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Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

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Today’s announcement marks a proud day for our country and for the President. For those of us who have been working towards marriage equality for many years, the impact of having the support of the President of the United States is incredibly powerful. As President Obama made clear in his comments today, marriage equality for all people is an idea whose time has come. Despite setbacks like the results from North Carolina last night, it’s more obvious than ever that the momentum is on our side.

In recent years, more and more Americans have come to understand that preventing loving same-sex couples from getting married causes real harm to the people they care about. In families and communities across the country, Americans are coming to the same conclusion as the President: when two people make a public commitment to love and care for each other, that’s a marriage no matter what the gender of the people involved.

Today the President did the right thing. For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone banked to help elect Barack Obama in 2008, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this President in the first place.

Now, we must redouble our efforts to knock down one of the biggest barriers to full legal equality nationwide: the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

With your continued dedication to core American values like Equality, and your support of our work expand the promise of our country and our Constitution to all families, together, we’ll Dump DOMA and achieve basic fairness for all: the American Way.

PFAW

As President Obama Supports Marriage Equality, a Look Back

Today, President Obama at last acknowledged that he personally supports the right to marry for gay and lesbian Americans. Although the president maintains his position that marriage laws should be decided on a state-by-state basis, his personal statement provides a huge boost to the marriage equality movement. At a time when over half of Americans want full marriage rights for gays and lesbians, the endorsement of a sitting president is a meaningful signal of progress.

Sixteen years ago, in May 1996, People For the American Way became one of the first national groups to endorse marriage equality and vow to work toward it. In a note to members of the organization’s board, which was to vote on the issue, PFAW’s staff wrote that the Right had started to use the “marriage issue” to “polarize Americans” – a strategy that had its first major victory in the passage of DOMA later that year.

Despite all the progress that has been made for LGBT equality in the past sixteen years, the 1996 memo could have been written yesterday:

In recent years, People For the American Way has come to be a very important voice in the ongoing effort to rid America of discrimination and prejudice against gay men and lesbians.

We have done that over the years for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do. Opposing discrimination and fostering respect and appreciation for diversity are core values for People For the American Way. These are precisely the values under attack in this latest campaign.

Of course, the marriage issue has very real implications for the everyday lives of millions of Americans. In the area of health care for example, existing marriage laws allow a spouse to make critical decisions for an incapacitated spouse; not so for unmarried couples wou haven’t gone through the necessary legal steps. In many hospitals, the right to visit patients in an intensive care unit is limited to immediate family; gay and lesbian partners – lacking the legal status of family – are often excluded, to the great detriment of both partners. In addition, enormous economic consequences flow from the inability of gay men and lesbians to marry, including significant tax and inheritance benefits.

The lack of legal recognition of gay and lesbian families is of particular concern when children are involved, since the children are deprived of the protection of a legal relationship with the non-biological parent and the ability of that parent to make important decisions for them in any number of settings, including schools and hospitals. And if the biological parent dies, the children may well be taken away from their other parent, who has no legal relationship with them.

Sixteen years later, marriage discrimination continues to hurt gay and lesbian American and their families. That a sitting president has publicly acknowledged the impact of that discrimination is very powerful. We hope that soon the injustice we outlined in 1996 will be hopelessly out of date.
 

PFAW

Right Wing Watch Research Exposes Extremism of Capitol Event

Last week, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch reported that a who’s who of Religious Right activists had recently gathered in the Capitol, with the endorsement of Speaker John Boehner, for a George Washington-themed prayer event.

Last night, Rachel Maddow did a segment on the event, drawing heavily from Right Wing Watch research to expose the extremism of its participants:

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 Right Wing Watch  uncovered video of Lou Engle claiming that marriage equality would “unleash” a “sexual insanity”; Engle praying against health care reform with Sen. DeMint and then-Sen. Brownback; Jim Garlow saying that Satan is attacking the U.S. with marriage equality; David Barton claiming that AIDS can’t be cured because it’s God’s punishment for being gay; and the head of Alveda King’s group saying that supporting abortion rights is akin to supporting terrorism.

