By now, it has been proven and proven again that Planned Parenthood is not “selling aborted baby parts” for profit, as a pair of deceptively edited videos from a conservative group with close ties to a number of extreme anti-choice groups purport to show.
Yet this new line — the women’s health organization as a horror-movie butcher looking to enrich itself off helpless pregnant women — has quickly become an established “fact” not only within the anti-choice movement, but in the larger conservative movement and among Republican politicians.
This is not because they have been given any new information. Again, the central premise of the new videos is easily disproved — Planned Parenthood follows standard medical guidelines in donating fetal tissue for medical research with the patient’s consent. It is because the videos (or what they claim is in the videos) illustrate an attack that the anti-choice movement has been attempting to level at legal abortion providers for years.
As the anti-choice movement has rebranded itself to be about “protecting” women from legal abortion, it has taken to calling abortion providers the “Abortion Industry,” alleging that they are more interested in turning a profit than in providing health care. This charge is most frequently leveled at Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that both the health care provider and its advocacy affiliate are nonprofit organizations.
Back in January, the anti-choice legal group Americans United for Life released a report titled “ Abortion, Inc.,” which attempted to show that Planned Parenthood is on a “Big Abortion, Big Profits trajectory.” The report concludes by alleging that the health group’s advocacy arm fights anti-choice laws that chip away at abortion access in order to “protect its abortion business’ financial success.”
The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins made a similarly outlandish claim last week when he tied the false claims about Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue and its advocacy affiliate’s opposition to laws banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregancy. “This suggests why they may have been opposed to bans such as this, these five-month bans, because the longer the pregnancy goes, the more valuable the parts,” he claimed.
In recent years, the Religious Right has attempted to portray itself as the victim of LGBT rights, a David-and-Goliath scenario in which conservative Christians are the brave warriors outspent and outnumbered by “Big Gay” — no matter that the very same activists previously spent decades trying to drive LGBT people out of public life.
A similar rhetorical trick is going on here. Anti-choice groups want to stamp out legal abortion and drive women seeking abortion to dangerous, underground alternatives. They also want to destroy Planned Parenthood, which provides a wide range of medical services to more than five million people a year, only a small percentage of which include abortion. But in order to do so, they are painting abortion providers as a big, bad industry out to get the very women who seek their services.
It’s clear that these videos were made with the “Abortion Industry” talking point in mind. There is a legitimate debate to be had over the legal use of fetal tissue for medical research, which has led to a number of medical advances, including vaccine development. But that isn’t the point of this smear. Instead, it is a dishonest attempt to undermine abortion rights by portraying abortion providers and pro-choice groups as profit-hungry predators. This smear is nothing new — this is just its most lurid and best-publicized iteration.
With Scott Walker set to address the annual meeting of the far-right, corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), PFAW released Spanish-language and English-language digital ads highlighting Walker's choice to headline the corporate bill factory's national conference in San Diego. Civil rights icon and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta released the following statement:
Voters need to know that this week, Scott Walker is choosing to headline the annual convention of ALEC, the corporate-run organization that brought us Arizona's anti-immigrant law SB 1070 and has long championed anti-worker, anti-environment legislation.
"Given Walker's decades-long alliance with ALEC, it's no surprise that he's standing with them now as he begins his presidential campaign. While Walker has turned his back on working families, he gladly stands up for corporate interests that hurt our community through his work with ALEC."
Last week the fight against big money in politics received renewed, and passionate, support from Vice President Joe Biden. During a speech to young activists at the Make Progress summit on July 16th, Biden issued a call to action:
"We can do something about the corrosive impact of massive amounts of money. We can demand that the people we support don't yield to millionaires and billionaires. [Instead, they can] take their money in limited amounts, but what are we doing?"
The Obama administration has already declared its support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United (2010), but the Vice President called for a more immediate form of action: holding candidates accountable. "Folks, we ought to start in our own party. You ought to be demanding of all of us, all of us, because at least in our own party fights among ourselves, in primaries, that we adhere to a policy that doesn't rest on millionaires and billionaires."
