (FL), and Mary Gonzalez (TX).

Angie Buhl

Angie Buhl is running for reelection to the South Dakota Senate, where she represents the city of Sioux Falls. Buhl was first elected in 2010 at the age of 25, becoming the youngest woman to ever serve in South Dakota’s Senate.

Buhl has quickly become a leader in the state Senate and a voice for South Dakota Democrats. She has already risen to the position of Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and she serves on the Judiciary, Commerce & Energy, Retirement Laws, and Interim Rules Review Committees.

Buhl is a proven progressive champion and an advocate for equal rights. She has served on the board of Equality South Dakota, as well as South Dakotans Against Discrimination and The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She is also an active member of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, which provides a network of support to elected officials 35 and under, and the National Women’s Political Caucus of South Dakota. Visit her website here.

Dwight Bullard

Dwight Bullard is running for Florida Senate in the 39th district. He has served in Florida’s House of Representatives since 2008.

Bullard, a high school teacher by trade, has shown great leadership in Florida’s education system both in and out of the classroom. As the ranking Democrat in the education committee and the pre K-12 education policy committee in the state legislature, Bullard is a leader in fighting for public education reform. Bullard also sponsored the Florida DREAM Act, which creates a pathway for undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition.

Bullard has been recognized often for his work, including receiving the Barbara Jordan Leadership Award from affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Additionally, he was awarded the Young Democrats of Miami Dade Outstanding Leadership Award from the Miami-Dade Democrats and the Next Generation Leader Award from the Florida Association of School Administrators. Visit his website here.

Mary E. Gonzalez

Mary E. Gonzalez is running to represent District 75 in the Texas House of Representatives. Gonzalez won the Democratic primary with 52% of the vote in a three way race back on May 29th. She will become the only current openly gay member of the Texas legislature.

Gonzalez has spent the past several years working in higher education. She has served as the Program Coordinator in the Multicultural Engagement Center at the University of Texas at Austin and was the Assistant Dean for Student Multicultural Affairs at Southwestern University. She also serves as the National President of the service sorority Kappa Delta Chi and Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for allgo, Texas' state-wide Queer People of Color organization.

Gonzalez has been named as one of the Hot 25 under 25 most influential young Latinos in the country by Latino Leaders Magazine for her leadership in education. Once elected, Gonzalez will join former state representative Glen Maxey as the only two openly LGBT members ever to serve in the Texas House. Her election may show a cultural shift in what is still a largely conservative state and gives the Texas LGBT community a voice in the Texas state government. Visit her website here .

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Romney, the Senate GOP and the Right-Wing Secrecy Machine

The following originally appeared at Huffington Post.

Yesterday, Senate Republicans voted, for a second time in two days, to continue their filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would simply require outside groups spending money on elections to tell the public where their money comes from. At the same time, not surprisingly, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is in hot water for failing to disclose more than the minimum of personal tax returns and lying about his history at the company that made his fortune -- all while we know that a portion of his wealth was hidden in infamously secretive Swiss bank accounts.

Senate Republicans and Romney are spending a lot of time and energy this week to keep their financial histories secret. It's only natural to ask: What do they have to hide?

You would think the DISCLOSE Act would be an easy bill to pass. In fact, many Republican Senators were "for it before they were against it". What it does is simple: it requires any organization -- corporation, union, super PAC or non-profit -- that spends money influencing elections to report within a day any election-related expenditure of $10,000 or more. It also requires that these organizations make public the names of the individuals and corporations contributing $10,000 or more to fund this election spending. In short, all those front groups that have been pouring money into elections since Citizens United will have to disclose who their major donors are. Voters would know who was trying to tell them what.

This is not a partisan issue. Disclosure requirements, like those in the DISCLOSE Act, were endorsed as constitutional by the Supreme Court majority that handed down Citizens United. Even the conservative justices who saw no problem with more money in politics assumed that disclosure would be a check on the integrity of the election process.

But Republicans in Congress have been fighting tooth and nail to keep DISCLOSE from the books. Why? The fact that they might not want to publicize the motives of some of these super donors, and the fact that the new flood of outside political spending overwhelmingly favors conservatives, might have something to do with it.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is having disclosure problems of his own. It's standard practice for presidential candidates to release their past tax returns -- President Obama has made public his returns from the past dozen years. Even Romney called on his gubernatorial opponents in Massachusetts to release their returns. (In a classic Romney flip-flop, when he was later asked to hold himself to the same standard, he said his original demands had been wrong).