Here at People For the American Way, we spend a lot of time monitoring right-wing figures who seem far out of the mainstream. And then the Speaker of the House invites them to the Capitol.
 

PFAW

President Obama Committed to Continued Push on Judicial Nominations

Capping off an extremely important day of discussions with senior White House officials and Capitol Hill offices about ending the unprecedented Republican obstruction that is contributing to our severe federal judicial vacancy crisis, several state and national advocates had the opportunity to meet with President Obama about the urgency of addressing this crisis.

PFAW President Michael Keegan and I joined several representatives from among the 150 advocates from 27 states who participated in the Summit, in a meeting in the West Wing of the White House, where we heard the President reaffirm his commitment to press for the confirmation of judicial nominees who are ready for a vote in the full Senate or being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee – and his commitment to continue vetting and making nominations through the balance of this year in an effort to fill the remainder of the vacancies.

We celebrated the Administration’s extraordinary success so far in diversifying the federal bench, while agreeing that there was even more to be done. Advocates talked about the millions of Americans who are denied meaningful access to the courts because there simply are not enough judges on the bench. And we heard the President affirm the importance of pressing obstructionists in the Senate to end the unprecedented dysfunction that is impeding individual Americans’ access to justice.

For me this was a sobering day as we focused on the urgency of filling our federal bench with quality judges who will keep faith with the Constitution -- and inspiring to see the allies we have in states around the country, on Capitol Hill, and in the White House to get the job done.
 

PFAW

Mitt Romney Caved to the Religious Right and This is the Thanks He Gets

Last week, in response to pressure from the Religous Right -- much of which was documented by PFAW's Right Wing Watch -- the Romney campaign forced out an openly gay spokesman who had been on the job for less than two weeks.

While the Romney campaign attempted to deny that right-wing pressure led to the spokesman's resignation, news reports suggested that that is exactly what happened.

But Romney's effort to appease the anti-gay right didn't even work. Right Wing Watch caught a clip of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, the leading critic of the candidate's decision to hire an openly gay spokesperson, criticizing Romney for listening to him. "How is he going to stand up to North Korea if he can be pushed around by a yokel like me?" Fischer demanded.

Earlier this week, Lawrence O'Donnell played and discussed the Fischer clip on his show. Watch:

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PFAW

Marriage Equality: A State-By-State Guide

As North Carolinians go to the polls today to cast their ballot on an anti-gay constitutional amendment which would write discrimination into the state’s constitution and potentially harm all unmarried couples regardless of orientation, The Guardian put together an interactive feature summarizing the state of LGBT equality across America.

The infographic examines each state’s laws pertaining to LGBT persons’ right to marry, visit loved ones in the hospital or adopt a child, as well as protections from hate crimes and from discrimination in employment, housing and schools. While progress has been made, there is much work to be done.

Regardless of today’s vote, North Carolina will not be adding a dark red section to the outer ring, since state law already prohibits same-sex marriage. The proposed amendment simply inscribes discrimination into the state constitution.

Unfortunately, not all Americans have access to the all the protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide, and this map demonstrates striking differences from state to state and region to region. That’s why we need the federal Respect for Marriage Act more than ever – to ensure that all Americans, straight and gay, are treated equally under the law.

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Rally Against the Recall

Over the weekend, Republicans and right-wing activists gathered for a rally in Oshkosh, WI. The Oshkosh Northwestern filmed the event, and our friends at We Are Wisconsin PAC clipped some highlights (below).

The rally seems to have consisted of right-wing politicians spewing one distortion after another about the Walker administration’s policies and their opponents’ intentions. The interviews with the audience members unfortunately show a typical “tea party” misunderstanding of the issues, and that Republicans’ talking points about collective bargaining and teachers’ health benefits have taken root with at least the party’s avid supporters.