This was a speech tailored to mobilize activists who have been part of a slow fight since 2010. Although progress has been made, with over 650 cities, 16 states, and 73% of Americans in support of a constitutional amendment, we have yet to see any real change in the way campaigns are funded. The 2016 presidential race is already seeing the effects of Super PAC funding and that influence will only continue to grow.
Biden clearly intended to inspire a new generation of activists by focusing on what the attendees themselves could do to help fix the system, saying, “If you're ever going to be involved in public service this is the time to do it, because things are changing.”
Hopefully the Vice President’s passion and optimism is an indication of the change that is coming in our campaign finance system. As Vice President Biden put it, the current system of auctioning our elections to the highest bidder is “a hell of a way to run a democracy."
From anti-adoption rules in Russia to laws banning same-sex intimacy in the Caribbean, the right-wing global movement against LGBT rights – especially its U.S. leaders working transnationally – was under the microscope this weekend during a panel at Netroots Nation.
On Friday, People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery moderated a powerful session on the globalization of anti-LGBT activism featuring Urooj Ashad of Advocates for Youth, Gillian Kane of Ipas, Miranda Blue of PFAW’s Right Wing Watch, and Maurice Tomlinson of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
Gillian Kane kicked off the presentations by highlighting that those attacking the rights of LGBT people across the world are also often leading attacks on other rights, including reproductive freedoms. She noted that U.S.-based anti-LGBT activists working transnationally, like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), strategically frame themselves as victims of religious persecution rather than those working to undermine the rights of others. Kane recently published an article on ADF's expansion in Latin America.
Maurice Tomlinson gave a snapshot of the current status of anti-LGBT laws in Jamaica and across the Western hemisphere. He pointed out that Belize and Trinidad & Tobago both ban the entrance of gay people into the country, and that a total of 11 countries in the Western hemisphere still criminalize same-gender intimacy. In Jamaica, Tomlinson noted, “our culture has been perverted” by the exportation of homophobia from the global North for many decades. He also highlighted some of the work happening in Jamaica to fight anti-gay laws, including everything from lawsuits to flashmobs.
Miranda Blue, who authored People For the American Way’s report on Globalizing Homophobia, highlighted the case study of the push for anti-LGBT legislation in Russia, a campaign which she pointed out "hasn’t come out of a vacuum.” She said that Putin is both trying to silence dissent and frame Russia as a bastion of traditional values. Many on the Right in the U.S., she said, have bought into this framing, cheering on the laws and saying that the U.S. should have similar ones. Blue noted that Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage even traveled to Moscow to testify in front of the parliament in support of an anti-gay adoption law.
Urooj Arshad focused on how to do solidarity work with LGBT activists based in the global South and warned against the conflation of the West with LGBT rights. She urged U.S.-based LGBT rights activists to always be in communication with those working and living locally. Arshad, who grew up in Pakistan, noted that in many formerly colonized countries, the criminalization of homosexuality came with colonization, with many of the anti-sodomy laws from that era still on the books.
Peter Montgomery pulled all of the speakers' presentations together by framing the anti-LGBT attacks happening around the world as a unified right-wing movement rather than isolated campaigns. He pointed out the number of laws globally that have been directly supported by right-wing organizations in the U.S., and said that activists here can help support LGBT activists abroad by chipping away at the credibility of U.S. groups that are helping fuel this work internationally.
For more about the exporting of anti-gay activism transnationally, you can read PFAW’s 2014 report on Globalizing Homophobia here.
A crowd of roughly 300 rallied against Scott Walker Monday evening at his presidential announcement in Waukesha, Wisconsin. People from across the state shared their stories of his extreme agenda as governor, touching on the environment, labor, immigration and a host of other issues.
People For the American Way, Voces de la Frontera Action, Americans United for Change, We Are Wisconsin, and a coalition of more than 20 local and national grassroots activist groups led the gathering. Wisconsinites spoke out about Walker’s far-right policies, as well as his close relationship with the Koch brothers who have vocally expressed their support of his candidacy.