The only conclusion to draw from Romney's tax-return reticence is that there's something he doesn't want us to see. The recent revelations that Romney has told conflicting stories about when he left his job at Bain Capital might give us a taste of what he's kept hidden. And hiding part of his fortune in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and in Swiss bank accounts that have for centuries epitomized financial secrecy doesn't help.

The issue of financial disclosure isn't a sideshow to this election -- it's a big part of what this election is about. How can we trust senators who spend more time covering up the sources of election spending on their behalf than they do legislating? How can we trust a candidate who won't be open and honest with voters about the source of his personal fortune and the taxes he has paid?

Full disclosure should be a no-brainer in honest politics. The public knows that. Even the Supreme Court knows that. The only people who seem to be missing the message are the politicians who are desperately trying to win elections without telling voters who might be buying them.

PFAW

Don’t Forget Who John Roberts Is

Add this to the good news/bad news mix from the Supreme Court's healthcare decision: Because of the good news (Chief Justice Roberts voted to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act), we get the bad news that his standing among the nation's Democrats has significantly increased. This collective amnesia about who John Roberts is and what he has done is disturbing, especially since the direction of the Court is one of the most important issues upon which Democrats should be voting in November.

A new Gallup Poll shows wild fluctuations in Democrats and Republicans' assessment of Chief Justice John Roberts since their last poll in 2005, a change Gallup attributes to his role in upholding the Affordable Care Act. Roberts' approval rating among Republicans has plummeted 40 percentage points from 2005, falling from 67% to 27%. In contrast, his favorability among Democrats has risen from 35% to 54%. That the healthcare decision is a catalyst of this change is supported by a PEW Research Center poll last week showing that between April and July, approval of the Supreme Court dropped 18 points among Republicans and rose 12% among Democrats.

Yes, John Roberts upheld the ACA, but only as a tax. At the same time, he agreed with his four far right compatriots that it fell outside the authority granted Congress by the Commerce Clause, leaving many observers concerned that he has set traps designed to let the Court later strike down congressional legislation that should in no way be considered constitutionally suspect. He also joined the majority that restricted Congress's constitutional authority under the Spending Clause to define the contours of state programs financed with federal funds.

Just as importantly, Roberts's upholding the ACA does not erase the past seven years, during which he has repeatedly been part of thin conservative majority decisions bending the law beyond recognition in order to achieve a right wing political result. John Roberts cast the deciding vote in a number of disastrous decisions, including those that:

Oh, and then there's that little 5-4 Citizens United opinion that has upended our nation's electoral system and put our government up to sale to the highest bidder.

With a rap sheet like that – and this is hardly a complete a list – no one should be under the illusion that John Roberts is anything but a right-wing ideologue using the Supreme Court to cement his favorite right-wing policies into law.

Next term, Roberts is expected to lead the judicial front of the Republican Party's war against affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. Whether he succeeds may depend on whether it is Mitt Romney or Barack Obama who fills the next vacancy on the Supreme Court.

PFAW

Dirty Money Underwriting Pro-Romney Super PAC?

Although he voted to block the Senate from considering the DISCLOSE Act yesterday, Senator John McCain is usually a supporter of campaign finance reform. In an interview on PBS Newshour, McCain said that the astronomical contributions of Mitt Romney’s major financier, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, are particularly problematic because those contributions amount to foreign money influencing U.S. elections:

MCCAIN: Mr. Adeleson [sic], who gave large amounts of money to the Gingrich campaign and much of Mr. Adeleson’s casino profits, that go to him, come from this casino in Macau.

WOODRUFF: Which says what?

MCCAIN: This which says that obviously, maybe in a round-about way, foreign money is coming into an American campaign, political campaigns.

Regardless of where Adelson acquired his billions, a new report by ProPublica and PBS reveals that Adelson’s business dealings may have been improper or even illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, complete with shady dealings with the Chinese mob and crooked politicians. As Think Progress summarizes, Adelson’s operation in Macau may have been made possible because of payments to Chinese organized crime figures:

Among the junket companies under scrutiny is a concern that records show was financed by Cheung Chi Tai, a Hong Kong businessman.

Cheung was named in a 1992 U.S. Senate report as a leader of a Chinese organized crime gang, or triad. A casino in Macau owned by Las Vegas Sands granted tens of millions of dollars in credit to a junket backed by Cheung, documents show.

Cheung did not respond to requests for comment.