Some of the highlights included in the video above show U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde angrily railing against public unions (and completely rewriting the history of Scott Walker’s union busting in the process), a downright bizarre song-and-dance number mocking the protests against the Walker administration’s anti-middle class policies and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch noting the national importance of the recall elections. (Kleefisch begins 1:54 into the video.)

You can support PFAW’s Recall the Right campaign to send Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his right-wing cronies packing on June 5 here >>

 

 

 

PFAW

Senators Hear from Americans Concerned about the Courts

Senators saw the grass roots energy behind Americans’ commitment to our nation’s system of justice.
PFAW

Political Spending Resolutions Filed at 3 Corporations

Thanks to Citizens United, corporations have been spending unprecedented sums for political purposes. Short of a constitutional amendment to overturn that flawed decision, good government advocates are pressing a variety of strategies to minimize the undue influence corporations currently hold over our electoral system.

Requiring disclosure of corporate political expenditures is one powerful way to return some of the balance of influence to the American people. Activists are pressing for the passage of the DISCLOSE Act and the Shareholder Protection Act, and also submitted a record-setting action to the Securities and Exchange Commission calling for a rule requiring publicly-traded companies to disclose their political spending.

This week, the Corporate Reform Coalition is taking this call to the true owners of public corporations: the shareholders. This coalition of organizations, which includes People For the American Way, Public Citizen and others, is supporting first-time “political spending” resolutions and helping to organize rallies at the annual shareholder meetings of 3M and Bank of America, which are taking place this week, and also at Target Corporation, which will meet on June 14th.

The message is simple: Leave democracy to the people. Corporations should stop spending money on influencing our elections and focus on what they were created to do: make a profit for their shareholders. And if these corporations refuse to cease using their vast treasuries for political purposes, they at least should disclose their activities so that shareholders can make informed decisions.

These reforms speak to many Americans because so many people are shareholders. If you’ve ever bought a stock, had a 401(k) account or a pension, then you’re a shareholder – and it is your money might be spent on a candidate, cause or attack ad you don’t support, without your knowledge. We all have a right to know if our money is being spent to influence our democracy, and we should have the power to say no.

PFAW

North Carolinians Voting Today on Anti-Gay Constitutional Amendment

North Carolina voters today are casting their ballots on Amendment One, an extreme measure that would write discrimination into the state’s consitution and potentially take away important protections for all unmarried couples, gay and straight.

The amendment states that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina. It would not only deal another blow to gay and lesbian couples in the state, who are already prohibited by law from marrying, but endangers protections for all unmarried couples, including domestic violence protections and health insurance coverage.

The Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families is running a handful of powerful ads showing Amendment One’s potential devastating impact. Here are a couple:

President Bill Clinton also recorded a robocall on behalf of the anti-Amendment One campaign. You can listen to it here.

North Carolina voters can find your polling place here.
 

PFAW

Holder, Ruemmler Urge Action on Judicial Vacancies

In a summit at the White House yesterday with 150 grassroots and legal leaders from 27 states, Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler stressed the importance of maintaining fair and effective federal courts, and criticized Senate Republicans for creating gridlock that has left one in ten federal court seats vacant.

Holder stressed President Obama’s effort to nominated qualified and diverse nominees to the federal courts. 46 percent of the president’s confirmed judicial nominees have been women and 37 percent have been people of color, more than under any other president in history. “Our people are diverse, they are qualified and they will serve the American people well in their time on the bench,” he said.

While President Obama has nominated dozens of highly qualified, diverse Americans to the federal bench, his nominees have met with unprecedented obstruction from Senate Republicans.

“Republican obstruction and these delays on the floor aren’t happenstance. They’re strategic and they’re having a devastating impact,” Ruemmler told attendees.

Ruemmler said that the conservative movement “understands the important role courts play in all of the issues we care deeply about as a country.”

Today’s summit was a sign that progressives are beginning to care deeply about the courts as well.

“This matters. This really matters,” Holder said. “This is a key legacy for any president. It’s one of the ways that a president’s success can be measured.”
 