PFAW and Voces de la Frontera Action also emphasized how terrible a Scott Walker presidency would be for the Latino community. Yesterday, the groups launched a Spanish-language radio ad criticizing Walker for supporting mass deportation policies, eliminating in-state tuition for DREAMers, and drastically cutting education funding. PFAW board member and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta also spoke out against Walker, warning that a Walker presidency would be “devastating.” She reminded voters that “as governor, [Walker] gutted education funding, lied to voters about his anti-choice stances, and attacked workers’ rights.”
Walker is currently positioned as a favorite among the growing list of GOP candidates; however, his campaign began on a rocky note after Walker called the minimum wage a “lame” idea. Previously, he’s drawn criticism for calling mandatory ultrasounds “a cool thing,” as well as backing an extremely conservative abortion ban in the Wisconsin legislature. He has also called himself a “lifelong supporter of the pro-life movement,” compared teachers protesting in Wisconsin to ISIS and claimed that equal pay is used to “'pit one group of Americans versus another.”
Walker, who called his presidential bid “God’s will,” is the 14th GOP candidate to join the race.
Thanks to damaging Supreme Court decisions and a gridlocked FEC, Super PACs have become a central element in our presidential elections. Yet, Americans could at least comfort themselves with the notion that these PACs and the candidates they support were at least required to operate independently from one another. A recent article in the Washington Post proves otherwise.
The article argues that a close reading of the Federal Election Commission rules shows that candidates and interest groups can do more than make public statements about their needs and hope their counterparts are listening; they can actually communicate with one another directly. According to the Washington Post piece, “Operatives on both sides can talk to one another directly, as long as they do not discuss candidate strategy. According to an FEC rule, an independent group also can confer with a campaign until this fall about “issue ads” featuring a candidate. Some election-law lawyers think that a super PAC could share its entire paid media plan, as long as the candidate’s team does not respond.” The coordination is more extensive than people imagine, and, apparently, perfectly legal.
But even the lawyers working on this issue do not agree on what is legal and what is not. Phil Cox who works for America Leads (a Super PAC supporting Chris Christie), says, for example, “The system makes no sense. It’s crying out for reform. We need to put the power back in the hands of the candidates and their campaigns, not the outside groups.” Bob Bauer, a campaign finance lawyer, agrees,
“The problem isn’t that the law isn’t being enforced — the problem is that we need to rethink the whole thing from the ground up.”
This coordination is already affecting the 2016 elections. But even beyond returning power to the candidates, we need to return the power of influencing elections back to the people. Because, in the end, it is the people who need to be represented and therefore, heard. Perhaps this regulation avoidance will cause people to realize that it is the system that needs reform.
Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency with incendiary remarks about immigrants, and he has not let up. During his first speech as a candidate, Trump stated "when Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. … They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists.” Despite the backlash to his comments, Trump has doubled down on his extremist views on immigration. In an interview with NBC, Trump said “there's nothing to apologize for” and added that any immigration policy less strict than his own would “let everybody come in… killers, criminals, drug dealers.”
Now, companies are responding by severing ties with Trump. Univision pulled out of its contract to broadcast Trump’s Miss USA pageant and NBC cut all ties with Trump, dropping not only the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, but also Trump’s role in Celebrity Apprentice. With this list continuing to grow, one organization is conspicuously missing: the Republican National Committee.
PFAW’s partners at the Latino Victory Project are calling on RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and the Republican Party to renounce Trump as a candidate for the Republican nomination for President. With the Republican Party claiming that they are committed to strengthening ties with the Latino and immigrant communities, surely it is time for the RNC to reject a candidate who makes such hateful and racist remarks.
People For the American Way members and other supporters of the movement to get big money out of politics delivered a clear message last night about Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s refusal to support a constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United.