Another document says that a Las Vegas Sands subsidiary did business with Charles Heung, a well-known Hong Kong film producer who was identified as an office holder in the Sun Yee On triad in the same 1992 Senate report. Heung, who has repeatedly denied any involvement in organized crime, did not return phone calls.

Because Nevada gambling authorities forbid doing any business with organized crime, Sands’s Las Vegas gambling licenses could hang in the balance. (Adelson and his company refused to comment for the PBS story.) But Adelson has other issues with his China operations.

Sheldon Adelson has pledged to give up to $100 million to unseat President Obama. But according to one of Adelson’s friends, he could spend far more than that: “We think ‘$100 million, wow!’ But it’s a meaningless amount of money to [Adelson].”

The system we have today allows for single individuals to give as much potentially money – clean or dirty – as they want to buy an election. This isn’t how democracy is supposed to work. Some sunlight is beginning to shine through on how Mitt Romney is benefitting from Sheldon Adelson’s shadowy dealings, but the extent of unaccountable money in our elections runs even deeper. Without a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the people will be unable to stop secret contributions by special interests, no matter where the money comes from.

PFAW

For DISCLOSE Before They Were Against It

The DISCLOSE 2012 Act is a simple and seemingly-unobjectionable proposal that would require outside groups spending money in elections to disclose their donors and help inform the American people as to who is trying to sway their votes. Yet the proposal faces a slim (read: zero) chance of passage in the Senate this week. It even had partisan support when it was introduced first introduced in 2010 as a response to the Supreme Court’s flawed Citizens United decision, and Republican support for general campaign-related expenditures dates back many years.

Not anymore. The Huffington Post notes that there are 14 Republican senators serving since 2000 who previously voted for disclosure, but today would rather protect the anonymity of wealthy special interests and corporations than shed light on the funders of today’s endless barrage of attack ads.

These Senators have been whipped into line by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who was undoubtedly whipped into line by wealthy special interests and corporations who write big checks to Republicans, and would prefer to continue to do so in secret). Senator McConnell himself has flip-flopped on the issue:

Sen. McConnell in 2000: “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?”

Sen. McConnell in 2012: “[Disclosure is] a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress.”

The Sunlight Foundation has put together a video “depicting” other Republicans’ contradictory statements on the DISCLOSE Act. Watch it here:

 

PFAW

Obstruction to Election Spending Disclosure: Welcome to 2012 America

Today, Monday July 16th 2012, the U.S. Senate will vote on whether to end the filibuster of the DISCLOSE Act, and more likely than not, the effort to bring the popular bill to a final floor vote will fail. Yet the DISCLOSE Act is a bill so fundamentally logical and conspicuously necessary for the health of our democracy, it is mind boggling that even one U.S. Senator would dare to not support it - let alone label it so extreme that the Senate should not even be allowed to vote on it.

The bill is about transparency, and the American people’s right to know who’s funding the campaign ads that are flooding our airwaves and influencing our opinions.

Here’s a brief history on how we got here:

On January 21st, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, overturning key provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act, creating a new campaign finance system in which corporations and unions could use treasury funds to influence elections.

Three months later, the D.C. Court of appeals struck down federal law limiting contributions to entities engaged in independent expenditures in the case SpeechNOW v. FEC. To reach their decision, the lower court relied upon the rationale put forth in Citizens United, particularly that “independent expenditures … do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” The Roberts Court declined to consider an appeal of the lower court’s ruling in SpeechNOW, and thus ushered in the era of the super PAC.

Yet anonymous spending was not supposed to be the result of these rulings.

In the opinion of Justice Kennedy, writing for eight of the nine justices on the Court, it was assumed that disclosure requirements were constitutionally permissible and would serve as a check in this new I.E. spending reality.

Kennedy wrote:

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.

… citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.

… disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.


But that transparency has not been codified into law.  At present, there is no law or statute that requires entities that make independent expenditures to disclose to the general public the identities of those who gave money to the entity specifically for political ads and other spending.

Following Citizens United in 2010, Congress came close to mandating disclosure when the House passed the DISCLOSE act. The bill had strong majority support in the Senate, so the Republicans filibustered it. Unfortunately, the effort to end the filibuster failed in the Senate by one vote. It died on the Senate floor with a 59 to 39 split on a cloture motion, presciently extending what historian Robert Caro wrote about the Senate of the late 1950’s to the present day, that “For almost a century, [the Senate] had not merely embodied but had empowered, with an immense power, the forces of conservatism and reaction in America.”