PFAW

Judicial Obstruction By the Numbers

Today, a few representatives from People For the American Way joined 150 Americans from 27 states at a White House summit to discuss the state of vacancies in the federal courts.

We’ll write more about the summit in later posts, but first, a summary of the problem. PFAW’s graphic designer, Nicole, put together this infographic showing how unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees has created an unprecedented vacancy crisis in the federal courts, and slowed down President Obama’s effort to bring qualified, diverse judges to the federal bench:

(Click image for larger pdf version of the infographic.)

PFAW

Walker's Millions and the Right's "Special Interests" Lie

On Wednesday, PFAW president Michael Keegan sent the following message to PFAW members:

Scott Walker is truly the worst governor money can buy. In 2010, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, Walker shattered state fundraising records in his campaign to be Wisconsin’s next governor. Now, faced with a recall election, he’s doing it again -- and then some.

It was reported this week that in the last three months, Scott Walker raised $13.1 MILLION to beat back his recall challenge. And that figure does not include the money being spent by right-wing Super PACs to support him and bash his opponents. To put this feat in perspective, Walker’s two leading Democratic challengers, Kathleen Falk and Tom Barrett -- currently locked in a primary in which they are spending resources against each other -- have raised $977,000 and $750,000 respectively.

Walker has milked his “golden boy” status among the ideological mega-funders of the right-wing movement. His aggressive attacks on workers’ rights, funding for important social programs and equal rights protections have made powerful corporate interests like Koch Industries and activists like Grover Norquist eager to host fundraisers for him around the country, from Oklahoma to New York. Amazingly, the Right continues to accuse our side of being fueled by “special interests” (as always, mischaracterizing “special interests” as people willing to stand up for their rights).

Many have called the Wisconsin recall election the second most important election battle of 2012 (second only to the presidential race), and it’s certainly shaping up to be the most emblematic of the crossroads at which America finds itself post-Citizens United. This recall battle is definitively one of Big Money vs. the People.

Mark Hanna, William McKinley’s right-wing millionaire campaign manager in 1896, famously said, “There are two things that matter in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” We MUST prove him wrong in Wisconsin ... we must prove that People Power can win the day.

With the help of Hanna and the robber barons of the era, McKinley won his race with only 51% of the popular vote after outspending his Democratic opponent 23 to 1. It’s up to us to make sure 2012 is not a repeat of 1896.

We won’t be able to outspend them, but what we do have we will spend smarter to help turn out the people’s vote. With your help, we’ll outwork Walker and his billionaire allies and RECALL THE RIGHT in Wisconsin.

Thank you for standing with us in this fight. Please stay tuned for more important information about the Wisconsin recall elections and People For the American Way’s campaign the Recall the Right.

Sincerely,
Michael Keegan, President

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in Wisconsin this week campaigning for Scott Walker and said, “For the next five weeks, America is going to find out the answer to what is more powerful, the people or the money and special interests from Washington, D.C. Wisconsin will answer that question."

Republicans are really going all in on the claim that the big money being spent in the recall election is coming from the Walker’s opponents. Jaw-dropping chutzpah considering Walker has already spent $20 million in his own defense, has another $25 million on hand and is being supported by outside groups with limitless funding from wealthy corporate interests. Meanwhile, the amount of money raised and spent both by the Democratic candidates and outside groups opposing Walker (including unions – the so-called ‘special interests’ to which Chris Christie was alluding) is hardly a fraction of Walker’s behemoth war chest. Oh, and for all the Republicans' handwringing about out of state money fueling the recall effort, it was reported a few days ago that two-thirds of Walker's money has come from outside of Wisconsin.

There's no question this race is a question of the grassroots versus big special interest money, but Scott Walker isn't the on the side of the grassroots.

PFAW

PFAW Wisconsin Recall Round-Up - May 4, 2012

The national media is focusing its gaze once again on Wisconsin, and this week it was all about the money.  Monday, April 30th, was the filing deadline for pre-primary election fundraising totals.  Wisconsin’s embattled Republican Governor Scott Walker turned in a filing that, on the surface, blew his Democratic rivals away, reporting $13 million in money raised during the January to April reporting period.