Activists took to the South Willow Street Bridge in Manchester to hold boxes with LED lights to spell out the words “AYOTTE WON’T #GETMONEYOUT.” Ayotte has described a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics as “dangerous” – despite the fact that a majority of New Hampshire voters who support such an amendment.
Voters in New Hampshire and beyond are increasingly concerned about the amount of money in politics, and the proposed constitutional amendment would dramatically curb political spending to help ensure that our elections can’t be bought by wealthy special interests. New Hampshire activists are committed to holding Ayotte accountable for her refusal to support the movement to undo big money’s corrosive influence on our elections.
Earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush released his fundraising amount for the upcoming elections. Right to Rise, a Super PAC backing the candidate, announced that it had raised $103 million in the last six months, while Bush’s campaign had raised $11.4 million in the two weeks since his announcement, bringing the fundraising total to a stunning $114 million, 17 months away from Election Day. For comparison, at this point in 2011, Restore our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, had raised only $12.2 million.
These shocking figures demonstrate the growing influence of big money on our elections and political process. $1 billion was spent in the 2012 federal elections, and the Koch brothers alone vowed to raise at least $889 million in 2016 from other wealthy donors. Since the wealthy have policy views that are strikingly different from that of the rest of Americans, this new system has disturbing implications for the state of democracy in the U.S. A Princeton study found that the viewpoints of the bottom 90 percent of income earners have no significant effect on public policy.
One particularly troubling aspect of the Right to Rise fundraising numbers is their definition of “small donors” as those who donated less than $25,000. The fact that the Super PAC considers $25,000 to be the cutoff for small donations raises questions of exactly how much the 500 who raised more than that amount donated.
Most Americans agree that the campaign finance system has gotten out of hand. Three out of four Americans support a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to set limits on campaign spending, and even presidential candidates such as Lindsey Graham, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton have stated their support for overturning cases like Citizens United through a constitutional amendment. With the American people so determined to maintain the integrity of our elections, a national conversation about the influence big money in politics is unfolding, laying a foundation for real reform in 2016 and beyond.
With outside contributions in the 2012 federal elections totaling $1 billion, and with the Koch brothers alone already pledging to spend $889 million from their political network in 2016, it’s no wonder 85 percent of Americans agree that the campaign finance system needs serious reform. A particularly disturbing aspect is the prevalence of “dark money,” or political spending by outside Super PACs and so-called social welfare groups with no disclosure requirements. In the 2014 elections, 31 percent of all independent campaign spending was from groups that had no obligation to disclose their donors.
Despite deep concern from their constituents, Congress has been hesitant to take action against dark money being funneled into our elections. Though Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Disclose Act, which would require that all organizations disclose their political expenditures, Senate Republicans blocked the Senate majority from being able to vote on it.
The American people haven’t given up just yet. 73 percent support a constitutional amendment that would allow lawmakers to limit political spending. Further, more than 550,000 have signed a petition urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.
Just this week, advocates for campaign finance reform experienced a major victory when the DC Circuit unanimously upheld the “pay-to-play” provision that bars federal contractors from donating to federal candidates and party committees. In addition, presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Lindsey Graham, and Hillary Clinton have all expressed support for removing big money’s electoral influence.
“We have to stop the endless flow of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political process, and drowning out the voices of our people,” said Clinton in her kick-off campaign speech.
The movement against dark money clouding our elections has experienced a momentous push as Americans demand a more transparent campaign finance system.
The Supreme Court finished its session on Monday, ending a term filled with landmark decisions regarding fair housing, marriage equality, and healthcare.
On Wednesday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing for members about the end of the Court’s term and the implications of several cases. PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated a dialogue among PFAW Senior Fellows Elliot Mincberg and Jamie Raskin, Right Wing Watch researcher Miranda Blue, and PFAW Executive Vice President for Policy and Program Marge Baker.