Yet disclosure should not be a conservative issue or a liberal issue. This is a democratic issue, with the fundamentals of our democracy at stake. In 2012 America however, Republican political partisanship and hunger for power at all costs have taken precedent over the need for reform; and Republican Senate leadership is holding firm. Issues vital to the health of our democracy - whether they be voting rights or campaign finance rules - are now warped into partisan issues.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and opponents of the DISCLOSE act are desperate to find ways to discredit it and justify their unjustifiable opposition.

Take for example, McConnell’s piece in the USA Today, "Disclose Act is un-American," where he writes:

The Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. the FEC, correctly ruled that Congress may not ban political speech based on the identity of the speaker. (sic)

The Disclose Act would make this and any future administration's ability to punish and intimidate its political enemies even easier. It is the Democrats' attempt to get around the court by compelling certain targeted groups to disclose the names of their donors, while excluding others, such as unions, from doing the same.

While Senator McConnell cries out "un-American" and "unions" to scare his base - like Senator McCarthy once cried out "communists" on the Senate floor - the facts are irrefutable. Under the bill’s provisions, unions are treated equally to for-profit corporations. Case closed.

Furthermore, supporting the DISCLOSE Act is not a political power grab; however to reject it is, since the majority of the undisclosed money is benefiting the Republican party. So it goes for the bill’s opponents. Take reality and turn it on its head.

McConnell then declares:

This bill calls for government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grassroots groups, which is far more dangerous than its proponents admit.

The Supreme Court addressed this issue in 1958 in NAACP v. Alabama, ruling that forced disclosure of the NAACP's member lists by Alabama would discourage people from freely associating with a cause or group.

Once again, McConnell has to obfuscate the truth to hide the fact that he has no real argument.

The bill requires organizations (corporations, unions, super PACs, non-profits) to report within 24 hours of making an election expenditure of $10,000 or more. Donors that give $10,000 or more to the organization would be made public, unless they specify that their contributions to the organization cannot be used for election spending. The idea that every grassroots group will have to turn in their membership lists to the evil federal government is a scare tactic, and unsubstantiated.

The bill is designed to remove the added layer of anonymity ‘speakers’ are currently hiding behind by donating to nondescript (c)(4) and (c)(6) organizations that – unlike for-profit corporations, advocacy groups, and unions – do not operate in the public sphere, and whose purpose generally is unknown to the public.

One would imagine that halting this egregious process would be a quick fix. But one would also imagine the same for voting on judicial nominations, or extending the debt ceiling, or allowing Americans to cast a vote on Election Day. Unfortunately, that’s not how 2012 America functions.

The most unbelievable part of McConnell’s and Republican obstruction is that this DISCLOSE act is a watered-down version of its original. The 2010 provisions that would have required funders to “Stand By Their Ads” has been removed, as have the prohibition on electoral advocacy participation by corporations that received TARP funds. The bill will not be effective until 2013, so would not even affect this election cycle. But in the end, it’s definitely a step in the right direction and should be a no brainer for any elected official committed to the integrity of our elections.

Yet we are bound to hear the absurd cry of “union carve-out” tonight on the Senate floor when the bill is debated, and all the other diversionary arguments. The obstructionists need straw men, since without them, there could only be silence.

PFAW

A Romney Supreme Court – The Dream of Corporate Special Interests

For the mega-corporations and wealthy ideologues bankrolling Romney's campaign, a Romney-nominated Supreme Court would be a dream come true.
PFAW

Representative Ellison Responds to Republican Islamophobia

Sharia law and the Muslim Brotherhood are coming! Clearly that idea is ridiculous. Not even Rep. Michelle Bachmann believes that. She believes they are already here! On June 13, Bachmann, along with fellow Republican congressmen Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Thomas Rooney, and Lynn Westmoreland, sent a letter to the Inspectors General of the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood has “operatives” within the US government. The letter attempts to link Muslim governmental officials to the Muslim Brotherhood and defames a number of American Muslim organizations.

Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, responded to the egregious accusations in an open letter today. Ellison points out that Bachmann and her allies took many of their claims from MuslimBrotherhoodinAmerica.com, a website run by anti-Muslim activist Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. Gaffney has a history of making unsubstantiated claims about Muslims, a number of which Ellison lists in his letter. For instance, Gaffney has claimed that Muslim Americans who run for office do so to wage “stealth jihad” and has “accused New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of ‘corruption’ and ‘treason’ for appointing a Muslim lawyer to be a judge.” At the end of the letter, Ellison requests a list of all the sources Bachmann used to make these serious claims and asks that if the sources turn out to not be credible that the names of all accused be publicly cleared.