An in-depth analysis by The Huffington Post, however, revealed that approximately two-thirds of Walker’s money raised was donated by individuals and entities from outside Wisconsin.  This draws a stark contrast to his nearest Democratic rivals filings, with Tom Barrett reporting $750,000 in donations in 25 days, and Kathleen Falk reporting $1 million.  99% of Barrett’s donations came from inside Wisconsin.  Falk only had $25,862 in her account at the end of 2011.

News analysis also revealed that Walker transferred $60,000 to his legal defense fund during the pre-primary period, according to his campaign finance report.  This revelation drew criticism from One Wisconsin Now and others, as it appeared to many Wisconsinites that Walker’s campaign is using nuances in Wisconsin GAB reporting requirements to avoid revealing who donated to the legal defense fund.

Mid-week, Marquette University released polling data that indicates the public’s perception of the Governor has not improved, despite his campaign spending $21 million dollars to bolster his image and fight against a recall from office.  The situation left prominent pundits and reporters alike referring to his numbers as “almost freakishly fixed in place,” with rivals using grassroots support and a focus on issues to prepare for next Tuesday’s primary elections to take on the Governor for the recalls.

Looking forward, next Tuesday is Primary Day!  Follow our Facebook page and Twitter feed for the latest information on where to find your polling place.  Exercise your duty to Fight The Right and vote!

PFAW

UPDATE: DOJ takes step forward with latest hate crime indictment

President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law on October 28, 2009. Two and a half years later, its sexual orientation protections are being use for the first time.
PFAW

The Partisan Advantages of Citizens United

 

Just how much has Citizens United altered the electoral landscape? While the overall amount of outside money in politics has risen dramatically with each passing election cycle, the Citizens United decision eliminated restrictions on corporate and special-interest spending to influence or elections. The result shows that the new rules have stacked the deck in favor of Republicans.

This chart from the Center for Responsive Politics shows how, while spending by outside groups has been on the rise since the 90’s, it was not until 2010 Supreme Court decision that conservatives saw a sudden, major advantage in outside-expenditure spending on their behalf:

Total Liberal vs. Conservative Outside Spending, Excluding Party Committees

As Ian Milllhiser at Think Progress notes, the much of the 2012 spending on Republican candidates went to intra-party contests during the primaries, though it will likely continue through the general election. But the overall trend is clear: As a result of the Citizens United, Republicans will continue to enjoy outsized spending on their behalf by corporations.

PFAW

Record-Breaking Effort to SEC: Disclose Corporate Spending on Elections

Until a constitutional amendment can overturn Citizens United, progressives around the country are working on various legislative workarounds to address the flood of corporate money being spent to influence our elections. While only a constitutional amendment can restore to the American people the authority to regulate such spending, there are several ways to compel companies to disclose their political spending to the public and bring much-needed accountability to corporations that use their vast treasuries to sway our elections.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has the rulemaking authority to require corporations to disclose their political spending to their shareholders. This is significant because so many Americans are shareholders in one form or another: if you own a 401(k) or similar retirement account, you’re a type of shareholder; and the companies you invest with could be spending your money to support candidates or fund attack ads – all without your knowledge.

The American people have told the SEC to do its job. Yesterday, we broke the record for total number of comments submitted to the SEC on a particular rule: 178,000 Americans have written to the SEC, telling them to protect Americans from the undue influence of wealthy corporations and special interests. PFAW supporters contributed a sizeable chunk of about 24,000 signatures to the effort.

The Corporate Reform Coalition, a group of progressive organizations including PFAW, Common Cause, Public Citizens, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending and others has been pushing a consumer-driven campaign to ask corporations to refrain from engaging in political spending. We are also pursuing legislative solutions like the Shareholder Protection Act as well as other means to help shine light on the influence of corporate money in our democracy.

PFAW