Raskin covered Obergefell v. Hodges and Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. He first noted that Obergefell would not be possible without the “many decades of intense social struggle and millions of people coming out of the closet” which created a momentous societal shift in public opinion of LGBT rights. The Arizona case, which effectively obstructed state legislature’s gerrymandering efforts, was also a huge triumph for democracy, because, as Raskin notes, “the whole point of democracy is that power begins and resides with people.”
Mincberg discussed King v. Burwell as well as Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project—two cases that, according to Mincberg, represent “attempts by the far right to push legal theories that had been rejected by the lower courts over and over again.” The fair rulings in both cases have led many analysts to assume an overall shift left in the Court; however, Mincberg asserts that their inclusion on the docket in the first place contradicts this assumption.
Finally, Blue reviewed reactions from the Religious Right regarding the marriage decision from this session. Presidential candidates and conservative pundits alike have voiced their disapproval of the decision, with responses ranging from terrorist attack predictions to calls for a revolution. “This is a defining moment for the Religious Right,” said Blue. “It’s a test of whether the movement can survive into the future as it exists now.”
At the end of the briefing, Courtney asked the panelists about the next session of the court, including a union case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, that was recently added to the docket. Raskin labeled the case as “the new wedge to destroy unions,” and another GOP attempt to use legal doctrine to undermine progressive initiatives like public sector unions.
Listen to the full briefing here:
In our current political landscape, moneyed interests frequently use their financial leverage to impact policy. For instance, Wall Street banks lobbied against a bill introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren that would help relieve students of their loan debt. For every dollar the fossil fuels industry spends on lobbying, it receives $103 in government subsidies. Now in New Hampshire, special interests are looking to change the state’s longstanding fiscal policy in their favor.
New Hampshire Representative Timothy Smith credits the state’s ability to stay afloat financially without imposing a sales or income tax with its substantial business taxes, which bring in sizable amounts of revenue. However, that might change with the introduction of a bill by 13 Republican senators that would significantly lower the business tax, creating a hole of $90 million in the budget. Rep. Smith connected the introduction of this legislation to the fact that special interest groups, many of which would benefit from this change, spent over $900 thousand in New Hampshire’s legislative elections last year.
Not surprisingly, New Hampshire residents are unhappy with the growing trend of big money influencing politics. Over two-thirds of the state’s voters believe that a constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United should be implemented. Sixty-nine state localities have passed resolutions calling for such an amendment, and over 120 small businesses are hosting Stamp Stampede stations, where patrons can stamp phrases like “not to be used for bribing politicians” on their bills.
Rep. Smith co-sponsored a bill that called for an amendment to get big money out of politics, which passed in the New Hampshire House with bipartisan support. In addition, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan dismissed the business tax reductions as “unpaid for tax cuts to big corporations” that would “put corporate special interest ahead of New Hampshire's families.” Officials in the state government are listening to their constituents’ concerns about the harmful effects of big money in politics.
“Our constituents are trying to tell us something. They’re tired of their government serving lobbyists rather than citizens,” said Rep. Smith.
Voters Are Concerned About the Influence of Big Money in 2016
Last week the Wall Street Journal and NBC published the results of a poll on various issues leading up to the 2016 presidential elections, showing that the influence of wealthy donors on elections is a growing concern among Americans.
Thirty-three percent of those surveyed say that the influence of wealthy donors is their biggest concern in the 2016 presidential race. Although the majority were Democrats, big money in politics was the issue with the most agreement between the two parties, only a seventeen percent gap separated Democrats and Republicans. The poll suggests that the influence of the wealthy is becoming less of a partisan issue, and more of a general anxiety for Americans when it comes to elections.
The poll also revealed that
“the influence of wealthy donors was the primary concern for independents.”
This can and should influence the positions of the 2016 candidates as they seek to win over swing voters. Whether the growing anxiety amongst Americans about big money in politics will lead to changes in campaign finance remains uncertain, but the heightened awareness may bring the issue to the forefront of the 2016 race.