It would be nice if Ellison’s letter put an end to the fear tactics and Islamophobic statements that have become far too common in the Republican Party, but that’s sadly unlikely. Republicans, whose main focus is clearly the economy, somehow seem to find a new Sharia threat each election year. Has it really been two years since we first heard about the Park 51 Muslim Community Center?

PFAW

DISCLOSE Act to Get Senate Vote

Next week, the Senate will vote on the DISCLOSE Act, which would bring much needed transparency to the corporate and special interest money that allows the wealthiest few to take over our airways and coöpt our elections. Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, corporations have been able to spend freely from their treasuries to overpower the voice of the American people.

While a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United or a change to the composition of the Supreme Court are the only ways to completely reverse that decision, the DISCLOSE Act is a strong step in the right direction.

It’s not a new idea. First introduced in 2010 in response to Citizens United, the bill would require groups airing election ads to disclose the source of the money. Because ads can be misleading, it is essential to for voters to know who is behind them in order to properly evaluate the constant inundation of political messages. It is a simple step to increase transparency in our elections.

Of course, the GOP blocked it.

Republicans in Congress weren’t always opposed to disclosure. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell once said, way back in 2000, “Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?” Yet after Citizens United, he’s dramatically changed his tune, calling disclousre “a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress.”

The Republicans’ change in tune isn’t surprising, considering that outside spending overwhelmingly favors the GOP.

PFAW

Questionable Ethics In Issa'a Zeal to Score Political Points

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been targeting the Obama administration since his earliest days as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and recently he’s been waging a political witch hunt against Attorney General Eric Holder surrounding the Fast and Furious gunrunning operation. In the course of the investigation, Rep. Issa requested documents which the AG was prohibited by law from releasing, and for that, Rep. Issa successfully campaigned to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an ethics complaint with both the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Department of Justice, alleging that in his zeal to embarrass the Obama Administration, Rep. Issa may in fact have violated House ethics rules as well as federal wiretap laws.

According to CREW:

Rather than releasing the warrant application to the media directly, which would clearly have been prosecutable, Rep. Issa inserted the information into the Congressional Record. This way, he shielded his otherwise illegal conduct behind the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution. Evidence also suggests Rep. Issa or his staff may have directed reporters to the Congressional Record to ensure the information contained in the leaked warrant application was discovered and further publicized. Such actions, which could constitute “republication” of the material, might not be subject to the same constitutional protections.

CREW also argues that there is precedent for holding Rep. Issa accountable for his potential violation of the wiretap statute, and that a refusal to do so would bring even more discredit to the House leadership than Rep. Issa’s botched and politically-motivated Fast and Furious investigation already has.

PFAW

Romney Continues to Refuse Financial Transparency

A New York Times editorial published yesterday takes aim at Mitt Romney’s continued obfuscation regarding his tax returns. Shirking a precedent embraced by previous presidential candidates, including his father, George Romney, the GOP nominee has yet to fully disclose the extent of his foreign investments and tax havens.

“Mr. Romney has resisted all demands for more disclosure, leading to growing criticism from Democrats that he is trying to hide his fortune and his tax schemes from the public. Given the troubling suspicions about his finances, he needs to release many more returns and quickly open his books to full scrutiny.

The 2010 tax return showed that the blind trust held by his wife, Ann, included a $3 million Swiss bank account that had not been properly reported on previous financial disclosure statements. (The account was closed by the trust manager in 2010 who feared it might become embarrassing for the campaign. He was right.) It also showed that Mr. Romney had used a complex offshore tax shelter, known as a blocker corporation, to shield the investments in his I.R.A. from paying an obscure business tax.

The use of that technique by wealthy taxpayers and institutions, long been blasted by Congressional tax experts as abusive, costs the treasury $1 billion a decade.”

Romney’s pattern of dishonesty extends beyond his personal finances. He has yet to fully explain the terms upon which he parted with the Bain Capital, the private equity firm he helped create. Although he claims he left the firm in 1999, just last month “his trust reported receiving a $2 million payment from Bain as part of unpaid earnings from his work there”. (New York Times) Recent reporting by AP and Vanity Fair raise even more questions about the millions that Romney has stashed away in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

President Obama has recently returned from a bus tour under the banner of “Betting on America” – placing trust and reinvesting in American industry. The contrast with Mitt Romney couldn’t be clearer.

Romney’s campaign slogan is “Believe in America”, but an apt subtitle may as well be…”but invest somewhere else.”

PFAW