This post by PFAW and PFAW Foundation Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and other conservative leaders have recently lashed out against the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality by proclaiming that local clerks who don't personally agree with marriage equality should not be required to issue marriage licenses or perform weddings for same-sex couples - even though it's their job to provide that service to the public.
Their logic is fundamentally flawed. Civil marriage is a civil function, not a religious one. Government employees allowing someone to access their legal rights are not doing anything religious, nor are they condoning the actions being licensed any more than with any other type of license.
That's why when government employees in our country have had religious objections to divorce and remarriage, they have still had to do their jobs. And when government employees have had religious objections to interracial marriages, they have still had to do their jobs. So, too, have government officials with other religious objections to whether or how certain couples get married.
But when the particular religious belief in question is opposition to lesbians and gays, that's apparently a different matter altogether. Now, suddenly, we're told that government employees need to have their religious liberty "protected."
A principle of religious liberty that is invoked only in the context of one particular religious belief is no principle at all. It is a pretext.
The far-right movement that is coalescing around these "protections" allowing civil servants to impose their religious beliefs on others and deny them service does not have clean hands in this regard. While they proclaim loudly that they just want to "live and let live," the policies they have pursued vigorously for decades have aggressively sought to prevent LGBT people from having basic human rights. The Right's new clamor for "protections" is just another form of homophobia.
If the religious right simply wanted to "live and let live," they would not have spent these past decades seeking to impose their religious beliefs about homosexuality on others both through custom and through force of law. They would not have boycotted television networks for airing shows portraying LGBT people as ordinary people. Nor would they have screamed bloody murder when popular celebrities came out of the closet. They would not have fought to prevent us from raising children. They would not have battled to ensure that surviving members of couples be denied Social Security survivor benefits. They would not have opposed letting us serve our country in the intelligence services or in the military. They would not have put so much energy into convincing Americans that we are sexual predators going after their children. They would not have tried to bar us from teaching in public schools. They would not have threatened us with criminal prosecution just for our private, consensual sexual conduct.
Whether it's religious refusals specific to marriage, more general Religious Freedom Restoration Acts in a post-Hobby Lobby world, or Sen. Mike Lee's misleadingly named "First Amendment Defense Act," the Right is yet again attacking LGBT people. With a growing number of Americans - and now the Supreme Court - affirming that the right to marry is a right guaranteed to all regardless of sexual orientation, some on the Right have come to understand that their best tactic to fight marriage equality is to couch their homophobic goals with the language of "religious liberty" instead of explicitly speaking out against LGBT rights. But it's up to all of us to make sure that they do not succeed in these efforts to portray themselves as virtuous defenders of religious liberty, because in reality they're just waging another war against LGBT people.
PFAW activists and allies are continuing to pressure Sen. Kelly Ayotte for her reluctance to support a constitutional amendment that would overturn cases like Citizens United.
A group of New Hampshire activists, many of whom have worked to pass local resolutions in their towns in support of an amendment, met with Sen. Ayotte’s legal counsel in May to deliver over 12 thousand petitions in support of the Democracy For All Amendment— a federal constitutional amendment that would allow Congress and the states to set reasonable limits on money in elections.
Over a month later, her office has given no indication she will support the Democracy For All Amendment.
In previous public statements she has characterized a constitutional amendment as “dangerous.” And in a recent form letter to activists, Sen. Ayotte wrote,
By creating a "carve out" to the First Amendment that gives politicians the power to limit free speech and stifle political dissent, the Udall proposal jeopardizes all Americans' freedom of speech rights - and essentially says that our Founding Fathers got it wrong. It would also alter the First Amendment in ways that jeopardize more than political speech.
Of course, we know this issue isn’t about protecting free speech; it’s about everyone having an equal say in our elections and not having their own voices drowned out by a flood of big money.
In light of Sen. Ayotte’s clear refusal to recognize the influence of money in politics as stifling the voices of all Americans, PFAW activists and allies created photo petitions this weekend to send Sen. Ayotte a clear message about why 69 percent of New Hampshire voters support a constitutional amendment.